How Do I Know if My Cat Is Sick?

Our feline friends cannot tell us how they feel,so it is important to have some understanding of the signs that a cat is sick. Cats are generally stoic animals,and often they do not let us know they are sick until the disease has progressed. Observant owners can learn to identify subtle changes in their cat’s routine and behavior that may be indicative of illness. The difficult part of identifying changes is first figuring out what is normal for your cat. Cats do not think or act like a human would in many situations, so many cat activities seem strange to us.An example is coughing up hairballs. If a human spit up hair it would be very abnormal,but for a cat an occasional hairball is quite normal. This chapter will introduce you to some of the ways you can detect problems in your cat.It will also help you figure out when you should consult a veterinarian.


Anorexia is a term used to describe a lack of appetite for food. Veterinarians use this term when owners tell them that the cat is not eating or eating very little. Being finicky and not eating are two different things. Some cats hold out for their favorite foods and this makes them finicky, but anorexic cats do not care what you put in front of them. If a cat does not eat for 24 hours,you should be concerned.If the lack of appetite lasts more than 48 hours,you should have the cat examined by a veterinarian. Cats, especially overweight animals, can develop a condition called hepatic lipidosis if they do not eat. Cats with hepatic lipidosis break down their body fat for energy,but the fat overwhelms the liver,injures the normal liver cells and makes the cat sicker.Early intervention with anorexic cats is needed to stop hepatic lipidosis from occurring. Left untreated,hepatic lipidosis can be fatal.
When Your Cat Won’t Eat

If your cat is not eating, you need to determine if there is a problem with his diet or if the cat is sick. Some reasons why a healthy cat may not eat include:
• The food is spoiled.

• Ants or other insects are in the food.

• You bought the wrong flavor.

• There is competition at the food bowl.

• People food or treats have affected his appetite.

• The food bowl is in a bad location.

• The cat has been hunting and eating prey or snacking at a neighbor’s house.

If none of these reasons is valid, it is likely the cat is sick. Reasons why a sick cat may not eat include:
• The cat is congested and cannot smell the food.

• The cat has a fever,causing a loss of appetite.

• Bad teeth or other dental disease is affecting the cat’s ability to eat.

• Liver or other gastrointestinal disease is causing nausea.

• The cat is dehydrated and too weak to eat.
How to Make Your Cat Eat

Sick cats do not eat well, so it is important to encourage them. Offer yummy foods,such as canned cat food,tuna fish,deli meat or meat baby food.Lightly warming the food for a few seconds in a microwave oven can help build a cat’s appetite by increasing the food’s aroma. Handfeeding,talking gently and petting the cat can stimulate eating,too.You can hand-feed your cat by offering him some soft food on a spoon or on your finger and encouraging him to lick it off.If a cat seems uninterested in eating,do not leave food sitting out for more than an hour. Pick it up and reintroduce it a few hours later. When none of these suggestions proves successful, a trip to the veterinarian is warranted.Veterinarians may use prescription appetite stimulants or may even force-feed an anorexic cat. Force-feeding is typically done using a syringe without a needle and squirting some type of strained diet into a cat’s mouth. For cats who are difficult or too sick to orally force-feed,feeding tubes can be placed into the esophagus or stomach.
What About Water?

Water intake is extremely important. If a cat (or any animal) cannot keep water down, he should be taken to a veterinarian immediately. This can be a sign of an intestinal obstruction. A cat who does not eat or drink can become seriously dehydrated within a day.Vomiting and diarrhea can contribute to water loss leading to dehydration.If your cat is not drinking,you can give him some water with a syringe (minus the needle) or an eyedropper, but it is almost impossible to get enough water into a cat this way.

Veterinarians can rehydrate cats by injecting a sterile,balanced electrolyte solution under the animal’s skin.This practice is called subcutaneous administration. Fluids can also be directly injected into the body through a vein using an intravenous catheter, commonly known as an IV. Intravenous treatment requires hospitalization but is necessary for more seriously dehydrated patients.