Turns out, cats don’t really have nine lives — so be sure to take steps to prevent these common cat health problems now.
Your kitty may look self-sufficient, but she depends on you to keep her in top cat health. That means scheduling regular check-ups and getting her the shots required to guard against cat illnesses. By learning about common ailments, from diarrhea in cats to urinary diseases and more, you’ll be able to spot early warning signs and get your little furball prompt treatment for any condition she may face.
Common Cat Illness No. 1: Lower Urinary Tract Disease
Feline lower urinary tract disease, or FLUTD, encompasses a number of different conditions that can affect a cat’s bladder and urethra. Symptoms include not using the litter box or straining without producing urine, says Bonnie Beaver, DVM, a professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M University. Other symptoms of FLUTD include excessive licking of the genital area and blood in the urine. If you see these symptoms, and especially if your cat is straining to urinate, see your veterinarian immediately. It could be a sign of a urethral blockage, which can be fatal.
The first step in treating FLUTD is identifying the cause of the symptoms; culprits include bladder stones, infection, urinary tract blockage, and even cancer. Treatment may involve pain medication, antibiotics, and removing or pushing the blockage back into the bladder, says Dr. Beaver. Your vet may also suggest dietary changes or increased water intake to prevent future problems.
Common Cat Illness No. 2: Infectious Diseases
“The most common infections in cats are respiratory in nature,” says Beaver. “Some can be prevented with vaccinations.” Symptoms of upper respiratory infections in cats include runny nose, teary eyes, sneezing, cough, fever, or sores in the mouth. As for treatment, most upper respiratory infections are viral, so there isn’t much you can do, says Beaver. But it’s important to take your pet to the veterinarian for an evaluation since some upper respiratory infections can be fatal.
Another common infectious disease is feline panleukopenia, a highly contagious viral illness caused by the feline parvovirus. Symptoms can include fever, bloody diarrhea, loss of appetite, lethargy, and dehydration. There is no medication that can kill the virus, so treatment usually consists of lots of fluids and watching over the cat’s general health until he can fight off the infection on his own. Kittens under eight weeks of age have little likelihood of survival, so vaccination is crucial to preventing feline panleukopenia.
Common Cat Illness No. 3: Cancer
Lymphosarcoma, a cancer of the lymph system that can be associated with the feline leukemia virus, is the most common type of cancer in cats. It can be intestinal or in the chest, says Beaver. Another common cancer found in cats, especially white ones, is squamous cell carcinoma.
Symptoms of cancer in cats may include lumps, swelling, persistent skin infections or sores, lethargy, weight loss, sudden lameness, diarrhea or vomiting, and difficulty breathing, urinating, or defecating.
Treatment options depend on the type and stage of cancer and may include chemotherapy, surgery (if the cancer is in an operable area), radiation, and immunotherapy. Decisions on cancer treatment for cats can be made with a vet who specializes in oncology.
Common Cat Illness No. 4: Heartworm Disease
“The cat is not a normal host for heartworm,” says Beaver. Some cats might not show any symptoms, while others may have signs such as coughing, respiratory problems, and vomiting. Unfortunately, there is no effective and safe treatment for heartworm in cats — and it can be fatal. The good news, however, is that many cats are able fight it off on their own. In severe cases, a veterinarian may recommend medication to reduce the inflammatory response or surgery to remove the heartworms, which is a very risky procedure. The key, as with dogs, is to regularly give preventive heartworm medication and schedule routine vet check-ups.
Common Cat Illness No. 5: Fleas
Fleas are parasites that feed on your pet’s blood. Some signs that a cat has fleas include scratching, hair loss, and bald patches where the cat licked excessively, says Beaver. You may also be able to see fleas, flea eggs, or flea excretions in your pet’s fur. Treatment involves applying a product designed to kill fleas and prevent egg development. Be sure to use only flea-control products designed for cats, never those for dogs — cats are very sensitive to insecticides and using the wrong product on a cat could have fatal consequences.
