How to care for a sick cat at home

April 8, 2024 - 6 min read
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding your pet’s care, treatment, or medical conditions.
Cat sitting on someones lap

Having a sick cat is no fun, and it can take a lot of care, time and attention to keep them fit and happy. You’ll naturally know how to care for a sick cat, but if it’s your first time dealing with one, it can get a bit stressful. 

Don’t worry; we’re here to help.

Here, we discuss how to care for a sick cat at home, what to do and when to seek a professional’s help.

How to recognise if your cat is sick

A senior woman is getting cozy with her fluffy and cute older ginger cat cat

Most sick cats will have noticeable symptoms. These are wide-reaching, but the most common ones include:

Since there are so many symptoms, it’s worth being perceptive. Our guide on the most common illnesses in cats will help you pinpoint frequent problems.

My cat is sick or has diarrhea

Sickness and diarrhea are hard to manage, especially given the clean-up and stress they can cause.

Our diarrhea and vomiting guide can help point you in the right direction.

 My cat has the flu

 Flu is a common respiratory illness. Symptoms include:

  • Appetite changes

  • Sneezing or wheezing sounds    

  • Excessive sleeping

  • Fever

  • Clear or yellow discharge from the nose and or eyes   

  • Behavior changes, such as hiding from owners 

To treat it, a vet will usually prescribe:

  • Anti-inflammatories

  • Eye drops

  • Appetite stimulants 

  • Mucolytics 

If a secondary bacterial infection is present, a vet may prescribe antibiotics.

However, how can you manage symptoms outside of medication?

Caring for a cat with flu

Generally, treat your cat how you’d like to be treated when having the flu. This can mean:

  • Making sure there’s somewhere quiet and cosy to rest

  • Lowering noise and disturbances in your house, if possible

  • Grooming them and keeping them clean

  • Checking to make sure they’re eating and drink properly

  • Steam therapy can be soothing. When taking a shower, place your cat in the room when it is steamy for ten minutes, one to two times a day, and this can help soothe their chest

  • Feed your cat soft food, and consider using vitamin supplements to help your cat recover from the flu more quickly

My cat has skin problems

Common skin problems in cats. Cat scratching or licking themselves due to itchiness. A balding area of fur, with obvious hair loss

Cats can suffer from numerous skin problems, like:

  • Acne

  • Alopecia (shedding and hair loss)

  • Ear mites

  • Fleas

  • Infections (bacteria, fungal and yeast)

  • Lice

  • Ringworm

Prescribed medication usually treats skin problems; we don’t recommend using at-home remedies.

You can, however, help manage symptoms through good grooming and bathing, as long as your vet approves of it.

To care for skin issues, it can help to give them:

  • A good diet

  • Omega oil supplements, particularly omega 3 and 6

  • Flea treatment that treats all stages of the flea lifecycle 

  • Regular grooming

  • Stress-free environment

Overall, follow your vet’s advice, as skin problems can become much worse if the wrong topical treatment is applied or your cat scratches to the point of causing self-trauma.

My cat stopped grooming themselves

Cats are good at hiding pain; they won’t show it unless it gets bad. As an owner, this is distressing, but you can notice some clear symptoms which hint that they're unwell.

Cats stopping grooming is one of their ways to communicate pain or mental health difficulties. It’s why regular vet check-ups are important and we recommend maintaining a good relationship with your vet, with a yearly health check as a minimum.

A vet can find the underlying cause for your pet's change in grooming routine and may be able to offer easy solutions, such as pain relief for arthritic joints. Once on medication, you may find your cat's grooming routine returning. 

Tips for caring for a sick cat

depressed white and grey cat with yellow eyes lays with paw dangling over the edge of a black tabletop

No matter what illness they're struggling with, there are a few things you should prioritise. 


In a way, you’ll become a nurse for your cat; sometimes, they just need time to rest, and it’s up to you to create an environment that keeps them calm.

At a minimum, make sure you give them some space—somewhere small, familiar and quiet where they can rest and heal. Pick somewhere where you can monitor them, but not anywhere where there’s lots of foot traffic or noise. Cats feel safer when up high, so consider a cat basket placed off the ground to help your cat rest. 

We’ll discuss other aspects below, but just make sure you’re on hand to look after them. Keep calm yourself; you want to keep them mentally relaxed, as stress and anxiety can worsen symptoms.

Close monitoring is essential to see if symptoms are worsening too, which will mean they’ll need to go to the vet. We recommend paying particular attention to their appetite and grooming habits. Also, note if the medication is having any pronounced effect.

