Cats are very good at hiding the fact that they are sick. Often, pet parents don’t realize that something is wrong until their cat’s condition has become quite advanced. Being able to recognize the subtle signs of feline illness will help you get your cats the treatment they need, when they need it.
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When cats don’t eat, they are at high risk for developing a life-threatening disease called hepatic lipidosis, a condition in which the mobilization of large amounts of body fat can overwhelm the liver and disrupt the organ’s ability to function. Common symptoms of hepatic lipidosis include jaundice (a yellow discoloration of body tissues), vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, dark urine, weakness, and weight loss.
Treatment for hepatic lipidosis involves addressing the underlying problem that has led to the cat’s poor appetite, and then increasing food intake. Occasionally, cats will start eating on their own if they are offered an extremely tasty food, but in many cases a veterinarian will need to place a feeding tube to ensure that the cat gets all the necessary calories and nutrients. Never resort to force feeding. It is unlikely that you will get in enough food to make a difference in your cat’s condition, your cat may inhale food into the lungs, and you may be bitten or scratched.
Unexpected Weight Loss
These days, many of our cats are overweight, so weight loss may initially seem like a good thing. However, you should be concerned if your cat is unexpectedly losing weight. Weight loss is a symptom of many common and potentially serious diseases in cats, including:
- Diabetes mellitus
- Hyperthyroidism (learn how to make a hyperthyroid cat gain weight)
- Kidney disease
- Liver disease
- Dental problems
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Internal parasites
Unless you can identify and fix an obvious cause for your cat’s weight loss (like competition with other cats in the house), make a veterinary appointment. The doctor will take a complete health history, perform a physical examination, and may need to run blood work, a urinalysis, fecal examinations, and other tests to diagnose the problem and give you appropriate treatment options. If your vet says your cat’s health issues are due to parasitic worms, read our list of The Best Cat Dewormers.
Cats generally don’t have much of a smell associated with them. Dental disease is the most common cause of bad breath in cats but other problems like oral injuries or tumors can also be to blame. An oddly sweet or fruity odor will sometimes develop when cats have diabetes, but as the disease progresses their breath may smell like nail polish. Cats with an intestinal blockage or severe liver disease may have breath that smells like feces while kidney disease can lead to a strong odor of ammonia.
Smells that originate from the ears or skin are typically associated with infections. If you can tell that the odor is coming from your cat’s rear end, problems with the anal glands, intestinal tract, or soiled fur may be to blame. Make an appointment with your veterinarian if your cat develops a persistent, unusual odor.
Changes in Drinking and Urinary Habits
Increased thirst and urination may initially not seem all that noteworthy, but they are classic symptoms of some very serious feline diseases, including diabetes mellitus, chronic kidney disease, and hyperthyroidism. Unsurprisingly, a cat who is making more urine than normal is also at increased risk of having accidents outside of the litter box. Urinary accidents can also be caused by other problems like feline urologic syndrome, bladder stones, urinary tract infections, and even stress.
All of these conditions are best managed when they are diagnosed and treated early. Make an appointment with a veterinarian if the changes last for more than a day or two or immediately, if they are especially severe.
Of course, a cat’s energy level will decline as they move from being a kitten to an adult to a senior citizen, and we all have our occasional “off” days, but a sustained loss of energy should never be ignored. Lethargy, or low energy, can be seen with almost any health condition, but some of the most notable ones include:
- Heart disease
- Respiratory problems
- Anemia (low red blood cell count)
- Hormonal disorders
- Organ dysfunction
- Musculoskeletal problems
- Neurologic disorders
In conclusion, seemingly minor symptoms can be signs of significant health problems in cats. Your cat will thank you for taking appropriate action sooner rather than later.