No cat or dog parent wants to deny their beloved furry minion access to needed health care! But even for veteran cat owners it can be really hard to know when to pick up the phone and make an appointment with your vet.
Why? Well, to put it bluntly, cats are sneaky. Cats are very good at concealing their pain. They’re also often the victim of their own natural adaptability when becoming ill. They simply gradually adjust to their pain or weakness so that, unless you’re paying very close attention, you may not notice that they’re struggling.
After years of dealing with unwell cats and helping other cat owners in similar situations, I’ve found there are five key “tells” which may indicate your cat is unwell.
1. Mood Changes
I’m going to start with the trickiest one first. Honestly, I think there’s no hard criteria you can apply here because: a) cats just are moody creatures, and a bad mood may mean nothing; and b) it’s very easy to anthropomorphize human moods to our furry brethren.
But still, you are the world expert in your cat!
And if you feel your cat has become progressively grumpy or aggressive over a period of several days, it’s definitely time to pay close attention.
2. Altered Sleeping Patterns
There are two aspects of sleep to be mindful of.
First, there’s the amount of sleep. Cats tend to cat-nap (hence the name!) and a bout of the afternoon snoozies is not usually anything to worry about. But if you notice your cat sleeping almost constantly all night and day, they’re likely experiencing some level of pain or distress.
The other aspect of sleep though is much more clear cut: location. Most cats are choosey with the snoozies (hey, that rhymes!). Some like to go high, others like to find comfy dark places. If that suddenly changes (especially if they’re choosing sleep locations completely out of character) it can be a sign they’re either unable to reach their usual location or lack the energy to find more salubrious sleep locales.
Either way, think of it as a warning your fluff-buddy may be struggling.
3. Different Patterns of Movement
Most cats are movers and shakers for the majority of their lives. Natural furry ninjas, cats are hardwired to leap, skulk, sprint and cavort through the world around them.
Now obviously, if your cat is suddenly limping, lifting a paw or moving oddly this is a great big red flag you shouldn’t ignore. Remember that cats mask pain. If they are showing they’re hurting, you can bet they’d benefit from some professional care.
Also look out for more subtle mobility shifts. Is your cat reluctant to jump? Do they shy away when you go to pat them? Are they moving around stiffly? If in doubt, get it checked out.
4. Changed Eating and Bathroom Habits
Let’s start with eating, or more accurately, eating and drinking. Here’s the rule of thumb I’ve found useful. If your cat goes off their food for 48 hours, get in touch with your vet. If your cat goes off their water for 24 hours, leap into action.
Some readers at this point are likely thinking, “but my cat hardly ever drinks!” It’s true. Cats have a low thirst drive and this can be a real headache for many cat owners. But think less in terms of the bowl of water you keep near their food station and more in terms of the overall liquid they’re getting in their diet.
If you see no fluid intake (whether through wet food or through actual water) in 24 hours, whip out the phone and ask for your vet’s advice.
Bathroom habits are tricky. After all, not many of us hang out near our cat’s preferred “place of business” to keep tabs on how they’re doing. But if they are beginning to choose new locations to relieve themselves, they may be experiencing mobility issues or general discomfort.
Cats rarely choose new bathroom locations without having a reason for doing so. ]
5. Changes in Appearance
Your cat’s general appearance is a big tell. Here are a few things to look out for:
- Grooming and Coat Condition - If your cat is grooming excessively in one location, they may be trying to manage pain or “self soothe.” If their coat looks bedraggled, unusually oily or matted, they are likely neglecting their grooming regimen for a health related reason.
- Mouth Issues - Drooling or general fixation with their mouth (pawing, unusual mouth movements, unusual opening and closing behavior) all may be a sign of dental or digestive problems. It’s also a good idea to frequently check their gums. Pink gums are good. Red or pale gums are generally a sign of an underlying health condition.
- Eyes and Ears - It’s simple here. The ears should look good and smell good. You shouldn’t see scabs, smell odor or feel any kind of discharge. The eyes should be clear, the pupils should be the same size and they shouldn’t be excessively blinking or squinting.
While these specifics are all a good start in understanding your cat’s health, quite honestly, the best advice you can follow is to trust your instinct. You know your cat better than anyone else, and if you sense that something about their appearance or behavior is off, don’t sweep those feelings under the carpet. A quick check-up at the vet is infinitely preferable to allowing your cat’s condition to worsen.
Cats are tricky customers! But if you’re observant and follow your instinct, you should have a good window into your cat’s overall wellness. And always talk to your vet if you have questions or concerns.