When to See a Vet

It is one of the most common questions asked by owners: “How can I tell when my cat is ill or when to take my cat to see the veterinarian?”. Cats, just like humans, do have medical problems from time to time but, unlike humans, they can’t simply tell us exactly how they are feeling or if they need to see the vet right away. So it is up to us as owners to gauge when kitty is under the weather and decide what necessitates a vet visit. Cats usually will give us some type of sign that something is wrong, this can range from the subtle to the dramatic so make sure you know what is “normal” for your cat. Take note of how often and how much your cat likes to eat and drink, how often your cat uses the litterbox, if your cat likes to be held, if your cat is normally talkative or purrs often etc. Every cat is different so what is normal for one cat may not be normal for the next. Knowing the normal behaviors and patterns of your cat will assure you that you can always pick up on any out-of-the-ordinary behaviors or signs that all is not well. For example if your cat is usually fanatically clean when using the litterbox and suddenly starts having accidents she may be trying to tell you something. A normally gentle and friendly cat can become aggressive when sick, while a normally skiddish and aggressive cat may become very loving and just want to sit in your lap and cuddle when sick. A cat who normally defecates once a day may start only defecating a few times a week, or may start having a little blood in her feces. Any subtle change either in personality, behavior, grooming habits, playing habits, eating habits, or litterbox habits that is different from the norm can be a signal that your cat needs to see the vet.

Just to make it even harder, cats are very good at hiding signs of disease and illness. Cats can survive with as little as 1/3 of their kidney functioning. And cats can survive with as little as 20% of their liver functioning normally. So by the time you start seeing any signs of illness your kitty may be very sick. A common symptom that can go unchecked is weight loss or loss of appetite. Usually by the time you notice that your cat is looking a little thinner than normal she may have already lost a significant percentage of her body weight. Unlike humans cats don’t diet, so if kitty is losing weight something is bound to be wrong. Cats can begin to initially lose weight for many reasons but when a cat does not take in enough calories to sustain her body weight the body must begin to use fat and muscle stores for energy (this is what we humans do when we diet). Unfortunately cat’s bodies are not very efficient at processing fat stores and thus fat can begin to accumulate in the liver. This can put the cat at risk for Hepatic Lipidosis, a serious liver disease. Many times a cat will begin to lose weight due to a simple problem such as an upper respiratory infection or conjunctivitis, but if left unchecked the cat can end up with Hepatic Lipidosis which can be life-threatening.

Here are a list of symptoms that can indicate a medical problem which may necessitate a visit to your vet:


  • Loss of appetite or weight
  • Increase in appetite or weight
  • Decrease in activity
  • Lethargy
  • Increased thirst
  • Decreased thirst
  • Irritability
  • Increased meowing or yowling
  • Hiding or unsociability
  • Excessive growling, or talking
  • Any change in personality from the norm
  • Any change in behavior from the norm
  • Limping, obvious pain, or trouble while walking
  • Pain to sensitivity to being touched or held
  • Disorientation
  • Change in pupil dilation or odd pupil behavior
  • Trouble using motor skills
  • Dehydration
  • Runny or watery eye(s)
  • Runny or watery nose
  • Sneezing
  • Wheezing or coughing
  • Difficulty or labored breathing
  • Exposure of the third eyelid
  • Hard and full belly
  • Bad breath
  • Fever (103+ fahrenheit)
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Change in litterbox habits
  • Accidents or going outside of the litterbox
  • Blood in urine
  • Blood in feces
  • Increased urination
  • Straining while urinating or defecating
  • Strong odor to urine
  • Increased thirst
  • Skin sores
  • Pale gums or ears (can indicate anemia)
  • Vomiting
  • Any abscess or cut
  • A wound that is oozing, bleeding or won’t heal
  • Fleas, ticks, mites or other parasites
  • Loss of fur or poor coat appearance

If you are in doubt as to whether or not your cat’s symptoms necessitate a vet visit call your veterinarian’s office. Usually your vet or a vet assistant can direct you if a visit is prudent or not. However when in doubt it is always better to err on the side of safety, especially when the health of your precious feline is at risk. Many owners delay a trip to the vet hoping the problem will go away or hoping to save money. Unfortunately many illnesses that can start out as minor problems can quickly turn into a life-threatening situation if not treated properly or accurately. Such owners usually find out that the time wasted may have delayed treatment of the original problem to the point that the illness has now gotten worse, that disease complications have arisen, or that secondary/associated illnesses are now involved. This can lead to a more expensive treatment plan in the end and can endanger the life of your feline, something that no pet owner wants. Also, although there are over-the-counter medications for more common feline problems such as fleas and hairballs, you should always see your vet if this is the first time your cat has encountered such a problem or if you have a kitten or very old cat.