How to tell if your cat is sick? Know the signs


How to tell if cat is sick Bow Wow Meow

Importance of being attentive to your cat’s health

If only our cats could tell us when they aren’t feeling well or are in pain! Knowing when your pet is unwell isn’t always easy. Sick cats are notoriously good at masking symptoms, especially in the earlier stages of an illness. So by the time you realise that your cat may be sick or in pain, their condition may already be fairly advanced.

Regular check ups at the veterinarian are essential, but what can you do between vet visits to ensure your pet’s well-being?

You know your furry friend better than anyone else and can perhaps sense when they just don’t seem their normal self. Monitor them closely and if something feels not quite right, it is best to speak to a vet.


Common signs and symptoms to watch for

Other than relying on your gut feel, we recommend that you learn as much as you can about the most common symptoms that may be exhibited by sick cats. Many of these symptoms are very subtle, so it’s super-important to be aware of what they are and to try to look out for them.


Signs and symptoms of illness in cats

  • Vomiting, upset stomach or diarrhoea (common symptoms and first signs of many illnesses)
  • Coughing, sneezing, excessive panting, breathing difficulty or other respiratory problems
  • Changes in appetite 
  • Change in grooming behaviours
  • Vocalisations such as excessive meowing
  • Changes in litter tray behaviour
  • Hiding
  • Increased sleeping, lethargy
  • Agression, irritability
  • Reluctance to be handled, growling when handled
  • Changes in facial expression or whisker position
  • Changes in mobility, posture and movement
  • Reduction in play behaviour or interactions with family and other pets


When to take your cat to the vet

Importance of seeking veterinary care in a timely manner

If you notice any of the obvious signs, or even any subtle changes, that indicate that your pet may be unwell, it’s important to consult your veterinarian, who is your best resource to determine the underlying cause of the problem, rather than relying on “Dr Google” for a diagnosis.

How to tell if cat is sick Bow Wow Meow


Signs that require immediate medical attention

Pets that exhibit any of the signs or symptoms below should be taken to the vet as a matter of urgency:

  • Excessive diarrhoea and/or vomiting (multiple times lasting more than a day)
  • Seizures
  • Lack of coordination/inability to stand
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Hard, distended abdomen
  • Inability to urinate


Signs and symptoms alone don’t generally indicate what problem is or how to treat it, and diagnostic testing by a veterinarian is often necessary for this purpose.  When your cat has serious condition such as a urinary tract infection, kidney disease,  hyperthyroidism or pancreatitis to name just a few, early diagnosis is key to a quicker recovery and/or more effective management. 

Your pet may require diagnostic tests such as a complete blood count, urinalysis, electrolyte tests or an ECG to check heart rhythm. These tests need to be performed by a trained veterinarian.


Unsure how serious it is?

Bow Wow Meow pet parents have a VetChat consult membership which provides you with 24/7 access to an online vet. If you are unsure about any symptoms your cat is experiencing, or have any concerns about your cat’s health, you can access advice from trusted Australian vets online via video and live message anytime, anywhere.

Find out more about our pet insurance options


Recommendations for routine check-ups and pet vaccinations

We can’t stress it enough: prevention is key when it comes to maintaining your cat’s health. An annual check-up with your veterinarian can help detect diseases in their early stages when treatment is likely to be most effective. 

How to tell if cat is sick Bow Wow Meow

These vet visits can also potentially help you avoid significant medical expense in the long term, if a sick cat goes untreated. Routine check-ups and tests allow your veterinarian to establish your kitty’s baseline health, which means both you and the vet are more likely to notice when something is amiss.

Keeping your cat’s vaccination schedule up-to-date greatly reduces the risk of them contracting a number of serious, and in some cases potentially deadly, health conditions.


Preventative Measures

You play a key role in helping your cat combat any ailments and stay as healthy as possible.

In addition to monitoring your pet’s health and behaviour closely, there are several really important things you can actively do to help your furry friend stay in tip-top condition.

Regular vet checks

  • Take your cat to the vet at least once a year for a general checkup.
  • When in doubt, go to the vet. Take your cat to the vet as soon as possible if you notice any unusual symptoms or signs.

Learn more:

Finding the right vet


Vaccinate (and keep up to date)

Make sure your cat has all the necessary vaccinations for their environment and lifestyle.

Learn more:

Cat and Kitten Vaccination Schedule & Cat Vaccination Costs


Use flea, tick and parasite prevention

Give your cat vet-recommended medications to protect them against pests and pest-borne diseases.

Learn more:

Controlling & protecting against fleas


Good hygiene

  • Washing your hands before and after preparing food is essential for preventing the spread of sickness and disease among all your family members, including your cats.
  • Regularly clean or tidy up your cat’s environment, such as floors, bedding and toys, to keep it free of harmful objects such as glass, grass awns or splinters, bacteria or parasites.


