What Do You Look for When You Think a Cat Is Sick?

When a pet isn't acting right but no actual symptoms exist, Dr. Kidde Cadd calls it "ain't doing right," or ADR.
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Needless to say you want to do all you can to help your cat feel better when she's sick -- but knowing when she's sick's the key. If you know your cat's habits and personality, note when she's acting a little off -- it's an early indicator that she's sick.

Cats and Pain

Because cats are both prey and predator, they are instinctually good at hiding symptoms of pain. If your kitty is just not acting right but you cannot pinpoint any specific symptoms, it's hard to know what to report to the vet. Your vet understands that you, as the cat's caregiver, might have a knack for knowing when something is wrong. Don't be afraid to take your cat to the vet if you have nothing more to report than a vague sense of something being wrong. It could be as simple as your cat lying around more than usual, refusing a favorite treat, staying up at night when he usually sleeps with you, or hiding from people and other animals. The bottom line is that if you sense your cat may have a problem, let your vet check him out. You may be able to head off a serious illness.


Lethargy is a lack of energy or animation. A lethargic cat sleeps more than usual. Considering that cats sleep a good part of the day -- an estimated 16 hours every day -- it can be hard to recognize lethargy when you see it. Lethargy is a symptom present in just about every malady a cat can suffer, but because cats are lethargic by nature, some owners don't see it as a symptom. The main thing is, if your cat is more lethargic than usual, or seems to be sleeping more or more deeply than usual, report it to your vet.

Lack of Appetite

Lack of appetite is a symptom common to almost all illnesses. Since most cats are finicky eaters anyway, this is another symptom that may be hard to recognize at first. If your usually ravenous kitty turns up his nose at his favorite food, you may have cause for alarm. Weight loss accompanies a lack of appetite, so watch for that as well. If you suspect your cat is sick, watch him eat. Look for signs of trouble eating, such as difficulty swallowing, avoiding eating on one side of the mouth, drooling while eating or other obvious difficulty eating -- perhaps he takes a bite and spits it out. Watch for excessive drinking, too. If you notice your cat is visiting the water cooler more often than usual, don't assume he's got some juicy household gossip. Have her checked out.

Vomiting and Diarrhea

One symptom of sickness that you might overlook is vomiting. Since cats vomit hairballs all the time, you may not realize there is cause for alarm. If your cat vomits yellow bile or stomach contents other than fur, or is retching and seems unable to vomit, he may be ill. A hairball, while not pleasant, is relatively easy for your cat to dispatch, and it shouldn't happen too often. Vomiting, on the other paw, is an indication of a problem. Diarrhea may occur when your cat experiences a change in diet, which is normal. But diarrhea with no known cause is a problem. If your cat goes outdoors and has access to lizards, bugs and rodents, he may have ingested something dangerous.

Inappropriate Elimination

If your cat has suddenly stopped using the litter box to urinate, or if you see blood in the urine or you notice your cat straining to urinate with little result, he may have a serious problem with his urinary tract. This is a medical emergency, especially in males, so don't delay a trip to the vet.

Miscellaneous Symptoms

Other common symptoms of illness include coughing, sneezing, watery eyes or nose, limping, unusual aggression, swelling on any part of the body, excessive licking of the genital area, discharge from penis or vagina, favoring a limb, licking at a persistent sore that will not heal and grayish gums. If you notice any of these symptoms, get your fuzzy friend to the vet as soon as possible.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

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