How to Tell if Your Cat is Sick

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Avoid examining a cat's gums right after she wakes up from sleep, as they will be paler than normal for a few minutes after the cat awakens. Cats tend to hide illness fairly well. It's more difficult to tell when a cat is sick when compared to other pets like a dog.


If you think your cat may be sick, monitor her symptoms every two hours. Write down what you see (i.e. temperature, gum color, vomiting frequency) A log of the cat's illness helps the veterinarian with a proper diagnosis.

Know if your cat needs the attention of a vet.

It's vital that cat owners know how to determine if a cat is sick because prompt treatment will be less taxing on your cat's health, making for a quicker recovery and less expensive vet bills. Cats are naturally fastidious, so changes in habit, appearance or routine are indicators of illness. Help your cat stay well by knowing the potential signs of illness. Keep you cat's normal behavior in mind to evaluate any potential changes.

Step 1

Examine your cat's mouth. A cat's gum color should be pink. A healthy cat's gums vary significantly when compared to another individual cat, so it's useful to know what the cat's gums look like when she is healthy. Also note if she is having problems open or closing her mouth. Excessive drooling or licking may also be an indication of an illness. Swelling of the mouth or gums is also a sign of a potential problem.

Step 2

Check if the cat's activity level has changed. A lethargic cat is usually a sick cat. This can result from illness, infection, disease, dehydration, internal bleeding, anemia, and poor appetite, among many other causes. Lethargy in a cat is a common symptom of illness.

Step 3

Note any changes in appetite. When a cat is sick, he will often eat and drink less. It's also not uncommon for a cat to stop eating and drinking completely when he's ill. This is cause for serious concern, as the cat can begin to suffer from hypoglycemia and dehydration within a matter of hours.

Step 4

Check for intestinal issues. Diarrhea and vomiting can be signs of a life-threatening problem like poisoning from a toxin or an illness like salmonella. Secondary problems like hypoglycemia and dehydration can cause seizures, collapse and even death. A cat with bloody diarrhea or vomit should get immediate attention at a 24-hour veterinary clinic. Outdoor cats in particular are prone to hunting down and eating rodents who have been poisoned with rat and mouse poisons like warfarin. The warfarin toxin that was ingested by the rodent is then absorbed by the cat's body, resulting in bloody diarrhea. There are other causes of blood in a cat's diarrhea or vomit, but this is a particularly deadly situation that's most commonly seen in cats.

Step 5

Note any respiratory issues. Coughing and sneezing are common symptoms of illness in Cats. A cat with an upper respiratory infection will not recover on her own; a visit to the veterinarian is needed.

Step 6

Take your cat to the vet if he suddenly starts having accidents. A cat who suddenly refuses to use the litter box may be sick. There are some cases where changes in the cat's home life can cause the cat to stop using the litter box, but this is a behavior that should always be investigated as a health problem. A cat with a urinary tract infection or crystalluria may refuse to use the litter box. Don't assume it's a behavior problem.