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How Minor Cat Health Issues Become Major

By Kim Boatman

How Minor Cat Health Issues Become Major

It might sound like a page out of a spy novel, but your cat is a master of disguise. Unfortunately, this skill isn’t always in your cat’s best interest. That’s because felines are adept at hiding health issues until illnesses can escalate into serious problems.

“It’s the nature of cats,” explains Dr. Eileen R. Adamo, DVM, who runs a felines-only practice in Penfield, N.Y. “They kind of put on a good face, show they’re fine. They are masters of hiding illness and pain.”

Your cat disguises its aches and pains because showing weakness would have made its feline ancestors more vulnerable in the wild, Dr. Adamo says. Your kitty will be vulnerable, as well, if you don’t pay attention to health warning signs. It’s important to recognize when outwardly minor symptoms could indicate a more significant, underlying problem.

“You have to be super sensitive to any change,” Dr. Adamo advises. Here are warning signs Dr. Adamo and other experts say you should never ignore:

  • Increased vocalization If you’re suddenly holding a pillow over your ears at night because your furry friend is yowling, your cat is actually trying to tell you something. The howling or yowling could be a sign of several health issues, say the experts. For example, a cat that howls at night could have thyroid problems, says Dr. Jessica Stern, DVM, who runs a feline veterinary practice in Columbus, Ohio. Left untreated, hyperthyroidism can affect almost every aspect of a cat’s health and even cause heart problems. If hyperthyroidism is suspected, your veterinarian will likely order blood work and a test to check thyroid-related hormone levels. Among treatment options are medications and surgical removal of the thyroid. Yowling could also be a sign of high blood pressure or even cognitive changes in an older cat, says Dr. Adamo.

  • Changes in litter box behavior If your cat suddenly stops using the litter box to urinate, it could indicate a urinary tract infection or urinary tract disease, says Dr. Stern. Left untreated, some urinary problems can lead to life-threatening obstructions. If you notice that your cat is producing more urine than usual, it could signal the onset of diabetes, hyperthyroidism or chronic progressive kidney disease, says Dr. Adamo. Diabetes can be managed with early detection, and your veterinarian might prescribe oral medications or insulin injections. Progressive kidney disease is a common and serious condition affecting older cats, but treatment plans could slow down the disease’s progression.

  • Bad breath If you catch an unpleasant whiff every time your cat opens its mouth, it’s time for a checkup. Bad breath isn’t the norm for cats. It can be a sign of dental disease, even if your cat is still eating regularly, says Dr. Adamo. “People tend to think, ‘If I had a sore tooth, I wouldn’t want to eat,’” she says. “Cats will find a way to eat even with a sore mouth.” Dental disease can lead to abscesses, bone loss, loose teeth and even infection that can spread to other parts of your cat’s body. Bad breath could also be a warning sign of an oral mass or kidney disease, cautions Dr. Stern. Your veterinarian will likely place your cat under general anesthesia to clean its teeth or perform needed extractions. You can help maintain your cat’s dental health by brushing its teeth with products designed for felines.

  • Vomiting It’s not a pleasant task, but you need to know whether your cat is coughing up hairballs or vomiting. “People are very quick to write off vomiting in cats,” Dr. Adamo says. An occasional hairball with its distinctive tubular shape isn’t usually cause for concern. However, if your cat throws up more than once a month, it’s time to visit your veterinarian, says Dr. Adamo. Increased vomiting can be related to pancreatitis and/or inflammatory bowel disease. Acute pancreatitis may be life threatening, and inflammatory bowel disease is a chronic condition that can require dietary management and anti-inflammatory medication.

  • Dinnertime pickiness Your cat suddenly turns its nose up at its favorite food. Is your friend becoming a demanding gourmand? If your cat walks up to its food dish and then walks away without eating, it could be feeling nauseous, say the experts. Nausea can have many underlying causes, such as liver disease, kidney disease and inflammatory bowel disease. Your veterinarian will evaluate the cause of the nausea and may prescribe medication to relieve the symptoms.

  • Changes in grooming If your kitty isn’t grooming as thoroughly as usual, it could have an endocrine disease, such as feline diabetes or kidney disease, says Dr. Stern. Your cat’s endocrine system includes glands and organs that produce regulating hormones. Problems with the system can affect your kitty’s grooming habits. An unkempt cat might also be suffering from oral discomfort or arthritis, both of which can be eased with proper veterinary care.

  • Social interaction Too often, feline owners attribute their pet’s sudden aloofness to the nature of cats, says Dr. Adamo. “If your cat is dragging itself under the bed, going off into its own area when it normally would be socializing, that’s a big clue,” she says. Your cat might be anxious, stressed or in pain. A visit to your veterinarian can help to determine the cause of your cat’s behavior.

