10 Warning Signs of Disease in Cats

Keeping your furry friend free of cat diseases is a lot easier when you know what sick cat symptoms to look out for.

Jan 28, 2024byRyan Brennan
warning signs of disease in cats

Cats love their independence, but there comes a time in every cat’s life when they need their owner. I’m not talking about food, TLC, or litter maintenance – those are obvious, daily needs your cat can’t do without. Instead, I’m talking about those moments when your cat is distressed, ill, sick, or injured.

While some cat diseases and illnesses go away on their own, others only get worse if left untreated. Don’t worry – I’m going to teach you some of the tell-tale warning signs that your cat needs medical attention.

10. Persistent Howling or Crying

cat big ears meowing

We all know what our cat’s ‘meow’ sounds like, but what does it mean when that ‘meow’ turns into more of a high-pitched howl? This is called caterwauling, and it’s a desperate cry for help.

When you hear your cat yowling, the first thing you should do is check their food, water, and litter box. If those three things check out, turn your attention to your cat – they could be distressed.

Hyperthyroidism (thyroid disease), arthritis, an injury, or even a tummy ache can result in your cat howling to the moon. Either way, your cat’s vocalization means it’s time to visit the veterinarian for a checkup. Once the problem is diagnosed, the vet can put together a treatment plan for relief.

9. Walking with a Limp

orange cat ears sideways

I was sitting on the couch watching TV one night when my cat came walking into the room. He’s usually a jolly little fella who prances his way around the house, but that wasn’t the case on this particular night. It didn’t take me long to notice his limp, and when I did – it broke my heart.

He didn’t look like he was in pain, but I knew he was struggling with every step he took. When he sat down, I carefully inspected the injured paw and saw a tiny splinter – crisis averted. I gently removed the splinter, and he was walking fine the following day.

My cat was lucky, but not all cats are. A limping cat could mean something much more severe – such as a sprain, broken bone, ingrown nail or claw, infection, or arthritis. If the limp persists for more than 24 hours, schedule an appointment with your vet to prevent the issue from worsening.

8. Frequent or Repeated Vomiting

gray cat vomit grass

Like humans, all cats will vomit at some point in their lifetime. Some cats experience a short-lived attack that subsides on its own after 1-2 days (acute vomiting), while others see their vomiting persist for more than three days (chronic vomiting). Either way, the root cause will determine how severe the vomiting is.

Overeating, eating too quickly, and coughing up a hairball are the most common reasons cats vomit. In these cases, medical attention is only necessary if the vomiting persists or if accompanied by other sick cat symptoms.

With that said, your cat’s vomiting could be a sign of something much worse. Eating something toxic or poisonous, digestive illnesses (gastroenteritis, inflammatory bowel disease), and issues with the kidneys, liver, or thyroid could all result in chronic vomiting. In these cases, seek medical attention immediately.

Vomiting could also be a result of a bacterial or viral infection, foreign materials getting lodged in their throat or stomach, or even cancer.

7. Unusual Litter Box Behavior

cat exiting litter box door

Believe it or not, analyzing your cat’s litter box behavior can tell you a lot about their health. Using the litter box more frequently (or less frequently) and/or spending more time than usual (or less time than usual) in the litter box could be a sign of bladder problems or kidney disease in cats.

You should also monitor the size, color, shape, smell, and consistency of your cat’s stools and urine clumps. Stools should be dark brown, not too hard or soft, and without a foul odor. If you notice diarrhea, constipation, or blood in the stool or urine, contact a local veterinarian immediately.

Another tell-tale sign that your furry friend struggles with their elimination habits is crying or howling while using the litter box. This usually means they’re in pain and need medical attention ASAP.

6. Lumps or Abnormal Growths on the Body

brown white cat vet

If you’re like me, then you spend a lot of time cuddling up with your cat and giving them an endless supply of belly rubs. While this is usually an exciting time for you and your cat, it can quickly take a turn for the worse if you find an unusual or abnormal lump on their body.

