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Cats are one of the most mysterious pets I have ever come to meet. They do funny, quirky things that have ended up on many, MANY America's Funniest Home Videos episodes, and even more on YouTube.
Simon's Cat—a Day in the Life of a Cat Owner
Some of us can identify with this video (even just a little bit) when it comes to trying to "figure out" just what in the world and why our cats do certain things.
But when it comes to trying to differentiate whether our cat is just acting funny or trying to tell us they don't feel well, I think many owners just don't know what to look for. Here is a short list of things you should look out for, and address immediately with your local veterinarian:
(P.S. This list isn't ranked in order of importance.)
1. Kitty Is Straining, Either in or Outside the Litterbox (LB)
This also includes the kitty peeing or pooping outside the LB, especially if it's around your house, on or underneath furniture, etc.
Straining means forcibly trying to pee/poop without any result (meaning you don't see anything coming out of kitty's behind). What could be really bad is that your cat might be blocked, which is a common term for the urinary tract being clogged by urinary stones, causing your cat to be unable to urinate. This is usually more common in male cats than female cats, but it can still happen either way. Either way, if there is a possibility that your cat might be "blocked," we consider it a medical emergency!
Now if your cat is straining because it is unable to defecate (a fancy way of saying poop), it could turn into a medical emergency as well depending on how many days this has been going on. If you noticed it the day of, it's likely that your cat might just need some laxatives or some sort of medical intervention to help push things through. But if you have no idea how many days it has been (be it because you don't change kitty litter that often or if you have multiple cats), it could be a really bad situation. EITHER WAY, bring kitty meow to the vet! Being backed up for X-number of days could lead to megacolon, which could be a really bad deal for kitty; just as it would be a really bad deal for any of us. (Yikes! I hate being backed up for even just one day, I can't imagine being backed up for more than that.)
Usually pet owners notice straining when kitty is moaning/groaning while squatting in the position, or just by chance, watching your kitty go, and wondering why it's taking so long. However you've noticed it, I recommend calling your vet and getting them on the schedule ASAP.
2. Kitty Has Not Been Eating or Drinking
Personally, if my cat doesn't eat or drink after one day, I would call the veterinarian the next day to get in.
Medical reasoning: Loss of appetite in cats is a very common indicator of illness. "When animals don’t eat enough, they must rely on their fat reserves for energy. Before stored fat can be used for fuel, it must be processed by the liver. This step requires adequate supplies of protein. With rapid weight loss in a cat that stops eating, protein supplies are soon exhausted and the liver becomes overwhelmed by all the fat. This results in a dangerous condition known as hepatic lipidosis, which can lead to liver failure" (Flowers, 2017).
Now, I understand cats to be very picky eaters by nature (at least some cats, others apparently just eat anything in sight), so if your cat typically eats readily when offered food and decides to sniff it and walk away one day, you can always try adding some canned food. If kitty will eat that readily and keep eating canned food readily, I would just deem kitty a picky eater. But if kitty still doesn't readily eat, and seems to eat less than he/she would typically eat (a sign of decreased appetite), I would suspect a medical problem brewing.
Cats also require less water than dogs (if you compare pets of the same weight/mass). This article explains in great detail as to how to determine how much water your cat actually needs to drink depending on the type of food you feed. Decreased (and also increased) drinking is also symptom of how something could be wrong. Less water intake could lead to dehydration and could stress various organ systems, and more water intake could possibly be due to kidney disease, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, or a urinary tract infection just to name a few common ones.
3. You Have Noticed Significant, Inappropriate Weight Loss in Kitty
Just so I don't dive way too deep into how you would notice this, it would be the most pertinent to get kitty checked out if you notice weight loss despite regular or even increased appetite. Usually this is more crucial in senior cats (>six years old), but huge weight loss in any cat is still something alarming you should get a veterinarian to check out! The most common problems I have come across, during my time in this field, are diabetes, hyperthyroidism, and intestinal parasites. Sometimes other signs are increased water consumption and possibly diarrhea, but inappropriate weight loss could be indications of many other problems! I would consult a veterinarian so that they can use their expertise to pin point what the problem could be.
4. Kitty Is Open-Mouth Breathing
Even though dogs pant very often and it's a totally natural way for them to regulate their body temperature, that is not the case for cats! Cats typically don't do strenuous exercise to the point of panting, so open mouth breathing is, more often than not, a sign of distress!
Although sometimes when cats get way too overly stressed they will open-mouth breathe, once they find a way out of that stressful situation, their breathing should go back to normal. The video above shows you what a cat in respiratory distress looks like. The cat is usually crouched or laying down, and you can see it using its abdominal muscles to breathe HARD. This requires immediate medical attention! Scoop kitty up and head to the nearest emergency animal clinic, or hopefully, your vet's office can get you in immediately and will have the equipment to figure out why kitty is in medical distress.
In these four different situations, I strongly encourage you to call up your local veterinary office and ask what they would recommend you do. I can almost (but not 100 percent) guarantee they will try to get you some medical help immediately, or as soon as they have availability. And if ever in doubt about what you observe, it never hurts to call them anyway to ask what you should do. Better safe than sorry!
I hope this has been another helpful article, and remember, you are the greatest influence and advocate of your pet's health! Stay tuned for more installments from yours truly! Keep a look out for my next article.
Flowers, A. (2017, July 23) What To Do When Your Cat Won't Eat. Retrieved from https://pets.webmd.com/cats/guide/my-cat-wont-eat#1.