If only cats could talk, and tell us when they don’t feel good, and what was wrong. It would be so much easier if your cat could come up to you and say “I feel sick to my stomach because I ate a lizard outside”. Unfortunately, it’s just not that easy, and by the time your cat has eaten the lizard and gotten sick, your first clue is the cat vomit on your bed with the little lizard parts in it.
Cats can become ill for a variety of reasons, and many illnesses and diseases may result in similar behavior changes or other signs of illness in your cat. Paying close attention to the symptoms of a sick cat can help you to more quickly identify illness in your cat and diagnose and treat the problem before it can become more serious.
Vomiting is an extremely common occurrence in cats. What can be difficult is telling the difference between a perfectly healthy cat that vomits occasionally, perhaps due to hairballs or eating something outside, and a cat who has chronic vomiting, a serious disease of the intestinal and digestive tract. Cats who routinely vomit more than 3-4 times a week, may in fact have inflammatory bowel disease, an inflammation of the intestinal tract that can lead to malabsorbtion of nutrients and even lymphoma if left untreated.
While occasional, or even chronic vomiting in cats may not be a cause for immediate concern, a cat that is experiencing an increased frequency of vomiting, especially sudden, acute vomiting in cats, should be treated as a medical emergency and veterinary attention must be sought. Unfortunately, both acute and chronic vomiting are symptoms of many other illnesses, so it may be up to your veterinarian to help diagnose the underlying cause. In kittens, acute vomiting should be treated as a medical emergency as it can cause life-threatening dehydration. Common causes for kittens include feline panleukopenia or parasite infection. In older cats common causes of vomiting may include organ failure, kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, stomach or intestinal blockage or tumor or cancerous growth or development.
Like vomiting, diarrhea is another very common, but non-specific symptom of a sick cat. In kittens, diarrhea may occur as a result of feline panleukopenia, parasite infection or due to a sudden change in food. In adult cats, sudden onset of diarrhea is most often associated with colitis, enteritis or gastritis or inflammation of the colon, intestine or stomach, often due to dietary indiscretion. However, adult cats can frequently develop food sensitivies or allergies, which may result in chronic diarrhea that persists for several weeks or more, despite medical treatment. While not directly life threatening, cats with food allergies are at a high risk for developing inflammatory bowel disease, which can lead to lymphoma if left untreated.
In older cats, sudden onset diarrhea may be a symptom of organ failure (kidneys or liver), hyperthyroidism, gastro-intestinal lymphoma or a mass in the stomach or spleen. Because of the wide array of potential causes, your veterinarian is vital in helping to determine what further tests or procedures may need to be performed on your cat in order to properly diagnose and treat the cause of the diarrhea.
Because of their small size, diarrhea in kittens should always be considered a serious sign of illness, and medical attention should be received promptly. Kittens can become severely dehydrated from even just a few episodes of vomiting or diarrhea, and can become seriously ill and even die as a result.
Weight loss in older cats is very common, and is often the first visible sign of a medical problem that may have been occurring for a long time. Cats are very stoic animals, and will often have been sick for many weeks or months before showing symptoms. Cats who begin to loose their appetite and stop eating will have weight loss, and may be experiencing kidney failure or other organ failure or cancer. Cats who despite a good or perhaps even ravenous appetite continue to loose weight may be suffering from hyperthyroidism (an adrenal problem which that affects metabolism), high-blood pressure, parasites or diabetes.
Increased thirst and urination, also known as Polyuria-Polydipsia is seen frequently in cats suffering from uncontrolled diabetes. Cats who newly develop diabetes, or who are on a inadequate dose of insulin may become PU/PD as their body attempts to rid itself of excess glucose in the blood, as well as develop dilute (poorly concentrated) urine. In addition, increased thirst and urination is often a sign of a urinary tract infection, common in cats of all ages. A routine urinalysis can often quickly diagnose an underlying problem, and help lead to the solution.
By contrast, cats having trouble urinating (using the litterbox frequently and straining to urinate) often have a form feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD), a disease that encompasses many maladies that can affect the feline urinary tract. Stones and crystals will often develop in the bladder and urine of cats, and especially in male cats, this can lead to becoming “blocked” where a stone or accumulation of crystals become lodged in the urethra. Cats that are blocked will often make multiple attempts to urinate, act painful, object loudly to being handled, and appear extremely agitated. A blocked cat is a medical emergency, and left untreated it can lead to severe, acute kidney failure, sepsis and death.
Many cats prone to stone and crystal development can be managed with special diets to help inhibit the development of sediment in the bladder. Blocked cats will often require hospitalization and catheterization of the urinary tract to relive a blockage, while some cats may require surgery to relive the blockage and prevent further recurrence.
Skin problems and hair loss can be their own problems, or they can also be symptoms of another illness. Fleas are the most common cause of skin irritation and hair loss in cats, but it can also be a symptom of more generalized conditions, such as immune system disorders or food allergies.
Unlike many dogs, cats will often hide their symptoms of pain or disease until it progresses to a point that it can no longer be hidden. As such, careful attention to your cats behavior and mannerisms can help you to more quickly identify when something is not right. Quick attention to medical problems, as well as a thorough exam and care by your veterinarian can help to find the cause of your cats symptoms and treat the underlying disease, illness or injury.