Pet parents, pay attention: Cats are adept at hiding illnesses

In order to survive in the wild, cats evolved to hide signs of illness, injury or pain. As a result, by the time your cat shows obvious symptoms that something is wrong, she may be very ill. Pet parents of cats must pay close attention to their felines to catch illnesses early.

Fluffy's fur coat can indicate a medical condition. A dull, messy, greasy or matted coat may mean she is not feeling well enough to groom herself.

Cats may also over-groom when they have a problem. If Fluffy's coat has bald spots or her skin looks red or irritated, it may be due to excessive grooming. Some causes include allergies, fleas or mites. Anxiety can also be a cause of too much grooming.

Shedding can be a sign of allergies, but could also be a symptom of hyperthyroidism.

Paying attention to how much food your cat typically eats and how much water she usually drinks will help you notice when there are changes in her appetite or thirst. Many illnesses cause cats to feel poor, diminishing their interest in food, but there are also some that cause an increase in appetite, like diabetes or hyperthyroidism.

Cats with kidney or dental disease often lose their appetite. Increased thirst may signal diabetes, kidney disease or thyroid troubles.

Cats who gain or lose weight also may be sick. A sudden change in weight should be checked out with a veterinarian as soon as possible.

If Fluffy has stinky breath, she may have dental disease, which can lead to heart, kidney and liver problems.

Check out what kitty leaves behind in the litterbox, too. If she goes to the box often but doesn't leave much urine behind, she may have urinary tract problems. This behavior may also indicate a blockage, especially in male cats.

If it seems there is more urine than normal, it may suggest the possibility of diabetes or kidney disease.

Noticing diarrhea in the box doesn't take special skill, but do you know what to look for if your cat is constipated? This small and dry-looking poop may also be a symptom of kidney disease.

If your cat stops using the litterbox, get her checked out by a vet to rule out medical reasons.

Changes in behavior can also be a cause for concern. Sick cats often have less energy, causing them to hide in a quiet, out-of-the-way space, like in a closet, behind a couch or under a bed. Other ailing kitties, on the other hand, may become more demanding of attention.

Cats with arthritis may stop jumping up on the couch or bed to snuggle. Hyperthyroidism, however, may make a cat appear hyperactive.

Is Fluffy a vocal cat? Does she talk to you often throughout the day? If she suddenly becomes quiet, it's time to call the vet. Or if she is normally quiet but begins to meow incessantly, a trip to the vet is in order.

The most intuitive pet parents notice when their cats are just "off." They may notice a slight change in the way they walk or hold their heads or the way they get up or lay down.

It is always better to err on the side of caution when it comes to the health of your cat. Early detection often results in treatments that are less intensive, less costly and lead to better outcomes.

• Diana Stoll is the Practice Manager at Red Barn Animal Hospital with locations in Hampshire (847) 683-4788 and Gilberts (847) 426-1000. See

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