Let me fill you in on a little veterinary secret -- we use the term ADR for “Ain’t Doin’ Right” quite commonly in our field. We do this because a lot of dogs and cats will be brought in by their pet guardian for general vague signs of malaise -- or what we fondly call ADR.
So what does this mean, and how can you tell if something is truly wrong with your cat? When in doubt, trust your gut instinct.
What are some of the signs of “ADR?”
Here is a general list of ADR signs that warrant a trip to your veterinarian practice. (Note: This list is not all-inclusive. When in doubt, seek veterinary attention to be safe!):
- Decreased appetite or not eating
- Acting lethargic
- Open mouth breathing
- Elevated respiratory rate at home
- Excessive tearing, rubbing or abnormal discharge from the eyes
- Malodorous smell (This may be coming from anywhere, but isn’t normal!)
- Feeling warm or cold to the touch
- Not drinking
- Not using the litter box for more than 24 hours
- Making multiple trips to the litter box
- Straining to urinate
- Excessive grooming of the perineal region
- Crying out in pain or acting painful
- Change in hair coat (e.g., unkempt, greasy, etc.)
- Limping (that does not resolve in 1-2 days on its own)
- Not being able to move, dragging the back legs, or acting suddenly paralyzed
- Distended abdomen
- Excessive thirst or urination
- Larger than normal clumps in the litter box
- Weight loss
Any of these signs may represent serious medical conditions.
What tests might your veterinarian recommend if your cat “ADR?”
- A physical examination
- Blood work (looking at the blood sugar, electrolytes, kidney function, liver function, white and red blood cells, etc.)
- Serologic testing for infectious disease (e.g., feline leukemia, FIV, etc.)
- Urinalysis (looking for a urinary tract infection, urinary crystals, etc.)
- Urine culture (looking for a urinary tract infection)
- X-rays may be suggested. If x-rays are abnormal, then an abdominal ultrasound (which lets us look at the inside architecture of the organs) or echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart) may be necessary at a specialty clinic.
Depending on what the underlying cause of ADR is, treatment may be either outpatient or require hospitalization. Some minor problems can be managed on an outpatient basis with subcutaneous fluids, i.e., under the skin (to help hydrate your cat), an injection of an antibiotic, or even pain medication. However, more serious conditions may require hospitalization for intravenous (IV) fluids, IV antibiotics, blood pressure monitoring, and supportive care.
When in doubt, if you notice something is wrong with your cat, it’s always better to get to your veterinarian sooner than later. Not only could that potentially save you the cost of an expensive emergency veterinary visit, but the sooner you notice a problem, the sooner your veterinarian can treat it, and the less expensive it may be.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.
How to Recognize a Grieving Pet
Individual dogs and cats react to loss in different ways. Just as with people, there is no "right" or "wrong" way for your pet to grieve. Some pets may not appear to notice the absence of the deceased, while some may appear to feel the loss quite heavily. In general, here are some signs that your pet might be struggling with grief:
- Changes in appetite
- Acting withdrawn or despondent
- Whining or howling in dogs, or yowling and crying in cats
- Changes in personality your aloof cat suddenly wants lots of attention, or vice versa
- Pacing or searching the house for the lost pet
- Hiding from or avoiding other family members
- Changes in grooming or bathroom habits, especially in cats
Your pet might also show signs of separation anxiety, such as crying and carrying on when you leave or, as is more common regarding cats, engaging in destructive behavior, such as scratching furniture or urinating outside the litter box while you're gone.
I've lost my cat
What to do if your cat has wandered off
Having a pet go missing is never a comfortable experience, but there are some steps you can take to help reunite you quickly.
- Report your cat as missing to your council
- Check the list of Council Stray Pets and AWL's list of Found Pets
- Lodge a Lost Pet Report
- Post a photo and message on social media including Lost Pets of South Australia Facebook page
- Check with your neighbours – has your cat paid them a visit?
- Contact vet clinics and other animal shelters including RSPCA on 1300 477 722
- Put up flyers around your area.
