How to Tell if Your Cat is Sick

Posted in: Cat Health - Last Updated: January 28, 2022 - Author: Jennifer Bridgers
Posted in Cat Health 
Last Updated: January 21, 2022  
Author:  Jennifer Bridgers

We all love our kitty companions beyond measure. That’s why we want to give them the best care possible. But, when you think your cat might be ill, your main concern is to help them get better. First thing, you need to know how to tell if your cat is sick. That means understanding what sick cat symptoms to look out for.

Many of us have a fear of our pet getting sick, especially since they aren’t like humans and can’t always tell us when they’re feeling back. Unfortunately, it can take quite some time to realize your cat is sick due to their instinctive nature of hiding an illness.

To put your mind at ease, it is important to keep a close eye on your cat so you can see if their normal habits or behaviors ever begin to change. By monitoring them closely and learning all the symptoms of cat diseases, you can rest assured that you will keep your feline companion safe and healthy.

Below we will take you through how to tell if your cat is sick….or just being super lazy!

How to Tell if Your Cat is Sick: The Major Signs

It can be hard to tell if your cat is sick, but not just because they can’t tell you what’s wrong. Cats instinctively hide their sickness. Before they were ever domesticated, they were used to living alone and hid their sickness to save themselves from any potential predators.

Today, that unfortunately translates into your four-legged friend hiding their sickness from you, so you need to be extra vigilant when it comes to your cat’s health.

There are dozens of ways to tell if your cat is sick that could signal that something is wrong with your cat. However, the presence of these sick cat symptoms don’t always equal sickness. It all depends on your cat and their normal behaviors.

You know your cat better than anyone, so pay attention to their normal behaviors and habits. If they begin to change and include any of the following signs that weren’t there before, they may help you understand how to tell if your cat is sick.

Sick Cat Sign #1: Vomiting

Vomiting is a prime example of a symptom that could be normal but also could indicate sickness. We all know that cats are prone to hairballs and sometimes, when hairballs come up, so do the contents of their stomachs.

However, if you find your cat vomiting regularly and it doesn’t seem to be caused by a hairball, it might be a cause for concern. Regular vomiting might indicate some kind of gastric upset or a whole host of other illnesses. Read our full guide on the possible causes of cat's throwing up here.

Sick Cat Sign #2: Changes in Breathing

Changes in breathing include things like rapid breathing, wheezing, or even shortness of breath. If your cat begins experiencing changes in breathing, it might be caused by something like allergies, asthma, or, sometimes, serious conditions like trauma or heart failure.

Sick Cat Sign #3: Lethargy / Lack of Energy

We all know cats love naps. (Who doesn’t?). But sometimes, excessive napping can be a sign of sickness. If you notice that your cat is spending more time than usual sleeping, or even that they’re not very interested in things anymore, it could indicate an underlying issue going on.


Sick Cat Sign #4: Diarrhea

When you scoop the litter box regularly, it’s easy to keep an eye on your cat’s stools. If you find that your cat has started using the litter box more frequently or that their stools have softened or become runny, it might be a sign that something is wrong.

Diarrhea can occur naturally and it might not require a visit to the vet if it just happens once. However, if your cat starts experiencing diarrhea that lasts more than two days, it will be time to go to the vet. Especially since diarrhea can cause worse issues such as dehydration.

Sick Cat Sign #5: Loss of Appetite

While cats can be pretty picky about what they eat, if your cat starts eating less of their normal food that they already approved, or start skipping meals altogether, they might be sick.

If you notice that your cat's appetite has decreased, it is important to address it right away. Like diarrhea, loss of appetite could create even more issues than the original one that caused your cat’s loss of appetite in the first place.

Sick Cat Sign #6: Increased Thirst

Water is important for all living creatures. And while it’s a good thing if your cat is drinking plenty of water, drinking too much water could indicate health issues in your furry friend. Just like in humans, increased thirst can be an indication of diabetes, kidney disease, or hyperthyroidism in your cat.

Increased thirst could also be an indication of stress or anxiety. While those aren’t critical health conditions like diabetes or kidney disease, it is still important to address with your cat’s vet to keep them healthy and comfortable.

Sick Cat Sign #7: Increased Appetite

Your cat’s appetite could also be affected in the opposite direction if they are sick. Sometimes, if your cat starts eating much more than normal, they could have an underlying health concern.

And while you don’t get much cuter than a chunky cat, overeating can lead your cat to gain weight or become obese which can lead to many other health issues including joint issues and more.

If your cat is eating more than normal, you might want to consider taking them to the vet for some blood work or urine tests.

Sick Cat Sign #8: Weight Changes

If you find that your cat’s weight has suddenly changed, it might be time for a trip to the vet. Sudden weight loss is associated with serious illnesses like diabetes or cancer in cats and can also create more issues.

Weight gain, when gradual, causes more issues for your cat over time than the immediate issues that occur with sudden weight loss. While pretty normal, weight gain is also something that should be checked on by your cat’s vet.

