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What you need to know and check regularly with your cat

Normal cats’ behavior and Subtle Signs of Sickness

Your cat is a unique individual and while it is nice to know what is typical for the “average” cat, it is best to know what is normal for your specific cat. By paying attention to a few simple details about your cat’s daily routine and you will not miss early signs that something is wrong. A cat who is eating, drinking, and going to the bathroom is most likely a healthy cat. Noticing subtle changes in your cat’s normal routines may alert you to an issue you can address with your veterinarian before it turns into a bigger problem. View a list of common signs and symptoms that signal trip to the veterinarian.

Eating and Drinking

Know the typical amount of food eaten by your cat in a 24 hour period. Watching your cat go to the food bowl and eat a bite or two is not sufficient. You must measure portions (especially the dry food) and keep track of any treats or snacks you offer. Once you know the typical amounts consumed in your household you don’t have to be obsessive, just observant.

Know where and from what type of container your cat likes to drink (bowl, fountain, glass on the nightstand…). It is not as easy to measure exact water consumption as it is to measure food consumption, but you can watch for significant changes in drinking behavior. Average daily volume of water obtained from these resources varies widely.

Cats who primarily or exclusively eat dry food, will drink noticeably more water than cats eating canned/wet food (consistent urine volume is actually a good indicator of “normal” water consumption).

Changes in Food and Water Consumption

Contrary to popular relief, most cats are not finicky eaters. Look for changes, such as a decrease or an increase in consumption and how the cat chews its food. Decreased food intake can be a sign of several disorders, ranging from poor dental health to cancer. Increased food consumption can be caused by diabetes mellitus, hyperthyroidism or other health problems.

Changes in water consumption may be more difficult to observe, especially in cats that spend time outdoors or drink from toilets and sinks. Increased water intake can be an early indicator of thyroid problems, kidney disease, diabetes or other conditions.

If food and water intake is questionable, clients can measure the food and water given, and then measure what remains after 24 hours to get a more accurate picture of actual consumption.

Unexplained Weight Loss or Gain

A change in weight does not necessarily correlate with a change in appetite. Cats with hyperthyroidism or diabetes mellitus can lose weight despite good appetites. Many other diseases cause both appetite and weight loss. If your cat goes to the food dish and then backs away from it without eating, nausea may be the source.

Weight changes often go unnoticed because of a cats thick coat. You can assess body condition by feeling gently along the ribs. The ribs should be easily felt but not prominent. On the other hand, obesity has become a serious health concern in cats, with increased risk of diabetes mellitus, joint disease and other problems. Cat owners can purchase small pet scalesto chart weight at home. Take the cat to the veterinarian if there are any unplanned changes in weight.

Urinating and Defecating

Know how often and how much urine your cat produces daily. If you are using absorbent litter, you can note the number and size of wet spots before you scoop the poop and stir the litter. An average adult cat will produce 2-3 handful size urine balls per day. Cats are creatures of habit, so if you have more than one cat with a bit of observation you can probably have a pretty good idea of who is urinating in which area of which box as well.

A cat that is urinating inappropriately may have any number of medical conditions associated with the behavior, including lower urinary tract disease, kidney disease, urinary tract infection and diabetes mellitus. It can also be a sign of arthritis, which makes it difficult for the cat to get into the litter box. Blockage of the urinary tract signals a veterinary emergency. A blockage is treatable, but timing is critical. Once identified, the cat must receive veterinary care as soon as possible. Otherwise, fatal complications could develop. Signs include straining in the litter box with little or no results, crying when urinating and frequent attempts to urinate.

Know how often and how much your cat defecates every day. No matter what type of litter you are using, bowel movements should be scooped at least daily.Notice color, shape, and consistency – it only takes a moment as you transfer it to a trash bag or the toilet to flush.An average adult cat defecates once every 24 to 36 hours.. It should be a dark brown color, well formed, moist enough that the litter will stick to it, and emitting an odor, that while not pleasant, should not drive you from the room. It is important to keep the litter box clean. You can change entirely the box every 24 hours.

Sleeping and Napping

Know where each of your cats spends her time. Most cats nap where the sun or the action is – at a window, on your desk, in the TV room, etc. They sleep where it is safe, warm, and quiet (often in a bedroom). Cats look luxuriously comfortable at rest.

The key to differentiating abnormal lethargy from normal napping is knowing your cat’s sleeping patterns. The average adult cat may spend 16 to 18 hours per day sleeping and will have 3-4 favorite napping spots. The cat should respond quickly to usual stimuli, such as the owner walking into the room or cat food being prepared. If your cat is sleeping more than usual or has discomfort lying down and getting up, this may be a sign of underlying disease. Cats withdraw rather than complain when they don’t feel well, so a cat who is not spending time in their usual places may have a problem. Consult your veterinarian if this is the case.

Action and Interaction

Know your cat’s typical daily activity – greeting you at the door, waking you in the morning, following you to the bathroom, playing with toys (If you keep cat toys in a box are they eventually found scattered around the house?), grooming (especially after a meal), or watching outdoor activity from a window. Cats are social animals, they enjoy interaction with their human family and often with other pets. Changes in those interactions may signal problems such as disease, fear or anxiety. They may also signal pain, which can cause aggression. For example, a cat may attack an individual who causes it pain, such as a person combing over a cat’s arthritic hips or brushing a diseased tooth. Any change to your cat’s usual routine warrants investigation and discussion with your veterinarian.

Changes in Grooming

Typically, cats are fastidious groomers. Note whether your cat’s coat is clean and free of mats. Patches of hair loss or a greasy or matted appearance can signal an underlying disease. Also watch to see if your cat has difficulty grooming. A decrease in grooming behavior can indicate fear, anxiety, obesity or other illness. An increase in grooming may be a sign of a skin problem.

Signs of Stress

Yes, your cat can be stressed despite having an easy life. Boredom and sudden lifestyle changes are common causes of stress in cats. Stressed cats may spend less time grooming and interacting, or they may spend more time awake and scanning their environment, hide more, withdraw and exhibit signs of depression. They could also change their eating patterns. These same signs may indicate a medical condition. It is important to rule out medical problems first and then address the stress. Because the social organization of cats is different from that of people and dogs, changes in family, such as adding a new pet, should be done gradually. Please contact your veterinary hospital for information on how to successfully make changes in your household.

Changes in Vocalization

An increase in vocalization or howling is more common in older cats and is often seen with some underlying conditions such as hyperthyroidism or high blood pressure. Many cats also vocalize more if they are in pain or anxious. If you note a change in vocalization, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to rule out medical problems and to obtain suggestions for minimizing or eliminating the behavior.

Bad Breath

Studies show 70 percent of cats have gum disease as early as age 3. It is important to have your cats teeth checked at every veterinary visit to help prevent dental disease or to start treatment of problems. One of the early indicators of an oral problem is bad breath. Regular home teeth brushing and veterinary dental care prevent bad breath, pain, tooth loss and spread of infection to other organs.