Skip to main content

Signs Your Cat Needs Help

I have owned cats for over 60 years. Between them and their vets, I have learned a great deal about how they tick.


Danger Signs Are Not Always Visible

Cats are very independent creatures. They survive by their instincts, which work whether they are safe in your home or out in the wild. This means a cat will usually not verbalize an injury. Allowing themselves to show pain could get them marked as weak and thus prey to other hunters. With that fact in mind, here are a few ways you can tell that your cat might be in trouble.

Warning Signs

Sometimes we do not see the warning signs but we, as pet parents, can often sense there is a problem. These are signs that should make you seek help for your cat.

  • Excess fighting or fighting that causes serious injuries.
  • A dull coat of fur.
  • Eyes have a nasty discharge.
  • The nose has a discharge.
  • They are losing weight.
  • They are not using the litterbox.
  • They change their behavior such as wanting pets less.
  • They hide from you.

Excess or Dangerous Fighting

I know cats will fight. They fight with other cats, dogs, kids, really whatever they dislike at the time. They also fight for fun and to keep their instincts strong. But when the fighting causes injuries or is happening between animals that previously got along, it is time to seek a different reason such as medical or age-related. These fights should be investigated. These are some possible things to help you find the cause.

  • When there is a stray outside, the cats inside might think the scent is coming from their feline housemates and will fight with the other animals to identify the alpha in the group.
  • Other cats may attack a cat that is sick.
  • If they are not fixed, they may fight for dominance.
  • They might fight over special food or if there is only one food bowl.
  • They might fight over one litter box. (There should always be a litter box for each cat.)
  • They might fight because they are bored.

Dull Coat of Fur

Cats keep themselves clean by licking. Their saliva contains enzymes that make their coats shiny, and it remove excess hair, dander, or dirt. When a healthy cat cleans regularly, it will have a shiny coat.

A dull coat means that the cat isn't healthy or may be unable to clean itself. It could be something as simple as they don't like their new food, or as complicated as they are suffering from an illness. Even failure to brush them can cause a dull coat, especially in warm weather.

Of course, some cats have short hair and don't need to be brushed as often, but they are the exception to the rule. Seek help from a vet if you believe it could be medical.

Eyes Have Nasty Discharge

Cats sometimes have a bit of a discharge from their eyes. But when a cat's eyes drain a lot and/or the mucus is discolored, it could mean a serious upper respiratory infection. These infections can kill even a healthy cat if not treated. Plus, they are contagious to your other cats.

Ask your vet if your cat's discharge is something you should be concerned about. I have owned several cats that have a discharge from their eyes. It isn't excessive, but I asked the vet if it was a problem. He told me some cats have the discharge as a normal condition. As long as their lungs are clear, the vet was not worried. That means you can rest once the vet checks the lungs and finds them clear.

The Nose Has Discharge

Cats don't usually have a runny nose. They clean regularly, including their nose, so any normal discharge is cleared away quickly. But if the discharge is getting missed by your cat, is discolored, and/or is combined with eye discharge, you should be concerned.

Upper respiratory infections will not only affect the eyes and nose, but they can also cause inflammation in the airways. And, as in the previous subject, it is contagious. Seek help if either the nose or eyes have a discharge, but seek help quickly if both issues are present.

Scroll to Continue

Read More From Pethelpful

They Are Losing Weight

Cats will lose and gain weight just like we do. But, like us, excess weight loss is a warning sign. The following are reasons that can cause a cat to lose weight.

  • During the summer, cats may lose weight because they are shedding and eating bugs that are pure protein.
  • If cats are playing harder than usual or are more active, the weight loss is probably just a result of the activity. But keep an eye on them in case it becomes an excessive loss.
  • If the circumstances change, like moving into a new home, the cat may not eat for a few days causing weight loss. Careful and patient behavior from you will usually help the cat feel welcome so that they eat.
  • If there is a chance your cat has ingested something, a vet visit is required. To be sure, most cats don't just eat things they shouldn't, however, once an item is on the tongue of a cat, the cat cannot remove it and must swallow it. Small toys, thread, tinsel, ribbons, flowers real or fake, or even your hair, can get caught on the tiny hooks of the tongue forcing a cat to ingest it to get it out of their mouth. Once ingested these items can get stuck in the intestines of the cat tearing, blocking, or knotting them up. If you see a cat with something hanging out of its butt, it is recommended that you do not pull it, instead seek vet help.
  • Of course, cats are always ingesting their own hair as they clean. Give them hairball medication to help them pass the hairballs.
  • Cats will lose weight if diarrhea is present. Seek help for this one.