Sick Cat Sign #9: Changes in Urination

Like your cat’s stools, their urination can tell you a lot about their health, as well. If your cat begins to use the litter box more frequently or you find that they are straining to urinate, urinate outside of the litter box, or that there is blood in your cat's urine, they may be sick. Especially if they never had these issues before.

If changes in their urination occur, they could have a urinary tract infection or a kidney infection. If these issues are left alone without care, it could lead to kidney disease or their bladder may rupture.

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Sick Cat Sign #10: Discharge From Eyes of Nose

Runny noses and eye boogers are certainly a normal bodily function for your kitty. However, if your four legged friend starts experiencing these things pretty frequently throughout the day, they may have an upper respiratory infection.

To prevent colds and upper respiratory infections, make sure that your kitty is up to date on all their vaccinations. Most colds will clear up on their own, but not always. Taking your cat to the vet will make sure that their cold will be gone in a jiffy.

Sick Cat Sign #11: Ear Debris

If your cat’s ear begins to collect or produce debris, it could indicate that parasites or infection is present. Ignoring this symptom could lead to the infection permanently affecting their eardrum and even causes hearing loss. And, if you leave the parasites in there, that could also lead to infections, as well.

Sick Cat Sign #12: Skin Irritation / Hair Loss

Itchy skin is no fun for humans and the same goes for cats. If you find that your cat seems to be constantly scratching or picking at their skin, especially if it leads to hair loss, your cat might have allergies, parasites or even anxiety. Also, in some rare instances, itchy skin could be a sign of diabetes or thyroid issues.


Sick Cat Sign #13: Bad Breath

No one likes bad breath. It might be unpleasant to smell, even if it does come from your favorite four legged creature, but it can also be the sign of some health issues. In fact, it can be a sign of serious dental issues like periodontal disease.

Periodontal disease can cause tooth decay and eventually tooth loss if not taken care of. This can also be avoided by regularly cleaning your cat’s teeth.

Of course, bad breath could be one of many other possible cat dental problems and a trip to the vet is a wise precaution.

Sick Cat Sign #14: Increased Vocalization

Just like humans, some cats are more chatty than others. If you have a rather silent cat that starts talking to you more than normal, you might want to take notice. They may just be starting to become more talkative and social. However, they could also be trying to get your attention for a more serious reason and this could be a cat illness symptom that needs investigating.

Sick Cat Sign #15: Overgrooming

Cats are known for always looking their best since they are such diligent groomers. However, some cats begin to over groom themselves in an obsessive way that can be unhealthy. It can also be caused by an underlying issue like fleas or allergies.

Overgrooming can also be a sign of psychogenic alopecia, a disorder that is related to stress and anxiety. If this is the case, your cat may be overgrooming to relieve their stress.

If you think fleas might be the culprit, check out our guide on how to tell if your cat has fleas here.

Sick Cat Sign #16: Personality Changes

Personality changes like out-of-character aggression or sudden signs of fear or timidness can be a sign of sickness. It is their way of telling you that something is wrong and it’s not just a bad day. If your cat starts having these kinds of personality changes, it may be time to see a vet.

Sick Cat #17: Limping & Trouble Moving

Any kind of mobility issue in your cat is something that should be addressed. Their mobility could be affected by many things including injury or just old age. If you notice your cat limping or shows other signs of having trouble moving, many things could be to blame including tendons, joints, bones, ligaments, and more.

If you notice these signs in your cat, start by inspecting the area that seems to be affected for signs of exterior wounds and to find any pattern in their limp. Then, try to remember when the limp first started. All of this is important information to share with your cat’s vet.

Sick Cat Sign #18: Swelling

Swelling in any area of your cat’s body should not be left alone. Swelling could be a sign of numerous health issues including allergic reactions, abscesses, cellulitis, tumor growth, insect bites, and so much more.

Your cat might need a round of antibiotics depending on the cause of the swelling, so it is important that you take your cat to the vet to diagnose its origin.

Get to the Vet Immediately if:

While many of these sick cat symptoms tell you if your cat might be sick, some types of cat illness can be treated at home or may go away on their own. Most of them don’t require immediate vet attention and can be addressed at the most convenient time for you. 

However, there are some signs of cat sickness that require you to take your cat to the vet immediately. Not to scare you, but some of these signs and symptoms could be the difference between life and death for your kitty. Because of this, it is important to know exactly what to do in these situations so you can properly look after your four legged friend.


If your cat experiences a trauma, it goes without saying that you should take them to the vet right away. Trauma could include falling from a great height or being hit by a car. In these cases, you may even need to take them to the emergency vet to ensure they get any necessary medical attention right away.

Collapse, Unconsciousness, or Unresponsiveness

If your cat collapses or becomes unconscious or unresponsive then call the emergency vet immediately. Until you can get your cat to the emergency vet, gently place them on their side to prevent further injury. Also, in some instances, you may need to perform CPR on your cat.


Difficulty Breathing

There are many signs that your cat is having trouble breathing. These include loud panting, flaring of nostrils, and/or rapid breaths, as well as any noticeable discomfort. You should get to the vet immediately because a lack of oxygen could easily lead to death.

