Lethargic cat lying down

Key takeaway

While it’s normal for cats to sleep a lot, a lethargic cat can be a sign that there’s something wrong with your pet. It’s easy to mistake lethargy for a tired cat, but cats with lethargy may not feel any relief with sleep like a tired cat would. Lethargy in cats can be caused by several infections, injuries, and medical conditions. Treatment for cat lethargy involves treating the underlying issue to relieve symptoms.

A lethargic cat is very different from a tired or lazy cat, and it’s often caused by an underlying issue. If your cat seems tired and lazy all the time and doesn’t seem to get any better after sleep, they may have lethargy. Lethargy in cats isn’t uncommon, but it’s important to take your cat to the vet for an examination if they appear lethargic.

Lethargy in cats can be caused by lots of things, but there’s almost always an underlying medical condition. It could be that your cat has an infection, or maybe they’re dealing with a traumatic injury or medical condition that’s leading to lethargy. 

While it can be a bit difficult to tell a tired cat from a lethargic cat, there are signs you can recognize if you observe your cat for a while. As a cat owner, it’s important to recognize when your cat is acting lethargic so you can take them to the vet to figure out what’s wrong. In this guide, we’ll give you a complete breakdown of lethargy, its causes, treatment options, and frequently asked questions.

Defining Lethargy

Defining lethargy is an important first step because a lethargic cat is a lot different than a lazy or tired cat. Cats also spend a lot of time lounging around and sleeping, so it can be hard to tell if your cat has a problem with lethargy or if they’re just lounging. In fact, cats may sleep as much as 12-16 hours each day in order to preserve their energy for hunting1. If your cat is sleeping more than 12-16 hours, that’s an indicator that something might be wrong.

Another thing to keep in mind when it comes to lethargy is that a lethargic cat often won’t feel any better after sleeping. Like people, cats normally feel rested after getting sleep. If your cat is tired and lazy all the time, that’s a sign of lethargy and a good reason to take your cat to the vet for a check-up.

It’s important to keep in mind that lethargy in and of itself isn’t necessarily a medical condition, but rather a symptom that’s caused by many medical conditions.

Graphic with list of causes of lethargy in cats

Causes 

As we talked about earlier, lethargy generally occurs as a result of another medical condition or injury that your cat has. One of the difficult parts about treating a lethargic cat is the fact that the symptom can be caused by so many different medical conditions. Your cat could be lethargic because of a cat UTI or some other infection, or they could have a chronic condition. Here’s a list of some of the potential causes of lethargy in cats2:

  • Infections
  • Recent vaccination
  • Pain
  • Traumatic injuries
  • Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
  • Anemia (low red blood cell count)
  • Heart disease
  • Respiratory conditions
  • Liver and kidney disease
  • Hormonal abnormalities (e.g., diabetes)
  • Cancer
  • Certain medications
  • Exposure to toxins
  • Parasites
  • Dehydration
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Lower urinary tract problems
  • Inflammatory / immune diseases
  • Neurologic disorder

If your cat is lethargic, it could be a result of one of these medical conditions. The problem is that you can’t know what’s going on with your cat until you take them to the vet to get a diagnosis. If your cat is dealing with a serious medical issue such as cancer, liver or kidney disease, or exposure to toxins, getting them to the vet right away is crucial.

Because there are so many potential causes for a lethargic cat, it’s important to keep an eye on your cat and report any symptoms you notice to your vet. The symptoms your cat displays are often the key to determining the underlying cause of lethargy.

explaining when to see vet for lethargic cat

When Should I Worry About My Lethargic Cat?

Because the symptoms of a lethargic cat are somewhat similar to a tired or lazy cat, you might be wondering when it’s time to worry. While it’s perfectly normal for your cat to sleep a lot and lounge around the house, there are definitely signs you should watch out for. If you notice certain signs of lethargy, you should take your cat to the vet.

One thing to look out for is cats sleeping more than they should. Cats usually sleep for about 12-16 hours, which is already a good portion of the day. If you notice your cat is sleeping day and night and you hardly see them awake and around the house, that could be a sign of lethargy.

Another thing to watch out for with lethargic cats is a constant state of fatigue. Cats should feel rested after a good night’s sleep just like humans do, so there might be something wrong if your cat is getting lots of sleep but still seems drowsy all the time.

There are also certain symptoms you should be worried about when it comes to a lethargic cat. If you notice your cat is vomiting and is especially lethargic, you should take them to a vet to make sure they haven’t ingested anything toxic. You should also keep an eye out for symptoms of liver and kidney disease.

Treatment

You might be thinking, “My cat is lethargic, so what do I do?” The good news is that there are treatment options for a lethargic cat. Because lethargy has a lot of potential causes, the idea is to determine the primary cause before proceeding with treatment.

The first thing you should do if your cat is lethargic is take them to the vet. Your vet can take X-rays, perform bloodwork, and other tests to determine a diagnosis, that way they can help you decide on the best treatment option. This treatment could be as simple as giving your cat an antibiotic every day for a week or two, or it could mean developing a long-term treatment plan for a chronic disease. Whatever your cat is dealing with, it’s important to take them to a vet so you can start treatment as soon as possible.

Lethargic cat sleeping

Lethargic Cat: Frequently Asked Questions

Noticing your cat is lethargic can bring about a number of concerning questions. To help, we’ve answered some of the most frequently asked ones below.

Is a lethargic cat an emergency?

The urgency of cat lethargy depends on why your cat is lethargic in the first place. In some cases, cat lethargy is caused by something simple, such as a minor injury or pain. However, cats can also become lethargic as a result of a chronic illness or serious disease, in which case it’s important to start treatment right away.

If you notice your cat acting lethargic, you should take them to the vet for a diagnosis. The sooner you figure out what’s wrong with your cat, the sooner you can start getting them the treatment they need to feel better.

How can I help my cat with lethargy?

The best thing you can do for a lethargic cat is take them to the vet. Lethargy in cats can be caused by so many different things that there’s no good way to diagnose or treat it at home. Your vet can help you figure out why your cat is lethargic and what you can do to help them get better.

Treating lethargy in cats is mostly about treating the underlying medical condition, so the treatment will depend on the diagnosis.

Cat owner and cat attending virtual vet visit

Final Notes

Lethargy in cats is often a sign of an underlying medical condition, so it’s important to visit a vet if you notice your cat is less active than usual. A veterinarian can give you an accurate diagnosis and help you decide on the best treatment plan for your cat.

If you need help figuring out what’s wrong with your lethargic cat, Dutch can connect you with veterinarians who can help. Dutch makes it easier to take care of your cat with telemedicine for pets, so you can get the help you need from the comfort of your home. From advice to treatment plans and medication sent directly to your door, Dutch makes cat care simple.

References

  1. “Low Energy (Lethargy) in Cats.” PDSA, https://www.pdsa.org.uk/pet-help-and-advice/pet-health-hub/symptoms/low-energy-lethargy-in-cats

  2. Jennifer Coates, DVM. “Why Is My Cat Lethargic?” PetMD, PetMD, 2 Nov. 2021, https://www.petmd.com/cat/general-health/why-my-cat-lethargic