They Are Not Using the Litterbox

Missing the box is generally a troubling sign, below are some things that can account for it, but any trouble in this area that you cannot explain could mean a trip to the vet.

  • Cats do not like to eat near their box. I wouldn't like to eat near my toilet, so I can see their dilemma. Move the food and water bowls to another room to help with this issue.
  • Cats get old and cannot get into the box anymore. Try using a lower box or cut the side off of the one you have.
  • Cats will often avoid the box if it hasn't been cleaned lately.
  • Cats sometimes have urine accidents which could mean a serious health problem. Urine crystals and blockages can eventually block the urethra which can cause death.
  • Unfixed males will 'mark', or spray their urine, on things around the house. This is bad for you, but the cat is instinctively trying to mark out his territory. They will do this to warn other unfixed males to stay away and to entice unfixed females into their area. Check for strays outside the home to account for this problem. Also, get the animal fixed as early as possible. Just a little note here, baking soda in the washer will help remove the odor from your clothes, but they may need to be washed more than once, and don't dry them in-between washes.

They Change Their Behavior

Cats have a personality that distinguishes them from other cats.

For example:

  1. A lovey-dovey cat always wants attention.
  2. An independent cat doesn't like to be touched or petted.
  3. Some like to eat at night, others during the day.
  4. Some like to go out and some like to stay inside.
  5. Some like the sun and some like the shade.
  6. Some talk a lot and some don't talk at all.
  7. Some don't like human food and some seem to crave it.

No matter how your cat usually behaves, if they deviate from their normal behavior it is time to see why. If you cannot find a good reason for this, such as a new home, a new family member, or even something as simple as you have been gone for a bit, it is time for a vet visit.


They Hide From You

When a cat goes into hiding from you and the household, it can be a warning sign. Some cats will hide for silly reasons, but many will not. Here are a few things to look for:

  • A sudden change in household members or a new home can account for temporary hiding.
  • Someone is abusing them such as kicking them or taking their food. Keep an eye on the daily routine of the cat to find the culprit. Abuse is not always intended so be sure to explain first before you raise the red flag.
  • Someone doesn't like cats. This can cause the cat to hide because they are feeling hostility towards them. Don't try to force the cat out of hiding because it can cause mental issues with your cat that may not be fixable.
  • A new stray outside can cause the cat to hide in fear of a cat attack.
  • Loud dogs and/or children can overwhelm a cat and make it hide for survival.
  • Cats like to find a secret cozy place to snooze. This behavior can seem like hiding, but be calm. If there is no other warning sign, it is probably just for snoozing.
  • Some cats may hide because they are dying and instinct tells them to find a secluded space to die.
  • If your cat suddenly starts to hide, be sure to check for something. Never assume there is trouble brewing, but also never panic and drag them to the vet before finding out why they are suddenly hiding.

Just a Quick Note

All cats do some of the things I have covered here, so automatically seeing this behavior does not mean there is a bad reason for it. The idea is trouble can be seen in the form of unusual behavior. Unusual, meaning something they don't usually do. Of course, areas with blood and lost fur, and/or limping are definite signs that something is wrong. Take your cat to a vet immediately if these signs are present.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2021 Cheryl Simonds

Let me know what you think.

Cheryl Simonds (author) from Connecticut on October 01, 2021:

Peggy, you are so right, sorry for your loss, they tear us up when we have to say goodbye, don't they?

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on September 30, 2021:

We no longer have our indoor cats as they have passed on, but this is a good article for those who do have cats. We should always be attentive to potential problems with any of our pets.

Cheryl Simonds (author) from Connecticut on September 30, 2021:

Thank you, Pamela, I wanted to help others see things that are not always obvious. Sometimes they are asking for help and we don't see it.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on September 27, 2021:

I have had a cat for most of my life, and I just love them. I like all the things you listed, and I have seen some of those behaviors in the past. I believe this is a very good article, Cheryl.

Related Articles