Don’t miss the warning signs your cat is sick and may be in pain. Research shows that cats feel pain just like we do. But they tend to hide their pain—so just because they don’t show you obvious signs of pain, doesn’t mean they aren’t suffering or in distress. It’s up to you to know the signs that something is wrong and advocate for them by getting them the help they need.
When cats aren’t feeling well they give us clues. The clues may be physical or behavioral, or both. Some signs require immediate veterinary attention like respiratory problems or changes in breathing; straining to urinate, defecate or crying in the litter box; dilated pupils, or having any dramatic changes in behavior from normal. Some signs may increase over time with illness and won’t go away until your cat is diagnosed and treated by your veterinarian.
If you have adopted a new cat or kitten, it’s important to get a wellness exam by your veterinarian to establish a baseline of health and identify any health concerns they may have. Then watch for any of the following changes in your cat’s physical appearance, habits, behavior or health condition.
Remember, you are your cat’s advocate and voice, so be on the lookout for your cat’s signals that something is wrong. Here are the warning signs:
Cats with dilated pupils (other than short-term dilation with darkness or stress) and remaining dilated can be a symptom of a serious health problem—and should be immediately seen by a vet. Dilated pupils can signify serious infection, head or brain trauma or tumor, poisoning, or disease and will need diagnostic tests to determine the cause.
Normal breathing for cats is even and smooth. Any changes in your cat’s breathing is serious and needs immediate attention by your vet, including rapid breathing at rest, panting, shallow breathing, a very slow rate of breathing, labored breathing, wheezing, noisy breathing—or crying in pain or distress. All breathing changes need veterinary attention immediately.
Pale or White Gums
Check your cat’s gums for signs of illness periodically. Healthy gums are pink (or if your cat is black, gums may be black). If your cat has very pale gums that aren’t pink or are white, time to take your cat to the vet. This can signify a loss of blood flow or circulation, shock, or anemia. White or pale gums need immediate attention by your vet.
Sitting Hunched with Back Arched
If you see your cat sitting in a crouched position with his back arched, nose to the floor, front paws folded under body—this is a sign that he’s in pain and suffering.
Not Eating, Loss of Appetite, Vomiting
If your cat suddenly loses his appetite or stops eating, or refuses food for up to 2-3 days, heads up he’s not feeling well and needs to see a vet. A cat that stops eating can cause liver damage (hepatic lipidosis or fatty liver disease), which can lead to liver failure and death, so this sign requires immediate attention by your vet. Loss of appetite can indicate infection, kidney failure, intestinal problems, cancer, pancreatitis, or even dental problems.
Changes in Appetite
Changes in appetite usually signify some underlying illness. If your cat is eating and drinking more than usual, it may be a sign of diabetes (also loss of appetite in later stage) or hyperthyroidism—both are serious diseases that need to be treated.
Increased Water Consumption
If your cat is drinking way more water than normal and always seems to be at the water bowl, this can be a sign of illness like diabetes, hyperthyroidism, and kidney disease. These are treatable diseases.
Weight Loss – Sudden or Gradual
Has your cat lost weight suddenly or been losing weight gradually over the past few months? It’s good to know your cat’s weight and to weigh them periodically, so you know if they have lost weight. Weight loss can be a sign of many illnesses including cancer, diabetes, FIP, gastrointestinal issues, parasites, dental issues, and can happen in old age.
Changes in Coat/Fur
When your cat’s coat changes in appearance from being shiny to having a dull/matte finish, or it becomes oily and clumpy, or he’s suddenly losing hair—these are signs that something’s not right with your kitty.
Coughing, Sneezing, Runny Nose
These are signs of upper respiratory or bronchial infection and can quickly become serious. Cats can lose their appetite and become dehydrated quickly with an upper respiratory infection, since they lose their sense of smell and are congested. So to avoid further infection and health problems, see your vet.
Bad breath can signal dental or gum disease, which can trigger more serious health problems—or it can be a sign of an underlying health issue. In either case, time to have it diagnosed.
Hiding or Isolating, Lethargic
Does your cat suddenly want to be left alone? Is he less social or hiding lately, seeking isolation? Is he more lethargic? This can be a definite sign something is wrong.
Vocalization – Growling, Hissing
Is your cat hissing or growling when you touch him, pick him up or move him? Or has he become more aggressive, more irritable and short-tempered lately? Is he avoiding your touch? If you notice any significant change in vocalization—your cat could be in pain.
Litter Box Changes
If your cat is straining to urinate and not peeing—this is an emergency and your cat should be rushed to the vet. He could have a urinary tract blockage, kidney stone, crystals, or cystitis and all are extremely painful and dangerous. If your cat is suddenly not using the litter box, going outside the box, or hiding in the litter box—all are signs something’s wrong.
Cats groom themselves daily, so if your cat has stopped grooming or his fur has become suddenly matted—there’s an underlying reason. If your cat’s grooming is focused on a specific area and they are constantly grooming in that one place—this can be a sign of pain in that particular place.
If your cat exhibits one or more of these signs, it’s time to make an appointment for a veterinary examination as soon as possible. Don’t let your cat suffer in pain. Remember, he’s counting on you and you’re all he has.
If you don’t already have a good veterinarian, or are looking for a new one, here’s information about how to find a great vet.