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Unexplained Changes in Cats’ Behavior: What can they mean?

All cats are exceptionally adept at concealing pain and illness. Since felines are both predators and prey, they adopted a highly successful survival strategy which prevents them from being attacked by other predatory animals. Most kitty owners are familiar with their feline’s typical day to day habits and behaviors. Cats can appear perfectly fine even if they aren’t feeling well; making it difficult for the owner to notice that something is amiss. Kitties may even remain stoic until their suffering becomes intolerable. It is only then when they will start showing symptoms of distress.

Very sick or emotionally overwrought cats can appear depressed, become withdrawn, extraordinarily vocal or inordinately quiet. Even the most affectionate and docile kitty may behave aggressively toward their owners and other resident companion animals. Additionally, sudden behavioral changes may be due to unexpected changes in schedules or their environment, or part of the aging process.

Feline behavior can suddenly become unpredictable. Therefore, if a kitty’s normal behavior pattern changes suddenly and doesn’t return to normal within a short time, these are signs that should be checked out promptly by their veterinarian. Sudden variations in feline behavior may be indicative of a significant medical or psychological issue requiring immediate veterinary attention.

Although adult cats may sleep or cat-nap for 16-18 hours a day, when the owner enters the room or it’s feeding time, they generally will awaken. If cats don’t respond to these stimulations, it may indicate that something is wrong. Serious illness can cause cats to sleep for longer or shorter periods of time. Due to their low energy level, obese or overweight cats may spend more time sleeping. Cats in pain will often hide under the bed or in a closet.

Kitties are fastidious concerning their “toilet habits.” Therefore it’s highly unusual when a cat stops using the litter box and starts urinating or defecating outside the box. Although some people may believe that this inappropriate behavior is a sign of anger or spite, the fact of the matter is that cats are not vindictive. In reality, this is a red flag alerting the owner that the cat is hurting and in need of prompt veterinary attention.

Urinary tract infections, bladder stones, kidney stones, cystitis, blockages, and constipation can be excruciatingly painful. Cats who are hurting may associate the pain with the litter box and avoid using it. Furthermore, cats that are stressed or insecure may start marking their territories by spraying urine on various objects around the house. However, before assuming that these signs are due to behavioral issues, the cat must be evaluated by the veterinarian to rule out any underlying medical condition.

Cats are meticulous about their grooming habits. They may spend between 30 to 50% of their day cleaning themselves. Changes in their grooming routines are another red flag to which owners should pay attention. Over-grooming, not grooming at all, having a dirty or greasy coat, bald patches, or hair loss are all signs that may point to an underlying medical conditions, anxiety or emotional stress.

Allergic reactions to fleas, dry skin, and certain neurological conditions can cause cats to over-groom. Excessive licking and grooming is self- soothing behavior, which releases endorphins that helps minimize their pain. Conversely, cats with underlying health conditions may stop grooming altogether, or significantly reduce the time they spend cleaning themselves. Obese or overweight cats may have difficulty grooming certain body areas, resulting in matted coats. Obese or overweight cats are at risk for anal gland issues and urinary tract infections since it’s hard for them to clean clean themselves thoroughly after eliminating. Elderly cats may stop grooming themselves due to arthritis or dental disease.

Sudden increases in the volume or frequency of a cat’s vocalization may be symptomatic of an underlying medical condition such as an upper respiratory infection or asthma. Yowling sounds may be indicative of stress, pain, confusion, hearing loss or high blood pressure. Cats who have lost a beloved feline companion or family member may vocalize excessively while searching for them.

Loss of appetite, sudden weight loss or gain is not normal for cats. It’s a myth that cats are “finicky” eaters. Kitties that are eating normally and enjoy their food, but are having unexplained weight changes should promptly be evaluated by a veterinarian to rule out underlying medical conditions.

Unexpected weight loss may be caused by several underlying medical conditions including inflammatory bowel disease, dental problems, leukemia, diabetes and upper respiratory infections. On the other hand, while it’s no secret that overeating and lack of exercise cause weight gain; underlying medical conditions that cause fluid retention can be responsible for unexpected gain in weight. Sudden weight changes should always be quickly evaluated by a veterinarian.

Although indoor- only cats are much safer than indoor-outdoor-only kitties, their world is tiny and confined when compared to indoor-outdoor cats. Indoor-outdoor cats can explore, hunt, explore, and mark their territories. Sadly,-indoor-only cats can quickly become depressed and bored. To help keep indoor-only cats healthy both mentally and physically, they require lots of emotional and physical stimulation. Regular inter-active playtime, tall cat trees, and scratching posts placed strategically around the house can be stimulating and enjoyable for indoor-only cats. Window perches Window Perches for cats can give kitties a fascinating view of the great outdoors. Food Puzzle toys offer cats an opportunity to “hunt” for their food, while getting some exercise.

By carefully watching the cats’ behavior and habits, any sudden, unexplained changes can noticed quickly. This facilitates owners to know when appropriate actions are necessary to help assure their cat’s excellent physical and emotional health.

Photo Credit: Flickr User Lisa Zins
Article by: Jo Singer, MSW, CSW, LCSW, (Ret.)

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