Behavior as an Indicator of Cat Health
Cats, both big and small, are stealthy, resilient animals who are fairly adept at hiding pain and illness. In the wild, the ability to mask vulnerabilities is a vital survival skill since outward signs of weakness attract predators. Like their lion, tiger, or jaguar counterparts, domesticated felines have a deep instinct to disguise their suffering. So it’s no surprise that cat parents often misread, misinterpret, or even miss their cats’ signs of illness or distress altogether. The good news is that all of us can learn to interpret feline body language.
Because cats are also individuals–with differing triggers, likes and dislikes, desires, and stress responses–we also need to pay close attention to who they are at their core. You live with, love, and know your cat better than anyone else. This makes you pretty good at measuring your cats needs, idiosyncrasies, and behaviors against other cats as a general category. In short, if you think your cat is acting strangely, then you are probably right and something is likely wrong. If your cat is exhibiting odd behavior, trust your instincts.
Behavioral changes frequently indicate an underlying illness, especially if they are sudden. Cats do not maliciously act out. So if a cat who has used the litter box her entire life starts missing or refusing to use the litter box, out of the blue, she is likely in pain. Behavior and health often go hand in hand, as we see with Pandora syndrome–a set of complex symptoms and behavior problems caused by chronic stress, as C. A. Tony Buffington DVM, PhD, DACVN shows in his article for Today’s Veterinary Practice. In short, feline behavior is a key indicator of feline health.
Can a Cat’s Tail Language Tell if it’s Time to Visit a Vet?
As cat parents, we need to have a good baseline understanding of how cats express themselves so we can better assess and monitor their moods, routines, and behaviors. We also need to discern exactly what they are telling us so we know immediately if our cats are anxious, upset, or sick. In this helpful article, Ellen Malmanger, DVM, at Pet MD, explains how to interpret your cat’s moods. Moreover, since cats communicate with their ears, eyes, body postures, and even their tails, cat tail language can often tell us more than we realize. Ellyce Rothrock, writing for Catster, offers a comprehensive guide to cat tail language that illuminates how cats universally express varying emotions and sentiments, including happiness, fear, confidence, love and affection, or stress.
When Your Cat May Need a Veterinarian
Veterinary medicine is expensive, so we don’t want to rush our feline kids to the doctor over a trifle, say one small sneeze or a single case of vomiting up a hairball. However, there are clear indications that our cats need immediate veterinary attention which should never be ignored.
Signs of illness or serious medical conditions in cats can include, but are not limited to:
- Sudden, unexplained weight loss or weight gain
- Litter box problems–including changes in urination or going outside of the box
- Diarrhea and Vomiting
- Increased or unusual vocalizations, including crying or yowling
- Excessive thirst
- Loss or increase in appetite or thirst
- Lethargy or slowness to get up
- Swelling in any area of the body
- Bad Breath
- Discharge from the eyes, ears, or nose
- Coughing, sneezing, difficulty breathing, weezing, or raspy breathing
- Cat skin problems (mange in cats)
- Personality changes
- Limping, circling, trouble jumping or walking
- Over or under grooming
- Foul odors coming from any part of the body
- Shying away from being petted or held
- Panting or breathing with the mouth open
- Hiding for extended periods of time
If you notice any of these symptoms, it is best to seek professional help immediately. Your vet may run blood work, a urinalysis, and/or a fecal panel–or may perform an ultrasound or x -rays. If your cat is particularly fearful or fractious (meaning she scratches or bites), she might need to be sedated for a veterinary examination. Like humans, cats are individual patients with varying needs and tolerance for certain kinds of treatments, so do not be surprised if it takes some trial and error to figure out the right plan to nurse your cat back to health.
After Your Cat’s Diagnosis
Once you know what is wrong with your cat, there are plenty of good resources available to help you understand and treat specific conditions and illnesses. Aapp recommends Cornell Feline Health Center’s comprehensive A-Z guide on cat health topics to better comprehend everything from aging to zoonotic diseases.