Behavioural signs and what they mean about your cat’s health

Behavioural signs and what they mean about your cat’s health

By Rachel Mulheron, Director, helpucover

Cats communicate in many different ways and as the average house cat lives for around 14 years, changes in behaviour should become clear to owners. Although every cat has its own characteristics, we’ve looked at some of the tell-tale behavioural signs which could point to possible health issues.

Sleepy cat? Increased lethargy could be more than laziness

Lethargy includes your cat being more lazy than usual, increased drowsiness, delayed reactions or more time sleeping.

If your cat shows these signs for more than a day, it might be an indication of a more serious problem than tiredness from an evening’s prowling. Some possibilities could include anaemia, injury or even cancer. However, cancer is usually more likely if there is a range of other unusual symptoms, so it’s best not to panic straight away if your cat is a little sleepier than usual.

Coughing up more than a fur ball

Every cat owner will be aware cats have hairballs from time to time. However, consistent gagging can be a warning sign of more than a bit of stuck fur. If your cat is having problems breathing, or coughing repeatedly, causes range from a foreign object stuck in the throat to heart failure caused by respiratory problems.

Some breathing issues to look out for include:

  • The belly moving as well as the chest moving with each breath
  • Nostrils flaring
  • Breathing with the elbows sticking out from the body
  • Neck and head held low and out in front of the body

Not such a fat cat

Even if your cat is a picky eater, extreme changes in and loss of appetite could be a sign of intestinal, bladder, respiratory or kidney problems. However, it could also be a temporary response to unfamiliar experiences such as a recent vaccination, nervousness from travel or being in unknown surroundings.

Malnutrition can quickly cause the liver to shut down, so if your cat is not even touching its favourite food take them to the vet no longer than two days after they stop eating.


As with elderly humans, cats may slow down and forget certain things as they get older and this is nothing to worry about.

However, if your cat begins having problems with simple tasks such as climbing and eating, uses odd places as litter boxes or looks lost as it walks around, this could indicate a neurological disorder or cognitive dysfunction syndrome.

To cope with disorientation, try limiting access to stairs or to certain parts of the house to stop your cat getting lost or injured. Keep doors shut so your cat can’t access a place they will struggle to get out from.

Dragging Rear Legs

Whether your cat is a kitten or an older animal, rear leg weakness is not normal. It is not necessarily a sign of something fatal, but it is worth having your vet look over your cat, as there are a number of causes – and some are serious.

Main reasons causing the back legs to give way are hip dysplasia, arthritis, diabetes and blood clots – though problems with spinal cords, bone abnormalities and neurological disorders could also be possible.

Every cat will have ‘off days’ just like their owners, so we should not always assume the worst if we spot unusual behaviour. However, if symptoms persist it’s always best to seek a professional opinion to ensure the optimum health of your pets.

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