Signs of a Sick Cat or Dog

September 19, 2011
"Is it already time to get upr"

This is my cat, Scruffy. This was taken about 11 months ago. He is very sick right now with Felv, but hanging in there. Praying he makes it!!!

Alison Clatterbuck

Different pets will display sickness symptoms differently, but you should always be on the watch and consider a call to your vet when you notice any of the following signs of a sick cat or dog.

Diarrhea or Vomiting

  • With one episode, withhold food for 24 hours, then begin feeding small amounts of a bland diet, such as boiled meat with white rice.
  • If the bout lasts longer than one day or is very violent, or if pain or abdominal swelling are apparent, get your pet to the vet immediately.

Scratching, Licking, or Chewing

  • Look for parasites. Treat fleas or ticks with a natural remedy or over-the-counter medication.
  • If the scratching comes on suddenly or is very severe, or if there is hair loss and the skin is breaking, see a vet.

Panting, Coughing, Wheezing, or Sneezing

A moderate pant or cough may just mean he's overheated or overexerted. If it is severe or prolonged, seek medical attention.

Pain, Stiffness, or Difficulty Moving

  • Examine the legs and pads of feet for cuts, warmth, or bruising if your pet begins to limp. If everything appears to be normal and the animal is otherwise behaving naturally, keep him calm and indoors, and observe him for 24 hours for signs of improvement.
  • See a vet if your pet is unbalanced, staggering, falling down, or collapsing.
  • Arithritis is common in older dogs. One out of five dogs has it. See if your dog tires easily during long walks or if he limps, lags behind, or appears stiff. Is he reluctant to climb up steps or to jump up like he used to? Is he slow to rise from a resting position? Have your vet check it out. More and more pet owners are using acupuncture for long-term pain relief from arthritis.

Bowel or Urinary Problems

  • If your pet appears fairly normal but strains to pass feces, he may be constipated. This may indicate a blockage. Consult your vet within 24 hours. Vomiting along with bowel problems could be serious.
  • Urinary problems in cats are very common and can become serious. If your cat begins making frequent trips to the litter box, meows while in the box, or suddenly begins using the corner of the living room rug instead of the box, call your vet. If you see any signs of blood while scooping out the box, get your cat to the vet right away.

​Eye and Ear Disorders

See a vet if there is bleeding, or clear or yellow discharge; clouded, dry, or bloodshot eyes; failing vision; or any lumps or bumps.

Does your pet have allergies?

  • Dogs and cats get hay fever, and they can be sensitive to pollens and molds, dust, feathers, and wool. They usually get itchy rather than sneezy, so be aware of those signs.
  • If a pet is itchy from allergies, provide relief with cold water, or soak with an oatmeal paste. You may even give antihistamines, after first consulting with a vet. Severe, prolonged symptoms may require allergy shots.


Bad breath is not just a nuisance, but also a health issue. Attack the plaque on your pet's teeth to avoid halitosis and gum disease.

  • Brushing your pet's teeth is the best way to do this, but toys with grooves or mildly abrasive surfaces (like rawhide) will also help to remove plaque. Getting pets to eat carrots and dry pet food will be beneficial as well. A chlorophyll tablet or special constituted biscuits (often black, sold in pet food stores) can inhibit odor.
  • Be aware of other bad smells that may signal illness. Ear infections will give off a strong odor that permeates the coat. Abscesses or skin ulcers can be other sources of bad smells. A sweet or fruity smell is often associated with diabetes—be sure to have that checked out by your vet.

More Illnesses to Look Out For

Cat Flu

Cats are prone to a type of flu that brings weepy eyes, a runny nose, and sudden sneezing attacks. Help your cat feel better by making sure she eats, cleaning the mucus from the eyes with a damp washcloth or cotton ball, and making sure she's breathing right. A few drops of saline solution in a stuffy nose can help breathing. See a vet if the problem persists.

Kennel Cough

This type of bronchitis gives your dog a dry, raspy noise in his cough. For relief, make sure your dog has plenty of clean air (no smoking) with humidity. You can give your dog cough syrup fit for humans if it contains dextromethorphan, but NOT acetaminophen. There are also some herbal cough syrups on the market. Check with your vet first.


The Old Farmer's Almanac Pet Lover's Companion

Reader Comments

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Friends cat pulling his hair out?

