5 Subtle-But-Serious Cat Health Symptoms

Illness in cats can be hard to notice; signs are often subtle or absent until medical conditions become more serious. There are any number of common, easily treatable feline health conditions—worms or other parasites, fleas, minor infections. Some cat health symptoms, however, indicate more serious conditions, such as heart, liver, endocrine or kidney disease; parasitic infections or diabetes. It is important to give attention to even minor symptoms, in case they indicate something more serious than a minor health concern.

1. Pale Gums

Gum color is not something pet owners think about or have cause to observe most of the time, but it is an excellent indicator of health or illness. Healthy cat gums are pink. Any other color is a sign of an underlying medical problem. Gray, white or red gums, in particular, often indicate systematic infection that needs immediate treatment. 

2. Behavioral Changes

A cat that usually sleeps in bed takes to sleeping under the furniture. Or, a cat that is generally more of a loner than a cuddler starts following you around the house for attention most of the time. Specific changes in behavioral patterns are sometimes the only observable symptoms in early stages of an illness. Once you know your cat’s habits and preferences, pay attention to changes in those habits. Sometimes they are nothing more than changes, but sometimes they are indicators of pain or discomfort caused by a serious health problem.

3. Chewing & Scratching

Licking, scratching, and biting are usually signs of fleas or skin infections. Sometimes, however, repetitive licking or biting in one area is an indication of pain deeper in the body that may be related to a more serious condition. Excessive grooming is sometimes a behavioral concern, but may indicate allergies. 

4. Coat Changes

A shiny, soft coat is a sign of health. As cats age, their coats may become thinner and less lustrous. However, coat changes in younger cats or more unusual coat changes in older cats may mark an underlying health condition that needs attention, such as worms, diabetes, or infection. Coats that become oily, dull, or thin can indicate anything from poor diet to renal failure. Even older cats should maintain soft coats. Any sudden changes to your cat's coat is cause for concern. 

5. Eating & Drinking Changes

Changes in a cat’s food and water consumption are subtle, but important, signs. If your cat stops eating or drinking entirely, or starts eating drastically more, you’ll probably notice. However, shifts in consumption that are less extreme also warrant attention. Often, this kind of change will be gradual enough that you may not notice until your cat’s health is greatly compromised. Free-feeding makes it difficult to monitor exactly how much your cat eats; try writing down how much food you add to the bowl, and how frequently. Consider timed feeding if you’re bringing a new cat home or want to change your cat's feeding schedule.