Cats act in mysterious ways—it’s one of the many things we love about them. But did you know certain behavior (or changes in behavior) can signal a health problem?
Our feline friends are very skilled at disguising signs of illness from pet parents. It’s important to stay observant of the minor changes in behavior that can indicate a larger problem. Many feline illnesses are easier and less expensive to treat when caught early, so staying vigilant is incredibly important.
While it’s very important to notice changes in your cat, it’s equally important to seek veterinary care in a timely manner when those changes are observed. You won’t be the first to take your cat in on a hunch—in fact, veterinarians often see what they call “ADR” cats—which stands for “Ain’t Doin’ Right, a catch-all term that means you just know something seems wrong, even if you're not sure what.
Understanding everyday cat behavior
Every cat has his or her quirks—so having a baseline to work from is important. A good time to set your benchmark is following a wellness exam by your veterinarian, so you know what your cat's health is like currently.
Keeping a diary of your cat’s feeding times, nap cycles and other behavioral tendencies gives you a place to start your observations and help you notice patterns. Be sure to date your entries and make some general notes. Choose a notebook or use an app on your phone–anything that makes it easy for you to update.
A healthy adult cat should have a healthy weight for their breed and frame size. Your veterinarian can help you recognize whether your cat is just fluffy or needs to trim down. Most adult cats weigh 8 to 10 pounds, although some breeds are smaller and some larger. Sudden gains or losses of even a half-pound up or down can be a sign of concern, so be sure to weigh your cat regularly. The easiest way is for both of you to get on a scale, then you alone. The difference between the two is your cat's weight.
As you pet your cat, take note of their coat (or in the case of hairless cats, their skin). Coats should cover your cat entirely, be free of missing patches, and be uniformly kept clean and mat-free by your cat’s own efforts. (Note: Long-haired cats and older cats may need some help in this area.) Skin should be free of scabs and debris. Ears and nose should be clean, and eyes should be bright with little to no discharge. Your cat should not have a foul odor anywhere, including the mouth.
If everything checks out, record your observations. You’ll be checking them later if you sense something has changed.
When a lazy cat is a sign of bigger trouble
Changes to a cat’s behavior can be subtle. If your normally playful and engaged cat is suddenly less active, there may be more going on than just laziness. The reverse is true, too: a cat, especially an older one, who is suddenly more active may be ill. Similarly, if your cat vocalizes more (or less) or stops eating, drinking or using the litter box on a regular schedule (or at all), that’s another reason to think about getting your pet checked out.
While automatic litter boxes are popular, they can obscure a key diagnostic tool: The ability to note increases or decreases in urination and changes to normal feces. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use these gadgets, since they’re easier for you and always offer your cat a clean potty place. But don’t take convenience too far—stay aware of how often your cat uses the box and check on what’s left behind before the unit kicks on to clean and reset.
Add all these observations to your notes and recheck your cat at least monthly for any changes. When you sense something’s different, use your notes to figure out what it is.
Turning observations into action
Having a written, dated log of what’s normal for your cat will help you pinpoint any changes. The information will also help your cat’s veterinary healthcare team diagnose any problem, so take your notes with you.
As your cat ages, your observations will reflect gradual changes. You’ll be able to see what was normal at one life stage by looking back and learn what’s normal for the current one. Being aware of your cat’s normal state and changes to it, along with wellness veterinary visits as recommended will go a long way to keeping your cat in the very best of health for life.
Learn more about keeping your cat healthy by downloading our new infographic .