How do I know if my cat is sick?


Adam Cecil

Adam Cecil

Former Staff Writer

Adam Cecil is a former staff writer for Policygenius, a digital insurance brokerage trying to make sense of insurance for consumers. He is a podcast producer, writer, and video maker based in Brooklyn, NY.

Published February 4, 2016|3 min read

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Cats are a series of tiny annoyances that you deal with because they’re cute and you love them. Case in point: when your cat is sick, they’ll actively hide the fact that they’re in pain. It’s a holdover from the fact that cats are still pretty much wild animals, and in the wild, it’s eat or be eaten. Showing pain is basically advertising the fact that you’re an easy meal.However, there are signs that your cat may be sick or in pain if you pay attention.

Breaking routine

Basically, if your cat acts different in any way, shape, or form, you might need to take them to the vet. Use your judgement — if your cat is hiding because you just bought a new vacuum and they’re not used to the sound yet, they probably don’t need to go the vet. Buuuuut if your cat is suddenly hiding 24/7 when they’re regularly pretty gregarious, there’s a good chance they’re trying to hide an illness.If you want to be sure what to look for when it comes to "acting differently," peep this list:

  • Is she literally hiding somewhere?

  • Is she in a hunched position?

  • Is she purring to herself? (Cats purr when they’re happy, but also to calm themselves.)

  • Is she neglecting to groom herself?

  • Is your cat pressing her head into the wall or furniture?

  • Does she refuse to rest on her side and instead keep her head raised?

Needless to say, this also falls under abnormal behavior:

Recognizing and responding to these signs may be the difference between life and death for your cat. Make sure to call your vet and bring your cat in (or get a home visit) as soon as possible after you notice symptoms.

What goes in and what comes out

Just like humans, sick cats may want to avoid eating. However, sick cats can also be like college kids with the munchies and eat everything in sight. To put it simply: if your cat has a sudden shift in how much food they want to eat, they’re probably sick.Same goes with drinking water. Increased thirst could indicate anything from diabetes to kidney disease. To check for dehydration, pinch the scruff of the neck or the skin between the shoulderblades and let go — if she’s dehydrated, the skin will stay pinched.

You also have to keep an eye on your cat’s litterbox excursions as well. If your cat is attempting to pee frequently, but is only producing a small amount or none at all, there may be a blockage in the urinary tract or a urinary tract infection. These frequent trips to the litter box may be accompanied by meows and other signs of pain, so keep your ears open.Additionally, your cat may suffer from diarrhea. Diarrhea can mean a lot of things, and is an obvious sign that something is wrong with your cat. While it may be as simple as a bad reaction to a new food, it may also be poisoning or intestinal parasites. Cats may also become constipated and have difficulty pooping.Clearly, you don’t have to follow your cat to the bathroom every time they need to use the litterbox. But when you clean it — as you should be doing at least once a day — check what your cat left behind for any signs of illness. You should also be on the lookout for any poop and pee outside of the litter box combined with signs of illness.

Obviously vomit and coughing

Vomiting combined with any other symptom from this article is a pretty obvious sign that your cat is sick. If your cat is vomiting for hours at a time or more than once a day, you need to call the vet.Also, coughing. A few coughs or sneezes may be nothing more than dust, but if your cat is constantly coughing for a day or longer, contact your vet.

If you're worried, call your vet

It’s better to be safe than sorry, especially when you’re talking about your cats. Even though the jury is still out on whether or not cats love us, we love them, and that’s our own fault and we have to deal with that with years of therapy.

Image: Tina Chen