Due to their nature as hunters, cats are very adept at hiding disease and injury – a pivotal skill which would help them survive in the wild. And since February is National Cat Health Month, we wanted to raise awareness of this, and talk you through a few warning signs all cat owners should keep at the back of their mind.
1. Increased thirst
This is the most important one to monitor as although increased thirst may be due to many factors, it can be a warning sign of diabetes, infections or kidney and liver disease.
Kidney disease is a common problem in cats, so the best presents you could give your feline friend are a water fountain and doing twice-yearly urine testing. The testing is very simple to do at home, just use Katkor in the litter tray rather than normal litter to collect a sample, then take it to your vet asap (keep it in the fridge until you do).
Cat kidneys are amazing at conserving water, but all cats will suffer some degree of kidney damage as they get older, usually beginning around the age of seven.
What you need to look out for is any change in drinking behaviour – a cat fed mainly on dry kibble will drink more than a cat eating wet food, but any change from the normal level should be investigated.
2. A scruffy coat
As we know, cats love to keep themselves clean and tidy. If you notice an unkempt, dull coat or a general lack of grooming (especially towards the base of the spine) this could be a sign of early arthritis, a sore mouth, or just general malaise. In any case, it’s always worth a visit to the vet.
3. Changes in eating behaviour
If you notice your cat eating less, this should be an immediate red flag – especially if it continues for 24 hours or more. Cats like their routine, in particular when it comes to food, so any deviation could be a sign of pain (such as tooth) or sickness (such as infections, kidney or liver problems).
4. Weight loss
Get into the habit of weighing your cat monthly. The easiest way is to stand on the scale, note your weight and then step on with your cat. The difference is their weight.
Look for any muscle wasting along the spine (you will feel the spine more prominently) or ribs that become more noticeable and palpable.
Of course, you may just have a sprightly cat who uses up more energy than they eat, but it could be due to a sore mouth, kidney disease (again), nausea or even related to an overactive thyroid (in this case your cat will be eating well). Regardless, weight loss is not to be ignored and you should see your vet.
5. Sleeping more
This is tricky as cats are the masters of catnaps! However, they are also creatures of habit and tend to have a routine associated with when, where and for how long they will sleep. If you notice your cat is being lethargic or even sleeping when they don’t usually (such as when you get home or when you feed them), then something is not right and you should take them to your vet.
6. Open mouth breathing
Cats never ever breathe with their mouths open unless it is exceptionally hot outside, they have just exerted themselves greatly, or they are in a consultation room seeing their vet (i.e. stressed)!
It is just not a normal thing for them to do if they are in their home environment and it could be a sign of heart and/or lung problems, so please see your vet immediately.
We know these signs can sound scary, but don’t worry if you notice any of them. It’s always better to get them checked out, if only for your peace of mind.
Remember your vet would much prefer doing their best to improve your cat’s quality of life at an early stage than being in a situation where the disease has progressed too far and there is little they can do to help. We love seeing owners who make appointments as soon as they notice a problem, it just makes the world of difference to everyone, especially their feline.