How to Tell if Your Cat is Sick

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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. For example, if your cat is lethargic and not eating, she likely isn't feeling well.

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Help your cat stay healthy by knowing the potential signs of illness. 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. Keep your cat's normal behavior in mind to evaluate any potential changes.

Step 1: Check your cat's gums

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. 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.

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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: Monitor activity levels

Check if the cat's activity level has changed. If your cat is lethargic and not eating, this is usually an indication she 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: Appetite and food intake

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.

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Step 4: Watch for gastrointestinal issues

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.

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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.

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Step 5: Watch for coughing and sneezing

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: Litter box behavior

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.

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Step 7: Record symptoms of illness

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

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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