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13 Silent Signs Your “Healthy” Cat Is Actually Sick

Cats are notorious for being the strong, silent types of the animal kingdom when they are sick so it's important to look for these silent signs that something may be afoot.

A cat hiding under a couchRawpixel.com/Shutterstock

She’s MIA

“Cats are very stoic, which makes it difficult to tell they are sick. If your cat hides more often and is less social than normal, this could be a sign that something is wrong,” says Ashley Rossman, DVM, Glen Oak Dog and Cat Hospital. Although it’s more vague than most signs your cat is sick, don’t brush it off. The possible causes can run the gamut of an infection, endocrine disorder, or something more serious like cancer. Here are 17 other things your cat is trying to tell you with their feline ways.

Adorable cat drinking from a faucetOnurTonba/Shutterstock

He’s drinking like a fish

Cats, in general, don’t lap up copious amounts of water (about a cup for every ten pounds) so it should be fairly easy to spot when the water bowl empties quicker, or he’s trying to get water from other sources like the sink or toilet. “If your cat is drinking more water than normal this could be a sign that your cat has an endocrine disorder such as hyperthyroid disease or diabetes,” says Dr. Rossman. Definitely give your vet a call if you notice your cat is lapping up more water than usual; it’s one of the signs your cat is sick.

Cute cat near bowl with food at homePixel-Shot/Shutterstock

She’s turning his nose up on her favorite food

Your kitty goes crazy when you bring home a new bag of kitty kibble, but if she hasn’t shown much interest lately, take note. A decreased appetite could indicate many things like an underlying infection, cancer, or maybe their choppers are bothering them. “Cats have a wide array of dental issues including gingivitis, periodontitis, and stomatitis which lead to resorption of many tooth roots. Cats also suffer from a build-up of dental tartar and fractured teeth,” says Dr. Rossman. Don’t ever feed your pets these 11 foods.

cat lies on the window in winterGermanova Antonina/Shutterstock

She’s got runny eyes and nose

“If your cat is experiencing sneezing, nasal discharge, coughing, fever, or the sniffles, it can be due to a variety of things, including feline upper respiratory disease which is similar to the common cold in humans,” says veterinarian Heidi Cooley, senior manager client experience and advocacy at Banfield Pet Hospital. However, if the tearing is excessive or comes with a clear discharge, Dr. Cooley says it could indicate a clogged tear duct or other irritation to the eye. Green or yellow discharge likely means she has an infection that would require meds from your vet. If your cat is ill, learn how to give it a pill. 

Homeless animals series. Ginger cat looking out of his cage meowingSue McDonald/Shutterstock

He’s more vocal than usual

OK, so this isn’t one of the “silent” signs your cat is sick, but it’s noteworthy when your cat is more vocal than his usual quiet self. In fact, if it goes on for more than 24 to 36 hours, his meowing is a sign he could be sick. “Vocalization is a very broad clinical sign in cats—it can convey pain, but it can also convey many different underlying diseases,” says Dr. Rossman. Despite popular opinion, purring doesn’t always mean he’s healthy and content. Find out the things you do that your cat secretly hates.

White cat starring at the camera and lying lazily on a cushion scratcherPacharawan/Shutterstock

She’s losing weight

A few pounds off a ten-pound cat is pretty noticeable—and it’s a symptom you shouldn’t ignore. “If you notice signs of weight loss in your cat, first and foremost, double check with your veterinarian to be sure your cat has been properly screened for internal disease, dental health, and any other conditions that could be contributing to her weight loss,” says Dr. Cooley. Make notes of what your kitty is eating and drinking and if they are eating more or less than usual to share with your vet.

