Cat Clues and Cues

Cats are notoriously clever at hiding illness and pain. As cat owners, we need to become master interpreters when it comes to our feline friends. I’m going to address some of the basic things to look when monitoring your cat for signs that something is amiss and it’s time to call a veterinarian.


Cats are very clean by nature. They like to groom themselves multiple times daily. If you find that your normally fastidious feline suddenly has stopped grooming in the usual way, that could be an indication that your cat is not feeling well. Typically cats groom as a soothing mechanism so for a cat to change its normal grooming routine, the cat may have a serious health concern.

Overgrooming can also be a clue that something is abnormal in your cat’s health. If cats over groom their fur so much that bald spots are happening, that could be a sign of skin disease or external parasites. It can also be an indication of an injury or severe stress.


Most cats enjoy a good meal or two every day. Eating is also a basic survival instinct. If your cat’s appetite decreases without your input, then there is a good possibility that your cat isn’t well. That is one of the reasons that it is important to monitor your cat’s eating every day. It can be easy to simply fill a large bowl with dry cat food and leave it, but this makes it easy to miss one of the first indications that your cat is under the weather.

Litter Box

The litter box is a treasure trove of clues about your cat’s well being (albeit a smelly one). The first thing to check is frequency. Your cat should be using the litter box every day (multiple urines and sometimes one to two bowel movements). If your cat is not urinating, that is a critical situation that requires immediate veterinary assistance. If your cat is urinating several times throughout the day, that could be an indication of an infection in the urinary tract, diabetes, kidney disease, etc.

If your cat isn’t defecating, constipation could be an issue. Constipation is a common condition in cats, and veterinary intervention is required. If there are multiple bowel movements every day (particular if the stools are soft or diarrhea or there is blood present), that could be an indication of a gastrointestinal imbalance or infection or some other systemic issue.

Inappropriate urination or defecation is irritating to owners, but that is an indication of an unwell or unhappy cat. Older cats may have arthritis that makes it difficult to get in and out of the litter box or reach the litter box if it is located far away from their favourite sleepy area. This behaviour can be stress related, and there need to be modifications in the household layout to make it less stressful for the cat.

It is important to clean the litter box every single day for any nuggets of information about your cat’s health.


Some cats are grumpy by nature, so this is a subjective clue. If your cat exhibits signs of aggression or grumpiness that hasn’t been there before, then there could be an underlying cause. Injury or chronic pain (such as arthritis) can cause aggression, and some illness will cause aggressive tendencies as well (such as hyperthyroidism). Call your veterinarian if there is a change in your cat’s attitude.


Cats sleep quite a bit normally through the day, but there should still be periods of play and/or activity. When cats are not feeling well, their sleep activity increases and they are less likely to be active when they are awake. If your cat is suddenly hiding from you too, it can be a sign of illness or fear. Essentially any deviation from your cat’s normal activity should be monitored and call a veterinarian if the situation persists.

These are some basic things to watch for when you have to root out any cues or clues about your cat’s health. The general rule with cats is ANY change from the normal should be monitored, and if the change cannot easily be explained, then it’s time to call the veterinarian. We have to be super sleuths when it comes to our cat’s health!

Written by Shanon Chase, RVT