Cat Acting Lethargic? Here’s What That Could Mean

Cats are remarkably adept at hiding symptoms of illness, which makes knowing your pet inside and out all the more important. Lethargy and inactivity can be especially difficult to pin down, particularly considering how much cats sleep in the average day.

How can you tell what is general malaise and what is a sign that something more sinister is going on? Here’s what the pros have to say.

What does lethargy in cats look like?

Lethargy is described as a state of drowsiness, inactivity or indifference. It’s most often recognized as a true disinterest (and lack of reaction to) external auditory, visual or tactile stimuli. Your normally playful, fun-loving cat suddenly has no interest in chasing your laser beam? Something could be really off.

What specific behaviors should I be looking for?

Lethargy is a relatively non-specific symptom that can be easy to miss. Here are some of the signals you should be looking for:

  • An unexpected change in demeaner
  • Reluctance to play, exercise or engage
  • Hiding, avoiding contact with other people or pets
  • Notable decrease in appetite or thirst
  • Changes in levels of consciousness
  • Gastrointestinal distress like vomiting or diarrhea
  • Decreased grooming
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Tremors
  • Weakness
  • Fever

Besides these symptoms, you’ll also want to look out for:

  • Sneezing, coughing, discharge from the nose
  • Labored breathing
  • Scratching or shaking of the head
  • Excessive drooling or salivating
  • Inflammation of the mouth
  • Urinating outside the litter box
  • Straining to urinate or eliminate, changes in bowel movements

Veterinarian examining a kitten

What are the most common causes of lethargy in cats?

Lethargy is associated with many different cat illnesses. Here are some of the illnesses most often tied to lethargy:

  • Anemia (low red blood cell count) and other blood disorders
  • Cardiovascular and pulmonary disorders
  • Chronic inflammation or infection
  • Drug or medication-induced lethargy
  • Abnormalities in electrolyte or hormone levels
  • Gastrointestinal disease
  • Urinary tract disorders
  • Cancer
  • Immune diseases
  • Some severe skin diseases
  • Neurological and neuromuscular disorders
  • Infectious diseases or exposure to certain toxins
  • Physical trauma

To identify abnormalities, your veterinarian will likely recommend diagnostic testing. This may be anything from urinalysis to chest and abdominal x-rays. Should these baseline tests come up as inconclusive, your vet may consider doing additional testing — possibly bacterial cultures, endocrine assays, etc.

What does treatment typically look like?

Treatment is entirely dependent upon your cat’s diagnosis. If your vet is unable to identify the underlying problem, it may be difficult, if not impossible, to treat lethargy symptomatically. Whatever the result, it is important that you remain calm and engaged with your pet. Remember: you are their primary source of stability!


hELEN hEARFIELD4 months ago


Chad A
Chad Anderson5 months ago

Thank you.

Angela K
Angela K5 months ago

Thanks for sharing

Shirley Plowman
Shirley Plowman5 months ago


hELEN hEARFIELD5 months ago


Leo C
Leo Custer5 months ago

Thank you for posting!

Ann B
Ann B5 months ago

thank you--good to know

Mona M
Mona M6 months ago

Thank you for this very useful information.

Louise R
Past Member 6 months ago

thanks for sharing

Glennis W
Glennis W6 months ago

Adorable cat Thank you for caring and sharing