19 Cat Health Warning Signs

This list may help you identify a problem before it becomes an emergency.

Cats hide illness very well. By: Magic Madzik

By the time you notice Mr. Fluffmeister acting a little strange, chances are he’s already sick.

Cats are known for hiding illnesses until the conditions worsen and symptoms become obvious. An extra trip or two to the litter box might not be noticed, but having to go every hour definitely signals that something is wrong.

There are many health conditions and symptoms to watch out for when it comes to cats. We’ve listed 19 cat health warning signs here to help you identify signs that should have you concerned if they continue or appear at all.

1. Lethargy

Lethargy describes a host of symptoms that include laziness, drowsiness, delayed reactions or excessive sleeping.

If your cat shows these signs for more than a day, it might be a sign of a more serious problem that needs the attention of your vet. Some possibilities include anemia, various system disorders, injury or cancer to name a few.

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2. Repetitive Vomiting or Gagging

It’s no surprise that cats have hairballs from time to time considering how much self-grooming they do, but vomiting or gagging repetitively can be a sign of more than a little fur.

  • Large amounts of fur, hair, string or other materials can find its way into your cat’s throat. Foreign materials can obstruct the esophagus, stomach or intestinal system and cause a dangerous blockage.
  • It can also be a sign of illness such as kidney disease, so don’t delay in getting your veterinarian to examine this symptom.

If your cat is eating, drinking and eliminating waste normally even with the above symptom, some vets say it’s OK to wait until you can get to the vet the next day. If your cat stopped these activities, it is strongly recommended to take your cat to an animal emergency room.

3. Loss of Appetite

Cats are commonly known as finicky eaters, but drastic changes in regular eating habits should be a cause for concern. Possibilities include a number of illnesses, response to a recent vaccination, nervousness from travel or unknown surroundings, or psychological changes.

When a cat stops eating, the body starts consuming the fat to stay alive. The liver can handle only so much fat processing before it shuts down, so a loss of appetite can become seriously pretty quickly.

4. Diarrhea

If you clean the litter box regularly (and I hope you do), you should notice this change in your cat’s waste. There are many causes of diarrhea, some of which include disease, worms, allergies, allergic reactions and many more. Always make sure your cat has fresh, clean water and limit the food intake. If the diarrhea persists for more than a day or the waste appears black or bloody, consider getting to the vet as soon as possible.

5. Blood in the Urine

This symptom can be a genetic issue in young cats or a sign of cancer, disease or blood clots in older cats. If you notice blood or a red tint to your cat’s urine, you need to get your cat to the vet.

6. Constipation

When a cat is unable to eliminate waste, cries or acts differently in the litter box, constipation may be the cause. This might be due to a blockage, change in diet or lower urinary tract disease that is more common in males. This can be life-threatening, so don’t delay in getting to the vet.

7. Weight Loss or Gain

Food intake and weight changes can be noticed more often than other symptoms sometimes, and these changes can be caused by many different health problems. Reasons can be as simple as stress to more serious conditions such as cancer, diabetes, viruses, parasites, gastrointestinal problems or hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid).

8. Increased Thirst or Urination

Drinking more than usual or increased trips to the litter box can be a sign of diabetes, kidney problems or other conditions. If you think your cat is experiencing one of these symptoms, try monitoring water intake or clean the litter box at the same time every day to monitor the potty breaks.

9. Skin Itching or Flaking

Flaking skin or repetitive scratching can be a sign of dermatitis or an allergy. Allergies can be caused by many things, but most often the culprit is reaction to a medication, a change in diet or parasites.

10. Change in Gums

Red and swollen gums are indicators of gum disease. This sign may or may not be accompanied by bad breath. See the vet before starting a brushing or cleaning regimen to make sure your cat doesn’t need treatment first.

This video discusses other things to look for to ensure your cat is healthy:

11. Eye or Nose Discharge

Discharges from the eye or nose may be accompanied by sneezing, panting or shortness of breath. These symptoms may be a sign of respiratory infection or illness.

12. Coughing or Difficulty Breathing

You might notice that your cat seems to be coughing a lot or breathing differently during routine activities or sleep. A change in breathing can mean many things: dehydration, toxicity, respiratory disease, worms, asthma, tumors and more. If breathing sounds different and your cat hasn’t been recently exercising, it’s time to get to the vet.

13. Difficulty Moving or Weakness

These symptoms can be signs of arthritis, muscle atrophy and may be accompanied by lethargy. More serious conditions such as neurological issues are possible and should be considered very significant.

14. Fever

If you notice any symptoms out of the ordinary, it’s a good idea to also check your cat’s temperature. A temperature over 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit is considered a fever, and organ damage starts close to 106 degrees.

Causes might include an infection, tumor, recent trauma, medications or diseases. A digital rectal thermometer is a safe choice.

15. Growth or Lump on the Body

A change in your cat’s exterior should be cause for concern. Possible causes of growths or lumps include an infected cat bite, injection reaction, hernia, cysts, tumors or cancer. As you can see from these possibilities, there is an urgency for medical care needed if they are found.

16. Disorientation

Elderly cats may slow down and forget certain things, and this is normal.

If your cat starts forgetting how to complete routine tasks, doesn’t remember people, uses odd places as litter boxes, walks around aimlessly, has trouble with easy obstacles or you notice a change in vocalization, these could be signs of a neurological disorder or cognitive dysfunction syndrome.

17. Coat or Shedding Changes

If your average shedder suddenly stops dropping hair or your minimally groomed cat starts blowing the coat like an Alaskan Malamute, there might be an underlying health problem. This can be caused by a change in your cat’s grooming habits or a serious health condition such as worms, thyroid changes, ulcers or infections.

18. Antisocial Behavior

If your friendly lap cat suddenly wants nothing to do with you, it’s important to find out the cause for the change in behavior. Although it may just be a reaction to a recent change or stress, you should rule out medical problems with a trip to the vet first.

19. Dragging Rear Legs

This symptom is typically caused by a blood clot being passed from the heart to the lungs. Clots can go into other areas and cause seizures, kidney failure, blue nails, swollen muscles or the groin pulse is absent. This symptom should receive urgent medical attention.

Kristine Lacoste

View posts by Kristine Lacoste
Kristine Lacoste, editor in chief of Petful, is an author, poet and pet lover from Louisiana. She is the author of an award-nominated book, One Unforgettable Journey, and was host of a weekly pet news segment on the National K-9 Academy Radio Show. She was the New Orleans coordinator for Dogs on Deployment, a nonprofit that helps military members and their pets, for 3 years. She is also employed as chief operating officer for a large mental health practice in Louisiana. Kristine has a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a bachelor’s degree in English and a Master of Business Administration degree.

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