Cats are famous stoics. Their tendency to mask signs of discomfort and disease has contributed to their survival in the wild:
A quiet, hiding cat is less prone to being captured by a predator. Their resulting reluctance to complain is often lovable, a silver lining to their inability to speak. It is, however, a disadvantage in gauging their health. To notice illness in our kitties before they are in acute trouble, we need to pay attention to their nonverbal signs of difficulty.
Common signs of illness
Changes in habits of elimination, either in frequency or in regular size of urinations or stools, are signs of possible illness, and strained elimination surely is a sign, says James Richards, DVM, director of the Cornell Feline Health Center at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. In addition, we need to be aware if our cat has changed where he is eliminating (what is commonly referred to as house soiling), he adds. Digestive signs of likely illness include a loss of appetite, unusual vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty with swallowing, or excessive water ingestion. Coughing, which is rare in cats, is a sure sign of disorder and most often indicates a disease in the chest cavity or airways.
Other signs include a change in the coats condition, with either excessively oily or dry, matted, brittle, or sparse hair noticeable, or bare, red, or scabby skin. Take notice, as well, of lethargy or unusual restlessness, drooling, inexplicably labored breathing, swellings, difficulty moving or atypical movements, continued sneezing, or any other notable changes in behavior such as irritability or aggression.
Unusual odors, too, can hold significance. Certain bad breath, for example, can be illness-indicative. A urine-like breath smell, for instance, can indicate kidney disease. A fruity smell that has sweetness to it, accompanied by increased drinking or urinating, may indicate diabetes. Other odors can result from oral diseases such as gingivitis or periodontal disease. Oral cancer is another cause of bad breath.
Signs to monitor regularly
Loss of weight, a sign of many disorders, can appear earlier than other readily noticeable signs. Accordingly, identification of losses or rises is valuable, with monthly monitoring a good idea. Use the same scale each time and make sure it is accurate. A one-pound gain or loss for an adult housecat typically represents about a tenth of his weight.
It is valuable to monitor the color of gums, which should blanch when you press a finger against them and promptly return to a full pinkness when the pressure is released. Gums that dont return to pinkness could be a sign of poor circulation, possibly resulting from heart disease, or shock from blood loss or internal bleeding. Gums that are pale even when not pressed may indicate an inadequate number of red blood cells, possibly due to feline leukemia virus infection, blood loss, or certain cancers. These signs call for immediate veterinary attention.
Monitor for dehydration. Lift a segment of skin along your cats back. When healthy, it will pull back with elasticity. When dehydrated, however, a cats skin will momentarily remain in a pulled-up ridge rather than snapping back when released.
Remember that you usually are the first to notice atypical signs. You best know your cats normal behavior. When you observe one of the signs of illness or sense something is wrong with your kitty, write down your observations and consult with your veterinarian.