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Are they just tired or is there something wrong with their health? Today, we will be taking a look at observing our cats in solving your question “How to tell if my cat is sick?”
Cats’ behavior can be unpredictable, there are days where they will be active and playing and others where they would just sleep all day. This is one of the reasons why it is challenging to tell if your cat is sick.
Cats are known to hide any illnesses or health problems they have. Jungle cats from the wild use this instinct to avoid showing any weakness to other predators.
Meanwhile, domesticated cats have acquired their ancestor’s instinct to steer away from showing vulnerability, even to the other pet cats around.
Another reason why it is hard to tell if our cat is sick is that they seldom show any pain or discomfort – due to their lack of emotional relationship with the discomfort.
Most of the time, animals just accept their fate of being ill. When the pain is already extreme, this is the only time they will be able to show visible signs of sickness to humans.
Through decades of research and observation, veterinarians have determined the most prominent signs to look for to know whether a cat is sick.
This is the reason why they also recommend having your cats checked by their veterinarian regularly to immediately determine any obvious signs of sickness, which in return, have earlier treatment.
With a better understanding of your cat’s behavior and the knowledge of the symptoms, you are more likely to see the early warning signs if there is a medical issue.
In this article, we will be listing down some useful signs to watch out for to know how to tell if your cat is sick.
What are a Cat’s Normal Vital Signs?
By knowing the normal vital signs of a cat, you will be able to quickly figure out if there is something wrong with their health. These are some essential vital signs of a normal cat you need to know.
1. Body Temperature
A cat’s average body temperature should be around 38.0 to 39.2 °C. If the temperature goes above or below, contact your veterinarian for immediate diagnosis.
To get your cat’s temperature, use a thermometer to get the most appropriate reading in the rectal area. Here’s a short tutorial to get this done safely:
A cat at rest breathes typically around 16 to 40 times every minute. To count your cat’s respiratory rate, while he is sitting or just lying on the floor, observe the rib area that will go up when exhaling and goes back down when inhaling. Count the number of breaths for 30 seconds and simply multiply it to two.
Take note that when a cat pants or breathes while their mouth is open, this is not normal. If your cat happens to do this, reach out to your vet as soon as possible.
3. Heart Rate
The average heart rate of a resting cat should be around 120 to 140 heartbeats per minute. One way to easily measure the heart rate is by placing your hand under your cat’s left armpit.
You should be able to feel a rhythmic beating in this area. Count the number of beats for 15 seconds, then multiply it by four to get the heart rate.
If the heartbeat registers higher or lower, coordinate with your vet immediately to check your cat’s heart health.
Here’s a useful guide on how to check a cats’ vital signs.
15 Signs Your Cat is Sick
Being with your cat for a long time, you may have already picked up their routine, behavior, and personality.
If you feel something has changed drastically, this can be a sign that something is wrong. Always reach out to your veterinarian to have your cat diagnosed.
Here are 15 telltale signs to look for if you have a hunch that your cat is sick.
Dogs may vomit simply because they have eaten something disagreeable or chomped on some food too quickly. However, for cats, this is not the same. Vomiting is not standard among cats and when you witness your cat doing this, have a trip to your vet as soon as possible.
There are numerous reasons why your cat may be having diarrhea, such as parasites in their intestines and dietary indiscretion. It is crucial to treat diarrhea before it worsens, as continuous loose bowel movement often results in dehydration and digestion problems.
3. Change in Appetite
a. Loss of Appetite
Although cats normally lose appetite for various reasons, it should still not be ignored. If your cat happens to skip a meal but still usually eats, it is time for you to observe them closely.
If he has stopped eating entirely or just eating small amounts, you better have them observed by your vet. If this eating routine continues for a few more days, it can lead to severe complications such as having a fatty liver.
b. Increase in Appetite
Eating a lot suddenly is not always a sign of good health, it can mislead to complications. Increased appetite in cats can be harmful, especially to older cats, resulting in obesity or hyperthyroidism.
4. Sudden Weight Change
Whether your cat drastically gained or lost weight, it is something to be concerned about as it can be a sign that there is something wrong with their health. Weight loss is usually more urgent as it will affect your cat after some time, while weight gain can be harmful over time.
Regularly have your cat checked by your vet to record their weight accordingly and routinely.
If you notice that your cat has suddenly become lethargic, sleeps more than usual, and has little energy, it is something to be worried about.
6. Always Thirsty
Kidney failure and urinary tract infection are the most common culprit for a cat’s increased thirst. Although it is generally challenging for pet parents to make sure that your cat drinks enough water daily to sustain their health, due to various reasons, it is always a good idea to monitor their water intake.
In our previous article, we have listed some guides on how to encourage your cat to drink more water.
7. Changes in Peeing Habits
Connected with your cat’s water intake, changes in his urination may often have an underlying medical issue.
Regularly check your cat’s urine if there are any changes such as the color, odor, or if there is blood. Also, check their peeing behavior, such as the frequency and the location (especially if they are trained to use a litter box). If your cat suddenly pees somewhere else aside from his litter box, there can be an underlying problem.
