One of the many reasons we love cats is their aloof, mysterious nature that leaves us wondering what they are thinking. However, traits that make them such interesting companions can also cause them to mask the subtle symptoms of illness. While some of these behaviors are frequently mistaken for fussiness, spite, or personality quirks, they are often indicators of illness or disease. Here are some of the most common signs of trouble with our fabulous felines.
Changes in Activity or Interaction
When normally clingy kitties become secretive or detached, or more independent cats transform into "Velcro pets", they may be dealing with undiagnosed pain or illness. Similarly, an increase or decrease in activity, and/or sudden changes in a cat's routine, can be signs of an underlying medical condition. For instance, arthritis is far more common in cats than previously thought. Spirited seniors may turn into couch potatoes simply because they are in pain. Your veterinarian can give you some options for dealing with feline arthritis.
Changes in Eating or Drinking Habits
Contrary to popular belief, cats are not naturally finicky eaters. Be mindful of changes such as an increase or decrease in your cat's appetite. Cats that suddenly refuse to eat dry, crunchy foods, or who beg for soft foods may be dealing with dental anomalies that can lead to life-threatening health problems. Bad breath can be a sign of trouble as well. An unexplained increase in appetite can be a sign of diabetes, hyperthyroidism, or other health problems; losses or gains in weight should be treated as a sign of trouble. Drinking more or less water can also be an indicator of conditions such as diabetes, urinary tract infections, or kidney disease.
Changes in Grooming Habits
Fastidious felines who let themselves go - even just a little - may be feeling unwell. Similarly, over-grooming can be related to stress, pain, or skin conditions. Hair loss, bald patches, scaliness, scabs, bumps, or excessive scratching all require medical attention. Some skin conditions, such as ringworm and sarcoptic mange, can even be transmitted to humans.
Changes in Vocalization
Shy cats who begin to vocalize, or cats that howl in the night may be doing so as a result of an underlying medical problem. Feline cognitive dysfunction, thyroid disease, heart problems, or high blood pressure are among the possible explanations.
Changes in Litterbox Habits
This one is far from subtle, yet it is often dismissed as a behavioral eccentricity. Cats who urinate or defecate outside of the litterbox may be doing so because they are ill. Blood in the urine or feces warrants immediate medical attention. Cats who cry when picked up, vocalize in the litterbox, or strain to urinate, must be seen by your veterinarian right away. If your cat is attempting to urinate, but not passing any urine, his urethra may be blocked. This usually occurs in males and is a life-threatening condition requiring immediate medical attention.
The dignified, stoic nature of cats can work against them - as well as the pet parents who love them. It is not unusual for veterinarians to see loved, well cared-for cats who have been quietly suffering for weeks. By watching for these covert clinical signs, we can better understand our feline friends when they need our help the most.