Other health problems

My Cat Is Acting Lethargic and Won't Move

María Besteiros
By María Besteiros, Expert veterinary assistant and canine/feline hairdresser.. Updated: February 7, 2024
My Cat Is Acting Lethargic and Won't Move

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Lethargy is a symptom of cats which is seen as a general state of weakness, tiredness and a lack of energy. It is very important we consider the context when our cat is acting lethargic. Lethargy in cats can be a natural response to being overexerted, but it also important to know it is not only a physical response. It can also be a response to stress, boredom or other emotional problems. Lethargic disinterest in cats can mean the feline won't move for long periods and appear sluggish when they do. Context is especially important if we see our cat is lethargic all of a sudden or has become so over a long period of time.

AnimalWised discovers why my cat is acting lethargic and won't move. We discover the reasons for sudden lethargy and what we should do about them.

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  1. Is my cat acting lethargic?
  2. Why is my cat not moving and looking down?
  3. Stress in cats
  4. Cat is in pain
  5. Other reasons your cat is suddenly acting lethargic
  6. Treatment of sudden lethargy in cats

Is my cat acting lethargic?

When a cat does not move from their spot and seems down, it can be seen as lethargy. If a cat is physically incapacitated, they cannot move. This is not the same as lethargy which is a symptom of various physical and emotional problems in cats. It can indicate the cat is unwell, but it will be very difficult to determine the cause by this symptom alone.

To best ensure our cat's health and well-being, we need to remain observant of any possible signs of illness. Other than remaining still, we need to pay attention if our cat displays the following:

  • Abnormal attitude
  • Not eating or drinking
  • Inactivity
  • Hot and dry snout
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Abnormal urination
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Poor coat condition
  • Abnormal vocalizations
  • Bad breath
  • Overgrooming/scratching

For more general information on cat health, take a look at our article on how to know whether your cat is sick.

Why is my cat not moving and looking down?

Now we know some of the general symptoms of illness in cats, let's look at the specific issue of lethargy in cats, i.e. when your cat won't move and seems down. While there are many individual reasons for this symptom, they all fall under the following categories:

  • Stress
  • Pain
  • Parasites
  • Disease
  • Old age

To understand why our cat won't move, we will look at these reasons individually. Although this will help you to determine why your cat is lethargic, it is important you take the cat to a veterinarian for a suitable diagnosis.

My Cat Is Acting Lethargic and Won't Move - Why is my cat not moving and looking down?

Stress in cats

When a cat won't move and seems down, we should suspect a physical cause. However, it is also possible that there is a psychological problem. Although cats do not get depressed in the same way as humans, they are sensitive animals. With improper care, a cat can become stressed, anxious or depressed, resulting in them being listless.

Since they are animals of routine, any behavioral changes in your cat can intimate a problem. When stress is the causative agent, we need to look at the possible reason. When a cat's routine changes, this can seriously upset a feline. For example, when a new family member (whether human, feline or other) enters the household, it can cause the cat to become insecure.

Even seemingly small changes in a cat's routine can lead to stress, although this will depend on the individual cat. For example, when we change the cat's food, it can cause the cat anxiety. Cats will respond to such anxiety in various ways. Some can become aggressive, while others can develop lethargy and won't want to move.

Although we can suspect a cat is stressed when they become lethargic, we should not assume it is the case. You can also look for other signs of stress in cats. However, even if these signs are present, we need to take the cat to a veterinarian to carry out a diagnosis.

Cat is in pain

We need to think of the reasons why a cat won't move. One question we should ask is, what would happen if the cat does move? If moving causes the cat pain, then we can understand why they won't want to get up or be active. If we had severe back pain, we would lie in bed for the same reason.

Cats are not as expressive about their pain as we are. They can tolerate a large amount before they cry out or show other signs of pain. Before this happens, inactivity might be an indication something is wrong. Whether the cause of pain is trauma, a disease or something else, the cat may remain still so they don't exacerbate the negative physical feelings.