Lumps are usually the result of acne, abscesses, cysts, insect bites, ticks, or reactions to injections – all of which could be treated with antibiotics, medication, and lifestyle changes. The lump could also be a tumor, which is either cancerous or non-cancerous. Either way, immediate medical attention is necessary.

Book an appointment with your vet whenever you find a new lump or abnormal growth on your cat’s body – even if they’re acting normal. It’s better to be safe than sorry!

5. Changes in Energy & Interest Levels

gray cat yawning grass

Cats naturally sleep anywhere from 12 to 16 hours daily, but it usually doesn’t interfere with their personality or attitude. When they’re asleep, they’re asleep. But when they’re awake, they’re still the same happy, healthy, and curious cat we’ve grown to love.

With that said, there comes a time when your cat might seem like a shell of their former self. If their personality starts to change and they appear depressed or lethargic (as opposed to just tired), then it’s time to schedule an appointment with your vet.

While cats sleep to conserve energy, they also do it to speed up their body’s natural healing process and improve their immune system. If your cat is sleeping often but has lower-than-normal energy levels, they could be fighting off an infection, illness, or one of the many cat diseases.

4. Changes in Eating Habits or Weight

gray cat eat food plate

Like most of you, I feed my cat the same amount of food daily. It allows me to keep an eye on my cat’s eating habits, which is vital to monitoring their health and wellness. A cat that’s eating too much, too little, or not at all could be suffering from a disease or illness.

Any sign of sudden weight loss or weight gain shouldn’t be ignored.

If your cat’s food bowl empties faster than normal, it could be a sign of diabetes, thyroid disease, or internal parasites. On the other hand, a food bowl that hasn’t been touched could be a sign of a dental issue, kidney disease, indigestion, or gastrointestinal issue.

The same goes for the water bowl. If your cat seems dehydrated or drinks more often than usual, contact your vet.

3. Discharge or Debris from Eyes, Nose, or Ears

cat discharge eyes squint

We’ve all had to wipe a little gunk out of our cat’s eyes before, but most of us think nothing of it. What if I were to tell you it could be a sign of eye disease, which could result in vision impairment or blindness?

Eye discharge is a common symptom of conjunctivitis (pink eye), corneal disorders, epiphora (watery eyes), uveitis, and upper respiratory infections. You might also notice your cat squinting more than often, blinking excessively, or rubbing their eye frequently.

The same goes for discharge coming from the nose and/or ears. Nasal discharge could be a sign of an infection or allergic reaction, while ear discharge could indicate the presence of ear mites.

2. Changes in Grooming Habits

striped cat grooming paw

Cats groom themselves in an effort to stay clean, but they also use it as a stress-management technique. With that said, could it be possible that your furry friend is over-grooming?

Yes, over-grooming is very much a thing. In fact, it can be dangerous if not monitored. If you notice any skin issues, rashes, or redness surrounding the grooming area, contact your vet right away – these are common complications of over-grooming.

Of course, let’s not forget that cats also tend to lick areas that are in pain (wounds, cuts, sores, etc.). That’s why it’s essential to report any sign of over-grooming to your vet – and take pictures, if possible!

1. Difficulty or Abnormal Breathing

orange cat vet table

Difficulty breathing, also known as dyspnea, is one of your cat’s most tell-tale signs of disease. This can be characterized by heavier, quicker, lighter, or slower breathing than usual. Either way, a trip to the veterinarian’s office is in your cat’s best interest.

It could mean your cat has asthma or congestive heart failure, but it could also be a result of pleural effusion – when the lungs can’t expand due to fluid around the area. These medical emergencies could make it hard for your cat to breathe normally and/or comfortably.

Next time you’re lying next to your cat, observe their normal breathing patterns and keep an eye out for any inconsistencies and/or differences – it could save their life!

Ryan Brennan
byRyan Brennan

Ryan is a content writer with 10+ years of experience in the field. He is the proud owner of a white domestic short-haired cat with black spots named Jaxx - he looks like a cow, but acts and sounds like a cat. They enjoy doing laps around the house with a laser pointer and snuggling when it’s time for bed. Ryan hopes to give Jaxx a puppy friend someday.