Is My Cat Sick?

The chill, laid-back nature of a cat is one of its strongest selling points for pet owners, right after "ridiculously adorable" and "entertaining to watch." They're also extremely stoic and strong, possessing the innate ability to hide pain and suffering. And with more than 85 million cats living in U.S. households, according to the American Pet Products Association, that means a lot of pet owners who need to be on the lookout for signs of potential illness.

Symptoms of sickness among cats are much more subtle than they can be with dogs. It's imperative that pet parents understand how this can complicate the process of diagnosis. To help ensure your kitty's health, learn what to keep an eye out for what may signal that your pet cat is feeling sick.

Here are a handful of warning signs that your feline may be under the weather:

Changes in Eating or Drinking

Your cat's appetite is a good window into how he or she is feeling. Their needs are reminiscent of Goldilocks—not too little, but not too much. Pay attention to food and drink intake over the course of a day, though this can be difficult to do since many are ninja-like, eating under the coverage of darkness or when they're alone.

If your cat slows down or stops eating or drinking altogether, this could signal an array of health problems, such as kidney disease, cancer or dental issues. If it's been 24 hours without either food or water, contact your vet immediately.

Is your kitty on the other end of the spectrum with a voracious appetite or an insatiable urge for water? That's an entirely different issue. Cats who eat more than normal could be dealing with inflammatory bowel disease, or the beginning stages of feline hyperthyroidism or diabetes, particularly if water consumption is greater than normal. Again, contact your vet immediately to best handle the situation.

Noticeably Bad Breath

Don't expect your furry friend to have minty fresh breath, but if it's especially putrid, it could be a signal of a larger problem. Halitosis stems from a buildup of odor-causing bacteria, which can lead to gum or dental disease if it gets out of hand. Sweeter-smelling breath can be indicative of diabetes, while breath reminiscent of urine implies kidney disease.

A veterinarian will often pick up on unusually bad breath during a semi-annual exam, but if you notice it in between appointments, make the call to get it checked out.

Problems in the Litter Box

Troubles with urination or defecation are big concerns for cats, but they're also some of the hardest issues for a pet owner to notice. During regular litter box cleanings, pay attention to volume, smell and color -- all potential indicators that there's a problem with your pet. Is your cat going to the box more frequently than normal? That's a common sign of a lower urinary tract problem, as well as diabetes. Both require immediate attention from a veterinary professional.

Sleep Pattern Changes

Being playful and adorable is hard work, so healthy cats require anywhere from 12 to 16 hours of sleep each day. When cats are ill, however, they often lose energy and end up sleeping much more. If you notice your kitty is lethargic and isn't interacting much when he or she is awake, take note and look for other symptoms. This could mean your cat has a fever, is having difficulty breathing or is in pain.

If you notice a change in personality coupled with changes in sleep patterns, contact your vet for an expert opinion.

Something Just Seems Off

You know your cat better than anyone else, so trust your gut. Sometimes pet owners subconsciously pick up on small signs and don't realize it. Err on the side of caution and get your cat into the vet's office for a checkup.

By Tara Hall

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