7 Easily Missed Signs that Your Cat Might be Sick
I still remember when I found out my favorite cat, Seven, was sick. I was hosting my weekly writing group at my house when my cell phone started ringing. We had a no calls rule, so I ignored it.
Then it rang again. It was my wife.
That’s strange, I thought. Why is she calling me?
That’s when it hit me:
She’s calling me from inside the house. Something’s wrong.
I held my breath and answered.
“Can you go to another room?” she said.
“What’s the matter?” I said. I could hear her crying.
“Please,” she said.
I went to my office and she asked me to sit down.
“Those bumps that we removed from Seven’s head — ” she said.
My heart thundered in my chest.
My head spun so wildly I had to put it down on the desk. I don’t cry much but I cried then for a long time. She was my best pal.
We’d had her since she was a tiny kitten and we were devastated. My wife found her abandoned in the back of a coffee house where she worked. She was Star Trek fan so she named the tiny white ball of fur after Seven of Nine on Star Trek: Voyager.
Seven got the best care and because of that she lived another two years, happy and energetic.
But still I wonder if she would’ve lived longer, if only I’d known what I know now.
The earlier you catch something wrong, the better chance you have of doing something about it.
That’s why Seven wants you to know these warning signs, as they could make all the difference in the world.
Seven’s Seven Warning Signs
Cats can’t talk, despite what some of their owners would have you believe. They also have a different pain tolerance than people, so the first signs that they’re in distress are subtle.
Hiding is the first major indicator that something is wrong. This is super easy to miss because cats like to hide in boxes, under covers, in the closet and everywhere else. It’s part of their normal behavior.
The difference is that they’re doing it more often and/or in different spots.
Seven started hiding under the blanket a lot more. This was something she did anyway but it wasn’t until later that we realized how much more she was doing it. Missing that was our first mistake.
If you ever find your cat hiding in a new spot and think that’s strange, what is she doing here make note of it. It could be your first warning sign.
2) Lack of Energy
Seven was a true daredevil who prided herself on getting to high up places and giving my wife heart palpitations. She somehow found her way to the top of kitchen cabinets, the tallest bookshelves, and even the tops of open doors, where she would balance along the edge like a gymnast on a balance beam.
When she started slowing down, that’s when we started to worry. She was only ten at the time and cats can live a lot longer. She wasn’t as playful and then we connected that to the fact that she was sleeping a lot more. When these signs link together, pay attention.
3) Bumps on the Skin
My wife examined her and noticed she had some bumps on her skin along the back of her neck and head. That’s were we made a classic mistake that I see too many pet parents make:
We decided to “wait and see” what happens.
Unfortunately, this strategy is almost never a good idea.
A week went by. We checked the bumps often and they didn’t seem to be growing. It was hard to tell if her energy was back up or not. She seemed to be playful again. Like I said, changes in animal behavior are subtle and easy to miss sometimes. Finally we decided to take her to the doctor.
The doctors didn’t think much of it. They just gave her some antibiotics and some cream to rub on the bumps.
That was our third major mistake.
In retrospect our doctors were good people but they weren’t the best doctors. We’d been going to them since we were young because they were close by and we were broke. They had good rates. But good rates don’t always equal good care.
We brought Seven home and put the cream on her bumps regularly. They didn’t go away. A month later she started to get lethargic again. We decided to get a second opinion. This doctor recommended removing the bumps and getting them biopsied.
When my wife got the results back that was the night she called me from the house.
The bumps tested positive for cancer.
In hind sight we learned a few rules:
- Always have bumps removed and biopsied, if they seem suspicious. Better safe than sorry.
- Don’t wait when you find something wrong.
- Do your own research. It turns out when cats get cancer inside, say in the liver or stomach, it often manifests on their skin. In fact many types of disease manifest on cat’s skin so check your animals regularly when you’re petting them.
- This is the most important one: If you try something and your cat’s behavior hasn’t returned to normal, there is still something wrong. Get a second opinion.
4) Pooping/Peeing Outside the Litter Box
This one might irritate the hell out of you. You come home from a long day only to find a pile of poo in the corner. It’s frustrating and maddening but I urge you to check your anger and try to figure out why it’s happening.
This can be a sign of lots of things. A new addition to the family, such as another animal or a baby, could be stressing the cat out. Maybe you changed them to a new food that they hate. It might be that you swapped the litter to a different brand and they don’t like it.
You might think changing litter brands is no big deal but it might seem like you just swapped out the moon to them! Little changes make a big difference to animals. Your space is their whole world.
But if you didn’t change something, it might mean they’re sick. When a cat gets tape worm or parasites of any kind, they won’t risk contaminating their litter, so they’ll pee or poo outside of it.
If it’s pee take them to the doctor. If it’s poo, get sample in a plastic bag and take it to the doctor. Either way, get it checked out. A blood panel will often discover if something is wrong, especially if they do this out of nowhere.
As an FYI, sometimes when cats have treatment for cancer, they’ll pee or poo outside of the box after treatment. Chemo for cats is a much, much lower dosage than humans get but it doesn’t mean they don’t get down for a few days. With Seven she would get perky right after chemo, as the cancer cells got pushed back, only to get down a week later.
