Cats generally do a good job of masking when they don’t feel well, so determining if your foster cat is under the weather will require diligent observation of the cat’s daily activity and appetite levels. It’s a good idea to keep track of these levels in a journal. You’ll also want to record any of the following  symptoms, which could be signs of illness.

Eye discharge. It is normal for cats to have some discharge from their eyes when they wake up and some may have more than others, depending on the breed. But if your foster cat has yellow or green discharge, or swelling around the eyes (making it hard for him to open his eyes), or the third eyelid is showing, you need to contact the foster coordinator to schedule a vet appointment.

Sneezing and nasal discharge. Sneezing can be common in a cat recovering from an upper respiratory infection. If the sneezing becomes more frequent, watch for discharge coming from the nose. If the discharge is clear, the infection is probably viral and medication may not be necessary. You can try nebulizing the cat to relieve her discomfort. Nebulizing can be done in two ways: (1) place the cat in the bathroom with a hot shower running (do not place the cat in the shower);

(2) put the cat in a carrier, cover it with a towel, and place a nebulizer or humidifier under the towel. If the discharge becomes colored, contact the foster coordinator to schedule a vet appointment because the cat may have a bacterial infection. Be sure to monitor the cat’s breathing. If the cat starts to breathe with an open mouth or wheeze, call the foster coordinator immediately and follow the emergency contact protocol. Also, once you notice nasal discharge, monitor the cat’s eating habits more closely to ensure that he or she is still eating.

Loss of appetite. Your foster cat may be stressed after arriving in your home, and stress can cause lack of appetite. But if the cat hasn’t eaten after 24 hours, please notify the foster coordinator. Also, if the cat has been eating well, but then stops eating for 12 to 24 hours, call the foster coordinator to set up a vet  appointment. Please do not change the cat’s diet without contacting the foster department. An abrupt change in diet can cause diarrhea, which can lead to dehydration.

Lethargy. The activity level of your foster cat will vary depending on age and personality. Keeping an activity log and journal will help you notice whether your foster cat is less active than he normally is. If the cat cannot be roused or seems weak and unable to stand, it’s an emergency, so start the emergency contact protocol.

Dehydration. Dehydration is usually associated with diarrhea, vomiting and/or loss of appetite. To test for dehydration, gently pinch the cat’s skin around the scruff area. If the skin stays taut, the cat is dehydrated. Please call the foster coordinator the next business day to schedule a vet appointment.

Vomiting. Sometimes cats will vomit up a thick tubular hairball with bile or other liquids. This is normal, but please call the foster coordinator if the cat has out-of-the-ordinary vomiting that does not occur in conjunction with a hairball. Don’t worry about one or two vomiting episodes as long as the cat is acting normally otherwise: eating, active, no diarrhea.

Pain or strain while urinating. When a cat first goes into a foster home, he or she may not urinate due to stress. If the cat hasn’t urinated in more than 24 hours, however, please contact the foster coordinator. Also, if you notice the cat straining to urinate with little or no results, or crying out when urinating, please contact the foster coordinator immediately because it may be indicative of an infection or a urethral obstruction, which can be life-threatening.

Diarrhea. It is important to monitor your foster cat’s pooping habits daily. Soft stool is normal for the first two or three days after taking a cat home, most likely caused by stress and a change in food. If your foster cat has liquid stool, however, please contact the foster department so that an appointment can be scheduled to ensure that the cat doesn’t need medications. Keep in mind that diarrhea will dehydrate the cat, so be proactive about contacting the foster department. If your foster cat has bloody or mucoid diarrhea, please contact the foster coordinator immediately and start the emergency contact protocol.

Frequent ear scratching. Your foster cat may have ear mites if she scratches her ears often and/or shakes her head frequently, or if you see a dark discharge that resembles coffee grounds when you look in her ears. Ear mites can be treated by a veterinarian, so please call or email the foster coordinator for a medical appointment.

Swollen, irritated ears. If your foster cat has irritated, swollen or red or pink ears that smell like yeast, he may have an ear infection called otitis. It’s more common in dogs, but some cats do get it. If you see these signs, please contact the foster coordinator.

Hair loss. Please contact the foster department if you notice any hair loss on your foster cat. It is normal for cats to have thin fur around the lips, eyelids and in front of the ears, but clumpy patches of hair loss or thinning hair can indicate ringworm or dermatitis. It is important to check your foster cat’s coat every day.