Due to their stoic nature and oft-quirky personalities, it is sometimes difficult to recognise illness in cats.  A perfectly normal cat can be aloof, quiet, or afraid.  A healthy cat can urinate outside the litter box, vomit once a week, never meow or meow non-stop.  The best way to spot illness in a cat is to spend time getting to know what’s normal for your unique feline.  Then it will be obvious when he or she is behaving out of character.  Here are some common, and perhaps normal, traits that may also warrant further investigation:


He’s just being unsociable today. Like people, animals have days when they’re just not feeling quite up to par.  If lethargy or depression is combined with other symptoms, however, or lasts longer than 24 hours, consult your veterinarian.

She must be tired.  She can’t even keep her eyes open. They don’t call it catnapping without reason.  Your feline spends a good deal of time in that zone between wakefulness and sleep.  When she’s up and around, however, her eyes should be fully open, clear and free from mucus or discharge.  Squinting is not normal, and swelling around the eye can indicate a dental problem.  Any abnormal eye condition should be seen by a vet as soon as possible.  Do NOT self medicate with any previously-prescribed ointments as the wrong medication can result in blindness.  A scratched cornea requires different treatment than conjunctivitis and only your vet can determine the proper remedy.

That’s the third time I’ve seen him in the litter box today. Most cats like to do their business in private so when you actually see one using the litter pan, it might be wise to pay attention for a while and note any other inconsistencies in your feline’s behaviour.  Urinary issues are one of the most common maladies in cats.  If your feline seems to be “in and out” of the box or is producing only small amounts of urine, he might have a urinary tract infection.  You may need to physically examine the box to be sure of the amount expelled and not just assume it was a “normal” elimination.  The sooner you are able to get a sample to your vet to identify possible bacteria and/or occult blood, the sooner your feline will respond to treatment.  Male cats are more prone to complete blockage, which can be fatal, because the male urinary tract is much smaller than that of a female.  It is imperative to contact your vet immediately if you have any doubts regarding your male cat’s urinary routine.

Look at that kitty purring! If her chest is heaving in and out and it’s not due to purring, get her to the vet right away.  Laboured breathing is a sign of distress.

Cats are so finicky.Anyone who has ever cared for a cat knows what it feels like to open a fresh can of cat food and have kitty turn up his nose at it.  Again, cats can be just like humans.  Sometimes we’re just not hungry or we don’t feel like eating what’s served.  If this symptom is accompanied by others, however, or your feline friend doesn’t start eating again within 24 hours, check with your veterinarian.

She has hairballs. Living with a cat means subjecting yourself to a creature that will, from time to time, bring up furry reminders of her last meal.  Felines are not only subject to an occasional hairball, but can also get digestive disturbances (vomiting and diarrhea) from things as simple as a change in diet, ingesting grass, eating too much or too quickly or eating something unfit for consumption.  If vomiting or diarrhea is persistent, violent or continues for more than a day, a veterinary appointment is called for.

He’s very independent; he doesn’t even like to be touched any more. Although independence could be your cat’s middle name, and many do not like being cuddled, an unwillingness to be touched may indicate an injury.  Cat owners often miss an abscess because the cat’s fur covers up the puncture wound, the skin heals over and the sore festers underneath until it manifests as an inflamed lump.  Infection may not become apparent until kitty displays signs of illness such as lethargy, fever, loss of appetite and is reluctant to be touched.  An abscess needs to be seen and treated by a veterinarian.

She’s panting? Cats rarely pant.  When they do, the cause is most likely heat, stress or pain.  If a cause cannot be found nor alleviated, check with your veterinarian.

Eeew! Dead-fish breath!In general, cats don’t have the sweetest breath to begin with.  But if you notice it getting worse, especially if he’s having problems eating and is drooling or pawing at his mouth, your cat could have a dental problem.

You know your cat better than anyone else.  If you suspect something’s wrong, go with your feelings and get him checked out by a vet.