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Is Your Cat Displaying “I am Sick” Signs?

June 19, 2013

Cats are great at hiding things. They hide your glove, your sock, your earring. They are also great at hiding when they don’t feel well.  At Westside Pet Hospital, we encourage all cat owners to have their feline friends examined at least once a year. Too often we here the phrase, “Oh, Fluffy’s an indoor cat and is never sick.” That is not always the case.

Cats display many warning signs of sickness. Careful observation can give you clues to when it’s time to visit us.

Changes in urination and defecation behavior  often accompany underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease, urinary tract infection and arthritis and do not occur “to get back at the owner.”

Cats are social animals. They enjoy interaction with their human family and often with other pets. Changes in those may signal problems such as disease, fear or anxiety. They may also signal pain which can cause  aggression . For example, a cat may attack an individual who causes it pain, such as a person combing over a cat’s arthritic hips or brushing a diseased tooth.

A  decrease or increase in activity  can be a sign of a medical condition. As cats age, there is increased risk for arthritis. Discomfort from systemic illnesses can also lead to a decrease in activity. It’s important to understand cats don’t usually slow down just because they are old. More activity is often caused by hyperthyroidism.

The key to differentiating  abnormal lethargy  from normal napping is knowing your cat’s sleeping patterns. The average adult cat may spend 16 to 18 hours per day sleeping or “catnapping.” The cat should respond quickly to usual stimuli, such as the owner walking into the room or cat food being prepared. If your cat is sleeping more than usual or has discomfort laying down and getting up, this may be a sign of underlying disease.

Cats are not “finicky” eaters. Changes, such as a  decrease or an increase in consumption  and how the cat chews its food may indicate a problem. Decreased food intake can be a sign of several disorders, ranging from poor dental health to cancer. Cats with hyperthyroidism or diabetes mellitus can lose weight despite good appetites. Changes in water intake can be an early indicator of thyroid problems, kidney disease, and diabetes.

Weight changes  often go unnoticed because of a cat’s thick coat. You can assess body condition by feeling gently along the ribs. The ribs should be easily felt but not prominent. On the other hand, obesity has become a serious health concern in cats, with increased risk of diabetes mellitus, joint disease and other problems.

Typically, cats are fastidious groomers. Note whether your cat’s coat is clean and free of mats. Patches of hair loss or a  greasy or matted appearance  can signal an underlying disease. Also watch to see if your cat has difficulty grooming. A decrease in grooming behavior can indicate fear, anxiety, or obesity. An increase in grooming may be a sign of a skin problem.

An  increase in vocalization or howling  is more common in older cats and is often seen with underlying conditions such as hyperthyroidism, hearing loss, pain, anxiety or high blood pressure.

One of the early indicators of an oral problem is  bad breath . Studies show 70 percent of cats have gum disease as early as age 3. It is important to have your cat’s teeth checked every six months to help prevent dental disease or to start a treatment program. Regular home teeth brushing and veterinary dental care prevent bad breath, pain, tooth loss and spread of infection to other organs.

As you can see, your feline friend may be showing you signs of disease already. It’s up to you to recognize them and call us at 541-678-5440 to schedule an examination.

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