Hasn’t Eaten Properly in 24 Hours

If it has been 24 hours since your cat ate anything, then it is definitely time for a trip to the vet. Especially if they are showing signs of severe lethargy, like not moving or attempting to use the litter box. This is a sign that their health is deteriorating quickly and you should got to the vet as soon as possible.

Gums That Are Blue, White, or Very Pale

Your cat’s gums can be a good indication of their health. If your cat’s gums start to change color, then you should get to the vet as soon as possible. Purple or blue gums indicate a lack of oxygen, white or pale gums indicate blood loss, and yellow could indicate liver disease.

Fits or Seizures

Seizures are always a cause of alarm, especially if your cat has never had a seizure before. While epilepsy is a normal condition that causes seizures, your cat can still live a full, normal life. However, seizures are not always caused by epilepsy and could be a symptom of a very serious issue.

The length and severity of seizures can vary and they can affect cats differently than humans or other animals. If your cat starts having a seizure, remain calm and contact a vet. Do not put anything in their mouth while they size and make sure to keep an eye on the time so you can tell your vet how long it lasted.

While you will want to touch them during the seizure to comfort them, it is important to avoid touching them to prevent further harm. When the seizure is over, make sure to get them to the vet so they can diagnose its origin.

Dizziness, Imbalance, or Circling

If your cat starts to show signs or dizziness, imbalance or even begins circling around and they do not have a history of vertigo or other dizziness-causing issues, it could be the sign of malnourishment or possibly the ingestion of toxins. If this occurs, it is important to get to the vet right away.

Inability to Walk

Your cat may experience an inability to walk from a variety of causes and that could lead to paralysis. This could be caused by damage to the nerves or the spinal cord. Damage is done to the nerves or spinal cord through a variety of health issues including cancer, infections, tick bites, slipped disks, blocked blood flow, and more.

They may lose the ability to move just one leg or all four. If this happens and it goes untreated, not only could paralysis occur but it could also lead to the inability to control defecation and urination. The inability to walk requires immediate vet attention.

Moderate to Profuse Bleeding

Any kind of bleeding coming from your cat is cause for alarm, but especially if it is a substantial amount. This could be caused by anything from an external wound to some sort of internal health issue.

If your cat is bleeding from a wound you can identify, apply pressure to the area with a clean cloth before you take them to the vet to help minimize blood loss. If your cat’s urine is tinged with blood, they could have crystals in their urine, a urinary tract infection, cancer, or even interstitial cystitis and they should be seen by the vet right away.

Exposure to Any Potions or Toxic Substances

If your cat ingests any kind of harmful substance, they will need immediate vet assistance. If the ingestion is not addressed, your cat could have long-term health issues. Some signs of ingesting harmful substances include symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, twitching, swelling, inflammation, and difficulty breathing.

If you know your cat had recently ingested a substance but you are unsure if it is toxic, you can call the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Hotline at (888) 426-4435 at any time. They will guide you through what you need to do and inform you if the substance was toxic and if you can remedy the situation at home.

As part of being a good cat parent you should make yourself aware of what can cats not eat, so you at least can keep them away from obvious toxic foods.

Severe Pain

There are many different signs that your cat may be experiencing severe pain. The chances are, if they are showing many different signs of sickness, they are probably in severe pain. Some of these symptoms include limping, immobility, excessive vocalization, and uncharacteristic aggression.

If you find that your cat is in severe pain, then they should be taken to the vet immediately to remedy their pain.

Body Temperature Over 104°F or Under 99°F

Just like in humans, an extremely high or an extremely low body temperature can indicate severe health issues and can cause significant internal damage. If your cat’s temperature is over 104°F or under 99°F, they should be seen by the vet immediately.

To check your cat’s temperature, you can do so rectally or via their ear. However, rectal temperatures are more accurate. Your cat’s normal body temperature should be between 100.5°F and 102.5°F.

Final thoughts on How to Tell if Your Cat is Sick

Knowing these tell-tale signs of sickness and these sick cat symptoms is an important step to understanding how to tell if your cat is sick and provide the proper care your kitty needs and deserves. In fact, that and your vigilance could end up saving your cat’s life if anything ever happens.

Another crucial step in keeping your feline friend safe and healthy is regular trips to the veterinarian for wellness check-ups. Not only will it regularly ensure you of your cat’s health, but it could also catch a problem before it even begins.

If your vet does catch some kind of illness, it will more than likely be early enough to prevent things from getting worse if you attend regular vet appointments. Not to mention, as your cat ages, they will be prone to having more health issues and going to the vet regularly can ensure that they are still healthy.

As long as you provide them with all the essentials they need to live a happy, healthy life (like water, food, and accessible litter boxes) and love them to the best of your ability (all of which helps increase the average cat lifespan), they should live the long and happy life you want them to have!

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About the author

Jennifer Bridgers has been a freelance writer for several years. As a cat mom to two adorable cats herself, she loves diving into the world of cat care. When she isn’t busy dressing her cats in ridiculous outfits, Jennifer can be found crocheting, bingeing true crime documentaries and podcasts, reading fantasy novels, or writing a novel series of her own.