When is a lethargic cat a cause for concern, and when could it indicate a larger health problem for your cat? The cause of your cat lethargy can be as simple and benign as plain old boredom, however, such listlessness could also signal disease, and it is in every cat owners interest to know the signs.
First, consider how much the average cat sleeps -- 50 to 70 percent (12 to 16.8 hours) of the 24 hours in a day, and up to 80 percent for seniors and kittens (more than 19 hours). As cats age, this increase in the amount of time spent sleeping will likely be incremental so that the change may go unnoticed. Play and exercise may exhaust your senior cat more easily, but that’s normal. If you notice your cat sleeping more than this, or being uninterested in play or even moving to a different spot to nap, take a look at these possible health issues.
Out of shape cats, for example—who are fed too much and exercised too little—may be more prone to being lethargic.
Causes of Lethargy in Cats
Here are some of the main health conditions related to lethargy in cats. If your cat is looking listless and is experiencing any of the symptoms below, it’s time to visit the vet.
Anemia: Look for pale gums and listlessness, which can result from anemic cats having too few red blood cells to deliver oxygen to their bodies’ tissues.
Arthritis: With this condition, your pet may slow down and become less mobile because the arthritis makes movement painful.
Asthma: Lethargy may accompany other symptoms—coughing, wheezing, appetite and weight loss—in cats with a severe form of asthma.
Bladder infections: If your cat has difficulty urinating, has accidents, and has discolored or unusual-smelling urine, along with lethargy, urinary tract infections may be the cause.
Cancer: Changes in your pet’s routine, like difficulty doing everyday tasks, or changes in your pet’s weight for no apparent reason, could be signs of cancer.
Dehydration, vomiting, and diarrhea: Often accompanied by lethargy in cats, such symptoms result in your pet not having the energy necessary to sustain routine activities. Vomiting and diarrhea can be symptoms of various health problems, so if either lasts more than a single upset-tummy episode, talk to your vet.
Depression: Fear, painful memories, and the loss of a loved one are just some things that could cause your cat to become depressed and appear lethargic.
Diabetes: Diabetes causes loss of glucose and poses challenges with getting adequate food and water, which may make your cat lethargic.
Heartworm: In addition to lethargy, cats with heartworm may show signs of trouble breathing, coughing, vomiting, weight loss, and diarrhea.
Heart disease: Cardiac issues can cause cats to become very lethargic, and to avoid exercise. It can also decrease a cat's appetite.
Hairballs: If your cat is having more trouble with hairballs than normal, such that they’re unable to dislodge the hairball, they may seem depressed or lethargic, or show a disinterest in food. A visit to the vet may be necessary, as hairballs that your cat can’t cough up can become dangerous blockages in their bodies.
Kidney disease: The first sign of this health concern is usually an uptick in thirst and urination. Lethargy, diarrhea, depression, appetite loss, tongue discoloration, and poor coat quality are all signs of advanced renal (kidney) failure.
Obesity: The right combination of diet and exercise can help your cat combat obesity—and the accompanying low energy levels.
Rabies: The third and final stage of rabies, before death, is called the paralytic stage—occurring usually a week after a bite from an infected animal, and can look similar to lethargy. There is no treatment for rabies in cats.
Surgery: It’s normal for your pet to need to rest for a few days to a few weeks after a surgery or procedure such as microchipping or a spay or neuter procedure. Your vet will likely advise you to limit your cat's activity.
Toxicity: Your cat’s symptoms could be linked to Salmonella; ingesting poisonous plants, poisonous foods or human medications; or exposure to toxic metals, antifreeze, or pesticides.
More on Caring For Your Cat
What Can Affect a Cat's Lifespan?
How To Prevent Dental Health Problems in Cats
Cat Vaccinations: What To Expect
This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.