Common Cat Illness No. 6: Kidney Disease
Kidney problems in cats reduce their ability to excrete waste into their urine, leading to a dangerous build-up of toxins in the bloodstream. Kidney disease can be caused by a number of factors including high blood pressure, exposure to toxins, infection, kidney stones, and cancer. Age is another factor: Kidney disease is very common in older cats. Symptoms can include decreased appetite, weight loss, vomiting or diarrhea, and lethargy, but some cats do not have symptoms at all. Treatment often starts with pinpointing the cause of the kidney disease and then treating that condition. In severe cases, dialysis or a kidney transplant may be required.
Common Cat Illness No. 7: Dental Disease
Symptoms of dental disease in cats often involve difficulty eating, bad breath, and a change in chewing habits. Bad breath could indicate digestive problems or gingivitis (gum disease). Other signs of dental problems in your cat are discolored, red, or swollen gums, ulcers on the gums or tongue, loose teeth, excessive drooling, or constant pawing at the mouth area.
If you suspect that your cat has dental problems, take her to a veterinarian dentist. For good oral hygiene, brush your cat’s teeth with a toothbrush and toothpaste specially-made for felines, and give her a chew toy to exercise her gums and remove tartar before it hardens.
Common Cat Illness No. 8: Fractures
Contrary to popular belief, cats can get hurt even when they fall from one- or two-story windows. This is because the short distance of the fall does not give them time to adjust their bodies so that they can fall correctly. Signs that your cat may have suffered a fracture include limping or not moving. If your cat falls from a window, rush her to the nearest animal hospital or veterinarian — cats have a high survivability rate if they are treated immediately.
Common Cat Illness No. 9: Vomiting and Diarrhea in Cats
Vomiting and diarrhea in cats is usually associated with something they ate, says Beaver. It could be from eating a food or plant that didn’t agree with them or eating too quickly, or it could be a sign of something more serious, such as an illness or an infection.
An isolated episode of vomiting or diarrhea in cats is usually not a cause for concern. But if you see persistent vomiting, diarrhea with vomiting, diarrhea that lasts for more than a day, or diarrhea accompanied by bloody or black stools (which could indicate internal bleeding of the stomach or intestines), take your pet to the vet immediately.
Treatment usually includes giving fluids to prevent dehydration and not feeding your cat for 12 to 24 hours, followed by a bland diet such as boiled potatoes, cooked rice, and boneless chicken. Your veterinarian may also recommend anti-vomiting medications.
Common Cat Illness No. 10: Obesity
Obesity is a common cat health issue today, and it increases your cat’s risk for a number of ailments such as joint pain, diabetes, and liver problems.
You should be able to feel the backbone and ribs without pressing too hard in cats that are at a healthy weight. From above, you should be able to see a discernible waist between his lower ribs and hips. And when viewing your cat from the side, you should be able to see a tuck in the tummy between the lower ribs and his hips.
“Just being spayed or neutered will decrease caloric need by 30 percent for cats,” says Beaver. Increase exercise as you cut the calories. One great way to get cats moving is to engage them with a toy on a string or another plaything that encourages active movement, says Beaver.
And last but not least, pet owners should modify their own behavior and cut down the number of snacks and treats they give their cat — replace it with love and attention.
Laurelwood Animal Hospital,located near Jesuit High School on Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway offers a full range of companion animal services, including surgery, nutrition and behavior counseling, parasite control and preventative medicine. The hospital also offers advanced imaging through an all-digital spiral CT scanner, a comprehensive dental program and laser treatment.
If you’re looking for quality, compassionate veterinary care in Beaverton, Oregon, come visit us at Laurelwood Animal Hospital.
Laurelwood Animal Hospital
9315 SW Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway
Beaverton, Oregon 97005
Phone: (971) 244-4230
Fax: (503) 292-6808