Last Updated on March 8, 2021 by Julia Wilson
Why do cats sit hunched over?
Hunching over is a sign that a cat is in pain or discomfort. The hunched over cat sits on all fours, the head hangs lower than normal and the eyes are glazed or closed. 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.
Why do cats hide signs of sickness?
Cats are hardwired to hide symptoms of sickness, which is an evolutionary throwback to protect wild cats from predators who seek out the weakest who make an easy target. 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, the head will usually be bent forward and the shoulders rounded.
Pet owners should always be on the watch for these slight changes in your cat’s demeanour and habits. While hunching over can be subtle, it is a sign that your cat is in pain and warrants a veterinary check-up.
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: 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. This leads to a depletion of white blood cells and bacterial infection of the leaky gut wall. Infection can occur in cats of any age; however, it is more common 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 the 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 who assumed this pose over his water bowl in his final days with kidney failure.
A tucked-up abdomen and pain, when touched, can be indicative of abdominal pain.
There are several causes of abdominal pain, which include constipation, infection, ascites (fluid build-up in the abdomen), cancer, infection, intestinal obstruction, urinary obstruction, ruptured bladder and peritonitis.
The veterinarian will perform a complete physical examination of the cat and obtain a history from you. This may include:
- Onset of signs
- Additional symptoms
- Age of the cat
- Medical history
Hunched over cats often have a painful abdomen, which the veterinarian will palpate it to check for signs of discomfort, swollen bladder, kidney size, and shape.
The age as well as accompanying clinical signs 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 number 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 to evaluate organ function.
- 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 the cat has any crystals or stones in the urine, concentration of the urine and hydration status. Once the results are evaluated, the veterinarian may decide on some further tests.
- Xray or ultrasound: To 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
- A cat in pain will often refuse food and may require nutritional support