Recognizing cat illness symptoms

… because cats are masters at hiding the fact that they are not well. Your pet cat still acts like a cat in the wild and will hide any sign of weakness … to avoid attracting the attention of predators.
As tough as we like to think cats are – some health problems can become life threatening within only a day or two. Early detection increases the likelihood that treatment will be successful … and it can also cut down on your trips to the vet.
It helps to be observant and know what is normal for your cat so you can recognize the first symptoms of illness. Below are some common symptoms, some are obvious and others easy to miss.
… have behavior or habits changed … even slightly
… are there any changes in physical appearance or the ability to move about easily
… changes in eating or drinking patterns … weight … litter box contents or behavior
… discharge from any body opening, an unusual lump, sometimes hidden beneath the fur
picture of a cat hidden, under a bed
Sick cats or cats in pain will often find a quiet, dark place to hide – crouching in a corner, under the bed, in a closet … in an effort to conserve energy or avoid painful movement.
Don’t let a sick cat outdoors, it could find another hiding spot.
One symptom can be common to many diseases and health problems.
Only your veterinarian is able to properly diagnose your cat.
Some cat illness symptoms include:
Lethargy
… which is a general decline in activity or a lack of interest in anything that goes on. Your feline may slow down, move very little, appear to be in a daze, show no interest in family and sleep more than usual. Illness often causes depression in cats, which doesn’t help matters.
Is your cat talking to you?
Is your cat unusually quiet or loud? Yowling and other odd sounds emanating from your cat deserve your attention.
Monitor your cat’s food and water intake carefully
… Increased thirst can be a symptom of diabetes or other illness. You can’t always monitor your cat’s drinking habits but may be able to keep an eye on the litter box activity
… Advise your vet if you notice an unexplained increase or loss of appetite
… Contact your veterinarian immediately if your feline is not drinking, having trouble with urinating (peeing) or not urinating at all.
Weight
Loosing a pound or so might be a triumph for some of us but for the average pet cat, even half a pound (227 grams) can be a significant weight loss. Sick cats often loose their appetite. Unexplained changes in weight, up or down, sudden or gradual should be reported to your veterinarian.
Feline Fatty Liver Disease
If your overweight cat stops eating for a few days, he or she could develop “fatty liver disease” (hepatic lipidosis or HL). To compensate for lack of food the bloodstream delivers fat to the liver; the liver then converts the fat to protein, a source of energy for the body. The liver basically becomes overwhelmed and felines then become seriously ill.
Feline symptoms can include vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, dehydration and jaundice (yellowing of the skin). Fatty liver disease can be fatal and requires immediate medical treatment. If you plan to put your overweight cat on a diet, discuss it with your vet first.
(Unfortunately, fat cats have become commonplace
… especially on Wall Street.)
picture of a fat cat (a lioness) smiling
a smiling, fat cat
Changes in litter box contents
If your kitty is going to drop a few hints that it is not well, it will probably be in the litter box. Watch for changes in:
… the color and consistency of feces (poop)
… increased urination (caused by excessive thirst) – resulting in larger litter clumps
or wet spots
… dribbles of urine that could signal a blockage of the urinary tract
… the presence of blood or mucus in urine or stools
FULTD – Feline Urinary Lower Tract Disease or FUS
FULTD is a common and serious disease and deserves immediate attention. In some cases, it can be fatal if not treated.
Symptoms of urinary tract disease include:
… frequent trips to the litter box
… squatting and straining to urinate with little or no results
… crying or howling because urinating is painful
… dribbling urine or unable to urinate at all
… excessive urinating
… incontinence – inability to control urinating of defecating
(often confused with a behavioral problem)
… blood or mucus in the urine
… excessive licking of the genitals
A blockage of the urinary tract (the urethra or bladder) can cause kidney failure. A blocked urethra tends to occur in males more frequently because their urethra is shorter. It is a life threatening condition and must be treated immediately.
(Straining to urinate is easily confused with straining to poop.)
Some veterinarians believe that the increase in urinary tract problems and problems involving the bowels are directly related to the introduction of dry cat food (kibble) … which is a creation of the pet food industry. Dry cat food does not resemble a cat’s natural diet, which is meat (protein based) and moist.
Were a cat’s organs designed to process and eliminate dehydrated kibble? That’s food for thought.
Vomiting
Cats often vomit hairballs and grass because they irritate the stomach, which is normal. When your kitty eats too quickly or too much he might vomit the food up shortly after. If your cat vomits once or twice but appears normal after, the problem usually is not serious.
On the other hand, vomiting is symptom common to many diseases, infection or intestinal parasites. Cats will vomit if they have eaten anything poisonous. Prolonged vomiting can cause dehydration. If your cat or kitten vomits repeatedly, or you see blood or anything unusual in the vomit, get in touch with your veterinarian right away.