If you have multiple pets it can help to get a second litter box and keep them extra clean when your pet pals are feeling sad.
5) Not Eating or Drinking
This is usually a very serious sign. Take the cat to the doctor immediately. This one is notorious for triggering the “we’ll just wait for a few days and see what happens” response in pet parents.
The problem comes from that fact that if you don’t feel like eating for a few days, it’s no big deal. Maybe you ate too much last week so you just feel like snacking or skipping a few meals?
Cats don’t skip meals.
Animals live to eat.
Eating is the most important thing in the world to them. If they’re not doing it, something is wrong. Period. Don’t wait.
6) Too Much Drinking
On the flip side, if a cat is drinking lots more water than usual, watch out. That usually means they’re dehydrated or not processing food right. It can often be a sign of liver or stomach issues. Renal failure is a common cat disease in old age. Drinking a lot of water is one of the biggest signs of that.
Now, obviously, if you were just running the cat around and they drink a lot of water it’s nothing to worry about. When you exercise you need water. Cats are no different.
Usually when I run my cats ragged with their favorite toy, the Cat Dancer, they go so crazy leaping around for a half hour that their first trip is to the water bowl for an extended drink. Perfectly normal.
It’s just if they’re drinking a lot of water of no particular reason that you should worry.
By the way, I hope whoever created the Cat Dancer is living on a desert island somewhere, because this little $5 toy of cardboard and wire has them waiting in the living room at 8PM prompt for play time every night, when thirty dollars toys lay discarded a few days later.
7) Sudden Aggressiveness (Especially to Touch)
This one is perhaps the most serious.
If your cat suddenly scratches or bites you, especially when you pick them up, that’s a terrible sign. It usually means they’re hurting badly in a specific area. It could be a gimpy leg, or something internal.
Remember that cats have a much higher pain tolerance so if they act out it means it really hurts.
Get it checked out ASAP.
A Bonus: Controlling the Cost of Pet Care
One last thing. A lot of people don’t get their pets checked out because they’re worried about the costs. Pets can get expensive. They don’t cost much to adopt but when they get sick they can burn a lot of your hard earned savings. It’s no fun to be in a position to have to choose between getting your cat care and paying rent.
I spent a small fortune on Seven because I didn’t have insurance.
After Seven passed, I decided to get pet insurance for our next cat. I didn’t do much research. I figured they were all the same, which was pretty stupid of me. Add it to my mistakes.
We adopted a second kitty, a one eyed wonder, that we called Isa, which is Taglog for “one.” She lost the first eye before the shelter found her but she was beautiful to us anyway.
Unfortunately, she had a rare genetic disorder and got sick very, very young. It was so rare that the pathologists had to look it up on the internet. It was also hard to detect. For months it showed up as all kinds of crazy things that seemed unrelated.
She had runny poop, puffy skin, dry skin, eating problems, baby teeth that wouldn’t fall out.
It’s when things go wrong that you see just how much your insurance is worth. The insurance company I had, who shall remain nameless, didn’t cover anything. They had a long list of exceptions in the fine print, including things like pulling baby teeth. It sucked. It was like having no insurance at all. Worse, I was paying for the privilege of them cheating me.
We ended up losing Isa before she was even one years old. It took us months to realize all her issues were related to a genetic disorder that meant her body deposited calcium into her muscles instead of her bones. It left her paralyzed and we had to put her to sleep.
After spending a second small fortune, I decided this time we better do our homework.
We settled on Healthy Paws. We love them.
When our third cat, Dax, Seven’s brother, got sick, they covered a number of procedures for him when the other company would have just left us to twist in the wind. Because of that he lived to a ripe old age of fifteen.
There are two ways to run an insurance business:
- One: Steal everyone’s money by making sure not to cover anything that a pet would actually get sick from
- Two: Make a reasonable profit but actually cover real problems that matter to people and pets
Healthy Paws definitively falls into the second category. They cover treatments and prescriptions at 90%. Their website is super easy to use. Checks come promptly.
Now while they don’t cover a preexisting condition, because no pet insurance does, they don’t look for every reason to link every little thing to that condition just so they can deny you.
Oh and get insurance when they’re kittens, so they don’t have any preexisting conditions! Don’t wait, like my sister did with her dog. He’s just a puppy. What can go wrong, she thought?
What can go wrong is he broke his leg and cost her a bunch of money. Now he has a preexisting condition and she is down a bunch of cash she didn’t have to lose if she’d just gotten the insurance when I told her.
Healthy Paws will treat you right, though I’m sure there are others that are good. I don’t remember them all at this point. Do your research. Read the fine print. Compare. Look at everything they don’t cover.
For example, most companies won’t reimburse you for anything that comes “from the inside” once a pet turns ten. In other words, they don’t cover anything that your pet will mostly likely get sick from in their lifetimes! It’s a scam.
Don’t waste money. Get the right insurance.
It’s makes a big difference knowing you can go to the doctor and not worry that it will cost an arm and a leg or that you have to dip into the kid’s college fund again.
With any luck you’ll remember Seven’s list of seven signs when you and your furry pal need it most. The earlier you catch something, the better chance you have of dealing with it.
But before you catch something, you have to know what to look for in the first place.
Now you do!
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