Cats are very good are hiding illness, sometimes to the point of not having obvious symptoms until they are in crisis. They have the evolutionary position of being both predator and prey. As with all other prey species, it is very important and protective to not show evidence of weakness because this will make you a good target for a predator.
Cats are also very much creatures of habit, so it is a good idea to keep as much of a regular routine as possible with your cats. Being aware of what your cat’s normal routine is will help you identify any deviations from the routine, and, as we will discuss, these can be subtle, early signs of sickness. Just like with people, catching a disease or problem early can help us alter the course of the disease.
- Changes in interaction—This can mean that a cat that normally sits on your lap while you are reading will now spend the day sleeping in the closet or under the bed (withdrawing or hiding). It can also mean that a cat that would usually patrol the house, looking out the windows, will now not leave your side (becoming “clingy”).
- Changes in activity—A cat that ordinarily races up and down the stairs now walks slowly on the stairs could have a painful condition such as arthritis, or may be weak from anemia.
- Changes in appetite—Most cats are not picky eaters, so a cat that isn’t eating much very likely has a medical problem. The best way to monitor this is to meal-feed your cats instead of free-feeding. A cat that loses his appetite can develop secondary liver problems if this is allowed to persist in addition to the underlying primary cause. An increase in eating can be caused by high thyroid hormone, diabetes, or other health problems.
- Changes in water intake—Drinking more water can be due to kidney problems or diabetes. You may notice this by water bowls being emptied faster or your cat trying to get water from unusual sources like drinking out of your glasses or faucets and sinks. You may also notice more or larger urine clumps in the litterbox.
- Changes in weight—Unexpected weight loss or gain is a very common signs of illness. You may be able to feel your cat’s spine and hips more easily when you pet her, or her belly may look bigger in the case of weight gain.
- Changes in breath smell—This can indicate problems in the mouth such as dental disease or a cancer, but may also be a sign of an infection, kidney disease, or digestive problem.
- Changes in grooming—A clumpy or oily coat may mean that you cat isn’t feeling well enough to groom or may have arthritis making it painful to groom. A cat that is grooming so much that he is getting bald or thinned fur could have skin problems or a painful area.
- Changes in sleeping habits—Goes along somewhat with changes in activity, but a change in the schedule of sleeping, such as being active at night and waking you up for attention or food. Sometimes this can be associated with aging.
- Changes in vocalization—Quiet kitties that start yowling, especially at night, could have high blood pressure, high thyroid level, or may be suffering from cognitive problems related to aging.
- Changes in litterbox habits—Urinating or defecating out of the box can indicate a variety or treatable medical problems which have the highest success rate in treatment if they are addressed early. Do not think that your kitty is doing this “just to spite” you. Be aware that the longer this habit persists, the more difficult it will be to break. Seek help early for this problem.
I am sure you noticed that all of these signs begin with a CHANGE. You know your cat, and if she is doing something new or different, this can be the early signs of a health problem. Please consult with your veterinarian about your concerns. There is so much we can do together to help your cat stay healthy and feel good for as long as possible.