Common Cat Health Issues
Updated: Mar 30
Cats are known for being independent in comparison to pets such as dogs, but your cat still depends on you to keep them in the best of health. As their owner this means scheduling regular health check ups and making sure they get all of their vaccinations to guard them against illnesses. We've compiled a list of things to keep your eyes out for so that you'll be able to spot the warning signs earlier and help get your feline friend the help they need.
Common health issue number 1 - Lower Urinary Tract Disease
Also known as Feline Urinary Tract Disease (Or FLUTD), it comes from a number of different conditions that can affect your cat's bladder and urethra. Symptoms here include straining to urinate without actually urinating or avoiding the litter box all together. Other symptoms are excessive licking of the genital area, or blood in the urine.
In particular if you see that your cat is trying to pee, but not being able to, then get them to the vets as this could be a sign of a blocked urethra, which can be fatal. The first step in treating Feline Urinary Tract Disease is looking for the cause. Causes could be bladder stones, infection, urinary tract blockage or even cancer.
Treatment ranges anywhere from pain medication and waiting for it to pass, antibiotics to help fight infections or even trying to remove the blockage, or pushing the blockage back into the bladder so that your little feline can relieve themselves. Your vet might also suggest that you change your cat's diet or that you make your pet drink more water to prevent problems occuring later down the line.
Common health issue number 2 - Infectious Diseases
Respiratory infections are the most common type of infections in cats. Vaccinations can usually prevent these, however, symptoms of these would include a runny nose, having teary eyes, sneezing frequently, coughing, having a fever or having sores in the mouth. Treatment for these cases is limited, a lot of the time it has to be waited out as most respiratory infections are viral and hard to treat. A trip to the vet is always in order though as some upper respiratory infections can be fatal for older cats or those with underlying health issues.
Another infectious disease is Feline Panleukopenia. This disease is highly contagious and like the respiratory infection, is viral in nature. It's caused by the feline parvovirus. Symptoms of Feline Panleukopenia include a fever, having bloody diarrhea, a loss of appetite, being lethargic and dehydration.
Currently we have no treatment or medication for this virus, so typically recovery includes having lots of fluids and keeping a close eye over the cat's general health until the infection can be fought off. If your kitten is under 8 weeks old, there's little likelihood of them surviving this virus, making vaccinations absolutely crucial in preventing Feline Panleukopenia.
Common health issue number 3 is Cancer.
Associated with the feline leukemia virus, Lymphosarcoma is a cancer of the lymph system and it's the most common type of cancer for cats. This cancer can be either intestinal, or it can be in the chest. Another common cancer of the feline world is Squamous Cell Carcinoma and interestingly, is more common in white cats.
A sing that your cat may have cancer include odd lumps, swelling, having persistent skin infections or sores on their body, lethargy or weight loss, sudden lameness, having diarrhea or vomiting, as well as having issues with either breathing, urinating or defecating.
Treatment options vary - they depend on the type of cancer and which stage it's at, but they may include options such as chemotherapy, or surgery if the cancer is in an operable area. Immunotherapy and radiation are also options for treatment. Find a vet who specialises in oncology to discuss your cancer treatment options.
Common health issue number 4 is Heartworm Disease
This one can be tricky as cats are not typical hosts for a heartworm. In fact some cats might not show any symptoms at all, however other signs include things such as coughing, respiratory problems and vomiting. Currently we don't have any treatment that is both effective and safe, so fatality chances are quite high. There is some good news though, in that a lot of cats are able to fight the worms off on their own. In severe cases a vet might opt for medication that reduces the inflammatory response from the worms, or may suggest surgery to remove them but this is often tricky and is classed as a high risk procedure. Your best bet, such as with dogs, is to regularly give your pet preventative heartworm medication and have routine vet check-ups.
Common health issue number 5 is Fleas.
