Caring for Your Sick Cat

By Malcolm Weir, DVM, MSc, MPH; Tammy Hunter, DVM; Ernest Ward, DVM

When your cat is being treated for an illness, it is important that you follow your veterinarian's advice and instructions precisely. Take your cat for re-examination when requested. If your cat's condition worsens unexpectedly, contact your veterinarian immediately for advice.

While your cat recovers, keep her in a location that is warm, dry, peaceful, and quiet, with sufficient light for you to observe her. You may need to provide an additional heat source, such as a heat lamp, hot water bottle, or heating pad on a low setting (that she can move away from if she becomes too hot). Use heating sources with care to avoid burns or overheating.

Provide a litter box within easy walking distance of your cat's bed. It is often necessary to have a litter box with low sides to make access easier for an ailing cat. You may improvise a litter box by cutting down the sides of a cardboard box or by lining a shallow baking pan with a plastic bag to contain the litter.

Should I feed my cat her regular diet?

For your sick cat to recover, she needs to have both food and water. When cats are ill, they often stop eating and drinking. It is important to monitor your cat's food and water intake so you know when intervention is necessary. It is important to separate your ill cat from other pets in the household, so you know which pet is eating the food.

Fresh water should be available at all times. Healthy cats that eat canned food often drink very little because the food contains a high proportion of water; if your cat stops eating, she will need additional fluids. Fluids can be administered by mouth, using a syringe. Your veterinarian will instruct you on how much and how often to administer fluids. If your cat cannot be given fluids by mouth, your veterinarian will hospitalize your cat to provide the necessary supportive care. They also may train you to administer fluids under the skin (called subcutaneous or SQ fluids) at home, to make sure the cat doesn’t become dehydrated.

Encourage your cat to eat small, frequent meals of a palatable, high-energy, highly digestible food. Warming food to body temperature often makes it more appealing. Some sick cats can be encouraged to eat more by hand feeding. Your veterinarian will advise you if there are any foods that you should not offer. If your cat cannot be tempted to eat voluntarily, your veterinarian may suggest giving liquid food via a syringe. An alternative is to hospitalize your cat in order to feed her via a feeding tube. Your veterinarian may also prescribe appetite stimulant medication if appropriate to do so.

My cat stopped grooming herself. What should I do?

Many sick cats stop grooming themselves. It is important that you help your cat by gently brushing or combing at least once daily. Any discharge from the eyes, nose, or mouth should be frequently and gently wiped away, using warm, wet cotton balls or a soft cloth.

How do I give my cat her medication?

Give your cat her medication at the dose and frequency prescribed by your veterinarian and complete the full course of treatment. Separate handouts are available that describe how to administer medications. If you are having difficulty giving tablets to your cat, you may be able to crush them and mix them with a little water so that they can be given by syringe. Ask your veterinarian if this is appropriate for the medication that your cat is taking. If this does not work, contact your veterinarian to see if a liquid formulation can be prescribed, or if a long-acting injectable version of the medication is available.

Do not give your cat any medications other than those prescribed by your veterinarian. Never give your cat over-the-counter medications unless specifically instructed by your veterinarian, who will tell you the exact dose needed by your cat.

Should I use special disinfectants to clean my house?

Do not use any phenol-based disinfectants in the room your cat is in, as they toxic to cats. Talk to your veterinarian about any cleaning agents you would like to use in your home, near your cat, or on your cat during its convalescence.

Is there anything else I should do to monitor my cat?

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