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What should you do if your cat is lethargic?

Our question this week was:

Dr. Debra – I’ve had cats my whole life and have a question for you. Every once in a while, one of my cats will act a bit lethargic. Sort of sluggish. I don’t want to bother my vet unnecessarily – but wanted to ask if you had advice on when to “worry” and take them in.

Sarah Caudwell – Birmingham, AL


Hi Sarah – thanks for your email. You asked a very good and common question – what should you do if your cat is lethargic. In fact – I covered this very topic in a recent newsletter. I’ve had several readers ask for information on what to do IF – their cat does this or that.

Let me give you that information.

First – what is lethargy? Lethargy is a state of drowsiness, inactivity, or indifference in which there are delayed responses to external stimuli such as auditory (sound), visual (sight), or tactile (touch) stimuli. Lethargy may also refer to the general malaise and decreased activity exhibited by animals that do not feel well. It can be one of the first signs of illness or a later sign, depending on the underlying problem.

Some cats may sleep more one day than they do on another day. If a cat seems to be a little drowsy or less active – but is still eating, drinking and once they “wake up” seems playful – then I am not very worried. If you think your cat is a little lethargic, I’d recommend watching your cat to ensure that it does resolve. Watch for any additional signs.

These are the situations in a lethargic cat that bring me concern: A cat that also (in addition to lethargy):

Keep your cat inside (if he goes out) so that you can observe for any abnormalities. If your cat is not feeling well, he may not be able to defend himself if a problem arises while out.

If you are not sure if your cat is eating, offer some fresh food. Make sure he eats. Pay careful attention to his litter box habits. Make sure he is urinating and defecating normally. If you notice abnormalities, then call your veterinarian.

I hope this helps Sarah.

Best of luck

Dr. Debra