Cats are notoriously tight-lipped when it comes to their health. From an evolutionary perspective, showing weakness could lead to becoming prey so symptoms were masked and discomfort hidden. While this behavior was helpful when trying to ward off predators in the wild, it’s less so nowadays when (you, his or her owner) is trying to determine how they're feeling. Though stoic by nature, there are a number of tell-tale signs you can look out for that will indicate whether your kitty is on top of the world or under the weather. These signs do vary according to the animal though so the better you know your cat and its habits, the better placed you’ll be to work out if something is going right or wrong. So here are some tips to help you pick whether your puss is happy, stressed, or sick; a guide to speaking cat, if you will!
Contented cats have relaxed body language, sitting with their paws tucked underneath them, tail tucked or trailing, and eyes half-closed. These positions show comfort and also trust of the situation they’re in.
Also indicating trust is the ever-confusing tummy rub invitation. We’ve all been there, right? Kitty rolls onto its back and offers up a tummy for scratching, however, on receipt of said scratches, will claw and bite its way out of there! Well… that’s because the exposed tummy is to show you trust and comfort, not an invitation to touch. Kneading its owner while settling down, on the other hand, evokes memories of being a suckling kitten, so this one is definitely a sign of happiness.
Happy cats are purrers too. If your cat is purring at normal times (when relaxing, when being petted, when eating) then this is a good sign. There are occasions that purring is to self-soothe in times of stress or injury, so just keep an ear out for any changes to habits in this regard.
A playful cat is a happy cat. If you’ve given your puss plenty to do to keep it entertained and engage in activities with it, then it’ll be stimulated and content. If your cat tries to initiate play with you by batting a sheathed clawed paw, or peeking out from under couches or beds, it’s having fun and enjoys your company.
Finally, happy cats have healthy appetites - though a wilier cat may have just worked out that refusing its least favorites will result in the provision of tastier treat!
Stress is not just a human condition. Cats can feel it too, both acute and chronic. Though we can’t manage every source of acute stress, like a sudden loud noise or unexpected perceived threat, we can take big steps toward reducing the causes of chronic stress. These include making sure you have plenty of hiding spaces, high-up perches, water bowls and litter boxes to go around (as many as the number of cats you have, plus one more). It can also mean allowing your cat to lead on social interaction. Being physical with a timid cat is not going to help it relax in your presence or home.
The signs of stress can be tricky to spot, so knowing your cat well is crucial for noticing something’s up. Many of the indicators of stress manifest in changes in personality. So a reclusive cat may become more needy, while a social cat may withdraw. Patterns of behavior are the key to spotting if your cat is uncomfortable about something. These can include, but aren’t limited to, excessive scratching, over-grooming, face rubbing, increased aggression or unwillingness to play.
Toilet habits can be a primary giveaway of how your cat’s feeling. Inappropriate urination or defecation (outside the litter box) can show that your cat is not comfortable enough to use the facilities offered. This can be an indicator of sickness as well, so paying a visit to the vet is worth it in either case. Urine spraying indoors (urinating on vertical surfaces) is behavioral and can usually be linked to stress.
The one that we all dread is this final section - when your cat is unwell. By the time they reach this stage (where you notice that something’s wrong), they can be quite sick.
The first indicator is their coat. A cat that’s feeling rough lets its grooming slide. Matted, unkempt fur can be an indication that your cat is too tired or uncomfortable to take care of itself. On the other hand, over-grooming can also mean they’re not feeling good. An allergic reaction can be to blame, though this can also be one of the indicators of chronic stress I touched on above. And shedding lots of fur can be caused by illness too.
Eating habits are good yardsticks for kitty’s health. A loss in appetite, and subsequent loss in weight, can point to a range of different illnesses, some serious. Stroking your cat from shoulders to tail allows you to feel any difference in prominence of ribs, spine, and hips. A greatly increased appetite, or a weight gain without corresponding appetite increase, can similarly mean an unhealthy cat.
If your cat’s breath has become unusually unbearable, this can be a sign of dental issues but also internal complaints, such as with the kidneys.
Lastly, cats aren’t big drinkers normally, usually getting most of their needs from their food. A noticeably increased thirst can be a sign that something is up.
For any and all of these symptoms, take your cat to see the vet. They’ll help kitty get back on its paws, and you’ll be feeling a lot better too!
Cats are individuals, just like people, so there’s no one-size-fits-all for translating their behavior. While there are some pretty universal signs of a happy kitty, they are also all subject to the personality of the cat itself!
Cats are great pretenders, so don’t wait for them to meet a checklist of symptoms before taking action, as they might never display them! If you’re worried about changes in your cat’s behavior, head to the vet. They can work with you to get a proper picture of its physical and mental health.