Unusual cat health symptoms to watch out for

We understand that as a loving cat owner, you want your pet to be as happy and healthy as possible. As cats can’t tell us what’s wrong when they don’t feel well, it can be difficult to know when they might need help.

Woman with black cat

Warning signs

Unlike dogs, cats tend to shy away from contact when they’re under the weather, rather than seek comfort. This protective instinct can even make them more aggressive and hide away, making it tough for you to keep an eye on them.

You can avoid cat health problems by taking him or her for a check-up with the vet every 6-12 months, especially when they’re over 8 years old. If you suspect that there is something wrong with your cat, but aren’t sure if it’s anything to worry about, there are several unusual cat health symptoms to look out for, to help alert you to when you should take them to the vet's.

Our guide below sheds light on some of the common cat illnesses and symptoms to look out for. If you have any concerns about your cat’s health, contact your vet.

  • A change in appetite
  • Vomiting and sickness
  • Toilet trouble
  • Excessive weight gain
  • An increase in drinking/urinating
  • Skin and coat
  • Mouth and gums
  • Breathing
  • Eyes and nose
  • Bones and joints

If your cat is eating less than normal, it can be down to something as innocent as them hunting outdoors, or the very hot weather affecting their appetite. However, it can also sometimes suggest hidden cat health problems – especially for more senior cats.

Contact your vet if your cat’s reduced appetite is accompanied by lethargy, vomiting, diarrhoea, weight loss or any other signs of cat illness.

Vomiting fur balls or grass can be normal if it’s something your cat does as an occasional habit. If the frequency of vomiting increases, your cat vomits food or blood, has trouble swallowing or is gagging/retching, you should arrange an appointment with your vet.

Vomiting can be a sign of many different cat illnesses, including intestinal problems and kidney and liver diseases. Vomiting accompanied by lethargy, depression, diarrhoea or loss of appetite indicates an underlying problem. A visit to the vet should help to get your moggy on the mend.

If your cat has persistent diarrhoea, or if their faeces are black in colour or contain fresh blood or mucus, there could be a problem with their health. If your cat has any of the above, or is also experiencing vomiting, lethargy, loss of appetite or weight loss with toilet trouble, contact your vet.

On the opposite side of the scale, if your cat strains unsuccessfully to go for a number two or if their faeces are very hard or full of hair, then organise a check-up. This can be simple to treat, but may signal more serious cat health problems.

Your cat going in and out of their litter tray a lot, squatting without peeing (or producing only a small amount), crying when in the litter tray, or passing blood in their pee suggests that they may have a urinary tract infection.

Some infections, such as cystitis, are quite common and can be easily treated. More serious infections could lead to a feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD), which can be very dangerous for your pet’s health if left untreated. If you notice any symptoms that could suggest a urinary tract infection, visit the vet for a check-up as soon as you can to get it cleared up as soon as possible.

An untreated urinary tract disease could be very dangerous for your pet, so it’s important to seek treatment as soon as you spot the signs.

If your cat gains a lot of weight quickly, it can lead to them becoming obese, which in turn can result in diabetes, mobility problems and other diseases. You should be able to just about feel your cat’s ribs when you stroke or hold them – if not, then they may be overweight.

Click here for further information on how to check your cat's body condition.

Speak to your vet first if you think your cat needs to shed some weight, as they will be able to recommend the best way to gradually help them get in shape. Any amends to your cat’s diet need to be made carefully, to avoid causing them any tummy trouble.

If you feel that it’s just your cat’s tummy that has enlarged, ask your vet to give them a quick check. This could potentially be caused by fluid retention, rather than fat gain.

If you’ve recently swapped your cat from wet food to dry, it’s likely that they’ll drink more water until they’re used to the change.

If your cat suddenly starts drinking or urinating more without a change in their diet, it could be a sign of a disease such as diabetes or other cat health problems related to their kidneys. If you normally never see your cat drink but now notice them at the water bowl, or see that their litter tray is wetter than usual, arrange a check-up with your vet.

Skin condition is a good general indicator of your cat’s health. Their skin should be smooth and pink or black, and their coat should be smooth and shiny.

Scratching or over-grooming, scabs on their skin or pulling out fur can indicate that your cat has a skin disease. A poor coat with scurf or dullness may indicate an underlying illness that may not be related to their skin or coat, but affects it. Noticeable scratching accompanied by small black dots in their fur could suggest fleas, which should be relatively simple to treat.

If you notice any brownish discharge or redness in or around your cat’s ears, point it out to your vet.

Any redness in or around the mouth, swollen gums or bad breath are all possible signs of oral disease. These sick cat symptoms can be very painful, so your cat may also lose their appetite, eat on only one side of their mouth, drop food while eating or lose weight as a result.

If you notice any of these symptoms, arrange to visit your vet. The sooner that you can seek treatment, the sooner your cat will be gobbling down their dinner as normal!

Unlike dogs, cats should never normally breathe with an open mouth. If you notice your cat panting, gasping, breathing very quickly, coughing or making noise when they breathe, contact your vet immediately.

These symptoms could potentially be a sign of a serious problem with their respiratory system, and should be treated as an emergency.

Sneezing, a runny nose and weepy eyes can indicate a dental issue, virus or cat illness affecting the upper respiratory system. A persistent sticky discharge, bleeding from the nose, blinking excessively or redness around the eyes all warrant a visit to the vet, as they could signal an underlying health problem.

If you notice that your cat’s third eyelid(s) is staying drawn across their eye, it could be because they’ve got something stuck in there, they have an infection or are experiencing general poor health. Ask your vet to have a look, and they should be able to fix it by flushing it out or with eye drops that you can administer at home.

If your cat is limping, they may have injured themselves or are struggling with something such as joint pain.

If they are slow to get up or lie down, aren’t able to jump as high as they used to, or have trouble going up and down the stairs, this may indicate a bone or joint problem. So let your vet know as soon as possible so that they can intervene and make sure that your pet isn’t in any pain.


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