Fleas are parasites, they feed on your pet's blood. To most they're considered annoying, but if left for too long the fleas can very rapidly reproduce and completely overwhelm your cat. They can lead to infections and diseases due to their tiny open wounds. Some signs that a cat has fleas will include the obvious points such as scratching, but also hair loss and bald patches where your cat has excessively licked their wounds. You may also be able to visually spot the fleas, or their eggs, or the flea excretions in your pets fur.
Treatments include applying a flea treatment product that you'll find in all pet stores and even most large supermarkets. Be very careful not to use products designed for dogs - cats are very sensitive to insecticides and using unsuitable products can sometimes be fatal.
Common cat health issue number 6 is kidney disease.
If your cat has a problem with their kidneys, they'll have issues excreting waste from their body into their urine. Without this vital mechanism for ridding the body of toxins, they'll build up and go into the bloodstream. Kidney disease in cats is caused by several factors including high blood pressure, exposure to toxins, infection, kidney stones and cancer. Age is also a factor here as kidney disease is very common in older cats.
Symptoms of kidney disease include things such as a decrease in appetite, weight loss, vomiting or diarrhea and lethargy, however some cats show no symptoms at all. Treatment usually starts with trying to pinpoint the cause of the kidney disease and then trying to correct this issue. In severe cases, dialysis or a kidney transplant may be required but the survival risk of kidney disease in older cats is usually quite low.
Common health issue number 7 is Dental Disease
If your cat is displaying behaviours such as having difficulty eating, or they have bad breath or might have changed eating habits or the way they eat, they could have a dental disease or some oral issues. Bad breath could indicate a digestive problem or gingivitis (Gum disease). There are other signs of dental problems that your cat may also display or you may be able to identify. These include discoloured or red swollen gums, ulcers on the gums or the tongue. Loose teeth is another, along with excessive drooling or if your cat is constantly pawing at their mouth area.
It's common place to see dog owners buying things such as dentastix for their puppies - aimed at cleaning their teeth and providing better oral hygiene, but it's less common in cat owners despite it being just as important. For good oral hygiene in cats you can brush their teeth with a toothbrush and toothpaste that's specifically designed for cats. You can also buy chew toys which exercise the gums and remove tartar before it hardens onto the teeth. If you suspect your cat may have dental problems then take them to the vet to discuss it. If you can find a local veterinarian dentist this would be a better option.
Common health issue number 8 - Bone Fractures
It's widely known that cats can fall from amazing heights and survive, this is because they can ready their bodies to mitigate the impact because they can slow their fall. However, when it's only from a couple of stories high they don't have time to correct themselves for the fall, which results in injuries. Signs that your cat might have suffered a fractured bone includes limping or not wanting to move. If your cat falls from a window, rush them to the nearest animal hospital or vet as cats have a really high survivability rate on fractured bones if treated immediately.
Common health issue number 9 - Vomiting and Diarrhea in Cats
Vomiting and diarrhea in cats is usually associated with something that they’ve eaten. It could be from eating a food or plant that didn’t really agree with them or they could be 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 if it’s just the one incident. However, 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 for vomiting and diarrhea 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 vet may also recommend anti-vomiting medications to ease this process.
Common Cat health issue number 10 - Obesity
Obesity is a quite common cat health issue these days, as it is with humans. Similarly, 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 cat’s backbone and ribs without pressing too hard into them when the cat is at a healthy weight. From above, you should be able to spot a discernible waist between their 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 their hips.
Many people don’t realise that just by being spayed or neutered, this will decrease the caloric need of your cat by about 30 percent. Alongside this, an increase in exercise as you cut the calories will work wonders. One great way to get cats moving is to engage them with a toy on a string or another plaything that encourages active movement. Some people even opt for building their cats a kind of very large hamster wheel, here’s a video of Mythbusters Adam Savage repairing one of these wheels, so you can see how they are constructed (they’re great DIY builds if you don’t want to buy one).
Last but not least, a fairly obvious point that while your cat is on it’s diet you as the owner will also need to cut down on treats and snacks that you give as often these are the most calorie dense parts of their diets. Replace the treats with love, attention and perhaps moral support - You’ve got this, chunky boy, we believe in you!