How to tell if your cat is sick

Our feline friends can sometimes be strong, silent types and as a result, we can sometimes miss the signs they’re sick. Interpret your cat’s code so you know when to take them to the vet.

Cats are mysterious creatures. Some of them are affectionate, calm, loving types and others are just downright stubborn and sassy. Whatever their personality type may be, they can’t communicate like humans do, so when something is wrong, we need to do a bit of guesswork to uncover the problem at hand. Dr Claire Jenkins, vet and co-founder of Vetchat, an online pet-advice service, says their low key approach to illness is a protective mechanism. “Some cats become more affectionate and clingy when they’re sick and some retreat from you or flinch from your touch, she says. Look for subtle changes in their behaviour – this is your cat telling you there’s something that is not quite right.”

…She’s not eating, or eating too much

Is your cat leaving food in the bowl or is seemingly always hungry? Any shift in behaviour in your cat is a sign that something needs to be investigated. “Usually a change in appetite is a general sign something could be wrong, and it can be a number of things,” says Claire.  “Almost any condition that causes them to feel unwell will cause them to not want to eat their food.” If you do notice a change in your pet’s appetite – either way – best book in to see the Vet.

…She’s got bad breath

Bad breath in cats is a common issue and can be due to a local, direct problem with their mouths. “Dental disease is very common in cats,” says Claire, “They can harbour bacteria in their gums or in their teeth, which definitely needs investigation.” Smelly breath can also be a sign of a more general condition, such as diabetes or some other gastrointestinal problems.

…She’s going outside her litter box

When this happens, it can either be a behavioural issue (your cat could be feeling stressed or anxious about something) or a sign something could be from with their physical health. “Frequent urination could be a product of drinking more water,” says Claire, “but if your cat isn’t making it to the little box in time, or you notice they’re struggling to get in and out of litter box, it could be arthritis. Take your cat to the vet to rule out any physical conditions.

…She’s gaining or losing weight

“Any change in weight is a potential sign that something is going on underneath the surface,” says Claire. But, don’t freak out if your cat gains or loses a little bit of weight here and there. Claire says, “Cats can lose weight when they’re more active in the summer months and put on some in the winter - so it’s important to know what is normal for your cat.”

Both weight loss and gain could be due to internal medical conditions, as well. So if you notice that she’s steadily changing shape, take her to the vet. If your cat is gaining, they may have sore joints and a cat that’s losing weight may be experiencing hyperthyroidism or have a problem absorbing nutrients.

…She’s not drinking water

One way to determine if your cat is dehydrated is by trying the skin pinch test. “Lift up the skin around the shoulder blades and it should spring back to the normal skin really easily,” explains Claire. “When cats are dehydrated their skin is less elastic and won’t spring back as much.”

You may notice they’re a bit more lethargic and not as active and happy as they usually are.

…She’s vomiting or has diarrhoea

If it’s a one-off, vomiting and soft stools can be a sign your cat has probably eaten something they shouldn’t have. “It could also be a sign of infectious diseases, parasites, allergies, food intolerances, tumours and blockages,” says Claire. Once it’s been more than a day, or if your cat is looking lethargic it’s time to check it out further.

…Her coat is matted

Any change in her coat is something you should be watching really closely. “When they get older and can’t reach the areas in which they need to groom, their coat can start to matt,” says Claire. This can be a sign they have pain in their joints.

Changes in their coat can also mean their nutrition isn’t quite right. “It can be a sign of an internal medical condition where they’re not absorbing their nutrients as much as they get older,” says Claire.

A healthy cat should always have a nice glossy coat.

Dr Claire Jenkins is a vet and co-founder of Vetchat, a service that connects you with an experienced Australian vet online to help your pet right away. See their website for more information.

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