FloridaWild Vet Hospital

How to tell when it’s an emergency: Decoding Feline Behavior

As an amazing survival strategy, felines are masterful at hiding pain and illness. Remarkably, cats are instinctively able to conceal symptoms of an ailment until continuing this behavior it is virtually impossible. This highly successful strategy is designed to ward of potential predators. This is ancient behavior that goes way back to their existence in the wild. Although this ancient behavioral tactic is quite remarkable, unfortunately this may often make it extremely difficult for an owner to recognize, in a timely manner, that something is amiss with their kitty.

However, when owners take notice of the subtle changes in their cat’s demeanor- such as sleeping more than usual, changes in appetite; eating less, or excessive hunger, being withdrawn or clingy, hiding under the bed or a diminished interest in play. These signs often cause kitty owners to become extremely worried, or becoming somewhat obsessive about whether it’s time to contact their vet or to hold back and see if anything concrete develops.

Of course, it’s both costly and inexpedient to have to take a cat to the veterinarian whenever the owner suspects that something may be wrong with their kitty. In fact, I cannot recall the number of times that I have been contacted by cat loving friends who are worried about their cat, asking me for reassurance that they aren’t imagining things, getting overly anxious about their kitty, or concerned that asking too many questions might upset their veterinarian.

These nagging, obsessive thoughts can be very painful and puzzling for kitty owners. To help reduce stress, and deal more efficiently with these feelings, in preference to just “trusting one’s gut”, learning how to distinguish “bored or finicky cat behavior” from the actions of a cat who is truly in need of prompt veterinary attention is essential. By knowing the differences, owners can quickly facilitate the most appropriate action.

There are many observable signs to which owners should pay attention. These may be symptoms of serious feline illness or injury which require rapid contact with, or personal attention by a veterinarian. When in doubt, it’s always safer to err on the side of caution than taking a wait-and see attitude. Call your veterinarian for advice, or contact your local Veterinary ER to help you make a decision if your veterinarian isn’t available.

Several signs that should not be ignored are: Repeated trips to the litter box; straining to urinate and producing miniscule amounts of urine, straining to defecate, crying out while in the litter box, blood in urine, stool or vomit, unexplained weight loss gain or loss, appetite loss, ravenous eating habits, increase in water consumption, sudden, unexplained bizarre behavior, Eye injury, Labored breathing, repeated coughing, runny eyes, open-mouthed breathing, persistent vomiting, staggering or stumbling, walking in circles, seizures, heavy bleeding, non-weight-bearing lameness, and any symptom that worsens.

It’s far too often that kitty owners may believe that hairballs are the main reason that their cats are vomiting. Nonetheless, there are a multitude of reasons that can cause cats to vomit. Since persistent vomiting is not normal, diagnosing the condition as quickly as possible is essential. Cats that are vomiting frequently should be examined and treated by a veterinarian without delay.

Our cats are constantly communicating with us. “Inappropriate elimination is your cat’s way telling you that something is wrong. While inappropriate elimination might simply be caused by a dirty litter box, (we prefer to use clean toilets) or litter boxes placed in areas or litter not to the cat’s liking; before considering a behavioral problem, medical issues should always be considered first and thoroughly investigated.

I think living with cats is amazing. We get to know them extremely well; often being able to anticipate what their reactions to circumstances may be. And since all cats are major critters of routine, noticing a change in their predictable behaviors puts us on notice to keep a close eye on our cat. Knowing when it’s ok to wait and watch, or when it’s necessary to promptly take appropriate action makes it possible for us to deeply enrich our relationships with our cats.

By: Jo Singer, MSW, CSW, LCSW (Ret,)

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