When a cat is listless and lethargic, it can be quite worrying. It implies the pain has progressed or the pathology which caused it is in advanced stages. This problem could be kidney disease, gastrointestinal problems, cancers or other serious conditions. If we try to move the cat and they scratch at us or be aggressive, it is likely they are in pain and moving them exacerbates it. Take them to a veterinarian to determine the underlying cause and initiate treatment.

Other reasons your cat is suddenly acting lethargic

There are various diseases which can cause a cat to become lethargic. We need to do what we can to protect our cat against all of them. There are also various factors we should consider if our cat doesn't want to move:

  • Intestinal parasites: this is especially worrying with young kittens since they are more vulnerable. Intestinal parasites prevent the cat from being able to metabolize food properly, so they have no energy and can't move. However, this only happens after the infestation has progressed. Most likely this will be preceded by vomiting and diarrhea, as well as other symptoms.

  • Infectious disease: when a cat is down, sad, depressed or not moving, it is possible they are suffering from an infectious disease. in this case, their lethargy is caused by their body trying to attack the infection. When this happens, they become weak and tired. These can be viral, bacterial or fungal, among others. Various other symptoms can present, but if they are weak and not moving, it is very worrying. It could be a possible sign the infection is winning and they are dying.

  • Old age in cats: when a cat gets older, their body changes. They are unable to metabolize food in the same way and their body becomes worn down. This can show the cat moving much less and even seem down. However, it is important to note this is a natural part of the aging process and doesn't necessarily mean they are unwell. We should check with a veterinarian to be sure.¡

When a cat doesn't move, the veterinarian will perform various diagnostic tests. Often they will require ultrasound or x-rays to see if there is any traumatic damage, as well as blood tests to show the possible presence of pathogens.

My Cat Is Acting Lethargic and Won't Move - Other reasons your cat is suddenly acting lethargic

Treatment of sudden lethargy in cats

To reiterate one last time, if your cat won't move and appears down, it is essential you take them to a veterinarian. They will be able to ensure the correct diagnosis is achieved and be in the best position to administer treatment. Emergency treatment may be required if the problem has progressed sufficiently.

Once the treatment has been administered, it is important to do what we can to help. If the diagnosis is that the cat has entered old age, this will be important to help them to live as long as possible. There are some general tips you can follow if your cat won't move:

  • Observe: examine their routine to identify any changes which can cause or be contributing to the cat not moving.

  • Platforms: place supports and platforms so that it is easy for them to get up and down from high places.

  • Toys: adopt environmental enrichment measures. This means that the cat needs stimuli, such as areas to climb, places to hide, scratchers, toys, etc. so that stress or depression are reduced.

  • Spend time: don't force interactions if they don't want it, but make yourself available to the cat and offer them opportunities to play.

  • Pheromones: use soothing pheromones. We can purchase them in different formats, but their function is to relax the cat through scents with a calming effect.

  • Enforce routine: this is not the time for changes. An older, senior cat does not usually improve with the introduction of a playful kitten into their territory. On the contrary, it can be a stressor that worsens the picture. Enforce the routine which makes them feel most comfortable and don't cause them problems.

  • Professionals: if the veterinarian has ruled out a physical problem, you should consider speaking to a feline ethologist. They can help to encourage a better routine and give the cat incentives to live a better life.

If your cat has stopped moving and they show other signs of a health crisis, it is important to act quickly. To help understand the severity of the problem, take a look at the video we share below:

This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to My Cat Is Acting Lethargic and Won't Move, we recommend you visit our Other health problems category.

  • Morris, Desmond. (1988). Watch your cat . Barcelona. Janés Square.
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1 comment
I just got a kitten and it was fine before they brought him and now he is not moving looks like he might be dying
Administrador AnimalWised
Hi Anita,

If the kitten is losing energy and seems like they are dying, you need to take them to a veterinarian immediately. It could be a fatal issue which requires immediate treatment.
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My Cat Is Acting Lethargic and Won't Move