relaxed cute cat and a comb full of pet furtache/Shutterstock

He’s losing hair and his skin is crusty

Hair loss and crusty or scaly patches on the skin that may be red, with or without scratching, are sure signs your feline isn’t feeling fine. These are hallmark signs of ringworm, and it’s critical your cat sees the vet pronto. “If you suspect your pet might have ringworm, it is important to partner with your veterinarian to diagnose and treat as it is transmissible to other pets and humans,” says Dr. Cooley. Don’t miss these signs your cat is mad at you

baby Siberian kitten cat indoorsHolly Vegter/Shutterstock

He’s letting his dander pile up

Cats are top-notch groomers, so if you find dander piling up on his belly or bottom, something’s up. “One of the hardest things for aging cats that have developed arthritis may be losing the ability to groom themselves properly,” says Dr. Cooley. “Although we don’t know for sure, we think it causes stress for them, and these cats appear uncomfortable or even in pain when their bottom or lower belly is scratched.” Be sure to avoid these 12 common mistakes cat owners make.

Yellow vomit on a light wooden floor and a catANASTASIIAKU/Shutterstock

She’s throwing up a lot

It’s not uncommon for a cat to vomit immediately after eating or when too much hair from self-grooming is digested. It’s the acute vomiting—present for more than two to three days—that can lead to dehydration and warrants a call to the vet. “If your cat vomits, monitor how often and what the vomit looks like, so you can tell your veterinarian about it,” advises Dr. Cooley. Vomiting is one of the biggest signs your cat is sick, as it can be a sign of many things such as an infection, intestinal obstruction, liver disease, or cancer. Left untreated, these illnesses can lead to serious complications, including death.

Cute sleeping gray domestic cat closeup portraitKaterina Maksymenko/Shutterstock

He’s just not himself

You can’t quite put your finger on it, but something is up with your kitty cat. He’s just not as playful and seems to be sleeping more. It doesn’t look too serious, but as you begin to monitor his activity, you also notice he’s slower going up and down the stairs, has difficulty using his litter box, or is no longer jumping up to his favorite spot on the window sill. He may even be irritable or vocal when you touch him. Dr. Cooley says these subtle signs your cat is sick could actually signal arthritis. Treatment is similar to those for humans, so call your vet for an exam and discuss pain management. These are the 11 subtle signs your kitty is down in the dumps.

Yawning cat...Feel sleepyPhanchi/Shutterstock

His breathing is bizarre

When your cat appears to have a hard time breathing, you will notice his belly and chest move or his mouth will be open, or his neck and head may hang low and extend from the body. Other signs of trouble are rapid breathing or wheezy and raspy sounds. “Changes in breathing should be addressed by a veterinary professional as soon as possible. Cats can suffer from many different respiratory diseases including but not limited to asthma, pneumonia, lung cancer, and lung disease,” Dr. Rossman says.

Black cat licking the pawsNANCY AYUMI KUNIHIRO/Shutterstock

He is spending way too much time grooming

No, he’s not that vain, he’s just trying to tell you to call the vet. “Overgrooming, known as psychogenic alopecia, can be a sign of illness,” says Dr. Rossman. And the types of illness range from psychological like increased anxiety, stress, or boredom or it could be caused by fleas, infections, allergies, adverse reactions to food, or even hormonal disorders. Discover 12 home remedies for fleas.

a brown stripe black cat lying on the floor. There is a hand rubbed at the chin of the cat.kae_nata/Shutterstock

You noticed a lump while petting her

Lumps, bumps, discolored skin, visible tumors, and other masses are common cat cancer signs, according to the American Veterinary Medical Foundation. Other symptoms you shouldn’t ignore are difficulty breathing and eating, abdominal swelling, persistent diarrhea, or vomiting and bleeding from the mouth, nose, or other body openings. A biopsy is necessary to confirm the diagnosis. It’s a frightening thing to discover your cat has cancer but some cancers like lymphoma are responsive to treatment and there are ways to manage pain and give them comfort. Next, check out these cat adoption photos that will melt your heart.

Lisa Marie Conklin
Lisa Marie Conklin is a Baltimore-based writer who writes regularly about pets and home improvement for Reader's Digest. Her work has also been published in The Healthy, HealthiNation, The Family Handyman, Taste of Home, and Realtor.com., among other outlets. She's also a certified personal trainer and walking coach for a local senior center. Follow her on Instagram @lisamariewrites4food and Twitter @cornish_conklin.