Cat’s breathe silently with the occasional purrs and meows. But if you suddenly hear them wheeze, breathe heavily, and are raspy, it’s best to head to the vet right away.
9. Eye, Nose, and Ear Discharge
When your cat’s eyes or nose suddenly emits discharge, it is a possibility that they have a respiratory infection. Along with this, they will become lethargic and will lose appetite entirely. This can be infectious to other cats; therefore, immediate action with your vet’s help is needed.
Meanwhile, discharge from the ear indicates that your cat may have an ear infection or have been infected by ear mites. It is best to coordinate this with your vet immediately as it can result in eardrum infection and deafness if not treated early.
10. Excessive Fur Shedding
There are many possible reasons why your cat may be shedding their furs abnormally higher than usual, such as skin parasites, allergies, or skin conditions. This can be easily observed by checking the places where your cat visits most often and check if there are any fallen fur.
Reach out to your vet to get the proper diagnosis and the available treatments.
Some cats groom to the point where skin wounds and hair tend to shed. If it reached that point, your cat might be suffering from an underlying medical or psychological issue. Our previous article tackled what may be causing over-grooming and how you can help your cat overcome this.
Although overgrooming is not a severe cat behavior, this can still be a discomfort to your cat and can also damage their beautiful coat. Reach out to your veterinarian to get some advice.
12. Bad Breath
Dental problems can be dangerous to cats, as this can also affect their appetite. When your cat’s breath stinks, it can be a symptom of a dental issue. A vet should check for severe bad breath as it can lead to an oral infection that can infect their internal organs.
13. Personality Changes and Body Language
Although personality changes are normal among cats as they are naturally moody, however sudden and drastic behavioral changes should be taken into consideration. If your cat becomes suddenly aggressive for no reason, a veterinarian needs to intervene for further examination.
Similar to humans, if we feel pain in a specific area and it is accidentally touched by a family member, we will react aggressively to show our pain, this is also the case for cats. Cats with sore muscles or a nasty wound would often act aggressively while being petted.
On the other hand, if your cat has an outgoing and clingy demeanor, they will suddenly show signs of avoidance by hiding from you.
Hiding can be a sign of stress, injury, or fear. Usually, when a cat breaks its leg from jumping from a high point, they will have a tendency to hide from their pet parent to refrain from showing they are “vulnerable”.
Another sign of being upset or not feeling well is when your cat presses his head towards the wall or just keeps staring at the wall.
When you see your cat limping or having trouble jumping from one place to another, it can be a sign that they had an injury or arthritis. Go to your vet to have their legs checked immediately for fracture, arthritis, or muscle tearing.
15. Swollen muscles
If your cat got wounded, it would most likely swell that can turn into an abscess, and be very painful for him. There are also cases when a tumor suddenly appears that can cause cancer.
If you notice that a particular area is swollen for more than two days, see your vet immediately.
How to Take Care of a Sick Cat?
As pet parents, we do not want to see our cats sick. This is why we have to keep them pampered and taken care of while they are recovering. Here are the things you should remember when taking care of your sick cat.
1. Extra attention required
Same with sick humans, sick cats need the utmost attention. It will require patience and tolerance to take care of them as they will need a special diet, more frequent cleaning of the litter box, and so much more. By being beside them along the way through their recovery, they will be back to their old self in no time.
Cats enjoy grooming themselves and being groomed by other cats or by their pet parents. Since they are sick, they are less likely to be able to groom themselves; thus, this is where you come into place. While grooming your cat’s fur, this is the perfect timing to check their skin and coat for other skin conditions.
3. Special Diet
Feeding your sick cat is nothing different from when they are well, but if his vet prescribes him with a different diet suitable for his recovery, be sure to follow it.
If your cat has no appetite, feed them maintenance food formulated, especially for sick cats as this kind of food is more palatable. It is readily available in most pet stores.
Once your vet has made the diagnosis and prescribed the medicines, get the medications right away.
Carefully read the instructions on the medication’s packaging and give your cat the proper dosage. Keep giving your cat medications even if the symptoms already disappear, unless your vet has advised you to do so.
DO NOT give human medications to cats as some tabled casing can be poisonous to them. Painkillers and multivitamins made for humans are some of the most common toxic household items a cat ingests.
Always be alert when it comes to your cat’s demeanor and behavior. Although the changes can be very subtle, with the help of our guide above, you will be able to tell if your feline buddy is experiencing something wrong in their health.
Now that we have tackled everything you need to know about a cat’s sickness, we hope that we have answered your question on “how to tell if my cat is sick?”. Do you have any other questions or concerns about what to do in case of an emergency? Take a breath and stay calm. Coordinate with your vet and ask away!
Laura is the founder of Furs'n'Paws. She is a also a pet writer and expert with more than 20 years of experience of working with dogs and cats. She developed a very strong love for animals at a young age. Her passion led her to establish a thriving pet sitting and dog walking business in Dubai. As an expert in pet training, behavior, and nutrition, Laura is committed to helping pet owners and pet lovers by offering high-quality information on a wide range of topics.