Common Cat Diseases & How To Spot Them

Seven Minutes
Jun 27, 2023

With a love for tasty treats and a warm nap, cats can be just like humans. Unfortunately, we also share a vulnerability to illness. Cat diseases are just as varied as human ones, ranging from mild to severe. Do you know how to recognize sick cat symptoms? Keep reading to learn about some common cat diseases and what to do if your kitty falls ill.

How To Tell if Your Cat Is Sick

Cats often aren’t the best at telling us how they’re feeling. That’s why it’s important to learn your cat’s daily routines. If something changes, it can be an indication of a larger problem. In many cases, that problem could be a disease or health condition. A change in energy levels, eating or drinking habits, hygiene routines, or bathroom habits could be potential warning signs of sickness.1 Let’s take a look at these warning signs and what they may indicate.

Your Cat’s Energy Levels Change

Like most animals, a sick cat usually has less energy than a healthy one. They may start spending more time in their favorite hiding spot and less time playing or cuddling. Sick cats may also sleep more than normal.

However, it depends on your cat’s personality. Even if they normally love attention, they could start demanding more of your time if they’re not feeling well and need comfort or help.

Potential causes: Cat flu, arthritis, cancer, heart disease

Many diseases could cause your cat’s energy levels to fluctuate. If your cat becomes more lethargic and less playful, it could be a sign of a feline upper respiratory infection, also known as cat flu.2 As with humans, the flu can range from mild to severe. So it’s a good idea to get your vet’s input. Even if it’s a mild case of cat flu, they could still provide tips and medication to aid in your kitty’s recovery.

The more dramatic their change in energy, the more severe the illness may be. If your cat becomes lethargic to the point where they barely seem able to move, even to use the litter box or eat, a vet visit can help you figure out what’s wrong. Such a significant drop in your cat’s energy could indicate arthritis or cancer.

Heart disease in cats can also lower energy levels and may show as increased hiding, difficulty breathing, and weight loss. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is a feline heart condition that may come with a murmur or irregular heartbeat. Heart conditions can also be the result of heartworms, but they’re not as common in cats as they can be in dogs.

When In Doubt, Get Your Cat Checked Out

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Your Cat’s Eating and Drinking Habits Change

Some cats might eat and drink less when they’re not feeling well — others could do the exact opposite. Any significant changes in their dietary habits could be cause for concern. If more than 24 hours have passed and your cat hasn’t eaten, it’s advised to bring them to the vet right away. In addition to diagnosing the cause, your vet can also help your cat get key nutrients via an intravenous (IV) or subcutaneous drip.

Potential causes: Cat kidney disease, liver disease, gastroenteritis, hyperthyroidism, dental disease

Your cat might not want to eat if they’re experiencing stomach or gut pain. This could be indicative of gastroenteritis, which is inflammation of the digestive tract.3 Loss of appetite could also indicate a dental problem, such as periodontal disease, which can be fairly common in cats. However, an increase in eating and drinking could also mean something’s wrong. Cats with hyperthyroidism have an increased metabolism. Their bodies quickly burn through calories, driving them to eat almost constantly.

Meanwhile, decreased appetite but increased thirst, could indicate some sort of organ failure. Liver disease in cats, as well as cat kidney disease, can make it more difficult for them to stay hydrated.4,5 As a result, affected cats may drink higher volumes of water.

Your Cat’s Coat Changes Appearance

Cats are known for being meticulously clean. If your kitty starts to look untidy, it could be a sign that something’s wrong. However, an unkempt appearance can also be caused by excessive grooming. Cats may groom as a way to soothe themselves, but too much self-grooming can cause their fur to become greasy or matted.

Potential causes: Allergies, fleas, parasites, chronic pain

Excessive grooming can be a sign of general discomfort, or it could be caused by something more specific. Cats with skin conditions caused by allergies, fleas, or other parasites may over-groom and lose fur. It could also indicate that they’re dealing with chronic pain, such as arthritis. Chronic kidney disease can also cause fur to lose its usual quality.5

A gray cat stands before two bowls of food, licking its lips.

Your Cat’s Litter Box Habits Change

An underlying disease could cause your cat to spend more time in the litter box than normal. Frequent trips could mean your cat is experiencing diarrhea or constipation. Increased urination can indicate trouble retaining water. It might also mean your cat is having trouble urinating. If you notice your cat straining or vocalizing in the litter box, it’s a good idea to schedule a veterinary examination.

Potential causes: Cat kidney disease, diabetes, UTI, FLUTD

Diarrhea could be caused by something as simple as a change in diet or stress levels, or it could be indicative of cat kidney disease.5 The same goes for frequent urination. A cat suffering from diabetes may also begin to urinate more often. Difficulty with urination can be caused by kidney or bladder problems — like a urinary tract infection (UTI) or feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD).

You might also notice your cat licking their genitals excessively. The inability to urinate properly can cause toxins to build up in your cat’s body, which can be a life-threatening situation. Don’t waste time in bringing them to the vet for a diagnosis.

Other Cat Disease Symptoms To Watch For

Diseases can manifest in many ways. Other common symptoms to be aware of include changes in your cat’s breathing, discharge from the eyes or nose, vomiting, and increased salivation. Sudden changes in their coordination can also be indicative of an issue, such as vestibular disease. In cats, this is caused by a dysfunction of the inner ear apparatus responsible for maintaining balance and orientation.6 It could also indicate a tumor or exposure to a toxin.

Understanding your cat’s behavior is an important part of keeping them happy and healthy — and pet insurance can help. Diagnosing and treating diseases can be a long process requiring multiple vet visits, and it doesn’t take long for vet visit costs to add up. With a cat insurance policy, you can be reimbursed for covered expenses, freeing you to focus on getting your feline companion the care they need. Get a free quote today to see how much you could save.

Help Protect Your Cat at Any Age


**As with any insurance policy, coverage may vary. Review our coverage and exclusions.

1 “Recognizing the Signs of Illness in Cats,” VCA Animal Hospitals

2 “Feline Upper Respiratory Infection (Cat Flu): What It Is, Signs & Symptoms, And How To Treat It,” Trudell Animal Health

3 “Gastroenteritis in Cats,” VCA Animal Hospitals

4 “Liver Disease in Cats,” VCA Animal Hospitals

5 “Chronic Kidney Disease in Cats,” VCA Animal Hospitals

6 “Vestibular Disease in Cats,” VCA Animal Hospitals 

Coverage issued by Metropolitan General Insurance Company (“MetGen”), a Rhode Island insurance company, headquartered at 700 Quaker Lane, Warwick, RI 02886, and Independence American Insurance Company (“IAIC”), a Delaware insurance company, headquartered at 11333 N Scottsdale Rd, Ste 160, Scottsdale, AZ 85454. Coverage subject to restrictions, exclusions and limitations and application is subject to underwriting. See policy or contact MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC (“MetLife Pet”) for details. MetLife Pet is the policy administrator. It may operate under an alternate or fictitious name in certain jurisdictions, including MetLife Pet Insurance Services LLC (New York and Minnesota) and MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions Agency LLC (Illinois).

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