How to Tell if Cats Are Sick

A sick cat cannot tell you when he feels ill. Study your pet carefully when he is well so that you will recognize any abnormality if it appears.

Notice the sheen on his coat, the brightness of his eyes, the color of his tongue. Watch his breathing when he is at rest until you are familiar with the rate and type of his respirations; note the color and texture of his skin.

Shaking head and scratching the ear

When you fondle your cat’s ears, does he immediately shake his head? If you squeeze the base of one ear gently between finger and thumb, does he sit down and scratch at it with one hind leg? Has he a sore behind each ear from constant scratching?

If so, march him smartly off to the vet. He has ear mites.

Soiled coat

Most people know that a cat cleans his coat by licking and combing with his tongue.

Kerosene, paint, oil, tar, Lysol, fly-spray, and weed-killer are not meant to be taken internally.

If your cat’s coat is contaminated with any foreign matter that could possibly be dangerous if swallowed, put him in a pillowcase with only his head out (so that he can’t lick himself) and take him to a vet, or ring one for advice at once.


Rats drag baits from one place to another, or your dog or cat may kill a dying rat and then eat it. So if you must lay poison baits (and it is always risky with pets around), then shut your pets up until you have collected every bait.

Snail and slug baits can also be dangerous.


Owners sometimes put collars with small bells on their cats.

We can’t help feeling sorry for any cat that all day and every day, week in and week out, has a maddening and incessant little bell tinkling under his chin whenever he moves.

And to any cat that climbs trees the collar is a hazard, as it may become hooked over a broken branch and the cat will either be hanged outright or immobilized and eventually starve.

Abnormal lump or swelling

Feel your pet all over until you are familiar with his anatomy and would recognize an abnormal lump or swelling, study the way he walks and lies and eats and drinks so that any change will alert you to the possibility of trouble.

A dull coat

A cat’s coat should be sleek and glossy and soft to stroke. If it looks dull or feels harsh to the touch, or is standing up from the body, it may be a sign of general ill-health.

While most short-coated cats and some Persians manage, by assiduous licking, to keep their coats perfectly groomed, some can’t cope with it.


When a cat is molting, groom him constantly with a fine-toothed steel comb.

If grooming is neglected the dead hair will felt into hard knots, which have to be cut off, leaving great bald patches.

So because your cat has kept himself beautifully groomed all summer, don’t assume that he can cope with molting.

And if he does manage to cope with it, most of the hair is being swallowed, so it would be wise to administer a little paraffin oil once or twice a week in young cats, daily in older ones, to stop the hair from causing a blockage.

Cats should be fed a basic diet of raw meat and milk, usually a dish of milk in the morning and a heavier meal of meat at night.

For kittens, the milk can be warmed in winter, and the meat should be cut up small until the second teeth have come through at about five months.

Adult cats should be given their meat in one piece so that by chewing off each mouthful they will keep their teeth free of tartar and help to prevent gum infections.

A cat appreciates and enjoys occasional variety in his diet, titbits like sardines, liver, fish.

Cat won’t eat

Unwillingness to eat may be due to a variety of things.

A cat with a fishbone in his throat, or with inflamed tonsils, will go to his food but make no attempt to eat; painful teeth or gums will often cause a cat to pick at his food, so will an ulcerated tongue.

Catarrh of the nasal membranes, or conjunctivitis, will interfere with a cat’s sense of smell so that he loses interest in his food.


If your cat starts sneezing and his eyes look watery, take him to your vet without delay. Nasal catarrh, a type of feline influenza, responds well to treatment if taken in time, but if neglected may become chronic, or may develop into pneumonia.

Abnormal thirst

Abnormal thirst, or a tendency to hang over a dish of water without drinking, is one of the symptoms of the very infectious so-called “cat distemper” and of other diseases characterized by a high temperature.

Unhealthy odor

A persistent unhealthy odor about a cat may be due to rotten teeth and infected gums, ear canker, or even kidney disease, and the cause should be identified and treated.


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Hannah Elizabeth is an English animal behavior author, having written for several online publications. With a degree in Animal Behaviour and over a decade of practical animal husbandry experience, Hannah's articles cover everything from pet care to wildlife conservation. When she isn't creating content for blog posts, Hannah enjoys long walks with her Rottweiler cross Senna, reading fantasy novels and breeding aquarium shrimp.

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