Lethargy in cats

lethargy in cats - cat near pool

Felines have a reputation for lulling around, without a care in the world.

Older cats particularly love to snooze for a large chunk of the day!

This laid-back energy comes with the territory of being a Kitty, so it can be difficult for pet owners to tell when their furry friend is exhausted for medical reasons.

Lethargy in cats is often a sign of an underlying condition that requires veterinary attention. Some of these illnesses are deadly if left untreated.

If your cat is more sluggish than usual – or their low energy is accompanied by other symptoms – please visit your vet to identify the cause and get essential treatment.

Keep reading to find out about the common causes and symptoms of feline lethargy.

But first, how can you tell the difference between general tiredness and lethargy that’s triggered by a medical condition?

When is feline lethargy normal and expected?

Let’s make an important distinction between tiredness and lethargy, although the lines can sometimes be blurred.

Tiredness is temporary and can be resolved with sleep.

There are many expected causes of tiredness, such as:

  • Routine changes
  • Extreme weather conditions
  • Not getting enough exposure to light
  • Side effects to medication

OIder cats tend to slow down as they age as well, but this isn’t sudden or extreme.

On the other hand, lethargy can strike out of nowhere, making cats seem more tired than usual. It tends to linger, even after resting all day and sleeping more than usual.

There’s no cause for concern when lethargy is expected as a temporary side-effect of vaccination or surgery. It may also be a response to certain medications or illnesses that you know your cat has.

The rest of the article will focus on the symptoms and causes of lethargy when linked to medical problems.

Common signs of lethargy in cats

Your cat may only show signs of lethargy, without any other symptoms.

The signs of lethargy in cats:

  • Sleepier than usual
  • Drowsiness
  • Little interest in surroundings
  • Low energy
  • Less playful
  • Isolating oneself
  • Reduced appetite
  • Lack of grooming

In many cases, lethargy is easier to notice when there are other symptoms too.

Symptoms that often go hand in hand with feline lethargy:

  • Weight fluctuations
  • Fever
  • Digestive problems: vomiting or diarrhoea
  • Frequent urination
  • Jaundice
  • Laboured breathing
  • Dull coat
  • Hair loss
  • Increased thirst
  • Behavioural changes, such as acting hostile
  • Pain
  • Discomfort
  • Drooling
  • Wobbling when walking

lethargy in cats - brown orange cat look sad

Common causes of lethargy in cats (medical conditions)

There are many medical reasons why your cat could be fatigued. Lethargy is a clinical sign of nearly all feline health problems. This article doesn’t cover them all, but we will touch on some of the most common medical causes (mild, moderate and severe).

Depression: Just like us, cats can feel exhausted if they start to lose interest in life. Feline depression is usually caused by massive changes to Kitty’s life, such as moving house or mourning a loved one.

The best solution is to spend more quality time together and try to provide a stable environment, but it’s also a good idea to seek veterinary advice (medication may be prescribed).

Obesity: Being overweight places too much stress on your cat’s cardiovascular system and joints, which makes play time harder. The less physical activity that your cat engages in, the heavier he will get, and will feel drained as a result.

Thankfully this can be fixed by putting Kitty on a diet and making sure he gets enough exercise (your vet will tell you how much is suitable – as you don’t want to overdo it).

Infections: Viral or bacterial infections can cause exhaustion. Parasites like tapeworms may also be involved! As hunters, cats are regularly exposed to harmful pathogens. These infections often cause fevers that worsen the lethargy. Regular vaccinations significantly lower the chances of infection, so it’s vital to stay up to date with this routine.

Anaemia: Lethargy is a big sign of anaemia, which occurs when the number of circulating red blood cells drops. This makes it harder for oxygen to reach the tissues, leading to weakness and sometimes laboured breathing.

Left untreated, anaemia can be a serious and life-threatening condition, so it’s important to visit your vet straight away as treatment is available. Other symptoms include decreased appetite, pale gums, shortness of breath, bloody nose and a high heart rate.

lethargy in cats - gray cat sleeping

Diabetes: Cats with this metabolic condition struggle to convert blood sugar to energy, because they don’t produce enough insulin. Feline diabetes is widespread, but can be easily managed with proper treatment. Lethargy often occurs in cases that haven’t been diagnosed. This symptom tends to be associated with frequent urination, sudden weight loss, vomiting and excessive thirst.

Hairballs: This may sound gross rather than serious, but hairballs can become deadly if they become lodged inside the intestinal tract and cause blockages. It’s not uncommon for cats to swallow hairballs while preening, but these often get purged from the body naturally.

Unfortunately, in some cases, the hairball remains trapped and causes intestinal obstruction or choking. Please visit your vet urgently if you notice lethargy paired with repeated retching (that produces no hairball), constipation, diarrhoea, frequent vomiting or poor appetite.

A laxative is usually prescribed to remove the hairball, but sometimes surgery is required.

Poisoning: Every day we encounter substances that are safe for us, but toxic for our feline friends. These include poisonous plants such as lilies and tulips, certain essential oils, human (or dog) medications and foods like garlic and chocolate.

You can find a list of the top household toxins here. The main symptoms of poisoning include lethargy, confusion, seizures, shivering, dilated pupils, laboured breathing and an upset stomach. Time is of the essence, so you need to take your cat to the vet immediately. You can also call the Animal Poisons Helpline on 1300 869 738.

How to help your cat with feline lethargy

Call your vet if you notice your cat is acting differently. Even if you think you’re being paranoid, it’s better to err on the side of caution, rather than have regrets later on.

It’s particularly important to book an appointment if your cat shows signs of extreme lethargy, or if exhaustion is joined by other concerning symptoms (such as stomach disturbances or laboured breathing).

Please note: healthy kittens are full of energy and rarely act tired or show signs of lethargy unless something is wrong. Please visit your vet if your kitten is sluggish and there’s no obvious cause (such as a recent vaccination or surgery).

Veterinary treatment:

Your vet will examine Kitty and run the diagnostic tests required to see what’s draining her energy. Make sure you take note of any environmental changes in your home or possible exposure to toxins, so you can share this information.

If it turns out there’s no underlying cause and your cat is simply exhausted; a nourishing diet, plenty of rest and supplements may be recommended. In cases where there’s a medical cause, treatment will depend on what the underlying illness is.

lethargy in cats - cat caressing with a woman

Potiki cat insurance for lethargy in cats

Vets sometimes have to run a number of diagnostic tests to find the cause of fatigue, which can be expensive. Treatment can cost thousands of dollars, especially if complicated surgery is required.

Many pet owners don’t have this kind of money to spare, so their beloved Kitty stays unwell or needs to be put down.

Thankfully there’s an affordable safety net:

If you have reliable pet insurance, you don’t have to worry about missing out on veterinary care. Your policy would cover most of the costs, as long as it’s not a pre-existing condition.

But what if you never need to lodge a claim? Is that a waste of money?

No, you still get good value:

We send you free Potiki Perks to help you take care of Kitty’s general well-being.

All customers get up to $400 worth of tailored essential pet supplies like tick medication, as well as 24/7 access to an online chat service with experienced vets.

This is on top of reliable Potiki pet cover (via petinsurance.com.au) that pays for 80 per cent of your eligible vet bills for unexpected illness and injury.

  1. Get a quick Potiki quote to find out what your premium will cost for one year.
  2. Submit payment if you’re satisfied with that amount (email us on [email protected] with any questions).
  3. Log into your personal portal to select items for your Potiki Perks package, which will be swiftly delivered to you.
  4. Lodge a claim if you need help paying vet bills for unexpected sickness or injury.