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What is Lethargy?

Because cats naturally sleep a large percentage of their day, especially older cats, you may not be immediately aware of lethargy indicating that something may be medically wrong with your cat. Lethargy is an indication of your cat not feeling well and could relate to a relatively minor medical condition or could be a sign of a more serious illness. Careful investigation by your veterinarian will be required to narrow down the cause.

Symptoms of lethargy in cats are abnormal sleepiness, low energy, and lack of response to surroundings. Lethargy is not a condition or disease in itself, but can be a sign that something is wrong with your cat. 

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Lethargy Average Cost

From 226 quotes ranging from $200 - $2,000

Average Cost

$800

Symptoms of Lethargy in Cats

Lethargy is a symptom in itself and is characterized primarily by the following:

  • General inactivity
  • Lack of interest or response to surroundings
  • Lack of energy
  • Sleepiness or drowsiness

Other symptoms that commonly coincide with and are associated with causes of lethargy are:

  • Weight gain
  • Weight loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Thirst/increase in urination
  • Jaundice
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Pain or discomfort
  • Dull hair coat/loss of hair
  • Behavioral changes, e.g. aggression

In addition, there may be specific symptoms present that are indicative of a specific medical disease or condition.

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Causes of Lethargy in Cats

Cats sleep a lot by nature, however, excessive sleep or inactivity could be a sign of illness. Rest is your cat's natural response to not feeling well and could be a normal part of recovery from a minor condition or it could be an indicator of a more severe condition.

Common causes of lethargy:

  • Being overfed
  • Being under exercised
  • Parasitic infection
  • Stress
  • Depression/too little stimulation
  • Medication side effects
  • Arthritis in older cats
  • Hairballs (can become serious if causing blockage)
  • Obesity
  • Infection with a minor common virus such as cat flu

Other more serious conditions that are common in cats and cause lethargy are:

  • Diabetes
  • Viral infections such as feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) or feline leukemia virus (FeLV)
  • Bacterial infection 
  • Abscesses from bites by other cats
  • Musculoskeletal injury
  • Heartworm
  • Anemia
  • Urinary tract infections

Less common but serious conditions that could cause lethargy in your cat are:

  • Protozoal infection
  • Cardiovascular disorder such as heart disease
  • Respiratory problems resulting in low oxygen levels such as asthma
  • Gastrointestinal disorders
  • Heatstroke
  • Cancer
  • Organ failure (kidney or liver disease)
  • Poisoning
  • Neurological Disorders
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Diagnosis of Lethargy in Cats

Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical upon presentation of a lethargic cat. Diagnosis is complicated as there are many possible causes of lethargy in cats which range from mild to severe, as lethargy is a symptom of most illnesses and disorders. Your veterinarian will require a complete medical history of your cat including detailed description of symptoms in order to narrow down a possible cause. In addition, you should let your veterinarian know about any changes to your cat’s environment or exposures they may have had recently. Your vet will look for injuries and abscesses, skin problems, swelling, and signs of pain or discomfort during the physical exam that may help determine the cause of the lethargy.

The following tests are commonly ordered to narrow down the cause of lethargy:

  • Urinalysis and blood tests to check blood count and look for factors that would indicate illness, bacterial infections, and viral infections
  • Fecal sample to check for parasites
  • Ultrasound to reveal abnormalities in organs or tumors
  • Chest x-ray to reveal tumors or fluid buildup
  • Diabetes test
  • FIV and FELV tests
  • Heartworm tests
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Treatment of Lethargy in Cats

Treatment of lethargy will depend on the identified cause. General treatment of the symptom lethargy often includes an improved diet and supplements, such as iron supplements for anemia. It may also include intravenous fluids or oxygen therapy if required. Rest is also prescribed for lethargic cats that require it. Painkillers may also be prescribed if pain is a factor in your pet’s condition.

Common treatments prescribed for cats with lethargy according to their respective causes are:

  • Antibiotics for bacterial infection
  • Dewormer for parasites or heartworm
  • Surgery for removal of tumors or to repair injury
  • Antiviral medication for viruses
  • Antidepressants for depression or stress
  • Diet and insulin for treatment of diabetes

Further treatment specific to the cat’s medical condition will be prescribed as appropriate.

Lethargy can be expensive to treat. If you suspect your cat has lethargy or is at risk, start searching for pet insurance today. Brought to you by Pet Insurer, Wag! Wellness lets pet parents compare insurance plans from leading companies like PetPlan and Trupanion. Find the “pawfect” plan for your pet in just a few clicks!

Want more info on pet health insurance? Check out our guide to pet insurance 101.

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Recovery of Lethargy in Cats

Your pet will require follow-up care specific to the medical condition that was the cause of the lethargy.

Administration of any special diet and supplements prescribed by your veterinarian should be continued. If depression or stress were factors, a change to your cat’s environment may be needed to address this. 

A lethargic cat may be in need of recuperation and should be given a low stress, comfortable environment and be allowed to rest.

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Lethargy Average Cost

From 226 quotes ranging from $200 - $2,000

Average Cost

$800

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Lethargy Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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cat

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8 Years

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Unknown severity

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5 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

High Wbc, Low H&H, Subcutaneous Masses, Lethargy

Our cat has a solid mass in his jaw, cyto sent but unresulted, he's not reacting to injected antibiotics. He has weight loss, not eating/drinking, moving, or using litter box. The vet says it's possible he has FIV. He seems like he's on borrowed time. I'm just unsure if there is anything we could do to get him to recover him or if we should put him to ease.

Feb. 21, 2021

Owner

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Dr. Maureen M. DVM

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5 Recommendations

Hi, Sorry about that. It could be a viral disease if he is not reacting to antibiotics. However, I would encourage you to have a blood test run to confirm if it's indeed FIV. The presence of FIV antibodies is confirmatory. The problem with viral infections is that there is no known cure. The body's immune system has to fight it off. What the vet offers is medication to relieve symptoms. Good luck

Feb. 21, 2021

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cat

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Three Months

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Unknown severity

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22 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

hi. i have a 3 month old kitten that just all of a sudden stopped eating today, he's ate a few pieces of chicken out of my hand but that is it and he's pretty much laid down all day. i seen him poop once but i haven't seen him drink any water except a few sips of kitten milk i gave him. he is usually running around climbing things and chasing my other cat. I was curious to if he could possibly have FeLV/FIV and all of a sudden be showing symptoms? He hasn't been tested yet.

Dec. 20, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Linda S. MVB MRCVS

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22 Recommendations

Fiv/felv are two viral diseases that can result in a wide range of symptoms. They wouldn't be the first things I would consider in a young lethargic cat. I would want to rule out parasites, a toxicity, dietary indiscretion (eating something they shouldn't have) etc. A vet visit is best. They will examine the kitten and may run a blood test to determine what is going on.

Dec. 20, 2020

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Lethargy Average Cost

From 226 quotes ranging from $200 - $2,000

Average Cost

$800

Vet bills can sneak up on you.

Plan ahead. Get the pawfect insurance plan for your pup.

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