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Is My Cat Lethargic or Just Sleepy? What The Science Says

Chris Dinesen Rogers

By Chris Dinesen Rogers

ginger Exotic shorthair cat sleeping near a door

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Dr. Lauren Demos

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Let’s face it, you know your cat better than anyone. It’s natural to be concerned if your pet isn’t acting its usual self. It doesn’t matter if you’re an experienced owner or a first-timer, strange behavior like lethargy makes you question whether something bad is going on or if your kitty is just feeling sleepy. The former is a problem. The latter, not so much.

We understand your quandary. Lethargy isn’t diagnostic; it’s a sign of a myriad of health issues. Your veterinarian will undoubtedly do additional testing to get to the root of the problem. So, are they actually lethargic or just sleepy? Keep reading to gather some insight.

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Normal Sleeping Behavior

It’s essential to understand why you may think your cat’s sleeping is abnormal. Felines snooze for 12–18 hours per day. In most cases, the chances are that your pet is just napping even though you’re awake and active. Seasoned cat owners are probably well aware of this fact, but it might be new intel for a first-time cat owner.

Therefore, the amount of sleep your pet indulges in is not necessarily an indication of a problem. We must look further to determine if it is indeed lethargy and a cause for concern.

sick cat covered in blanket lies on the window in winter
Image by: Germanova Antonina, Shutterstock

Signs of Health Issues

All cat owners know that their cats will likely hide it when they feel under the weather. They’re notorious for it. Remember that felines are closer to their wild side than dogs. We’re talking about the difference between 9,500 years ago for cat domestication and 27,000–40,000 years ago for dog domestication. Therefore, cats behave more like wild animals equipped with strong natural instincts, hence, their hiding behavior.

That means you must play Sherlock Holmes to figure out what’s going on with your pet. A cat feeling relaxed will lie on its side with little slits for eyes. It might be purring or just hanging out and enjoying the time with you.

However, think about how you feel when you’re not feeling up to par. You might be cranky or quiet or you might have a short fuse. It’s not any different with your cat.

Abnormal behavior is a cause for concern, especially if you notice other signs. Things to look out for include the following:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • GI distress
  • Frequent urination
  • Panting
  • Growling
  • Hissing

Reading Your Pet’s Mood

Hiding, especially in an unusual place, is a red flag. Some pets are naturally curious and may jump into the occasional box and fall asleep. It’s a different story when a cat purposely tries not to be found. It wants to rest but doesn’t want to be vulnerable either. It’s worth mentioning that a cat behaving this way might have been sick for a while, so the moment you notice anything off, you should take them to the vet just to be sure that everything checks out.

Veterinary doctor measuring heart rate of cute cat
Image by: Denys Kurbatov, Shutterstock

Next Steps

It’s imperative to act quickly if you notice your cat isn’t acting itself. Sleeping for long stretches during the day isn’t usually a cause for alarm. If inactivity is accompanied by other signs, though, then you should seek veterinary care.

It’s far better to play it safe. The cost of an exam is worth the peace of mind you’ll get from being reassured all is well.

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Questioning whether your cat is lethargic or just sleepy is a valid concern. Felines love to sleep. At the same time, it’s instinctive for them to hide vulnerabilities. When lots of sleeping it’s accompanied by other red flags, it’s worth getting your pet to the vet to investigate it further.

Featured Image Credit: Wutlufaipy, Shutterstock

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