- Check that your contact details are up-to-date on your cat's microchip at Dogs and Cats Online
View AWL's list of Found Pets
Lost cat noticeboard
Animal Welfare League of South Australia Inc (AWL) brings together lost and abandoned pets and caring humans to create happy homes where everyone feels loved.
Signs That Your Cat Is Sick
By the time you actually notice something is wrong with your cat, it might have been going on for a longer amount of time than you think. Note subtle changes in behavior and watch for more. Observe your cat's demeanor and body language. Does something seem off? Learn what is normal for cats and know what is normal for your cat. Never ignore obvious signs of illness. When in doubt, contact your vet for advice.
Vomiting is not normal in cats. Some people think it's ok for a cat to vomit every few days, but it's not. Things like rare vomiting or the occasional hairball are not concerns. However, anything more than this warrants a trip to the veterinarian.
Diarrhea may indicate dietary indiscretion, intestinal parasites, and a variety of other problems. Left untreated, diarrhea can lead to dehydration and further intestinal inflammation. It's also very uncomfortable for your cat. Schedule a vet appointment and, if possible, bring a stool sample.
Loss of appetite can be normal for cats but it still should not be ignored. If your cat skips the occasional meal but otherwise eats normally, then you should watch closely for trends. If your cat stops eating entirely or is only eating tiny amounts, you need to get your veterinarian involved. Lack of eating for even a few days can lead to a serious problem called fatty liver or hepatic lipidosis.
Increased appetite may also be a concern, especially if it comes on suddenly in an older cat. Hypothyroidism may be the explanation, but your vet will need to run tests to be sure. Increased appetite should not be ignored, even in younger cats. If nothing else, it can lead to overeating and obesity.
Weight changes in cats are always concerning, whether it's gain or loss. Either might be a sign of an underlying health problem. Weight loss is more urgent in the short term whereas weight gain is usually more harmful over time. If you are not sure about your cat's weight, make a vet appointment for a check-up or at least a weight check.
Lethargy is a sign of a problem, even if it's subtle. Contact your vet if your cat seems to be lying around a lot, sleeping more than usual, or just generally has a low energy level. There is probably something going on with your cat's health.
Increased thirst can mean many things in cats. Most often it means there is a problem with the kidneys or urinary tract. Many owners never even see their cats drink water. So, if you start noticing your cat near the water dish more than before, it means something.
Changes in urination are always important to address. They often indicate a urinary tract issue or kidney problem. If you notice a change in frequency or quantity of urine, inappropriate urination, or blood in the urine, schedule a vet appointment. If your cat is straining to urinate and nothing is coming out, this might be an emergency, particularly in male cats. Bring your cat to a vet immediately.
Changes in breathing like wheezing, rapid breathing, shortness of breath, and raspy breathing should never be ignored. If your cat is not breathing normally, it may be best to go to an emergency clinic. If the signs are very mild, see your regular veterinarian as soon as possible.
Discharge from eyes or nose indicates a possible upper respiratory infection. This can make your cat feel ill and stop eating. It may be contagious to other cats in your home. Your vet may recommend medications to help your cat recover faster.
Ear debris or discharge might mean your cat has an ear infection or even parasites like ear mites. Waiting to address this may cause the eardrum to become affected. Plus, it is very uncomfortable for your cat.
Skin irritation or hair loss may be a sign of allergies, external parasites, or another skin condition. It's also likely painful or itchy. Don't let your cat suffer needlessly. Your vet may be able to offer treatment options.
Increased vocalization may mean your cat is sick, in pain, stressed, or just bored. It's important to rule out a health issue first before you explore the behavioral side of this issue.
Overgrooming may be behavioral, but it could also mean your cat has a skin issue or is in pain. If you notice overgrooming, start with a vet visit to try to get to the root of the problem.
Personality changes may be normal when they happen over time, especially as your cat ages. However, if your normally friendly cat is showing aggression, or your happy, confident cat is suddenly acting afraid, there is a need to further explore with your vet. If your cat seems confused or disoriented, then its an even more urgent situation.
