Feline Health: What to Look Out For

Cats are curious creatures – there’s no better predator, yet they can be the ultimate softie at home. Just one step through the cat plan can convert your cat from one mode to the other.

Due to their nature as hunters, cats are very adept at hiding disease and injury – a pivotal skill which would help them survive in the wild. As a cat owner you do need to be aware of this and always keep the following top warning signs at the back of your mind to look out for:

1) Thirst

– This is the most important one to monitor as although increased thirst may be due to many factors, it can be a warning sign of diabetes or infections as well as kidney and liver disease.
– If it is due to kidney disease, this sign will only show when your cat’s kidneys are already 75% damaged – so, the best present you could give your feline friend (especially if they are getting on a bit) is to do twice-yearly urine testing. It is very simple to do at home, just use Katkor in the litter tray rather than normal litter to collect a sample and then take it to your vet asap (keep it in the fridge until you do).
– Cat kidneys are amazing at conserving water but all cats will suffer some degree of kidney damage as they get older, usually beginning around the age of seven.
– What you need to look out for is any change in drinking behaviour – a cat fed mainly on dry kibble will drink more than a cat eating wet food but any change from the normal level should be investigated.

2. Not grooming or scruffy, unkempt coat:

– As we know, cats love to keep themselves clean and tidy. If you notice an unkempt, dull coat or a general lack of grooming (especially towards the base of the spine) this could be a sign of early arthritis, a sore mouth, or just general malaise. In any case, it’s always worth a visit to the vet.

3. Eating Behaviour

– If you notice your cat eating less, this should be an immediate red flag, especially if it continues for 24 hours or more. Cats like their routine, especially around food so any deviation could be a sign of pain (such as tooth) or sickness (such as infections, kidney or l-liver problems).

4. Weight Loss

– Get into the habit of weighing your cat monthly. The easiest way is to stand on the scale, note your weight and then step on with your cat. The difference is their weight.
– Look for any muscle wasting along the spine (you will feel the spine more prominently) or ribs that become more noticeable and palpable.
– Of course, you may just have a sprightly cat who uses up more energy than they eat, but it could be due to a sore mouth, kidney disease (again), nausea or even related to an overactive thyroid (in this case your cat will be eating well). Regardless, weight loss is not to be ignored and you should see your vet.

5. Sleeping more

– This is tricky as cats are the masters of catnaps. However, they are also very much creatures of habit and tend to have routine associated with when, where and for how long they will sleep. If you notice your cat is being lethargic or even sleeping when they don’t usually (such as when you get home or when you feed them), then something is not right and you should take them to your vet.

6. Open mouth breathing

– Cats never ever breathe with their mouths open unless it is exceptionally hot outside, they have just exerted themselves greatly, or they are in a consultation room seeing their vet (ie: stressed)!
– It is just not a normal thing for them to do if they are in their home environment and it could be a sign of heart and/or lung problems, so please see your vet immediately.

Finally, do not panic if you notice any of these signs – in all cases, it is always ‘the earlier caught the better’.

As a profession, veterinarians would much much prefer to be given the opportunity to do the maximum they can to improve your cat’s quality of life at an early stage rather than being in a situation where the disease has just progressed too far and there is little to be done to improve their situation. We love seeing owners who make appointments as soon as they notice a problem, it just makes the world of difference to everyone, especially your feline.

Andrew Bucher

Vet and Co-Founder of Medicanimal

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13 comments

  1. Interesting, particularly helpful to pet owners and hopefully may encourage them to seek medical advice sooner than they would normally have done, and stop them listening to a non-medical friend’s advice or ‘self-diagnosing’. That does annoy me.
    Thankyou

    1. Thank you for your comment and glad you find it helpful. The mantra is to always see your vet if you suspect anything is ‘not quite right’ 🙂

  2. Thanks for that! As a cat owner of many years it was a reminder to me that I don’t “know it all” and to be more alert to little signs rather than dismissing these as just being “what that cat is like”.

    1. Hello Hania, so glad you agree 🙂
      Like most things in life, you need to look out for the ‘little things’ before they become ‘big problems’!
      Have a lovely bank holiday weekend, Andrew

  3. Fantastic advice, please heed!….I have just had to have my 5yr old tabby ‘ Floyd ‘ put to sleep and am gutted. He was a rescued feral cat and very timid and nervous so was hard to notice change in him. His problems where dental which lead to suspected liver and kidney damage. In the space of two day’s he had gone from weeing outside the box, which I thought was behavioural after him being stressed with builders being in, to salivating and lost weight rapidly. Its a horrible guilt to think he would have been suffering pain etc before this, without it being obvious. I was so upset I used the Blue Cross counselling phone service.. Excellent service from them and so valued that its available, the people that do this are truly altruistic.

    1. Hi Mart,
      I am really sorry to hear about Floyd, it really shows that you cared very much for him. Please know that dental problems are very common in feral cats, it usually hits them in their prime unfortunately and is a major cause of their death in the wild. I would not feel guilty about this please as it is also known as a’silent killer’ in the way that once the gum bleeds (can be from a fight with another feral or from catching prey) or just from tartar build up and gum recession, bacteria then very very easily enter the bloodstream (known as a bacteraemia) and end up either attaching to the heart valves (endocarditis) and/or go to the kidney (as it is an end organ) and cause direct kidney damage and later infection. All of this takes time and you as an owner will not notice anything (hence the name) until either he cannot eat due to dental pain (kidney damage also causes mouth ulcers) or just feels awful as the toxins in the blood are no longer being cleared by the kidney (and liver).
      You also had the added problem that he was feral and hence totally and utterly impossible to physically open his mouth and examine it. No chance at all so how could you know really?
      You did a great thing for Floyd, you gave him love and affection for the time left he had in this world and he loved it I am sure 🙂
      Rest easy.
      Andrew

  4. As always a very helpful article. We have a 16 year old female cat who thankfully is very sprightly but only found out she had a dental issue at an annual health check. All “sorted” and a much happier cat. So an annual MOT for the older moggie ( and doggie) is well worth it.

  5. Many years ago a vet said to me “Cats are never hypochondriacs: if they say there’s something wrong then there is something wrong”. I have always remembered that so that I am on the alert to the least little warning sign of anything unusual and know to act on it.

  6. I had a tabby half Siamese cat until last year. He was so handsome and lovely and I loved him to bits. He was my soul mate after losing my husband. He was 18 years old and four months. But he was drinking so much water and ate very well, but was losing weight. After a visit to the vet, I was told it was his kidneys! So poor Ollie was sadly put to sleep. That was just over a year ago and I still miss him so! I am still looking for another cat like him, but it seems impossible. But who know maybe one day!

    1. Hi Lynda,
      Very sorry to hear about Ollie but 18y4m is a great age so well done there! Who knows as you say? Always keep an open mind as there are many many cool groovy cats out there 🙂
      All the best, Andrew

  7. Thank you, a very useful article as cats don’t often flag up when they are ill. There are three other things I would say to look out for to:

    A cat who is unusually clingy and follows calling when you are leaving may be seriously ill.

    A heat-seeking cat eg. curling up on a video box etc. in warm weather may also be showing signs of thyroid problems.
    If a cat is using it’s ribcage actively to breath it may have a serious injury or infection.

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