Is Your Sick Cat Lethargic? Distinguishing Sickness from Lethargy in Cats

A sick cat is often difficult to recognize since most animals try to hide their illnesses to avoid appearing vulnerable. Thus, it's difficult to distinguish if your cat's lethargy is normal or should be attributed to an illness.

Normal Lethargy

If you've never had a cat before, you may be concerned how much he sleeps. However, this is perfectly normal. Cats can sleep up to 18 hours per day and are often nocturnal, so you may not even see him at his most active.

Kittens can require even more sleep as they are growing and need to rest for their body to perform all the functions it needs to ensure proper growth and health.

As your cat gets older, you also might notice him slow down and begin to sleep more. Again, that's normal as your cat's metabolism has slowed down and he may need more rest for his body to maintain proper health.

However, your cat should still show signs of life at some point during the day, possibly mealtime or during some play sessions. If your cat seems to be slowed down even when awake he may be suffering from an illness.

Abnormal Lethargy

Familiarize yourself with your cat's sleeping patterns when he is healthy so you can gauge what is normal for your cat. Some cats just sleep more than others, so though this cat may seem lazy compared to your last, he's still perfectly healthy. Thus, it's important to have an idea of what's normal.

If your cat varies from this pattern and seems to be sluggish even when awake, he may be suffering from a mild illness that he is perfectly capable of fighting off himself. If there are no other symptoms, wait a few days to see if he recovers.

Your cat also may be recovering from a stressful event. It's normal for any animal to need extra sleep to de-stress. If you recently had a visitor, loud neighbor, vacation or busy holiday season, give your cat a few days to recover. You may see him rebound soon after.

Lethargy from Illness

Not all illnesses can be "slept off." If your cat's lethargy is accompanied by loss of appetite, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting or cold symptoms, consult your veterinarian. Many common cat illnesses, such as distemper, FIV and feline leukemia, can cause lethargy. Parasites can also cause lethargy. However, lethargy is not the only symptom. There will be other signs that your cat is not feeling well.

In addition, serious illnesses may lead to lethargy but few other symptoms. Especially if your cat is a little older, watch for sleeping patterns that vary radically from the norm. If the lethargy persist for longer than a few days to a week, consider taking him in for a senior exam to ensure that everything is working properly.

In general, lethargy is usually nothing to worry about. Cats need plenty of rest. As long as they are eating well and interacting with you as normal, they are probably fine. However, it can be a sign of illness so check with your veterinarian if it persists.