Good food choices

  • Feed your cat a premium, high-quality, balanced and complete cat food free of artificial ingredients, preservatives and fillers.
  • Cats can get sick from eating spoiled food, contaminated water or other substances that are toxic to cats. Try to prevent your cat from eating anything that could make them sick.



All cats require a certain amount of physical exertion to maintain their body condition and help regulate their weight. Provide mental as well as physical stimulation with games, interactive toys and puzzles, scratching posts and climbing frames.

Learn more:

Cat play and toys – it’s not just fun & games!


Brush and brush

Keep your cat’s coat in good condition by grooming them regularly. Brushing the coat stimulates oil production in the skin, which helps keep the coat shining and healthy.

Good dental care is essential for your cat’s long-term health and happiness, and this includes monitoring your cat’s teeth – and brushing them if they allow it! When the teeth are clean, the gums stay healthy and the risk of dental disease and infections is greatly reduced. Bad breath is often one of the first signs that their dental health is suffering, so be sure to watch out for this.


Learn more:

Maintaining your pets’ dental hygiene


Common health issues in cats

 The table below provides an overview of common health issues for most cats, including dental disease, arthritis, and allergies. It also lists some of the common signs of each health issue and some of the steps to take to prevent them in the first place.

Common cat illnesses

Signs & symptoms

Preventative measures

Ear infections Shaking the head, scratching or pawing the ears, redness, discharge, moisture, crusting or bad smell
  • Clean ears every few weeks
  • Ensure parasite treatment is up to date
  • Treat any underlying skin allergies
Skin allergies Redness, itching, scratching, broking skin, secondary infections
  • Avoid any known allergens, e.g. long grass, pollen
  • Keep skin and coat clean & well groomed
  • Stay up to date with flea treatment
  • Check skin frequently to identify problems early
  • Feed a high-quality diet
Arthritis Limping or lameness, favouring one or more limbs, difficulty with movements that were previously manageable, such as climbing stairs, slower to get on their feet, far less active than they used to be
  • Don’t allow your atc to become overweight
  • Keep your cat fit with regular, daily exercise
  • Feed a quality diet & consider joint supplements
Dental disease Gingivitis (inflammation of the gums), broken or cracked teeth, loose teeth, tooth decay
  • Provide a premium quality, dental friendly diet
  • Schedule regular dental check-ups and teeth cleaning when necessary
  • Check your cat’s teeth & gums regularly (if they let you!)
Gastrointestinal disorders Diarrhoeavomiting, constipation
  • Feed a premium cat food containing top quality ingredients
  • Keep intestinal worming up to date
  • Avoid foods that your cat isn’t used to
Urinary system disorders Urination in inappropriate places, blood in the urine, straining to urinate, frequent urination, behaviour changes
  • Provide adequate litter boxes & maintain their hygiene
  • Provide good quality diet and plenty of fresh, clean water
  • Reduce stress where possible and avoid environmental changes


In a nutshell…

As a loving pet parent, you want to do all you can to prioritise your kitty’s wellbeing. Therefore, it’s really important that you know what signs and symptoms to look out for so that you can address any health concerns that crop up in a timely manner.

If you suspect that your fur baby is unwell or just not their usual self, consult your vet for advice. Remember that cats tend to hide their symptoms as much as possible, so they may already be sicker than you think.

Just as importantly, don’t put off going to the vet for routine check-ups, vaccinations, dental checks, dietary and weight checks, and parasite prevention, all of which play a key role in ensuring your pet’s ongoing good health. Many conditions, including dental disease and arthritis, can be detected early during regular six-monthly check-ups with your vet.

And finally, play your part in proactively managing your cat’s health. Optimising their diet,  ensuring they get as much exercise as they need, maintaining their coat and practising good hygiene are some of the very beneficial things you can do as a responsible and loving pet owner.

A pet insurance policy with Bow Wow Meow will help ensure you can always afford to give your pet the best treatment, whatever your budget.




This article is written by

Nicky Klugman

Nicky is our Marketing Communications and Content Specialist. She is an animal-lover who is particularly interested in animal behaviour and the relationships between humans and their pets. While growing up, dogs were always an integral part of the family. Nicky is mum to three human sons and a rescue pup called Dobby.

Read more
*Please note, any pet insurance advice provided is general only. Refer to the applicable Product Disclosure Statement for details of Bow Wow Meow Pet Insurance cover.
Swipe for more videos

Protect your loved ones

Sign up to get your first 2 months free and start saving on eligible vet bills!
Get a quick quote
Read more reviews