Signs of a healthy cat

As a pet owner, you're the first point of contact for your cat when he or she is feeling ill - which means it's good to have a thorough understanding of what a healthy cat looks and feels like, so you can tell when something's wrong. The following information should help you to recognise the signs of a healthy cat, and which signs might require a trip to the vet to make sure everything is okay.

Appetite and weight

Healthy cats should always have a good appetite, and the loss of appetite is often one of the first symptoms of illness. In most cases, any loss of appetite is temporary and may be caused by a variety of factors, but if your cat does not eat at all for more than 24 hours, or if a diminished appetite persists for two to three days, you should contact a vet.

Your cat should also maintain a healthy weight for its age and size. It's common for cats to put on weight as they get older and become less active, and this should be managed through your cat’s diet to prevent it leading to more serious conditions. If your cat's waistline is difficult to make out, you can feel fat under its tummy or there is a layer of fat over the ribs, your cat might be overweight or obese.

Spend time playing with your cat to ensure it is getting enough exercise if you think it's putting on weight. Sudden weight gain or loss in cats should also be a cause for concern, and again you should contact a vet if you notice this happening.

Eyes, ears and nose

A healthy cat's eyes should be sharp, bright and clear, without any teary discharge or soreness (although some breeds, like Persians, are prone to eye discharge, you should always seek advice from a vet to ensure everything is okay. If your pet's eyes look inflamed, "gooey," or they are constantly pawing and rubbing at them, you should take it to the vet.

Ears should be clean and free of waxy built-up. If your cat keeps scratching at its ears or shaking its head rapidly, this could indicate mites or an ear infection - these can be quite easily treated with ear drops after a trip to the vet. While cats' noses are usually dry, a cracked nose or any discharge around the nose could be a sign that your cat is unwell. Look out for frequent sneezing and nose- running, and speak to a vet if you notice these symptoms.

Coat and skin

Cats are meticulous groomers and usually keep their coats clean, shiny and soft to the touch, without clumps or mats. If your cat's fur is getting dull, or its skin dry and flaky, it could indicate poor nutrition or illness. Some types of long-haired cats should be brushed regularly to prevent matting - you may also consider the various grooming sprays on the market. If you notice your cat shedding much more than usual, or bald patches on its coat, you should consult a vet as soon as possible. You should also check your cat regularly for fleas and skin diseases like ringworm (which is a fungus, not a parasitic worm) - these are best treated when spotted early. Hairballs can also be a problem for cats; these may be treated with hairball remedy or laxatives, but if in doubt you should consult a qualified professional.

Mouth and teeth

A healthy cat's gums should be a pale pink colour, and the teeth should be clean and the breath normal - a particularly strong odour could indicate digestive problems, gingivitis or a bad tooth, and should be properly investigated by a vet. Tartar can also build up on cats' teeth, particularly as they get older, which is why their teeth should be brushed three times a week: Pets at Home sells a range of products to prevent bad breath in cats, including special cat toothbrushes.