As any cat owner knows, our feline friends are fairly independent creatures. Relatively self-sufficient and only loosely social, cats seek attention from their “caretakers” (slaves might be a better description!) on their terms only. And, although some cats are dog-like in their interactions with their human counterparts, the majority are happy in relative solitude seeking companionship only occasionally during the day.
It is this “keeping a low profile” or “behind the scenes” type of behavior that often allows subtle signs of illness to go undetected. With this in mind, it is possible for an illness to be in an advanced state before an owner even recognizes their cat is actually sick. Being watchful for these subtle changes is an important part of ensuring our feline companions stay healthy and live long happy lives.
What Are the Subtle Signs of Illness in a Cat?
- Increase in Thirst or Urination (bigger clumps in the litter pan): are the early signs of sugar diabetes and kidney disease among others. Inappropriate urination/defecation (going outside the box)- Although some cats will do this for behavioral reasons, medical conditions like arthritis, kidney disease, bladder infection, constipation and diabetes can lead to this behavioral change.
- More Frequent Trips to the Litter Box: Cats with an irritated bladder (a very common problem) will feel like they have to urinate all the time so will be making many more trips to the box attempting to urinate. Constipation may also lead to more frequent trips to the box.
- Changes in Appetite (either increased or decreased): Increased appetite can be caused by hyperthyroidism, diabetes and intestinal problems. Decreased appetite can be caused by a variety of disease processes some of which can be very significant and potentially life threatening. Regardless of cause, any cat that stops eating is at risk of developing a life threatening illness involving the liver (hepatic lipidosis or fatty liver disease).
- Increased Vocalization: Can be behavioral in origin (anxiety potentially) but is also present in some disease processes (most notably hyperthyroidism).
- Unexplained Weight Loss or Gain: In breeds with really long or thick fur, this may not be really obvious. Feel your cat along the ribs. They should be easily felt but not prominent.
- Changes in Grooming Habits: Excessive grooming can be caused by some skin conditions and anxiety. Decreased grooming can be caused by many illnesses (including pain associated with arthritis).
- Bad Breath: Some medical problems like diabetes and kidney disease can lead to bad breath. Dental disease, however, is the number one cause. Many cats develop dental disease and some have significant problems as young as 2-3 years of age. Routine cleaning, when indicated, is very important for your cat. More often than not, in cats with advanced dental disease, multiple extractions are necessary. For this reason alone it is important to have your cat examined at least once a year.
- Becoming More Quiet/Reclusive/Hiding: Cats sleep 16 plus hours a day under normal conditions (much of which is light/easily roused sleep or “catnapping”). Watch closely for signs your cat is sleeping more or is not being as interactive with you or their furry friends.
Third Eyelids Are Visible: When a cat is waking or sleepy the third eyelids (or nictitating membranes) may be visible. But when alert and awake they are normally retracted and not evident. Persistent protrusion of the third eyelid can be caused by problems of the eye(s) or nervous system. But it can also be seen in almost any cat that is just not feeling well.