Wednesday 24 January 2024

Are these the 7 signs that a domestic cat is sick??

The New York Post has an article titled, "The 7 ways cats say they are sick: vets reveal the signs humans shouldn't miss".

To cut to the chase, they say that researchers found that the following seven behaviours may indicate a sick kitty:
  • spraying
  • frantic licking
  • not using the litter box
  • self-mutilation
  • attacking legs and feet
  • chewing on objects and growling or hissing when petted
I think the above list is wrong. I think it's plain and simple wrong. But not all of it. I'll tell you why. And then I'll tell you what I think the signs are of a sick cat.

Spraying is not the sign of a sick cat. It is the sign of a cat that wants to protect their territory against invading cats. It's a way of marking territory through odour. Fit and healthy cats do this. It may be a sign that the cat is stressed because they are trying to defend their territory inside the home or in the backyard whatever but it is not per se a sign of an ill cat.

Not using the litter box has many causes. It might simply be that the cat doesn't like the particular substrate in the litter box. That's a typical reason. Or they might have sore feet because of declawing. That would be a health problem admittedly. The first reason would not be a health problem but simply a domestic cat preference. You can't say that not using the litter box is a good sign of  cat ill-health. It simply isn't.

Frantic licking, is also not necessarily a sign of a sick cat. It may indicate that the cat has an allergy which makes their skin itchy and therefore they are licking their skin to alleviate the itch. It may indicate that the cat is stressed as they over-groom themselves in areas which are easily accessible as this calms down. This is not a sign that a cat is ill necessarily but it may be (allergy)

Self-mutilation can come about by over-grooming because it means all the fur can be removed from their belly. That's a form of self-mutilation. Another form might be to scratch their ears because the ear canals contain ear mites. Ear mites are incredibly distressing because they are very itchy. So, yes, self-mutilation can be indicative of a specific illnesses most likely an infestation of an ectoparasite or an allergy, perhaps an environmental allergy, food allergy or a flea allergy as these are the three most typical.

If a cat is attacking their legs or feet, this may be a sign that they are feeling pain in their appendages. Once again you could say that this is a sign that the cat has a specific health issue.

Chewing on objects may be a sign of poor oral health but that would hurt the cat if they'd chewed on an object. This is not a sign of ill-health for me. It is perhaps more a sign of predatory behaviour.

Growling and hissing when petted would indicate that the cat has an internal problem causing sensitivity in an internal organ. When they are petted it hurts them. They growl in response and hiss to deter the petting. 

I would agree, therefore, that growling or hissing might be indicative of a health problem. But they can also be indicative of a cat who wants to tell their owner to go away because they want to protect their food - a prey animal that they have brought in from outside which their human caretaker who wants to take from them.

The more common signs of an ill cat would be persistent vomiting, lethargy, quietness and stillness and hiding in a quiet place because they feel more vulnerable and therefore need to protect themselves. A change in their routines would indicate ill health. A change in their behaviour would be the same thing. This requires the owner to be observant and familiar with their cat's normal routine behaviours. This is the best sign and will encompass hiding and being lethargic and disinterested in food which would be another sign of ill health (anorexia). Disinterest in food means feeling ill and/or very poor oral health as it hurts to eat.


P.S. please forgive the occasional typo. These articles are written at breakneck speed using Dragon Dictate. I have to prepare them in around 20 mins.

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