“Normal” But Not “Okay”?

What is “normal” for your cat, in terms of health and behavior? Does that “normal” represent their optimal wellbeing? Just because something has been going on for a long time doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to be changed.

“Normal” Doesn’t Always Equal “Okay”

For the purposes of this discussion:

  • “Normal” = typical, expected, and/or usual
  • “Okay” = physically, emotionally, and behaviorally healthy

Just because something is typical for an individual doesn’t mean it is the best life that individual could be experiencing. Just because something has been happening on a regular basis for a long time doesn’t mean it is the only way for things to be.

Not “Okay” Physically 

All too often I work with guardians who have identified certain medical concerns as “normal” for their cat and stopped there. The symptoms happen so regularly that they no longer seem worth noting, even to caring and responsible guardians. 

If your cat shows any of the following signs on a regular basis (daily, weekly, or monthly), start keeping notes to discuss with your veterinarian:

  • Vomiting or regurgitation of food
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Limping or favoring a leg (even if the leg changes)
  • Low appetite
  • Itching or hair loss
  • Eye or nose discharge 
  • Not wanting or seeming able to jump more than a couple feet, slow/cautious to jump
  • Not wanting or seeming able to move much (this could also be behavioral, see below)
Orange cat scratching his ear with a rear feet
Photo Credit: lothofoxburr/Pixabay.com

Note: this isn’t an exhaustive list, nor does observing one of these things mean there is necessarily a diagnosable problem. But it is worth digging deeper.

Not “Okay” Behaviorally

Similar to medical concerns, some behavioral concerns can be written off as “normal” when they actually reflect significant stress and a possibility that behavioral support could help that cat live a happier life. 

Even if these things are “normal” for your cat, they may not be “okay.”

  • Hiding for a significant portion of each day
  • Avoiding certain areas of the house that should be interesting/valuable; maintaining a very small territory
  • Avoiding other pets or people
  • Displaying aggression toward other pets or people
  • Having a very low tolerance for change and/or social interactions

Of course, not every cat will blossom into a social butterfly, even with behavioral help. And some pets aren’t destined to be best friends. But regularly hiding, avoiding, or showing aggression are signs that there is room for improvement.

Now What?

This topic isn’t meant to cause shame or stress for those cat guardians who are living with a cat experiencing on-going medical or behavioral concerns. If you are aware of the problem and consulting with professionals, then you are on the right track already. If you are realizing that your cat’s life could be improved, then you are also on the right track. Your next steps are to gather more data and build a team to help you.

Observe and Track Data

There are two challenges with identifying problematic “normal” conditions. 

The first is when the symptoms are transient – they get better and worse on their own. This is very common for things like GI symptoms (diarrhea, vomiting), itching, and even pain signs like limping. Many chronic conditions have periods of worsening and improving. This means it can be easy to incorrectly believe the issue is resolved and if it reoccurs that must be a new, different issue. 

The second challenge is determining how much of a problem these things are. Regularly occurring physical symptoms should absolutely be discussed with a vet. Behavioral observations have a fuzzier line, but daily fear or aggression is not conducive to a long and healthy life. 

To aid your conversation with a professional, collect some data: 

  • Dates of observed concern
    • How frequent is “occasional” diarrhea really?
    • How often are the cats’ “sometimes” scuffles?
  • Details about the concern (intensity, etc)
    • Is it one softer stool in the litter box or 3 days of liquid diarrhea? (sorry for the image!)
    • Are those scuffles a couple hisses or a fight that requires pulling the cats apart?
  • Are there correlations with other concerns?
    • Are there always a couple days of hiding before the diarrhea starts?
    • Do the scuffles coincide with vomiting the next morning?
  • Get videos, particularly if you observe limping or hesitation around jumping. 

Signs of that appear to come and go may be attributed to transient or acute conditions (“they just ate something weird”). Keeping data will help paint a fuller picture of your cat’s life and establish patterns for your veterinarian to evaluate. 

Build a Team

Ongoing or chronic concerns are rarely resolved quickly so having a good team is key to giving your cat their best life. 

Along with your primary-care veterinarian, you may need to consider specialists for chronic concerns. A behavior consultant can provide support on home setup, daily routine, and other factors that influence your cat’s behavior and health. Everyone should be eager to work together and share insights, while focusing on their expertise.

Moving Toward a Healthier “Normal”

Frequent health or behavior concerns should not be ignored. Tracking observations and working with a supportive team can help create a new and improved “normal” for both you and your cat.

If your cat has a behavior problem that you need help solving, consider scheduling a private behavior consultation.