Skip to main content

How to Tell if Your Cat is Sick

How to Tell if Your Cat is Sick


People often admire cats for their independent nature, but that same self-sufficient attitude may also lead owners to think that their kitties are perfectly capable of taking care of themselves and don’t need any medical attention.

Cat owners should remember that our little feline friends are very good at hiding illness. Without regular veterinary visits, though, a disease or condition could go unnoticed for months or years, until severe symptoms finally appear.

Here are some things to look for in determining whether your cat may be sick:

  • Monitor Your Cat’s Social Behavior:  An independent cat who suddenly becomes clingy may be feeling unwell.  Likewise, a normally social cat who becomes withdrawn may also be exhibiting early signs of illness.
  • Activity Level: If your active cat is starting to slow down or doesn’t seem to have the same energy level, arthritis could be the culprit along with several other conditions.
  • Changes in Eating and/or Drinking: Changes in water intake or eating habits are also often early signs of illness. It’s a good idea to know how much your cat eats and drinks each day and to also monitor his or her eating. Sometimes early dental problems can be seen as odd chewing behavior, such as a cat that only seems to chew on one side of the mouth, possibly to avoid a painful tooth (just like we humans might).
  • Bad Breath: Bad breath can be a sign of a metabolic disease or dental disease. Annual dental health exams, home care, and cleanings as recommended by your veterinarian can keep dental disease at bay.
  • Changes in Weight: These can occur without any significant change in food intake. Unexplained weight loss or weight gain should always be investigated. In older cats, weight loss can be a sign of hyperthroidism.
  • Grooming Habits: A cat who doesn’t want to groom is definitely not feeling well. This could be due to arthritis, obesity, or even dental problems.
  • Sleeping Habits: Changes in sleeping habits is a sign that your cat may be experiencing some unseen problems. Cats often sleep about 75% of the day, so a sudden decrease in the time spent sleeping is cause for concern.
  • Changes in Routine: Cats prefer a stable routine and a calm environment.  Situations that can cause stress for our cats include new people in the home, changes in routine or even an unforeseen move.
  • Changes in Behavior: If you notice any changes in your cat’s behavior, such as changes in litterbox habits (eg, not using it), scratching (shredding the couch when the cat used to only scratch its scratching post), and even including changes in vocalization (meowing or yowling), it’s a good idea to see your veterinarian.

If you notice any changes or signs similar to the ones listed above, your cat should be examined by your veterinarian.

Our cats can’t talk to us and let us know what’s going on, but your cat's veterinarian can help get to the bottom of their distress. Ideally, both dogs and cats should be seen every 6 months by a veterinarian. This will help identify health problems before they turn into more critical, and possibly more expensive, issues.

Updated: September 15, 2017