Why do cats sit hunched over?
Hunching over is a sign that a cat is in pain. The cat sits on all fours and the head will often be slightly lower and the eyes glazed over or closed and the cat will appear disinterested in his surroundings. It differs from a normal sitting position in cats who will typically appear bright and alert.
Other subtle signs can include withdrawal from the household (sitting alone or hiding), loss of interest in surroundings, change in litter tray habits (urinating small amounts/more often or straining to urinate, straining to pass a stool), crying in the litter tray, genital licking, lethargy, sleeping more, waning appetite, aggression when touched or moved and drooling due to nausea. The coat may lose its shine and luster.
Why do cats hide signs of sickness?
Cats are hardwired to hide symptoms of sickness which is an evolutionary throwback designed to protect wild cats from predators who seek out weakest and most vulnerable prey who make easy targets. So, it stands to reason that when smaller animals (including cats) are feeling sick, they will try to hide it. The eagle-eyed cat owner can pick up subtle cues.
What does a hunched over cat look like?
A hunched over cat will sit with all four feet on the ground, which is a typical position for a cat, however, instead of having his head up, being alert to his surroundings, his head will usually be bent forward and his shoulders rounded.
Pet owners should always be on the watch for these slight changes in your cat’s demeanor and habits. While hunching over can be subtle, it is a sign that your cat is in pain and needs to be checked by a veterinarian.
What illnesses can cause a cat to hunch over?
Anything that causes pain or discomfort in your cat may result in a hunched over appearance, this can include:
- Abscess: A walled off collection of pus under the skin which is typically caused by a cat bite
- Gastrointestinal obstruction: This could be due to a build up of hair, dietary indiscretion, eating cooked bones, tumour or twisting of the intestine.
- Cancer: The unchecked growth of cells which can arise from any cell line, cancer occurs more commonly in middle-aged to senior cats.
- Kidney disease: A loss of function of the kidneys which filter out wastes in the bloodstream which are carried out of the body via the urine, kidney disease can be chronic (slow and progressive) or acute (sudden onset).
- Feline panleukopenia: A severe and highly infectious disease caused by the feline parvovirus. The virus replicates in and kills rapidly dividing cells such as those lining the gut and the bone marrow resulting in a depletion of white blood cells and bacterial infection of the leaky gut wall. Cats of any age can be infected although it is most commonly seen in kittens and feral colonies.
- Pancreatitis: A serious condition caused by an inflammation of the pancreas, due to activation of digestive enzymes which begin to break it down.
- Urinary tract disorders: Infection, inflammation and urinary blockage. Male cats are more prone to urinary blockages which are life-threatening.
- Constipation: The infrequent passage of hard and dry stools.
- Diarrhea: Which can be caused by infection, inflammation, dietary indiscretion, parasites.
Cat hunching over water bowl:
This can be a sign that your cat is suffering from kidney disease. Increased thirst is a common symptom. More than 70% of the kidney’s function can be lost before symptoms become apparent. We had a cat assumed this pose over his water bowl in his final days with kidney failure.
You may notice pain and discomfort if you stroke the back of a hunched over cat, the abdomen may also be tucked in. This can be indicative of abdominal pain, which has a number of possible causes.
Diagnosing the cause:
The veterinarian will perform a complete physical examination of the cat and obtain a history from you including onset of signs, additional symptoms, the cat’s age, diet, and medical history.
Hunched over cats often have a painful abdomen, the veterinarian will gently palpitate it to check for signs of discomfort, swollen bladder, kidney size, and shape.
The age and accompanying symptoms may narrow down possible causes. For example an unvaccinated kitten with a recent history of fever, bloody diarrhea, vomiting is more likely to have panleukopenia compared to an older cat who has a history of increased thirst and urination which could indicate kidney problems.
- Complete blood count: This test evaluates the concentration of white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets in a sample of blood
- Biochemical profile: Performed on the clear/fluid portion of the blood. Biochemical profile tests a variety of bodily systems and can give an overall picture of how your cat’s organs are functioning.
- Urinalysis: A urine sample is evaluated for its physical properties. Specific gravity, colour and clarity, and biochemically for pH, protein, glucose, bilirubin, and ketones, and microscopically for blood cells, crystals, casts (solid, tubular deposits) and bacteria. A Urinalysis can detect diseases such as diabetes, kidney disease and infections of the urinary tract.
These tests can give him a clue as to how the organs are functioning, if your cat has any crystals or stones in the urine, how concentrated the urine is and if the cat is dehydrated. Once these tests are performed, he may decide on some further tests based on the results of the baseline tests.
- Xray or ultrasound: T look for blockages, cancer, and evaluate the organs.
- fTLI (feline Trypsin-Like Immunoreactivity): This test measures the concentrations of trypsin-like proteins in serum. Elevated levels may be indicative of pancreatitis.
- TAP (trypsin activation peptide).
- fPLI (feline Pancreatic Lipase Immunoreactivity): This test measures feline pancreatic-specific lipase (an enzyme secreted by the pancreas which breaks down fat) immunoreactivity in serum. Normal levels are 2.0-6.8ug/dL, in cats with mild or resolving pancreatitis, levels may be 6.8-12ug/dL and cats with pancreatitis, over 12ug/dL.
The goal of treatment is to address the underlying cause as well as provide supportive care while the cat recovers. Common supportive therapies include:
- Pain relief (never administer painkillers to a cat unless prescribed by your veterinarian, all over the counter painkillers are toxic to cats
- Fluid therapy to prevent or treat dehydration
- Anti-nausea medication
- Nutritional support, as a cat in pain will often refuse food