American Association of Feline Practitioners

Veterinary professionals passionate about the care of cats

Know Normal - Recognizing Signs and Symptoms

Quick and easy ways to know that your cat is fine everyday.

Each cat is a unique individual. It is nice to know what is typical for the "average" cat, but it is best to know what is normal for your specific cat. Pay attention to a few simple details about your cat's daily routine and you will not miss early signs that something is wrong. A cat that is eating, drinking, and going to the bathroom is most likely a healthy cat. Noticing subtle changes in normal routines may alert you to an issue that you can address with your veterinarian before it turns into a problem.  

Eating

Know the actual amount of food eaten by your cat in a 24 hour period. Watching your cat go to the food bowl and eat a bite or two is not sufficient. You must measure portions (especially the dry food) and keep track of any treats or snacks that you offer. Once you know the typical amounts consumed in your household you don't have to be obsessive, just observant.

Drinking

Know where and from what type of container your cat likes to drink (bowl, fountain, glass on the nightstand, bathroom faucet...). It is not as easy to measure exact water consumption as it is food consumption, but you can watch for significant changes in drinking behavior. Average daily volume of water obtained from these resources varies widely. Cats eating primarily or exclusively dry food will drink noticeably more water than cats eating canned/wet food (consistent urine volume is actually a good indicator of "normal" water consumption).

Urinating

Know how often and how much urine your cat produces daily. Clumping litter makes it very easy to know the number and size of urinations. If you are using absorbent litter you can note the number and size of wet spots before you scoop the poop and stir the litter. If you have more than one cat and more than one litter box you can still know the total amount of urine produced each day divided by the number of cats and it should be close to the average. An average adult cat will produce two to three handful size urine balls per day. Cats are creatures of habit so with a bit of observation you can probably have a pretty good idea of who is peeing in which area of which box as well. Be sure to attend to the litter box(es) at least once daily. The idea is to know what normal looks like so that you will notice any change.

Defecating

Know how often and how much your cat defecates every day. No matter what type of litter you are using, bowel movements should be scooped at least daily. Notice color shape and consistency - it only takes a moment as you transfer it to a trash bag or the toilet to flush. An average adult cat defecates once every 24 to 36 hours, producing a stool about the size of an old fashioned Tootsie Roll candy bar. It should be a dark brown color, well formed, moist enough that the litter will stick to it, and emitting an odor, that while not pleasant, should not drive you from the room.

Sleeping and Napping

Know where each of your cats spends his or her time. Most cats nap where the sun or the action is - at a window, on your desk, in the TV room, etc. They sleep where it is safe, warm, and quiet (often in a bedroom). An average indoor adult cat will sleep 14-16 hours a day and will have 3-4 favorite napping spots. Favorite spots may change with time of day or may change randomly. Cats look luxuriously comfortable at rest. A napping cat should be alert and responsive when something interesting happens. A sleeping cat will look a bit groggy when disturbed. Cats withdraw rather than complain when they don't feel well, so a cat that is not spending time in their usual places may have a problem. Consult your veterinarian.

Action and Interaction

Know your cat's typical daily activity - greeting you at the door, waking you in the morning, following you to the bathroom, playing with toys (if you keep cat toys in a box are they eventually found scattered around the house?), playing with housemates (are throw rugs rumpled and out of place when you get home?), grooming (especially after a meal), watching outdoor activity from a window, dashing about in a brief wild romp...any change to their usual routine warrants investigation or discussion with your veterinarian.

Temperament

An individual's basic approach to life remains pretty consistent and it is important to know whether your cat prefers to "run first ask questions later,"" boldly go where angels fear to tread," "go along to get along," or "take charge." Providing a sanctuary for the cautious cat and a "cat proof" environment for the adventurous trouble maker will help both you and your cat.

Online Resources

Have We Seen Your Cat Lately

This Boehringer Ingelheim site, which was endorsed by the AAFP, lists and describes the ten subtle signs of sickness. Ten Subtle Signs of Sickness include:

  • Inappropriate Elimination Behavior
  • Changes in Interaction
  • Changes in Activity
  • Changes in Sleeping Habits
  • Changes in Food and Water Consumption
  • Unexplained Weight Loss or Gain
  • Changes in Grooming
  • Signs of Stress
  • Changes in Vocalization
  • Bad Breath

Submitted by: Deb Givin, DVM