Diarrhea
Diarrhea is a cat illness symptom that’s hard to miss. Contact your veterinarian if it lasts more than a day or contains blood, mucus, or dark stools. Diarrhea is a symptom shared by many diseases and health disorders. It can cause dehydration in your pet. Take a sample of the diarrhea with you if you’re taking your cat to the vet.
Constipation
a common health problem – in its mild form, feces remain in the colon for two to three days and later appear in the litter box as small, hard and dry stools or softer stools, somewhat like diarrhea. Symptom – straining to poop, possibly painful. With chronic constipation or megacolon, hard stool matter fills the large intestine, resulting in a bloated appearance, loss of appetite and lethargy.
Dehydration
Dehydration is an excessive loss of body fluids (and electrolytes), often resulting from prolonged vomiting or diarrhea, fever or overheating. For some cats, there is simply no water available to drink.
In a dehydrated cat, skin will loose its elasticity. To check for dehydration, gently pull a clump of skin on the back of the cat’s neck up, into a fold and let go. Normally, the skin will immediately snap back into place. If the skin remains in a ridge and does not return to its normal position instantly, your cat is likely dehydrated.
Another symptom is dryness of the mouth. Gums, which should be wet, are dry and tacky to the touch. For overweight and older cats, whose skin is tight or already has lost its elasticity, use this test to check for dehydration.
Dehydration can be life threatening – contact your vet for advice.
Coughing
Cats do cough up or vomit hairballs, which usually takes less than a minute. Persistent coughing is not normal and may be a symptom of asthma, an upper respiratory infection, parasites or other disease.
Sneezing can be a reaction to irritants or pollen in the air or a symptom of a flu virus.
Upper Respiratory Infections
These viruses produce some cat illness symptoms that are similar to our colds or flu – sneezing, coughing, runny nose and eyes but are far more serious. Cats might run a fever and loose interest in eating or drinking. Secondary bacterial infections can also develop.
URI is highly contagious. In some cases, a shelter with an infected cat will close its doors to all incoming felines until the virus is under control. Some felines recover fully and some do not survive. Give your vet a call to be on the safe side.
Eyes
Eyes are considered to be windows to the soul but they can also provide some clues to your cat’s overall health. When your feline is well eyes are bright and clear; the pupils are centered and of equal size and the eyes are moist.
Discharge from one or both eyes can be a symptom of infection or disease. Pupils that are not equal in size can be a symptom of head injury. Eyes should not be dry or hazy … swollen, bulging or sunken.
The third eyelid (nictitating membrane) is a somewhat transparent white fold of skin which appears from the inner corner of a cat’s eye. Normally not visible when a cat is awake, its appearance can signal that your cat is sick and possibly in pain.
Cat ears should be clean, free of any odor, discharge … swelling, scabbing and injury
Symptoms of ear irritation or infection are discharge, scratching, fussing with the ear and head shaking. Ear infections are serious and can be complex. Hearing and balance can be affected by infections of the middle and inner ear. If the infections are allowed to progress your cat’s face may become partially paralyzed on the infected side and the head will be held at a tilted angle. Eyes may dart about in a jerking manner. As with other health problems, the third eyelid may appear and partially cover the eye.
Ear mites are common health problem in cats and kittens and look like tiny white specks, sometimes moving. Look for a dark waxy discharge from the ears resembling coffee grounds that may have a foul odor. Cats typically shake their heads and scratch at their ears – which can create areas of rawness, scabbing, loss of hair … and possibly a secondary bacterial infection. Ear mites can easily infect other cats and dogs. Your vet can recommend treatment.
Do contact your vet for a professional diagnosis.
Mouth and Teeth
It’s fair to say that some of the same symptoms that send us running to the dentist are affecting your cat’s dental health as well. Teeth should be clear of excessive tartar, especially at the gum line and the gums should be pink and moist. Loosening teeth, bleeding gums or swelling are not good.
If your cat is having difficulty eating or is eating less, drooling or dropping food it may be suffering because of a painful abscess in the root of a tooth or other dental disease.
The mouth, tongue and lips should be clear of any sores, lacerations … or anything that looks unusual. Bad breath may be caused by bacteria or infections in the mouth but can also be a symptom of diabetes and other serious diseases.
Lumps or bumps
Don’t ignore wounds, sores, blemishes, lumps or bumps that do not heal in a few days. Periodically run your hands over your cat’s body (which you can do while brushing your cat) so you can identify anything new or unusual.
Is your cat continuing to groom itself?
Cats that are healthy and content spend about ten percent of their waking hours grooming. Felines don’t groom because they want to look good; a well maintained coat actually enhances good health. Fur protects their skin from injury, sunburn and warms them when it’s cold. Their saliva cools them when it’s warm and also has antiseptic properties. If this critical part of their daily routine is faltering, chances are all is not well.
Cats are totally dependant on us to provide them with the health care they need … do fine tune your antennae so you can easily recognize symptoms of illness in your cat.

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