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How Healthy is Your Cat?

By: Dr. Debra Primovic

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A healthy cat can be described as having bright shiny eyes, a healthy shiny hair coat, a good appetite, able to maintain their body weight, intermittently playful and generally seems "happy".

However, cats are not always healthy and when they are not, are often very good at hiding their illness just by their nature of survival. They want to appear healthy so they are less vulnerable to predators.

Initial signs and symptoms of cat illness can be subtle and you may have to look closely to see the first clues. Advanced symptoms are generally more obvious.

Many signs of disease are non-specific, suggesting they can be common for many different diseases. Let's look at some common non-specific signs of illness in cats that should worry you and prompt veterinary care and attention:


  • Lack of appetite – Anorexia is often one of the first signs of illness in cats. It can be difficult to determine if you feed your cat dry food only and keep the bowl full. For this reason, many veterinarians recommended feeding cats a small amount of canned food, in addition to their dry food, once or twice a day to help evaluate appetite on a routine basis.

  • Less active - Cats that don't feel well are often less active. This is often mistaken for "getting older". If your cat is less active, the safest thing to do is have your vet examine your cat to ensure there are no underlying health issues.

  • Weakness - Weakness can be displayed as being less active , being lethargic, or by having a general loss of balance and coordination. All of these are potentially serious signs and should warrant prompt veterinary evaluation.

  • Lethargy - Lethargy is a general lack of interest in the environment. It is a very common symptom and can be either and early or late sign of illness depending on the severity.

  • Weight loss – Losing weight is another common sign of disease or illness. Sometimes it is difficult to notice weight loss, especially in longhaired cats. If your cat feels bonier, lighter, or you can easily feel the ribs, this could be a problem and should encourage you to seek veterinary care.

  • Increased water consumption – Drinking more water is associated with a few diseases including kidney disease and diabetes mellitus. If you notice your cat is showing these symptoms, see your veterinarian.

  • Not grooming – Cats that don't feel well don't groom. Sometimes this is the first sign of illness some cat owners will notice. The hair coat is matted or just not being kept as clean. If your cat is not grooming like they used to, have him or her evaluated by your veterinarian.

  • Bad breath – Bad breath, also known as halitosis, can result from dental disease as well as other metabolic disorders.

  • Inappropriate elimination – Most often inappropriate elimination involves urinating outside of the litter box. This can be a behavioral disorder as well as due to a variety of urinary tract diseases. Have your cat checked by your vet to determine if there is an underlying cause for this behavior.

  • Sleeping more – Sleeping more can be associated with lethargy. Cats sleep an average of 13 to 16 hours each day depending on the age and personality of the individual cat. If you notice your cat is sleeping a lot more than he used to, don't assume it is just age. Make sure that is not an underlying disease or illness.

  • Less involved in social interaction with you or your other cats
    Cats that don't feel well, don't tend to play or be as social with you or your other cats.

  • Drooling – Drooling or hypersalivation can be associated with oral or dental disease and should be evaluated by your veterinarian.

  • Vomiting - Gagging or vomiting is a very common sign of illness. Some cats will vomit occasionally or vomit a hairball. Vomiting that occurs once a week or less frequently is generally not a problem. However, if your cat is vomiting on a regular basis or is losing weight, this could be an indication of a serious problem.

  • Difficulty breathing – This is a very severe sign of illness. It can be caused by underlying heart or lung disorders as well as anemia. Difficulty breathing can be noted as increased respiratory rate or effort, open mouth breathing, or a posture in which the arms are slightly abducted and your cat neck is extended. This is a life-threatening emergency.

  • Diarrhea – Loose stools can be caused by dietary reasons, allergies and other gastrointestinal diseases.

  • Coughing – Coughing is relatively uncommon symptom in cats but is serious when it occurs.

  • Bloody urine – This can be a sign of urinary tract disease or infection in cats. It should be evaluated immediately. It can also be associated with urinating out side of the box or frequently attempts to urinate.


    Watch your cat carefully for any sign of illness. If you notice any of these signs in your cat, please contact your veterinarian or veterinary emergency clinic as soon as possible.




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