Article and Guides

10 Ways to Tell If Your Cat is Sick

Cats are great at hiding pain. “So when cat owners are unaware of what to look for, they may be missing vital clues that their cat is not feeling well,” says Dr. Jane Brunt, executive director of the CATalyst Council, a national initiative comprised of animal health and welfare organizations working on behalf of cats.

June is Adopt a Cat Month and the CATalyst Council is encouraging new cat owners to bring their pets in to the veterinarian soon after adoption to ensure they are healthy and not suffering from any underlying medical conditions. “All cats need at least an annual preventive care exam to verify that they’re healthy and not harboring some hidden illness,” says Dr. Brunt. “One of the easiest ways to ensure your new cat is healthy is to take it to the veterinarian immediately after adoption and then once a year for a wellness exam.”


To help new cat owners care for their pets, the CATalyst Council shares these 10 signs that your cat may need to see a veterinarian:

  1. Changes in interaction: If your cat is generally independent and suddenly turns into your shadow, or the reverse, it may be because your cat isn’t feeling well.
  2. Changes in activity: A change in daily routine or in your cat’s activity level could be an indication that your cat isn’t well or has a medical condition like arthritis.
  3. Changes in chewing or eating habits: An increase in consumption may be a sign of diabetes or hyperthyroidism, while a decrease may point to dental problems or even cancer.
  4. Changes in water intake: Drinking more or less water may be a sign of a health problem such as kidney disease or diabetes.
  5. Unexpected weight loss or weight gain: Weight doesn’t always go up or down with a change in appetite. There are disorders that cause weight loss or gain even without a change in food consumption
  6. Bad breath: Dental disease, kidney disease, and digestive disorders can all lead to halitosis in cats.
  7. Changes in grooming habits: Your cat works hard to look its best, which is why if you notice your cat being less fastidious than it usually is, it may be a sign that your cat has dental disease or arthritis.
  8. Changes in sleeping habits: An increase or decrease in the amount of sleep your cat gets, or a change in sleeping habits, all indicate that your cat may not be feeling its best.
  9. Changes in vocalization: If your cat starts “talking” to you more than usual or suddenly becomes very quiet, it may be because of a medical condition. Anxiety, feline cognitive dysfunction, high blood pressure, and hyperthyroidism are all reasons behind a change in vocalization.
  10. Signs of stress: Cats like routine and a stable environment and are prone to stress-related illness. Anxiety can cause cats to exhibit behavioral changes (like eliminating outside of the litter box) as well as physical changes.

“During Adopt a Cat Month, we encourage new owners to establish a relationship with a veterinarian soon after adoption, not only to ensure their new pets are healthy, but also to establish a health profile or baseline for their cats,” said Dr. Brunt. “At the same time, owners should be tracking their cat’s normal behaviors so that they know if they are exhibiting subtle signs that they are ill. It’s a good habit to form, and one that will benefit both you and your cat.”

Michele C. Hollow writes about pets and wildlife for parade and other publications. She is the author of The Everything Guide to Working with Animals, and she write the animal advocacy blog Pet News and Views. You can connect with her on Twitter