Limping and trouble jumping up are signs of an injury or a condition like arthritis. Don't assume your cat is not in pain because he is eating and acting normal otherwise. See your vet so the injury or condition can be treated appropriately.
Swelling in any area of the body should not be ignored. It may be a wound that has turned into an abscess. It could even be a tumor. Watch the swollen area closely. If it is painful, hot to the touch, or does not get better in a day or two, see your vet.
Bad breath is a sign of dental problems. Mild halitosis may not be urgent, but it means your cat's teeth should be checked soon. Severe bad breath should be addressed sooner. Also, watch for excessive drooling and bleeding from the mouth. If your cat has an oral infection, it exposes the whole body to the bacteria in the mouth. This could lead to problems with the heart and other organs.
Why your previously sociable cat has started hiding
Cats are not always the most social of creatures. While dogs usually seem to enjoy being around their humans 24/7, cats like to get away from it all and hunker down in a quite place where no one can find them.
That being said, there’s a kind of hiding that’s perfectly normal and the kind that could indicate something is wrong. If you have cats that are naturally less social, it might be harder to tell when to worry about their hiding, but if you have super-sociable cats like mine that follow you everywhere, the signs will be quite clear.
Now when I say there might be “something wrong,” I don’t necessarily mean something to do with their health. It could be any number of things, from a new piece of furniture they don’t like to a crazy squirrel tapping at the window. However, you won’t know for sure until you investigate the situation.
Under the weather
The first thing you need to do is rule out anything serious, aka health related. “Cats can definitely hide if they are not feeling well or have medical issues,” Mychelle Blake, MSW, CDBC, of Pet Health Network told SheKnows. If your cat is feeling under the weather, it’ll likely want to lie low, away from activity, just like people. This behavior, partnered with a lack of an appetite and diminished activity overall, might be the sign of a health issue, so you should it to the vet to make sure. If your vet doesn’t find anything wrong, it’s time to explore possible behavioral and environmental issues.
Stress and anxiety
Another common reason a cat may hide is something stressful has recently happened in or around the house. And while it might not have been stressful for you, your hypersensitive feline thinks otherwise. According to Blake, “Cats that are anxious or fearful will hide to make themselves feel more secure and avoid whatever in the environment is causing them to be afraid.”
For example, we had a guest stay for a week a couple months ago, and even though my cats are normally good with people, they hid from us the entire time that week. It may have had something to do with our guest owning a dog whose smell they weren’t a fan of, but to this day, we’re not really sure. The important thing is they came out shortly after he left, so we knew they were all right.
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There are many possible stressors that could send your cats into hiding, though. A few big ones are a move, a new addition to the family (like a new pet or a baby) or a recent trip to the vet. Even if you’re the one who’s stressed, it can impact your cats to the point where they have to run and hide. It comes down to what their instincts tell them to do in scary or threatening situations.
Blake has some great methods to help ease the stress in these common situations. “If the cat is hiding due to a new pet, or even person, in the house, keep the cat isolated, such as in a bedroom behind a door so that the new resident that is scaring them doesn’t continue to make them feel upset. You can do slow introductions through a door or baby gate and pair it with things the cat finds wonderful, such as treats or petting or brushing.”
If you have a female cat that hasn’t been fixed, interacts with male cats (even siblings), and she’s suddenly hiding all day long, guess what? Blake says you might be looking at a bunch of kittens in the near future! Female cats tend to hide a few days before giving birth. It’s often in a dark, cozy place, like under the bed, or in the back of a closet where a fallen coat can provide comfort and warmth.
If your cat is hiding in high places, like on shelves or in drawers, I’m sorry to say but you might want to investigate your rugs and upholstery for fleas. Blake says cats will try to get away from those biting critters by hiding as high off the ground as they can.
At the end of the day, if your cat is suddenly behaving in a way that is contrary to what you normally see from it, don’t just chalk it up to a weird cat-ism, investigate it. If you can help your kitty out by bringing it to a vet or alleviating its stress, you’ll make your cat’s life (and yours) much better.
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