Every cat is a distinct being with unique characteristics that distinguish him from all others. Once you learn what is normal for your cat, any sudden changes in general appearance, behavior, play habits, appetite, temperature and other factors that accompany illness will be clearly apparent.
- Your cat should be in good general condition, with a sinewy and smoothly muscled body. He should be active, alert and lively, with a keen appetite and an energy level that’s normal for him.
- Movement should be graceful, smooth and agile, with no limping, stumbling, stiffness or dragging of limbs.
- Although cats’ coats vary in density and length, every coat should be sleek, glossy (dark colors usually are more glossy than light ones) and unbroken, with no bare patches. Longhaired cats should not be matted and tangled.
The skin should be smooth and supple. Its color may range from pale pink or silver to brown or black. It may be non-pigmented or pigmented (normal in some cats with spotted, striped or blotched coat patterns). There should be no evidence of fleas, mites, dandruff, crusts, lesions, pustules or any other infestation or infection. There should be no masses, lumps or bumps on or under the skin, especially around the nipples.
- The eyes should be clear and shining, with no excessive tearing, mucus discharge or sensitivity to light. The third eyelid (also called the haw or nictitating membrane), at the corner of each eye near the bridge of the nose, should be almost invisible. Unlike dogs, cats usually do not have eyelashes. The skin folds of the eyelids should be smooth. Roll down the bottom lid with your thumb to examine the lining of the eye. It should be pink, not ashy or bright red.
- The skin on the external earflaps and inside the ears should be pale pink. Brilliant pink, red or brownish skin indicates trouble.
- The nose should be cool and clean with no sticky or yellowish secretions.
- Examine your cat’s teeth regularly. The insides of the upper incisors should touch the outsides of the lower incisors when the mouth is closed. An overshot bite (upper front teeth extending beyond lower front teeth) or an undershot bite (lower front teeth extending beyond upper front teeth) is abnormal. Teeth should be firmly implanted and not loose. They should be white in a kitten but may yellow slightly with age. There should be no tartar buildup on the teeth or around the gum line. The gums and tissue inside the mouth should be pink—never red, inflamed, bluish or ashy. The breath should smell pleasant.
- Body openings should function properly with no abnormal discharges. Membranes should be clean, smooth and pink.
Become familiar with your cat’s urinary patterns because changes may indicate changes in body chemistry. Urine should be clear yellow with a characteristic aroma, never orangey. Your cat should go into the box, do his business, scratch around and get out.
- Diet influences the volume, color, and odor of a cat’s feces, but the stool should be well-formed, typically brown, and it should be eliminated regularly. Stools should not be loose, strangely colored, blood-streaked or putrid smelling.
- Breathing should be clear and regular, with no wheezing.
- Normal rectal temperature for a cat is between 100.5°F to 102.5°F (38°C to 39°C). Excitement, exercise or heat can temporarily cause the temperature to rise.