Cats are cunning, especially when it comes to hiding illness. This skill has an ethological justification. The progenitors of our domestic cats are both predators and prey in the wild. When a wild cat displays weakness, a predator will quickly turn that cat into meal. Although predators aren’t a problem for our pet cats, community cats that live outside inherit the same innate drive to conceal weakness.
So how can you tell if a cat isn’t feeling well if they don’t tell us? Here are a few subtle signs to watch out for (remember to always contact your veterinarian if you believe your cat may be ill):
- Changes in Interactions: Any time there is a change in behavior, whether it be behavioral, medical, or both, that is a warning sign that something is wrong. Something is amiss, for instance, if your formerly attached cat is being oddly distant or if a typically independent cat suddenly becomes “Velcro kitty.”
- Changes in Activity: Cats are incredibly dependable creatures. Any change in the cat’s regular routine, activity level, or both are potential indicators of a medical issue. For example, arthritis is much more prevalent in cats than was previously thought (JVMA). Do not wait for a cat to express pain. However, if your cat isn’t jumping up on the counter as frequently after 12 years of training, you shouldn’t be too quick to declare yourself a successful cat trainer. Similar to older cats, an increase in activity may indicate hyperthyroidism.
- Changes in Eating Patterns: Despite common assumption, most cats do not have picky eating habits. If a cat starts to eat less (although this usually doesn’t happen suddenly, it happens gradually), it could be an indication of gum or dental problems, diabetes, cancer, or kidney disease, to name a few conditions. Hungrier cats may potentially be suffering from a medical condition.
- Bad Breath: If your teeth don’t smell as sweet as a daisy, you may have a dental or gum problem. A digestive or renal condition may also be linked to bad breath.
- Changes in Water Intake: Drinking more or less water might be a sign of health issues, such as diabetes, kidney illness, or even arthritis, depending on where the water is located.
- Gaining or Losing Weight: A change of two pounds over the course of four months is highly significant and may indicate cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, or hyperthyroidism.
- Not so Neat: Cats are meticulous groomers, and letting themselves go—even a little—could be a sign of stress, pain, skin issues, or arthritis. Overgrooming is unquestionably a red flag. Allergies and the same conditions mentioned above could be to blame.
- Changes in Sleep: From frequent catnaps to nighttime awakenings, the cause could range from digestive problems, hyperthyroidism, hypertension, pain, to age-related feline cognitive impairment syndrome.
- Changing Their Opinions: Wallflowers who start talking or cats who howl at night could be experiencing any variety of medical issues, including feline cognitive dysfunction syndrome, hearing loss, discomfort, elevated blood pressure, hyperthyroidism, or even anxiety.
- Cats do occasionally have accidents because of behavioral problems, but there is frequently a medical cause that also plays a role. You should call your veterinarian any time a cat has more than a few occurrences. Diabetes, interstitial cystitis, kidney stones, hyperthyroidism, kidney disease, arthritis (it hurts to walk into the box), digestive problems (if the cat is “pooping” outside the box), and feline cognitive dysfunction syndrome are a few possible explanations.
The fact that cats are so adept at fooling humans and that we see them every day makes it difficult to spot tiny changes is one reason why even the most attentive cat parents fail to notice changes. This is the main justification for the significance of preventative care and twice-yearly veterinary consultations. By the time cat owners notice their cat isn’t “acting normal,” the cat has frequently already been ill for a while, making treatment harder and more expensive. I genuinely don’t know any cat parents who can perform blood tests at home or who keep a stethoscope on them at all times. Find out more about how to facilitate those visits.
The host of the nationally syndicated radio programs Steve Dale’s Pet World and The Pet Minute with Steve Dale is a qualified dog and cat behavior specialist.
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