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How To Tell If Your Cat's Secretly Sick

Reviewed by Peter Kintzer DVM, DACVIM on Saturday, March 15, 2014
Posted September 17, 2013 in Cat Checkups & Preventive Care

Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a mobile, board-certified surgeon in Allentown, PA. Find him online at www.DrPhilZeltzman.com. He is the co-author of “Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound” (www.WalkaHound.com).

Katie Kegerise, a Certified Veterinary Technician in Reading, PA, contributed to this article

Cat looking up

It’s always shocking to me when I see an extremely sick cat, while the owner has not noticed any overt signs of illness. It just happened twice in the last couple of weeks. Paris, a 6 year old kitty, had a gigantic (benign) cyst on his liver. It was easily the size of both your fists, putting pressure on all of his belly organs. And Paula, a 12 year old cat, had a kiwi-sized cancerous tumor along her small intestine. In both cases, the first signs of sickness were noticed just 2 days before the surgery occurred!

And I’m not referring to neglectful owners. No, I’m talking about good, concerned, caring owners who just didn’t or couldn’t notice very early or subtle hints that something was brewing inside. Why is it so tough to identify those signs? Possibly because cats have kept the ability to hide signs so well, that they sometimes go unnoticed. Remember, when animals act sick in the wild, they get eaten.

Let’s go over 10 signs of illness in cats – although many of them also apply to dogs.

1. Change in appetite
Eating too much or too little can potentially signify disease. If you notice a change either way, you should notify your veterinarian. There are countless diseases that can cause overeating or losing one’s appetite. You veterinarian’s job will be to investigate why. This typically starts with blood work, X-rays and/or ultrasound.

2. Stinky breath
A foul odor coming from your kitty’s mouth can mean gum disease or tooth decay. Brushing your cat’s teeth is a good way to decrease those risks. Imagine if you went 5, 10 or 15 years without brushing your teeth! In addition, breath that smells like ammonia can be a sign of kidney disease.

3. Eliminating outside of the litter box
Causes of this annoying habit can be behavioral or indicate a disease. Discuss your pet’s symptoms with your veterinarian to rule out a bladder infection or urinary blockage before treating this as a behavior issue.

4. Weight change
Weight loss can be an indication of thyroid disease or worse, cancer. Weight gain or a growing belly can be related to various conditions such as pyometra (a uterus full of pus). Obesity by itself is detrimental to your pet’s health: it can lead to arthritis, tumors and a shorter lifespan.

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