If you notice any of these symptoms or other changes in your cat’s behavior, don’t hesitate, says Dr. Adamo. Either call your veterinarian to ask if a symptom is worth further evaluation or schedule a visit. And don’t feel like you have to diagnose the problem right then and there. “Don’t wait and don’t feel like you’ve got to figure it out,” says Dr. Adamo. “You don’t need to worry about that. We’ll sort that out. That’s what you’re paying me for.”

Kim Boatman is a journalist and frequent contributor to The Daily Catbased in Northern California whose work has appeared in The Miami Herald, the Detroit Free Press and the San Jose Mercury News. She is a lifelong lover of animals and shares her home with three cats.

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Posted on February 18, 2010

linda says: hi bj, sounds like your cat dont have enough fiber intake which usually happens when they eat dry food. for a regular bowell movement you should get some fiber capsules at the drug store (pure nutra flax is what i and my cat use). will not cause diarrhea but will soften the stool so he will have regular, comfortable, unstrained movements. open the capsule and mix the granules in his wet food every evening. It will help so so much!!!!

Posted on May 31, 2010

AJ says: my kitten is a few weekx old and today when i checkedup onhim his urine was blood instead whats going on?

Posted on July 9, 2010

Lisa baird says: my cat wont drink much wants wrong

Posted on September 29, 2009

Stacy says: Cindy, With all due respect, if you cannot afford to take care of your cat, you should not have the cat. Sorry - it needed to be said! I wouldn't DREAM of bringing a pet into my home if I could not properly take care of it.

Posted on September 27, 2009

Sheila says: Ok, I have to say this: cats do not normally bleed from any body part! I have had too many cats for the past 15 years and none of them ever bled on a regular basis for any good reason! Take the cat to the vet when you see blood you cannot attribute to a flea bite! If it comes out of any orifice on their body such as ears, nose, mouth, rear, TAKE THEM TO A VET! It is not supposed to be doing that!

Posted on May 29, 2009

Teresa says: Wake up people!!!!! Why are you asking complete strangers for veterinary advice?!!!! Take your cat to the vet-especially if they havent eaten for 24 hours or more. Many of you state that your cat is your best friend. If that's true, TAKE THEM TO A VET!!! Don't let them continue to suffer while you ask unqualified strangers for help. If you don't have the financial means to take them to the vet, borrow it from a friend or family member. I'm broke like many of you, and when my cats get sick, I will beg everyone I know for a LOAN. Also, some kind - hearted vets are still out there. If you explain your financial situation, some will let you make payment arrangements. It doesn't hurt to at least ask them. If you care for your cats, you'll stop wasting their precious time online, and start making other arrangements for them to see someone who is qualified to answer your questions and help your cat.

Posted on May 25, 2009

Tonya says: My cat has had a cold for about 3 days, and has steadily gotten worse. I called the vet the first day, and they stated that cats get colds too, and as long as he was eating, it should run its course. He is now having a hard time breathing, and has a great deal of fluid running from his eyes. He gags continually when trying to breathe, and is barely eating. It is a holiday weekend, but I'm thinking he needs to see the vet? He is my very best friend in the whole world, and if anything happened to him I would never forgive myself...

Posted on April 18, 2009

hortensia collins says: my cat have a sore on her paw how can i treat it

Posted on May 22, 2009

carolyn says: i am watching a persian cat(11yr.) he will not eat,recently he starting throwing up clear phelm.owners state there no health problems.is he in shock over a long car ride & in a new temp. home with other cats.(f&m)

Posted on April 3, 2009

nancy says: she acts like she got a hairball in her neck ive gave her the hairball med.but she still does it

Posted on March 20, 2009

jean says: why?

Posted on March 20, 2009

Vivian says: Usually cats will stop eating if they are anxious or not feeing well and want to sleep most of the day. They are ok unless they are not able to pee, poop and thngs like that, or if vommiting. If none of those symptoms are there, they are probably having a tired cat day.

Posted on March 30, 2009


Posted on March 10, 2009

rrjames says: greetings to you. my 4 yr old female cat is constantly licking plastic bags. is this a behavior or dietary issue. thanks

Posted on March 1, 2009

cinniusha says: i love cats

Posted on March 4, 2009


Posted on January 12, 2009

Shauna says: My 1 1/2 year old cat has stop eating and hasnt really eaten anything in the past 24 hours. He has taken a bit or 2 of his food and then i thought that i would try to give him some tuna (Which he loves) and he only at a few bits.. I called the vet but they cant see him untill tomorrow... he seems to be sleeping all the time. And he hasnt used the litter box since last night.. I mean he comes to the living room and sits with the family for a little bit but then goes back to my bed room and goes back to sleep.. I just dont know what to do.. He is my baby and i want to help him but i dont know how...?

