There are several tell-tale signs that a cat is ill. An enlarged abdomen, for example, is often perceived as a weight gain. Since cats frequently have a layer of fat under the stomach, an inattentive owner may not notice the difference between a few extra layers of fat and a tummy that's bloated. In fact, the abdomen is often distended because of accumulation of liquid, which is frequently a sign of feline infectious peritonitis and liver diseases. Since these conditions may be a secondary effect of heart disease, prompt treatment is essential. Any signs of limb pain and limping should always be investigated. A young cat may have a growth disorder from stiffening of the joints (arthrosis). A thorn may have pierced the cat's paw, or it may have sustained a wound that has abscessed. Your annual visit to your veterianrian for teeth cleaning and checkup will help to keep your cat from emergency situations.
Watch For These Signs
- Temperature. Normally between 101.5 and 102.5 degrees F. No matter how big the cat, its temperature can be taken with a conventional thermometer smeared with a little oil. If it rises near 104 degrees F, it's time to consult a veterinarian. If it is below 100.5 degrees F, check to see if the thermeter was put in far enough; grease it again and reinsert it gently a little farther. If the temperature is still low, see a veterinarian right away, since this could be a sign of very serious problems.
- Color. The best place to look is the conjunctival mucosa, the pink tissue around the eyes It must be light pink. If it is red, the cat is congested and might also have a fever. If it is dirty or yellowish, an organ such as the liver may be diseased. Pale mucous membranes may be an indicator of a stress.
- Nose. It should be shiny if the lacrymal canal is functioning normally, because tears keep the nostrils moist. To a lesser degree, the tongue fulfils this function as well. The cat regularly licks its nose, keeping it moist and cool. Cracking may indicate a local nose, eye problem or dehydration, a very serious situation. A nose that is fry, dull and warm may be a sign of a fever. Check the temperature to be sure.
- Eyes should not be blinking or red. Redness may be a sign of a simple conjunctivitis, glaucoma, a serious general illness, or signal the presence of a piece of a foreign body. Brownish discharge is not usually serious; white, mucusy, yellow, greenish, or red should be reported to your vet at once.
- Hair. Shiny hair usually indicates a good general state of health.. However, the coat is a delayed indicator. At the onset of a disease, the hair may still be deceptively shiny. Regardless of the cat's state of health, hair fallout may be due to climatic or hormonal factors, or stress. There should be no dandruff or "pepper" (flea feces). Long hair can easily conceal a skin disease.
- Stools. Even if the cat is fasting, it will produce stools, which consist mainly of cellular debris from the digestive tract. The cat should pass stool once or twice a day. It should be formed (long) in 2 or 3 pieces, no more, and it should be softly firm and dark brown. Color depends on food. If a cat eats too many carrots, orange stools should not be taken as a sign of intestinal bleeding. Note any differences. Diarrhea is sometimes not noticed because the cat covers it and mixes it with the litter. Check the stool once a day. A too stong smell can mean intestinal infection or imbalance (flatulence or irritable bowel syndrome). Many cats get diarrhea when taking antibiotics. Since parasite eggs are microscopic, any eggs visible on the surface of the stools are probably fly eggs. If stool is not passed every day or is hard and appears in balls, it could mean constipation. Check for excess shedding, lack of dietary fiber, dehydration, or diabetes.
- Appetite. Excessive appetite is not necessarily a sign of a good health. It may indicate diabetes.
- Wheezing. If your cat wheezes and sneezes, it may simply have a cold. Discharge from both eyes and nose could mean the same thing, in which case, do what people do: wait until the cold goes away. But if the cat also has a fever, it may have bronchitis or asthma, which will need professional help.
- Straining. If your cat is straining in the litter box, but produces nothing, it could have a blockage. If he is unable to urinate, seek veterinarian help immediately.
- Changes in behavior. Irritability and trembling are serious signs of illness.
- Drinking. If your cat drinks excessively, it may point to a kidney disease disease or diabetes If a cat stares at its water dish but will not drink, it means the cat is thirsty but feels too sick to drink; it may be dying.
- Vomiting is not usually serious unless repeated. Cats vomit more frequently than humans because of their short intestine. They should vomit hairballs if they swallow too much fur. If the vomited matter looks like a small wet hot dog, it is a hair ball. Cats can also vomit food if they eat too fast and too much, or it is too hot or too cold. Repeated swallowing should also be noted.
