When we think of quiet and graceful house cats, it’s easy to forget that they were once fierce predators in the wild. Since cats rank among the smallest compared to their fellow feline species such as the cheetah, leopard, lion, and tiger, larger predators often targeted them, especially if they showed signs of age or weakness. Over time, this led to cats evolving to hide signs of illness or injury that might make them an even easier target. Today, domesticated cats continue to be stoic animals that rarely show symptoms of medical issues. This tendency means owners need to have a watchful eye over their cats, looking for any changes in their personality or routine that might indicate something is wrong.
1. Behavioral Changes
If your typically social and cuddly cat is now withdrawn and hiding, this is an immediate red flag that something might be wrong. It’s common for cats that aren’t feeling well to hide to prevent their illness from being discovered. Conversely, a normally quiet and reserved cat might suddenly become clingy and demanding of your attention if they’re not feeling well. Any noticeable change in your cat’s behavior warrants a trip to the veterinarian for an exam. The AVMA details behavior changes specifically in senior cats that could indicate developing medical issues.
2. Lower Energy Level
As a general rule of thumb, a cat that suddenly has a lower energy level is usually either sick or in pain. While it’s normal for senior cats to slow down as part of the normal aging process, an abrupt change in a younger cat’s energy level means they’re avoiding activity because it’s making them feel worse. They might sleep more, avoid jumping on furniture or counters, and aren’t interested in playing as much. An exception is a cat secretly suffering from hyperthyroidism, which makes them hyperactive, restless through the night, and more vocal.
3. Changes in their Coat
A cat feeling discomfort often stops grooming, leading to a messy coat with mats, clumps, decreased shine, and increased dandruff. Your once beautiful cat will take on a more greasy and unkempt appearance, signaling something is wrong. Excessive or over-grooming might also indicate a problem, such as a skin problem caused by an allergy, fleas, mites, or ringworm. Over-grooming can lead to bald spots, irritated skin, and rashes.
4. Change in Appetite or Thirst
One of the most significant indicators of a problem with your cat is a change in their eating or drinking habits. They might eat less or more than usual, be thirstier than usual, or stop drinking altogether. A deviation from their normal eating and drinking habits for longer than 24 hours should be addressed with your veterinarian, as certain ailments will lead to specific eating and drinking changes.
A change in a cat’s appetite or thirst could indicate:
- Dental issues – a cat will suddenly become picky about their food
- Hyperthyroidism or diabetes – a cat will develop an insatiable appetite and drink more than usual
- Liver or kidney disease – a cat will often lose their appetite but have increased thirst
5. Litterbox Changes
As a cat owner, you’ve cleaned your cat’s litterbox countless times and expect to see the same things every time. If you suddenly discover unusual litterbox activity, it’s time to get your cat to the veterinarian. Increased urine in their litterbox could mean your cat is developing a kidney or liver issue, while decreased urine could indicate dehydration or a bladder problem. In addition, small pieces of stool that are very dry and hard could mean constipation and potentially an early sign of kidney disease.
When it comes to your cat’s health, anything that seems abnormal or is a shift in their usual demeanor should be addressed with your veterinarian as soon as possible. Since cats are incredibly stoic animals, they will attempt to hide their discomfort for as long as possible, which means that a disease could have progressed by the time an owner notices. Keep a watchful eye on your cat’s behaviors, and if something changes, get them to your veterinarian quickly to avoid a poor prognosis.