10 Subtle Signs You Have a Sick Cat.

Cats are notoriously sneaky.  Which is why when they’re sick they keep it hidden.  It’s up to you, the cat owner to decipher their subtle body language.  Here’s how to recognize if your cat is sick.

Traditional siamese and dilute calico rescue cat laying on antique bed with white linen sheets.


There’s a reason why the phrase is “sick as a dog” not  “sick as a cat”.  When a dog is sick he’ll do everything in his power to let any and all people within 50 km know he isn’t feeling tip top.  That dog will limp around and lick its wounds and cry and try to hump the telephone until he successfully dials 911.

A cat?

A cat would still have the strength to kill you 7.5 minutes after it has already died.

Because of that, anyone who owns a cat has to get reallyyyyy good at reading them.  You need to learn to read their body language because they let you know they’re sick in a much more subtle way than a dog.

Since my cat Cleo was diagnosed with Renal Disease I got a lot of experience observing a sick cat. Some days she felt good, some days she didn’t,  but she always just looked like … a cat.  Sitting, sleeping, staring.

When she was diagnosed I my weekly routine included giving her B12 shots and fluids. 

Read these posts if your cat has renal disease:

How to give your cat a B12 shot

How to give your cat subcutaneous fluids.

I did a lot of searching on the Internet for information on the body language of sick cats and had a really hard time finding much information.  There’s a lot of information on the body language of a cat when they’re about to launch off of the ground and eat your face by the way.   Lots.

Just not so much on when they feel sick. I wanted to know if I had a sick cat. Soooo …. I figured you might be interested in decoding the body language of a cat to tell if isn’t feeling well too. 

I’ve compiled a list of subtle signs that your cat might be sick or in pain.  

But first, a few things that let you know your cat is relaxed and happy.

Signs Your Cat is Feeling Pretty Darn Good

  • Laying long and stretched out on the ground is a sign they’re feeling pretty darn good and relaxed.
  • Eyes are bright and quick.
  • Whiskers are sticking straight out from their muzzle.
  • Their tail is up in the air as they walk around.

Line drawing of a Siamese cat.

Signs Your Cat is Sick or in Pain.

  • The tail is down, like they don’t have the energy to hold it up. The tail of happy, healthy cat is often standing straight up.
  • Lays with back hunched. Not rounded.  Hunched.
  • Tail twitching can coincide with pain.
  • No desire to chase or play.
  • Stays in one laying position and doesn’t move around.
  • If a cat is normally vocal, and stops greeting you when either one of you walks into a room that can be a sign the cat isn’t feeling well.
  • Whiskers drawn back and purring (purring can be a sign of sickness and pain NOT a content and happy cat. Purring while in pain is a type of self soothing for them.)

Line drawing depicting the whisker and ear placement of a happy cat and a possibly sick cat.

  • Fur that isn’t smooth and instead looks like it’s sticking up and separated means it’s possibly dehydrated and/or not grooming.
  • Check the breath.  Sick cats have badddd breath.  Cleo had this for years and one vet I took her to just said she was a cat.  Cats have bad breath.  This was the stupidest thing a vet has ever uttered to anyone.  Cats don’t have delicious smelling breath but it shouldn’t smell so strong it makes you turn your head.  This is a sign of severe dental disease and/or kidney failure.  They two go hand in hand oftentimes.  Sweet smelling breath can signal diabetes.
  • Third eyelid showing when they are awake.

Coloured drawing of cat eyes, showing the third eyelid that comes out from the inside corner of the eyes.

  • Eyes are constantly half closed. Even when they aren’t about to go to sleep.

There are other obvious signs of sickness, like not eating or drinking. Weight loss is another sign. If your cat hasn’t eaten for a couple of days bring your cat to a vet immediately because it can be life threatening.  Technically a cat can go without eating for over a week but not eating for 3 days can do serious irreversible damage to a cat’s organs. 

Also an EXTREMELY sick cat will hide.  This is a sad sign that it’s close to death.

People also think cats are just prone to throwing up but that’s not true. The odd hairball is fine and even throwing up once every couple of months or so is normal.  But if a cat is throwing up several times a month it’s a sign the cat has severe nausea.  Foamy white vomit is a sign of renal disease (kidney disease).

As far as the knowing whether a cat is thinking about chewing your face off – just assume that it is.


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10 Subtle Signs You Have a Sick Cat.