- Loss of appetite is usually not serious unless prolonged. Cats don't eat the same amount every day. Temperature, stress, a recent snack, a large meal the day before, or leaving food available between meals can ruin cat's appetite. However, a low-grade infection, painful gums, dirty teeth, constipation, dehydaration, or any one of several diseases can also cause loss of appetite. Cats won't eat what they can't smell; a stuffy nose can also cause loss of appetite.
- Claw biting is a normal part of the cat's grooming procedure, but it also signal an infection, a split claw with something caught in it, an in-grown claw, or it may be because of dirty cuticles.
- Dirty cuticles (especially on back claws). A buildup of waxy dirt around the cuticle is a sure sign the cat is scratching at something that itches. The cuticle dirt can infect the toe. Check for waxy ears, skin problems, and tooth and gum problems, any of which can lead to dirty cuticles.
- Excessive sleeping happens naturally after a big meal or if the cat is bored. It also happens during the spring and fall sheds, but it also means the cat's body is fighting off an infection. It could also signal a weak heart, liver or kidneys. Check for other symptoms.
- Sitting facing the wall, or seeking warmth or coolness are signs of depression and usually mean the cat is in pain or feeling very sick. Hiding, sitting in the litter box, or pressing his forehead against things are also signs of pain.
- Coughing could be a temporary irritation or something caught in the throat. If it persists, there may be a serious obstruction in the throat or windpipe, respiratory infection, pneumonia, roundworms, heart problem, or other serious disease.
- Retching and head shaking may be caused by many diseases in cats. Retching can often be confused with coughing, especially in cats. Like people, cats have tonsils, which are small masses of tissue in the throat that help protect the body from invading microbes. Inflammation of the tonsils is called tonsillitis. Tonsillitis is usually accompanied by repeated swallowing and fiver (over 100°F). Most cases are caused by bacterial infections.
Because they are part of the body's immune system, they can swell when the cat is ill due to the entirely different reasons, including cancer. Repeated vomiting, periodontal disease, licking distant infected tissues, such as
infected skin or anal sacs, can lead to chronic contamination of the mouth with
microbes and bring on tonsillitis. If you suspect tonsillitis, your cat should be seen by a veterinarian. Veterinarian treat tonsillitis with antibiotics.
- Sneezing can be caused by any sudden sharp smell or by cold temperature. Dust, sigarette smoke, room deodorizer can cause coughing.
- Scratching head with hind feet, shaking head could be due to ear discharge, fleas, mange mites, ear mites, ringworm, ear infection, or tumors.
- Licking genitals or "scooting" on the floor and the like means irritation and/or itching. Have your vet check for possible anal sac disease (anal sacculitis). Also watch urinary habits for signs of feline urologic syndrome (FUS).
- Urine and urinary habits. The urine output should wet at least a tablespoon of litter each time the cat goes to the box. If your cat voids a smaller amount or nothing at all and runs frequently to the litter box, take him immediately to the vet to check for feline urologic syndrome (FUS) and/or bladder stones. If he voids a normal amount or more than normal and runs frequently to the litter box, this could signal kidney disease or diabetes, especially if the urine is very light yellow and if you also note excessive drinking. Urination outside the box is almost always caused by a physical problem, early FUS or, in aging cats, weak bladder or arthritis. If your cat starts his urination in a squatting position but then gradually raises his rear until the stream shoots out over the edge of the box, this could mean arthritic hips, stress in the environment, such as a new cat, or straining because of urinary infection and possible blockage. Report to your vet.
- Coat. Except in the shedding seasons (February through April and September and October) shedding should be moderate. Skin should be clean, hair free of dandruff and oil.
- Bad smell can indicate serious problem. It is usually caused by germs, infected or dirty ears, intestinal blockage, impacted anal glands, worms, dirty teeth, licking coat with dirty mouth, or soil on the fur near the anus.
- Twitching skin can be caused by dry skin due to indoor heating during the winter months or from lack of fat in diet or vitamin E deficiency. Examine the cat for scabs and parasites. Twitching skin can also happen because of heart or brain disease.
- Dehydration is sometimes difficult to judge. There are several signs you can look for such as lack of appetite, constipation, and/or frequent drinking. Sitting with the head over the water dish, the coat separating into "clumps,", or eyes that apear to be sunken, are signs of dehydration. This is an indication of serious illness, usually high fever, and is often the last stage before collapse.
- Breathing that is shallow and fast happens when the cat is purring and means nothing. On the other hand, shallow and fast breathing can also be caused by heat, stress, fear, fluid retention, or tumor in the chest or abdomen, pain, or nausea. Breathing with the mouth open is a very bad sign.
- Pale whitish ears, gums, or tongue can mean anemia, shock, or weak heart.