How to Diagnose a Sick Cat

No pet owner wants to see his animal suffering. Your cat may not be feeling well, but she can't tell you why she feels sick or what part of her body hurts. It is your job as a pet owner to recognize the signs of your cat's illness and help her get the medical treatment she needs to feel better.

sleeping cat
Your veterinarian is the best person to diagnose your cat's illness.
credit: екатерина максименко/iStock/Getty Images

Symptoms of Illness

You are the person who knows your cat best. Therefore, you are the one who is most likely to notice if something is amiss. Interact regularly with your cat, observing her day-to-day activities, behaviors and regular appearance. If you know what is normal for your cat, you will be able to spot abnormalities. Common symptoms of illness include vomiting, fever, diarrhea, lethargy, weakness, difficulty breathing, loss of appetite, weight changes and changes in bathroom, grooming or sleeping habits. If you notice a change in your cat's behavior that you cannot explain, you should take her to the veterinarian immediately. You also may want to make notes about the symptoms you have noticed so that you will remember everything when you are talking to your veterinarian.

Checking for Fever

A fever is a sure sign that your cat is sick and may require immediate veterinary treatment. You can take your cat's temperature using a rectal thermometer. You may need to have a helper hold the cat in place while you lubricate the thermometer, insert it into your cat's anus and wait for the reading. A normal temperature for a cat is between 100.4 to 102.5 degrees. If your cat's temperature is above 102.5 degrees, contact your veterinarian. In some cases, your veterinarian may want you to bring your cat in immediately, depending on how high the fever is and how long your cat has had it.

Physical Examination

Your veterinarian will need to examine your sick cat to figure out what the problem is. He will perform a physical examination, where he will examine your cat closely looking for anything that appears to be out of the ordinary. You can expect your veterinarian to weigh your sick cat to see if he has gained or lost any weight since your last visit. The veterinarian will then examine your cat's skin and coat checking for signs of hair loss, rashes, injuries, redness, tumors or other possible problems. Your veterinarian will check your cat's eyes to see if they are irritated, red, damaged in any way or displaying signs of discharge. You also can expect your veterinarian to check your cat's ears for signs of infection, parasites or other abnormalities. Your vet also will look at your cat's nose to see if there are signs of discharge. Next he will examine the mouth for signs of abnormal masses or swelling that can be indicative of dental problems. Your veterinarian will then feel your cat's legs, abdomen and joints looking for masses or signs of pain from your pet. Your vet also will listen to your cat's heart and lungs with his stethoscope to check for heart, lung and breathing problems.

Diagnostic Tests

If your vet thinks it is necessary, he may draw blood and perform blood tests on your cat. The blood test will check for any abnormalities in your cat's blood that could be causing his sickness. Blood tests can indicate quite a few different health problems including cancers, various viruses, diabetes and some genetic disorders. Your veterinarian may opt to test your cat's urine and feces looking for abnormalities. If your veterinarian wants a fecal sample, you may be asked to provide one from your cat's litter box. In the event that your veterinarian suspects an internal problem, he may have ultrasounds or radiographs done to diagnose your cat's condition.