Talking To Your Vet

Behavior and health go hand in hand. If your cat’s behavior has changed, a vet visit is your first step.

When To Talk To Your Vet

Behavior and physical health are very tightly linked. Cats are masters at hiding signs of pain or illness so you cannot assume that you would see clear signs. Behavior is very often the only sign you will get until a cat is very ill. Anytime you see a change in your cat’s behavior, schedule a vet visit to rule out a medical cause. 

Grey tabby cat facing camera with vet standing behind, holding stethoscope to cat's side.

Some warning signs of a medical issue, particular something causing pain, are changes in:

  • Appetite and/or water consumption
  • Elimination habits (peeing and pooping)
  • Activity level (including decreases OR increases, as well as new “clumsiness”)
  • Personality, playfulness, or interests (such as increased irritability or hiding)
  • Grooming habits (decreases or increases)
  • Vocalization (especially increases)

Other things to watch out for that can indicate pain are trembling or twitching, squinting eyes, scratching without touching skin, sitting with a tightly tucked body, or changes in coat texture. 

Recent studies on pet behavior are finding a very high correlation between behavior problems and pain. For your cat’s welfare and for the sake of solving behavior problems, getting a medical rule out is very important.

How To Talk To Your Vet

Because cats are masters at hiding pain or illness and cannot tell us how they feel, ruling out medical concerns may not be a straightforward task. Be prepared with as much detail as possible to help your vet. 

  • Provide objective, detailed observations about what you have noticed and timelines for the start or change in behavior. Include all changes, even those not directly related to a behavior concern.
    • Good Example: Over the last couple of months I’ve noticed that Kitty is sleeping on the sofa more, instead of her higher cat tree like she used to. She isn’t jumping onto the counters much anymore either. Now in the last four days, she has peed outside of the litter box three times; first on my bed, then on the sofa, and finally next to the litter box. 
    • Not-So-Helpful Example: Kitty is peeing all over the house and she doesn’t seem like herself.
  • Explain what you have done and how it has helped or not.
    • Good Example: I cleaned the litter box and closed the door to my bedroom after the first time but then she went in the two other locations. 
    • Not-So-Helpful Example: I’ve tried everything!
  • Sharing some video might help.
    • Because many cats are nervous at the vet, they may not be willing to walk around so your vet can see their gait. Take some short video of your cat moving  (toward and away from you as well as from the side) and jumping, especially if you have noticed a change in your cat’s activity levels. 

Your vet will likely examine your cat and may recommend doing some tests or trying a treatment. To make the most of your appointment, you can ask some additional questions and plan for next steps.

  • How will the tests/procedures/treatments help in determining the problem? What issues are they looking for or ruling out?
  • If nothing is found with these tests, what would the next steps be?
  • How will you know if a treatment or medication is helping (what are you looking for) and how quickly?
  • Are there any other ways of identifying or ruling out pain that you should consider?
  • What is the best way to follow up with your vet on this issue, if it continues, and when should you do this? 

Be polite and open when asking for information from your vet. If you express a concern for your cat and a desire to know more about how to help them, you are likely to get more support than if you go into the conversation asking for specific tests or treatments. Remember that, regardless of what Google (or this blog) suggested might be the problem, your vet is the one with the expertise to guide your cat’s care.

Getting A Second Opinion

Veterinarians are often expected to be experts in every aspect of pet care, but in reality, they will each have more knowledge in some areas than others. If you feel you need something outside of your vet’s comfort zone, it is okay to look for a second opinion. Just like with human doctors, a new set of eyes or a specialist may shed light on a problem that couldn’t initially be found. 

Depending on your concerns, you might consider a specialist in a particular medical area or a veterinary behaviorist (someone who specializes in behavior concerns). Or you might look for a different general practice vet, possibly someone who specializes in cats or has more education or interest in behavior.

If a behavior problem continues after you’ve gotten a medical rule out, consider scheduling a private behavior consultation.