Cat owners are familiar with the vast amount of time their cat spends sleeping but it can become a problem if they are sleeping a lot due to lethargy. Our Louisa vets discuss lethargic cat signs and treatments.
What is lethargy in cats?
Lethargy can be defined as an abnormal decrease in a cat’s activity level and alertness. In many cases, lethargy is the body’s way of conserving energy to fight off illness or heal from injury.
Lethargy in cats is never normal, but it can sometimes be expected. For example, cats that have just been vaccinated are often lethargic. This happens because the immune response generated by a vaccine can make cats feel tired, achy, and generally unwell. Also, senior cats tend to be more lethargic due to the normal aging process.
That being said, if your cat is suddenly acting lethargic, it is almost always a sign that something is wrong.
Is my cat just tired?
A lethargic cat can look similar to a cat who just needs a long nap, but there is an important difference.
Tiredness is a temporary state that resolves with rest or sleep. If you’re up too late, you’ll be tired the next day but will feel fine once you get some extra sleep.
The same cannot be said for lethargy. Lethargic cats often do sleep more than normal, but their lethargy remains unless the underlying problem is addressed.
What are the signs of a lethargic cat?
You’ll likely notice other symptoms in combination with lethargy if your cat is sick. This will depend on the precise problem they are facing, but some of the common and more generalized symptoms of sickness you might notice include:
- Increased Affection - Some cats seek reassurance from their owners when they are unwell, meaning clinginess and lethargy often go hand in hand.
- Hiding Behaviors - Whereas some cats seek reassurance, most will retreat and hide when they are ill or in pain.
- Weight Loss of Gain - Many illnesses will alter your cat’s appetite and activity levels which can result in weight loss or gain.
- Dull Coat or Hair Loss - Pain and discomfort from sickness can cause cats to feel stressed often manifesting in as excessive self-grooming leading to hair loss.
- Strange Sleeping Positions - Sick cats will often sleep in strange positions that relieve pain and pressure from the area of discomfort.
These signs alone are cause for concern, it is always best to contact your vet if your cat is displaying these behaviors, however, the following are some more serious signs that can accompany lethargy in cats and you should contact your nearest emergency vet for urgent care.
- Lethargic and Drooling - Diseases or injuries affecting the mouth are common causes of drooling, and they can cause lethargy too.
- Lethargic and Vomiting - Vomiting is seen with problems directly affecting the digestive tract (inflammatory bowel disease, for example) and metabolic diseases like diabetes or kidney failure.
- Lethargic and Not Eating / Drinking - Like lethargy, not eating or drinking well are nonspecific clinical signs that are seen with many cat diseases.
- Lethargic and Losing Significant Weight - A poor appetite can lead to weight loss, but so can diseases like hyperthyroidism or diabetes, even if your cat is eating well.
- Lethargic and Wobbly - Cats who are wobbly could be suffering from a neurologic problem or metabolic disease, or they could simply be very weak.
What causes lethargy in cats?
Lethargy is simply your cat's body slowing down to help it recover from illness or injury. There are a vast number of reasons your cat could be lethargic from a minor cold to serious disorders. Here are some common reasons your cat might be lethargic.
- Viral, Bacterial, or Parasitic Infections
- Recent Vaccination
- Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
- Anemia (low red blood cell count)
- Heart Disease
- Respiratory Conditions
- Liver and Kidney Disease
- Medication Side Effect
- Poisoning or Envenomation
- Dehydration and Electrolyte Abnormalities
- Gastrointestinal Issues
- Nutritional Disorders
- Lower Urinary Tract Problems
- Inflammatory / Immune diseases
- Neurologic Disorders
When to call your vet
Call your veterinarian immediately if your cat is extremely lethargic or if their lethargy occurs in combination with other serious symptoms like difficulty breathing or severe vomiting or diarrhea.
On the other hand, you can give a cat that is only mildly lethargic and otherwise okay a little time to see if they return to normal on their own. Talk to your veterinarian if your cat’s lethargy worsens or fails to improve in a day or two.
What will your vet do to help your cat's lethargy?
Since there are so many different causes fr lethargy in cats, your vet will have to perform diagnostic testing to determine the underlying condition. They might perform a number of tests including a complete blood cell count (CBC), blood chemistry panel, urinalysis, fecal exam, check thyroid hormone levels, or run a feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus test.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.