Signs of Illness

Note: These are only guidelines, we recommend that you contact a veterinarian if you have any questions about the health of your cat.

Signs Of Illness

Cats are notorious for their ability to appear healthy when actually sick. Get in the habit of giving your cat a weekly mini-physical and be on the lookout for signs of illness. 

Lethargy/Excessive Sleepiness

This common sign of sickness is sometimes difficult for owners to recognize, as healthy adult cats may sleep up to 16-18 hours a day. Get to know how much is normal for your cat.

Change in Appetite

Keep track of how much your cat normally eats and drinks so that any variation can be detected easily and early.

Change in Grooming

An ill-kept, oily coat can indicate illness. Conversely, cats that groom too often may have a nervous or itchy skin condition.

Weight Loss

This sign often goes unnoticed, especially in long-haired cats. Owners who regularly groom their cats may notice the ribs and backbone becoming more prominent. Those who regularly weigh their cats are sure to see a change. A sudden loss of one pound in a cat that normally weighs ten pounds is cause for concern.

Change in Litter Box Habits

Cats that start visiting the litter box more frequently or that repeatedly urinate or defecate outside the box may be suffering from a disease of the lower urinary tract or large intestine. Cats that strain to urinate may have a urethral obstruction - such cats are in grave danger and need immediate veterinary attention.

Change in Behavior

House soiling and aggression are both behavioral problems that can sometimes be prompted by a physical illness.

Mini-Physical Exam

Make the home checkup an extension of normal physical attention you pay your cat and he will not even know he is being ‘examined’. If your cat is normally not allowed on the kitchen table or counter, don’t examine him there, as it may be confusing and stressful.

Skin and Coat

Pass your hands over your cat’s body, feeling for swelling, asymmetry, sensitive areas, patches of hair loss, black flecks that signal fleas, scabby areas, or skin bumps. With your cat facing away from you gently lift the tail and take a look at his rear end. If you see tan-colored, rice-size objects, you are probably looking at packets of tapeworm eggs which require treatment. Next, use a moist paper towel to clean away any feces. In longhaired cats in particular, feces can get caught in the fur and, if trapped against the skin, can cause serious problems. If the hair has become matted, you will need to use blunt-tipped scissors. Be careful cutting out mats, and think about going to a veterinarian or professional groomer.


Face your cat head-on and examine the eyes. They should be bright and the pupils should be of equal size. There should be little if any tearing at the corners of the eyes and if the nictitating membrane (the opaque white membrane fanning out from the corner of eye) is protruding, the cat may have a health problem. Gently roll down the lower eyelid with your thumb – the tissue lining the lid should be pink, not white or red. Be sure your cat is not squinting with either eye.


With your cat facing you, gently pull up on the ear flap and look at the inner surface and down into the ear canal. The ears should be clean and light pink in color. Any discharge, redness, swelling or odor is abnormal. Do not attempt to clean your cat’s ears – probing into the ear canal can aggravate an ear condition or even cause trauma or infection.

Mouth and Nose

With your cat facing you, push back the lips to examine the gums and teeth. The gums should be pink, not white or red, and should show no signs of swelling. The teeth should be clean, without any brownish tartar. Sniff your cat's breath - a strong, smelly odor is abnormal and may indicate a problem. Excessive drooling can also be a sign of oral disease. The nose should be pink and there should be no nasal discharge.