Cat music or TV, which you can find on YouTube, can help them relax too.


Keeping your cat clean and well-groomed doesn’t just help them feel better; it can be essential to reduce contamination of wounds and prevent further illness from developing. 

As mentioned, ill cats tend to stop grooming, so this is something we can help with. We recommend you brush, comb and groom them once a day. You should also clean away any visible abnormalities, like discharge and mucous at the eyes, mouth or nostrils. You can use a warm, damp cloth for this.

When cleaning the ears, a damp cotton pad will suffice. Avoid pushing objects like cotton buds into the ears or using oils to break down the wax without talking to a veterinarian first.

Should I use special disinfectants to clean my house?

Yes, you should clean after them, but you shouldn’t use any phenol-based disinfectants. Felines find these toxic, so if you’re unsure about what cleaning products to use, chat with your vet.

When washing with strong detergents such as bleach, wash your floor with water afterwards and dry thoroughly to prevent your cat from developing mouth or tongue sores from licking it.

Eating and drinking

Cats can struggle with their appetite when unwell but try to offer them food at regular intervals.

Make sure there's fresh water in their bowl and try giving them a treat or a small amount of food to test their appetite. Offering small meals throughout the day is better for sick cats and warming it up can make it more palatable for them. Using a flat, shallow dish can reduce whisker fatigue and make your cat more interested in food, too.

A vet may tell you to give your cat fluids or liquid calories yourself with a syringe. However, if your cat rejects this, a vet may admit them to the hospital for nutrition. Do not attempt to syringe water into your cat without a demonstration from your vet first. You can kill your cat by accidentally syringing water into their airway.

Should I feed my cat their regular diet?

It depends on what your furry friend is suffering with. They may need plain or bland food like chicken, which is easy to digest, or their regular diet may suffice.

Typically, it's best to ask your vet what food to give them, as there may be some foods, like those higher in salt, that you need to avoid.

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How to give medication to your cat 

Cats are notoriously difficult to give medication to, but don’t fret: our pet medication guide is just the place to get help.

How to give your cat eye drops and ointments

A vet may trust you to apply eye drops and ointments if your kitty has an eye condition that needs medication. These can be difficult to apply, but these steps can help. 

  1. Clean your cat's eye with a damp, warm cloth to make sure any debris has been removed.     

  2. Either place your cat on your lap or wrap it in a towel/blanket with their head exposed. Cats often feel frightened by the sensation of liquid or gel on the eye. Keeping them somewhat restrained without being forceful is a good idea to help safely medicate. 

  3. Put the eye drops or ointment in your dominant hand and rest the other on your cat's head.

  4. Use your non-dominant hand to pull back your cat's lower eyelid. This is where most eye drops should go.

  5. With your dominant hand, hold the bottle near your cat's eye, but make sure the nozzle does not come into contact with the surface of the eye. 

  6. Apply the drops in the correct dosage and make sure all of them go into the eye. Aim for the middle of the eye, and the lowered eyelid should catch all of it. 

Sometimes, cats can be stressed or difficult to medicate. Talk to your veterinarian for advice; they may be able to prescribe anti-anxiety medications or light sedatives to help safely medicate your cat.     

How to give your cat ear medication

Cats with ear infections, mites or other hearing problems may need ear medication.          

Our top tips for easy ear medication application are: 

  1. It's essential to read the instructions before starting and make sure you ask your vet for advice if you're unsure of how to use the drops. A lot will depend on your cat's problem, their personality and the treatment. 

  2. Gently hold your cat's head still, and with your other hand, hold their ear flap upwards. This opens the ear canal. Place the bottle over your cat's ear canal and add the required number of drops. It's essential to follow the dosage and instructions and make sure the drops go into their ear. 

  3. Massage their ear with your finger and thumb at the base of the ear canal. This helps the drops go in.

  4. If you need to apply it to the other ear, make sure you clean the nozzle well between uses.

A vet will help or provide alternatives if you are unable to medicate your cat's ears. If using an ear cleaner beforehand, remember to wait at least half an hour between cleaning the ears and medicating them.    

When to seek veterinary care for your sick cat

Seek veterinary care if your cat’s symptoms worsen or if you’re worried. It’s better to be safe in these instances. While we can do a lot as owners from home, there are times when we should trust a professional.

Trust your gut instinct if you are concerned your pet is unwell; you know them best and can tell when they are not quite right. Your vet will listen to your concerns, help find the root cause of the issue, and help with a treatment plan. 

As ever, cat insurance can help you and your cat against unforeseen events.*

*pre-existing conditions excluded. See your policy for details.