It’s no secret cats are phenomenal at hiding: hiding behind the refrigerator, hiding “presents” under your pillow, and hiding signs of illness. While lurking out of sight is part of their nature, it can be dangerous for their health. Indicators of illness can be so subtle in cats, pet owners don’t pick up on changes until their routine veterinary visit. 

During an exam, we may discover early signs of illness missed at home. As we listen to your pet’s heart and lungs, peer in her eyes and ears, peek in her mouth, and feel her abdomen, we may notice a slight abnormality you’ve not yet noticed. Regular veterinary visits are an investment in your cat’s health, staving off illness, halting disease in its tracks, and providing a more favorable outcome. 

If you notice any changes in your cat’s behavior, personality, or physical traits, no matter how slight, these are clues to something amiss with your feline friend. Here are 10 subtle signs of illness to watch for in cats:

  1. A change in appearance or grooming, such as an unkempt coat or over-grooming, can indicate osteoarthritis pain or allergies. Pets with painful or inflamed areas often lick to soothe the spot, leading to hair loss. Cats with bladder inflammation may pull the hair out on the abdomen to ease the discomfort. Other causes for an unkempt hair coat include hyperthyroidism and kidney disease, which deplete your cat’s resources, leaving the hair coat rough and ragged.

  2. A change in personality from an aloof cat to an overly friendly feline or vice versa can indicate an issue. Anxiety, pain, and cognitive dysfunction can cause changes in your cat’s interactions.

  3. Signs of stress are common in cats, since they dislike changes in their home life. Switching the furniture around, changing your family’s schedule, or—heaven forbid—adding a dog to your household can wreak serious havoc on your cat’s mental health. Their sensitivity also predisposes them to stress-induced medical ailments, such as feline idiopathic cystitis, which is often linked to stress and environmental changes. Move the couch and your cat may suffer from bladder inflammation. Keep in mind that inappropriate elimination is not done out of spite—it’s often a product of anxiety or stress.

  4. A change in urination habits is a big clue to your cat’s overall health. Lack of urine output in a male cat is a critical emergency, requiring immediate treatment. Excessive urination can indicate a urinary tract infection, diabetes, or kidney disease.

  5. An increase in eating or drinking can mean your cat is an uncontrolled diabetic. Diabetes causes excessive thirst, hunger, and urination. Hyperthyroidism can also make your cat hungry, but those extra calories still seem to melt off a hyperthyroid kitty.

  6. Bad breath is more serious than a case of tuna breath. Halitosis is a sign of significant dental disease, which affects many older cats. Resorptive disease is common in cats, causing the immune system to attack the tooth enamel, leaving painful lesions behind. Simple tartar accumulation can also cause significant pain with gingivitis, pockets of infection around tooth roots, and generalized stomatitis.

  7. A change in activity can signal illness in your cat. Pain and obesity can slow your cat down, while hyperthyroidism and cognitive dysfunction get her on the move.

  8. A decrease in eating or drinking is dangerous for a cat. Cats who go too long without food suffer from hepatic lipidosis, a life-threatening condition without prompt intervention. Causes of inappetence include cancer, kidney disease, liver disease, or dental issues.

  9. A change in sleeping patterns is a good indicator of your cat’s overall health. More catnaps can be a sign of pain or general illness. Waking in the middle of the night may mean a mental issue is developing, such as cognitive dysfunction.

  10. A change in vocalization can prevent you from sleeping, so it’s important to understand why your cat is screaming at you. Is it just the normal, “My bowl has three pieces of kibble missing and requires immediate filling,” or is it something out of character? Anxiety, cognitive issues, pain, hyperthyroidism, and high blood pressure can cause excessive vocalization. If you have an unspayed female cat in your home, expect significant yowling, which a simple surgery can fix.

Routine veterinary care is your pet’s shield against escalating disease processes. Call to schedule your feline friend’s regular wellness checkup to ensure she’s purring in your lap for many years to come.