Cause for Concern: Recognizing Common Medical Issues in Cats

Cause for Concern: Recognizing Common Medical Issues in Cats

Even though pet guardians see their cats on a daily basis, and often snuggle with them, they may not have the unique opportunity that groomers have to study the skin and contours of the body, noticing odd things, especially when the coat is flat and wet. You can play an important role in the health and wellbeing of the cat if you are tuned into a few simple things. After all, it is better for you to notice and have it turn out to be nothing than to have no one notice at all. Do not be afraid to mention anything that you think is different for the cat. It could be an issue that is painful for the cat or even a life-or-death scenario. The following outlines some physical concerns to be aware of as you are grooming cats.

Body Condition

Cats should be lean and muscular. You should be able to feel their individual ribs when you run your hands down their sides without applying much pressure. However, you should not be able to see individual ribs with your eye. Obesity is a problem for many house cats and predisposes cats to a host of secondary diseases, but obesity alone is not an emergency for a groomer to mention. (However, if you can tactfully mention the health risks, the cat’s vet will thank you!) 

What can be a little more urgent is if you notice that a formerly obese or normal weight cat looks thin. Unexplained and unintentional weight loss in cats is a warning sign for sure. This red flag needs to be brought up and the cat needs to see a veterinarian for diagnostics to find out why the weight is changing. 

Whats That Smell?

As you handle the cat, be mindful of foul odors. One source can be the cat’s mouth. Some groomers will brush pets’ teeth during their grooming as an added service, but be aware that tooth-brushing is not very helpful unless it is done daily. We know that plaque (the soft tooth buildup) turns to tartar (the hard stuff that has to be removed professionally) in 36 hours, so brushing has to occur at least every 35 hours. Most veterinarians recommend daily brushing.


If you notice a bad odor from the cat’s mouth, he/she could have dental disease, oral cancer, stomatitis and much more. Cats can suffer from some very painful dental conditions and no one really knows. Cats are masters at hiding their pain, even from their owners, but maybe not from your watchful and experienced eye.

Bumps In The Road

As you run your hands over the cat’s body, you may also notice bumps or growths. These should always be pointed out and investigated by a veterinarian, and it might be your advice that spurs a cat guardian to have the bumps checked out.

Be aware that no one can tell if a mass is malignant just by looking. The vet will recommend diagnostic testing to further investigate the mass and outline a plan to do so. Cats can and do get cancers, and it is something that most veterinarians see in their feline patients with sad regularity. Early detection is a secret weapon, and your observation could be critical if there is a cancerous tumor. 

A Patchwork Quilt

Normal, healthy cats do not have patches of missing hair, and normal cats do not pull their hair short on their belly and legs. If you see missing hair or even shortened hair, please alert the owner that it’s time to see the vet. Cats can suffer from allergic disease, skin mites, and fungal and bacterial skin infections. Scabbing, oozing and matting can all be warning signs. Some cats can even have ringworm which is a fungal infection people can get. So, if you see missing hair on a cat, you may want the cat to see the vet before you handle it.

Drainage Detected

If a cat has drainage from his/her ears, eyes, any skin lesions or the genitalia, it is in the cat’s best interest to alert his/her caregiver. Cats can get ear mites (although ear mites are not the only source for ear drainage and possibly not even the most common one), polyps in the ear and infections. Ears have lots of nerves, and any inflammation here is very uncomfortable for the cat. A veterinarian can do an otic exam and testing to see what is causing the issues that you have noted and institute an appropriate treatment plan. 

If you can use your vantage point as a groomer to notice things that cats cannot tell you about (and try to hide), you are truly an important advocate for the cat’s wellbeing. After all, you became a groomer because you love pets. Speak up when they can’t so that their caregivers will get them the medical attention that they need. ✂️


Kathryn Primm, DVM CVPM

Kathryn Primm, DVM, CVPM is the owner and founder of Applebrook Animal Hospital in Ooltewah, Tennessee. She sees patients, manages a busy small animal practice, and enjoys writing for and speaking to veterinary professionals and pet lovers. She has written and contributed content to many outlets, including magazines like Woman’s Day, Prevention and Health as well as veterinary-focused press. She also hosts the podcast/radio show, NineLives with Dr. Kat on PetLife radio.

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