Three kittens analyzing a stethoscope.

A Healthy Cat

From the very first day, get to know your cat’s usual physical condition and normal behavior so that you recognize good health and can quickly detect any signs of illness.

By monitoring your cat for changes in activity or behavior, you can spot illness or injury at an early stage. Similarly, a vet can assess your cat’s condition at regular check-ups and keep records of any problems.

Appearance and Behavior

It is normal for a cat to be shy at first, but as he gets used to you his personality will emerge. In general, your cat should look alert and happy, whether he is naturally outgoing or more reserved.

Note how he moves (fast or leisurely) and what sounds he makes (meowing, chirruping). Watch how he interacts with you and your family—he should come to trust you and be happy to see you, especially once he has realized that you provide the food.

Note how your cat eats and drinks—he should have a good appetite and eat without difficulty. Cats prefer to eat little and often. Since they get most of their moisture from food, cats will not drink as often as they eat, but they may drink more if fed solely on dry food.

If your cat uses a litter box, remove waste from it several times a day. This way you will learn how often your cat normally passes feces and urine.

Finally, watch for unusual behavior, such as excessive licking of a body part, pawing the face, or shaking the head. These activities could suggest a wound, parasite infestation, or something stuck in the skin or coat.

Home Checks

Perform regular head-to-tail checks. With a new cat, do this every day; once you know your cat, every two or three days should be enough. If necessary, split the task into several mini-checks of a few minutes each.

First, run your hands over your cat’s head, body, and legs. Gently squeeze the abdomen to feel for lumps or sore spots. Move his legs and tail to ensure that they move freely. Feel the ribs and look at the waist to check that he is not becoming too fat or thin.

Examine the eyes. Watch the blink rate: cats normally blink more slowly than we do. Check that the pupils respond correctly to light and dark and that the third eyelid is barely visible. Check that the cat is not holding his ears or head at a strange angle.

Check the ears for soreness, parasites, or dark wax. Check that the nose is cool, damp, and free of excess mucus.

Look inside the mouth to check the gums for inflamed areas or bleeding. The breath should not smell bad. Press the outer gum briefly: it should go pale, but quickly turn pink when you stop.

The coat should feel smooth and not greasy. Look and feel for lumps, wounds, bald spots, or parasites. Gently lift the scruff of the neck and then let go; the skin should quickly return to normal.

Check the claws. They should be almost totally hidden when they are retracted and should not catch on carpets and other surfaces.

Look under the tail to check the area is clean and has no redness, swelling, or sign of worms.

Detecting Problems

Cats are notorious for hiding any signs of pain, illness, or injury. In the wild, their survival would depend on not showing weakness to avoid attracting the attention of predators.

This ruse also means, however, that owners might not notice problems until they have become severe. If your cat seems more hungry or thirsty than usual, refuses to eat, or loses weight, you need to consult a vet.

If your cat cries or strains when passing urine or feces, or has accidents in the home, it could signify an internal disorder and may require the immediate attention of a vet.

Changes in behavior could also indicate problems. Your cat may be reluctant to come to you or may hide himself away. He may be less active or may sleep more than usual. He may become abnormally timid or aggressive. Consult the vet immediately if you notice any of these signs.

Annual Check-Ups

Your cat should have a regular health check at least once a year. The vet will assess his condition by checking the cat from head to tail, feeling for any tenderness or lumps. A booster vaccination may be given.

The vet will also inspect your cat for parasites and give you advice on administering worming and flea treatments. Your vet may clip your cat’s claws, if necessary, especially if he is a house cat or elderly.

Healthy Behavior

  • Expression bright and alert
  • Runs and jumps freely
  • Friendly or calm with people
  • Grooms self easily
  • Eats and drinks normal amounts
  • Urinates and defecates normally