My friend has a 7 year old male that has recently started to pull his fur our by the mouthful, why would he do this?

cat fur pulling

The Editors's picture

There are several reasons why a cat might start to pull out its fur. Sometimes it indicates an allergy that is making the skin itch, such as from bites from fleas (especially around the base of the tail) or mites, or to a new food or medication. (If a new food–try another selection to see if the behavior stops in a week or two. If a new medication, ask a vet about an alternative.) If the cat is focusing on a certain spot, it could be that that area is uncomfortable, such as due to a cyst or arthritic joints. Certain diseases, or bacterial or fungal infections, can also lead to fur falling out. A cat may also start pulling out its fur when stressed out, nervous, or anxious. Has the cat’s environment or routine changed in any way, such as a new person or pet in the household? Also, some cats are especially sensitive to their owner’s moods; if that person becomes stressed, the cat can become stressed, too. If the pulling hair continues, we suggest that your friend ask a vet about possible causes/treatments. Hope the cat feels better soon!


I had a cat named Scruffy once too. I loved that cat!

Lost of my baby because of rat poison

Just wanted to make people aware,last week I woke up to find my cat 4 years old his birthday is on my birthday he is dead in front of my door ,I was so scared to lose him by the cars like his brother died Christmas Eve by car .As a family we decided this spring we are selling our home and moving to country my other two cats are old so they just stay in yard but cupcake likes to hunt and Rome to other houses being winter he don’t go far .we chose not to use rat poison anywhere just in case our animals got into it so he did not get it from my house so either he got into someone’s else’s place, someone feed it to him ,or how I think he caught a mouse that had already ate poison and that’s how he got it but my point to this is my heart is broken by my lost but most of all make people aware of yes it gets rid of mice or rats but also cats to


We lost a dog to a neighbors groundhog control... antifreeze... Sorry for your loss!

Puffy eye

i thought my cat Stormy was giving me a stink eye look today (she often does, gives me stink eye and acts like I am rediculous) but when I looked again I notice her left eye is a bit swollen. She has no discharge but it does look like its been leaking liquid because she has tear marks. She is still active and change in behavior. Is there anything I can do for her without a pricey vet bill???????

Urinating alot

What can I give my dog to help her stop u urinating so much, she drinking a lot of water..

Please be mindful of how much

Please be mindful of how much water your pet is drinking. If increased a great deal, please get your pet to the vet. This happened to ours and it turned out to be diabetic. He also had begun to have bad breath , and there was increased urination. It is so important to watch these little things in your pets day to day. Any time their daily habits change, pay attention. We lost our little boy yesterday after a really long fight to battle this disease and once it reached a certain stage, there was nothing anyone could do but let him go. Just don't wait to get your pets the medical care they need.

I want to take to the vet so

I want to take to the vet so bad but I really can't afford it, I don't work ,but I try to keep up with her shots,I tried to find a vet that could look at how her for a really low cost,,so I try to look on the Internet to find solutions for her.

My cat was ok yesterday

My cat was ok yesterday suddenly she stop taking food nd when i try to hold her she used to cry. Than one uncle came he is from vet. My cat was in pain than tat uncle give her paracetamol aftr tat she get more sick now. Now she dnt eat justing sleeping around all the time nd i sty in rural place whr thr is no vet doctor aviavble hr. Please help.

Polly, you need to get your

Polly, you need to get your cat to the vet NOW! ...Even if it means a drive to town. She is in very serious trouble! NEVER wait on advice from an on line forum for help for a sick animal! EVER! Just call the vet to get help. That is the ONLY way to take care of things properly.

I need someone else input,

I need someone else input, our dog is 15yrs, medium mixed breed. Here's the issue due to her age I am not willing to take her to the vet. I already know what the vet will say. Lets run tests, put her on meds etc.
She has cancer, starting loose bowel movements (can't make it outside / down the stairs fast enough- not pee just poop) looses her balance, discharge of bloody mucus inn the nose, slight discharge in her eyes, but she still eats normally, walks are small but still goes.

When is time to say "pull the plug?" I love her dearly but I also know she's really old. I don't like seeing any animals hurt, your thought on this would be great.

