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Changes in Your Cat's Behavior That Signal a Problem

The following are common signs to watch for in kitties that should always prompt a call to your veterinarian.


1.Too little or too much grooming — Cats are particular about their coats and self-grooming is a natural feline behavior, so if your kitty starts looking messy, it's important to understand why. For example:

Many overweight/obese cats can't reach certain areas of their bodies — typically toward the backend — and need an assist (not to mention a weight loss plan)
Dental and oral disease, particularly feline stomatitis, can make it too painful for kitties to groom
Older cats with cognitive decline can let their grooming slide, which usually accompanies more classic signs such as excessive vocalization (especially at night), appearing confused as to where they are and why (staring off into space), eliminating outside the litterbox, and loss of interest in interacting with human family members

2.Change in weight (up or down) — If your cat seems to be gaining a lot of weight, it's most likely a result of what she's eating (e.g., a dry diet), how much she's eating (free-feeding is a leading cause of obesity in kitties) and/or a lack of physical activity (most indoor cats don't get nearly the exercise they need).

On the flip side, a loss of appetite is often the first sign of an underlying illness in cats. There can be many reasons she isn't hungry or refuses to eat, but not eating can begin to impair liver function within 24 hours. For kittens 6 months or younger, the issue is even more serious.

3.Withdrawal from social interaction or touching — As I mentioned earlier, felines instinctively look for places to hide when they're injured or ill. If your cat's social interaction or hiding habits change, or if you find her tucked away an unusual place (e.g., the litterbox), it's cause for concern. This is especially true if he's also showing other signs of discomfort.

Stress can also cause cats to withdraw, so it's important to consider whether there's something happening in kitty's environment or daily routine that might be stressing him out.

4.Changes in chewing, eating or drinking habits — If your cat is having difficulty chewing, there's something painful going on in her mouth that needs investigating. Possibilities include dental or gum disease, a broken tooth, feline stomatitis, or tooth resorption.

Changes in your cat's appetite or eating habits can signal any number of underlying problems, from oral disease to a gastrointestinal (GI) disorder to cancer. If she's suddenly drinking her water bowl dry, it's also a cause for concern. Exces­sive thirst (along with excessive urination) are symptoms of several feline disorders, including urinary tract problems and kidney disease.

5.An excessively wet litterbox — Increased urination typically goes hand-in-hand with increased thirst and water consumption, and in cats these are very often signs of either acute (sudden) or chronic kidney disease.

Another less common disorder that causes increased urination is diabetes insipidus, a metabolic disorder in which the kidneys aren't able to reabsorb normal amounts of water, so the cat eliminates large quantities of very dilute urine.

6.Suddenly peeing and/or pooping outside the litterbox — If nothing has changed in your cat's environment and you're keeping her litterbox scrupulously clean, yet she's suddenly peeing or pooping outside the box, it might be a sign of a medical problem such as feline lower urinary tract disease, diabetes, cognitive dysfunction, or hyperthyroidism. Other reasons cats "miss" the litterbox include urine marking and litterbox aversion.

7.Problems urinating — this is a potential emergency! — This includes discomfort while urinating, straining to urinate and frequent attempts to urinate with little success. If your cat cries out while relieving himself, isn't leaving his normal amount of urine in the litterbox, seems preoccupied with that area of his body or is excessively licking the area, you should make an appointment with your veterinarian right away.

There are several underlying causes of urinary difficulties, some of which are life-threatening and can result in death within just a few days.

8.Change in activity level (up or down) — Cats sleep much of the time, even young, healthy ones, so it's often difficult to tell if kitty's hours spent sleeping have increased. If you suspect your cat is sleeping more than normal, especially if you've noticed other symptoms as well, give your veterinarian a call.

"Hyperactivity" or sudden unexpected bursts of energy, particularly in an older cat, is a sign she may have an overactive thyroid, especially if her appetite has also increased, yet she's losing weight. Frequent vomiting is another sign of hyperthyroidism, so if this describes your cat, be sure to make an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible.

9.Increases or changes in vocalization — Cats are individuals in terms of the sounds they make, so you're in the best position to know what's normal your cat. Some kitties almost never vocalize, while others chatter nonstop to their humans. Depending on her personality, you may also know the difference between kitty's happy sounds and her vocalizations when she's annoyed.

The sounds you don't want to ignore are yowls that come out of nowhere and for no apparent reason, or continuous loud crying, especially if she's also pacing or seems unable or unwilling to settle down. These are signs she's in significant pain and needs to see a veterinarian right away.

Some signs of illness in cats can be handled by simply allowing them to run their course, for example, a single refused meal or the very occasional hairball. Other signs can be so sudden, severe and frightening that you know immediately you need to get your pet to the veterinarian or an emergency animal hospital.

Most of the above symptoms fall in between those two extremes and should be addressed by your breeder or vet at the earliest opportunity.