Posted on January 9, 2009

Wendy says: I to took my 14 yr old cat to vet for scratchig at face creating a sore. He was given a steriod injection. 2 weeks later he became very ill and I found he is now diabetic. He continues to not eat and is now barely hanging on. Tried every test and food out there. Do not know what to do now. Vet did not warn me of side effect, i found it on the web under the steroid he received. Anyone out there that can Hel!

Posted on January 12, 2009


Posted on December 31, 2008

cindy baker says: cat has worms cant afford to take to vet please help

Posted on January 5, 2009

Carolyn says: Oh my goodness! If your cat exhibits ANY unusual behavior, PLEASE take them to the vet, don't waste time online! Your vet is a highly qualified professional who holds your pets good health as their highest priority! Your pet is worth that, isn't it?

Posted on December 14, 2008

sam says: my cat is almost 10 years old. the last week or so, his right eye (inner eye ) skin does not appear okay. when he blinks or closes his eye, it takes a little while for it to open properly (inner one). is this normal? he does not seem to be in any discomfort?

Posted on December 7, 2008

RJ Peters says: A kitten needs to stay with its mother for at least 8 weeks, and better if more, like 12 weeks. If taken away too young, they will miss the nurturing they get from their mother. If this is done on purpose, it's a mean thing to do. If it's because a kitten has been orphaned and needs to be rescued, then you need to be the mom and provide the emotional needs as well as the physical. Try letting him suck on a bottle of milk for a while. Or find something that could be like a pacifier. I rescued two kittens at 5 weeks old and they both sucked on things for years. They died at 15 and 17 years old and were always more like babies than adult cats.

Posted on December 6, 2008

Brigitte says: Five weeks ago I took my 14 year old cat to the vet because he had a swollen jaw. They said it was from a bug bite and they gave him a steroid shot. Shortly after that I noticed him drinking alot of water and urinating more than twice as much as usual. So I took him back to the vet and they told me he has diabetes.I have to take him back on monday to start getting shots. But I am very concerned because I was doing some research and I found out there is a steriod induced diabetes. So my I fugure my once healthy cat got this diabetes from this steroid shot a month ago. I was not warned from the vet about the possibility. Does anyone know if I can cure him of this and how??

Posted on December 6, 2008

Brigitte says: Five weeks ago I took my 14 year old cat to the vet because he had a swollen jaw. They said it was from a bug bite and they gave him a steroid shot. Shortly after that I noticed him drinking alot of water and urinating more than twice as much as usual. So I took him back to the vet and they told me he has diabetes.I have to take him back on monday to start getting shots. But I am very concerned because I was doing some research and I found out there is a steriod induced diabetes. So my I fugure my once healthy cat got this diabetes from this steroid shot a month ago. I was not warned from the vet about the possibility. Does anyone know if I can cure him of this and how??

Posted on December 3, 2008

Lisa says: My cat will raise one paw up slightly while sitting or standing. He jumps, runs and walks without a limp and he will let me touch and feel around without pulling away. It's not something he' has done all along, just for the last month or so. I've been watching him very closely but there are no other signs that would indicate that he is feeling any discomfort. I notice he raises this paw when he is looking directly at something (somewhat reminds me of a 'Pointer' dog) . He gets terribly stressed during trips to the Vet and I don't want to subject him to a visit if one is not warranted. Would appreciate a second opinion. Thanks.

Posted on December 3, 2008

Christina says: Hi, I have noticed on more than one occasion my cat "Sasha" will start to sneeze and it goes on for about three or four days then stops, then it may start again a few days later. Could this be allergies or is there something else wrong with her nazel passage?

Posted on December 2, 2008

Patricia says: My kitten was born the 3 June and was weeks old when I got him. My question is that he constantly sucks a paw; usually his left rear, but I guess it depends on how he feels, 'cause I've seen him take turns with the other three paws also. Is it like a child's thumb sucking he will out grow?

Posted on December 2, 2008

KATHIE VNUK says: hi - just curious - seems to sneeze occasionaly - havent noticed it before - no other change in habits noticed.

Posted on November 30, 2008

Sarah Dutton says: My cat doesn't show most of these signs, but she's losing fur quick, and they all have clumps of dried blood on the ends! She doesn't have fleas and never has contact with other cats. What's wrong???

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