Subtle Signs Your Cat May Be Sick

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Jane Harrell, Petfinder.com associate producer

Cats outnumber dogs in the U.S. by about 15 million, according to the CATalyst Council. But cats receive less-frequent veterinary care than dogs, and their signs of illness are often more subtle than their canine counterparts’.

Subtle Signs Your Cat May Be Sick

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Call your vet today and make sure your cat’s next wellness visit is on the calendar. (The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends taking cats to the vet for regular checkups twice a year.)

Until your next appointment, here are some of the less-obvious signs that your cat may be sick:

  • Bad breath: Stinky breath can indicate kidney problems and serious dental disease in your cat — and sweet or fruity-smelling breath can be a sign of diabetes. Consult your vet if you notice any bad or unusual odors when your cat opens his mouth.
  • Becoming more or less affectionate: “A previously clingy cat acting uncharacteristically aloof, or a more independent cat that suddenly transforms into ‘Velcro kitty’ are examples” of subtle signs of illness, according to the CATalyst Council’s great downloadable guide, “CATegorical Care: An Owner’s Guide to America’s #1 Companion.”
  • A change in appearance: An unkempt appearance and increased shedding can be symptoms of hyperthyroidism, a glandular disorder common in cats, or allergies.
  • A drop in eating or drinking: A sudden decrease in food or water intake can be a sign of several health problems, from dental issues to kidney disease to cancer. Not only that, the cessation of eating or drinking can itself lead to serious complications: I learned this lesson when a roommate’s cat became ill after not eating for a few days. If your cat stops eating or drinking for 24 hours, head to the vet.
  • An increase in eating or drinking: Veterinarian Dr. V, who blogs at Pawcurious, tells Petfinder, “Oftentimes when we ask how a patient is eating and drinking, the owners will say, ‘Oh, Fluffy is eating amazingly! And her drinking is just stellar! We can’t keep her out of the water bowl!’ Increases in eating and drinking can be just as significant as decreases, and are common early indicators of conditions such as diabetes and hyperthyroidism.” Inflammatory bowel disease, another common issue for cats, can also cause a voracious appetite.
  • Changes in poop or pee: If you notice a change in the frequency, color, smell, or volume of your cat’s waste, or in your cat’s pooping or peeing behavior, tell your vet. Increased urination may indicate diabetes, and if your cat suddenly starts straining or crying in the litter box or pooping or peeing outside the litter box, she could have lower urinary tract disease.
  • Something seeming “off”: “I tell owners not to underestimate their own instincts,” says Dr. V. “Cats are subtle creatures, and small changes in behavior can mean a lot. Owners who know their pets best are the best judges of that. One time a cat came in with no symptoms other than ‘His meow sounds different’ and he turned out to be hyperthyroid!”

So never forget to watch what goes into your cat and what comes out, and to trust your gut. And call your vet today to schedule your next checkup. Toby and I already have! (He’s thrilled, really.)

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