Thank you

Saying goodbye to a family

The Editors's picture

Saying goodbye to a family pet is a terribly wrenching, and brings many difficult questions and emotions. How to know when the right time is to say goodbye is a very personal choice, and it depends on the pet’s ailment. I’ve gone through several times of saying goodbye to a dear pet suffering from age or disease; the most recent, only a few months ago. The best advice I could give is to say watch your pet closely and assess the stage of her condition. Is the pet suffering more than she is getting pleasure out of life? Is she in great pain, or very uncomfortable, even with medication? Does any lack of mobility and bodily functions cause her distress or anxiety? Does she still get some enjoyment being around you, or does she usually prefer to be alone? Does she respond to you? Does she take pleasure in the happenings around her? Or, is her joy of living gone, beyond the basic needs? Will she suffer even more pain and discomfort soon? Look in her eyes and at other clues to her behavior: Sometimes by doing this, you really can tell if the pet has the will to live, or if it is just enduring life. No matter when you decide it is time, our thoughts are with you and your special dog.
The Old Farmer's Almanac staff

We found a dog by the sewer

We found a dog by the sewer drains that seems to be about 2 months old. Her coat smells awful, and her eyes won't open at all. Mucus/pus looking stuff is exiting her eyes if she tries opening them or her nose when she sneezes. She's very thin and her feet have blisters on them. On September 18 and 19 it rained for 2 days and we believe she got lost in it. We don't know what to do because she won't let us feed her. She stands up and walks with her eyes closed and urinates then has bowel movements such as diarrhea. Then shelays on the floor sudenly causing her to crash straight into the ground. We don't want to take her to the vet because we're afraid their gonna put her down and we also don't have the money for the bill.

It's hard when one wants to

The Editors's picture

It's hard when one wants to help an animal but can not afford to. The dog might recover with proper care, depending on what it is. You might consult a local no-kill animal shelter--they sometimes accept animals that are very sick and can work with local vets to nurse them back to health, if possible. Or, they might know of low-cost or no-cost vet clinics. Some vets also offer payment plans or discounts.

It sounds like this pup is in

It sounds like this pup is in extreme trouble and may not make it much longer. S/he BADLY needs proper medical attention NOW!!! Look for no-kill shelters and a local Humane Society or ASPA clinic for help finding the funding that you need to help this poor creature. If I can rescue and keep a cat that was missing two of his paws when finally got my hands on him, then you can find what it takes to get this pup ample care. I am on SS, but through local animal agencies I found some funding that helped pay for the surgeries to close those two open stumps and save the legs. So far, between what a couple of agencies paid and what I've slowly invested this kitty has had just over $2000 spent on him and he's getting ready to go see a neurologist at my own expense. So, lack of funding is no excuse for animal neglect. If YOU can't afford to take care of this pup then find someone who CAN and WILL. If the unthinkable happens and he does have to be put to sleep, then at least, he won't be suffering any more. Your story and mine are only two more testaments as to why spaying and neutering is so important. Good luck to you in finding proper and expeditious care for this poor creature.

my cat was fine last night

my cat was fine last night came in ate well played and went into her kennel to go to bed {kept that food down} this morning when she came out she drank water immediatly vomited back up kept it away for an hr no vomiting as soon as she drank vomited then had a bought of explosive diarhea on the bed no blood just looked like runny stool smelled pretty bad that was 3 hours agao she has had none since i have confined her to her kennel she has no fever no abdominal pain or bloating does not want to be held though and does not want to go out she has had all shots and been spayed a month ago aspca but i have no resources to take her in my husband has cancer we are on fixed income over 60 and im crying y eyes out can you please help or sugges something thank you for your time sally smith

We are very much hoping that

The Editors's picture

We are very much hoping that your cat is feeling much better by now. We have just read your message. Whenever something like that happens, we'd suggest that you call your vet for advice. We are not veterinarians and are not qualified to diagnose your pet or recommend medication. Vomiting and diarrhea can be anything from a hairball to something the cat ate, digestive problems, a cold, to something more serious.
When there is a pet emergency, or even just a question for a vet after vet office hours, you can call either the emergency number of the vet (usually a voicemail on their phone will mention the number to call), or often there is a 24-hr veterinary emergency hospital somewhere in the area who takes calls/questions. The two services that come to mind in our area do not charge for advice over the phone, but you might want to check if you call one in your area. The vet emergency hospitals often can advise you what to do over the phone--even a question about food, medication, etc.; or if they think that it is a true emergency they will ask you to come in (but that can certainly be expensive). If you do need to bring a pet in to a vet or emergency clinic, perhaps there is a neighbor or friend who might be able to help take your cat in if needed; some vets also make house calls. Also, your vet might be able to work with you financially, if needed, so that your cat can get the care it needs.
It is always upsetting to have a beloved pet sick--not knowing how serious it is, how to help him/her get better or at least feel more comfortable. We very much hope that your pet will be OK, and that this episode was only temporary. 
Best wishes,
The Old Farmer's Almanac team