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Lethargy in Cats

In cats, lethargy is characterized by increased periods of inactivity, loss of appetite, vomiting, and a general change in the demeanor of the cat. It is usually the result of health problems such as an infection, illness, or other underlying systemic disorders.
CatAppy Staff
So ... is lethargy really a problem? Aren't all cats just in that permanent state of slumber and drowsiness all the time? Well, of course it is natural for cats to spend a lot of time sleeping. In fact, it is normal for a cat to sleep an average of eighteen hours a day. However, sudden lethargy is not just about extended hours of sleep. It is rather a state of drowsiness, inactivity, a sudden decrease in the activity levels, and/or delayed responses to auditory, visual, or tactile stimuli caused by some possible systemic disorder in your cat. It may also be a symptom of an illness, injury, infection, or other health problems. Most of the time, your cat may be unwilling to perform simple everyday activities like walking, sleeping, unwillingness to eat and drink, and bathroom accidents indoors or in odd locations, like the pet's bed.
What Causes Lethargy in Cats?
Anemia: Anemia in cats is caused by the insufficient oxygen in the blood and tissues along with a reduction in the normal levels of circulating red blood cells. It may be caused by hemorrhage or blood loss, parasitic infestation, renal failures, cancers, inflammatory diseases, or even poor nutrition. Apart from lethargy, anemia may also result in loss of appetite, weight loss, weakness, rapid breathing, and sleeping more than usual.
Chronic Gastritis: Cats plagued with chronic gastritis will experience vomiting over a period of days or weeks. The cause may be food allergies, hairballs, eating grass, ingesting toxic chemicals, paper, or plastic. These foreign objects turn into a hard mass which have difficulty passing out off the stomach. Chronic gastritis can result in lethargy, along with sporadic vomiting, a dull hair coat, and weight loss. A diet of bland, high-carbohydrate foods is usually recommended as a treatment for gastritis.
Feline Herpes Virus: Caused by feline herpes virus type 1 or FHV-1, this is one of the most common upper respiratory conditions in cats. Affecting the eyes, nose, throat, and sinuses of your cat, this herpes virus results in sneezing, ocular and nasal discharge, conjunctivitises, depression, and loss of appetite.
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus: Also referred to as cat AIDS, FIV is an infectious disease caused by a retrovirus. This virus is said to affect the cells of the immune system and the ability of the cat to fight off infections, leading to feline acquired immune deficiency syndrome. Apart from lethargy, the symptoms of FIV attacks in cats include poor coat conditions, anemia, gastroenteritis, diarrhea, and cancer.
Feline Leukemia Virus Disease Complex: Believed to be one of the leading causes of death in cats, the leukemia virus can be spread in several ways. These include sharing food and water with an infected cat or cat bites. Kittens can contract the virus from infected milk of the mother. This virus suppresses the immune system of the cat, thus making it more susceptible to other conditions and diseases. Apart from the lethargy that affects cats, the common symptoms of feline leukemia virus disease complex include fever, loss of appetite, vomiting, weight loss, diarrhea, swollen lymph nodes, and pale mucous membranes.
Glomerulonephritis: Glomerulonephritis is an inflammatory disease that affects the cat's kidneys and its ability to filter blood. It causes unwanted objects to float through to the kidneys, causing damage to the filtering system and loss of excessive amounts of protein and other vital nutrients into the urine. The symptoms of the condition include frequent urination along with high levels of protein found in the urine, weight loss, nausea, vomiting, and swelling of the abdomen, face, paws, or scrotum.
Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy: Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy results in the thickening of the left ventricle of the heart and replacement of the muscle fibers by scar tissue. This causes weakening of the heart and subsequent heart failure. While there are many causes of the feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the main cause of this condition are genetics.
Other Causes of Lethargy
In addition to these causes of lethargy in cats, there are multiple other health conditions and other reasons associated with lethargy, inactivity, and drowsiness in your cat. These include health problems such as:
  • Acute or chronic kidney failure
  • Addison's disease
  • Cancer
  • Certain medications
  • Depression
  • Feline infectious anemia
  • Inadequate amount of food or poor quality food
  • Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP)
  • Heartworm
  • Heat stroke
  • Hepatic lipidosis
  • High blood pressure
  • Hypercalcemia
  • Hypocalcemia
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Jaundice
  • Liver disease
  • Lungworms
  • Feline pancreatitis
  • Poisoning
  • Pregnancy
  • Pyometra
  • Yellow fat disease
Cats suffering from lethargy may display symptoms like anorexia, diarrhea, hiding from people and other pets, fever, tremors, difficulty in breathing, increased urination and thirst, vomiting, weight loss or gain. For diagnosing the underlying cause, the veterinarian may run a number of tests such as biochemical profiles, urinalysis, ultrasound, and blood count testing. Once the underlying cause is deciphered, it is easy for the vet to determine the appropriate treatment plan and care for the cat.