Cats are great at many things, and sleeping is at the top of the list. However, it is possible that a cat can sleep too much, which may be the result of lethargy. Is your kitty just taking a cat nap or could something else be going on? Find out what causes lethargy, and how you can help your lethargic cat.
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's lethargy can be as simple and benign as plain old boredom. However, such listlessness could also signal disease, and it is in every cat owner's 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, 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 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—usually occurring 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.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is my cat lethargic all of a sudden?
There could be a variety of reasons why your cat is suddenly lethargic. If your cat is usually active and suddenly becomes lethargic, it could be a sign of an underlying illness or injury. Common health issues that could cause lethargy include urinary tract infections, respiratory infections, anemia, and kidney disease. If your cat isn't drinking enough water, it could become dehydrated, which can cause lethargy. Cats can become lethargic if they are stressed or anxious. This could be due to changes in their environment, such as a new home or a change in routine. As cats age, they may become less active and more lethargic. This is a natural part of the aging process. If your cat isn't getting the nutrients they need from its diet, it may become lethargic. If your cat is lethargic and this is out of the ordinary for them, it's best to take them to the vet to rule out any underlying health issues.
When should I worry about my cat's lethargy?
If your cat is lethargic, it could be a sign of an underlying health issue. You should start worrying if the lethargy is accompanied by other concerning symptoms, such as loss of appetite, vomiting, difficulty breathing, unusual behavior, limping, changes in urination or defecation habits, weight loss or gain, or pale gums or jaundice. In such cases, it's important to take your cat to the vet as soon as possible. Even if your cat is only lethargic without any other symptoms, it's still a good idea to have them checked out by a vet to rule out any underlying health problems.
How do you help a lethargic cat?
If your cat is lethargic, there are a few things you can do to help them feel better. Make sure your cat has a comfortable bed or resting area in a quiet, warm spot away from noise and distractions. Encourage your cat to eat and drink, and make sure their food and water bowls are easily accessible. If your cat isn't eating or drinking, you may need to take them to the vet to receive fluids or other treatments. Keep an eye on your cat's behavior and symptoms, and take note of any changes or worsening of their condition. If you notice any concerning symptoms, take your cat to the vet right away. If your cat is up for it, provide gentle exercise and playtime to help stimulate their appetite and energy levels. However, if your cat seems too weak or uninterested, don't push them.
How long does cat lethargy last?
The duration of cat lethargy can vary depending on the underlying cause. Lethargy, which is a state of tiredness or lack of energy, can be a symptom of various health conditions in cats, such as infections, organ disease, nutritional deficiencies, and even stress or anxiety. If the lethargy is due to a minor issue such as lack of sleep, the cat may return to its normal behavior within a few hours or a day. However, if the lethargy is caused by a more serious health issue, it may last for several days or weeks until the underlying problem is identified and treated. It's crucial to monitor your cat's behavior and seek veterinary care if the lethargy persists or is accompanied by other symptoms such as loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, or difficulty breathing. Your vet will be able to diagnose the underlying cause and recommend the appropriate treatment to help your cat feel better.
More on Caring For Your Cat
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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.