Cats are hardy, but their active outdoor life brings them into contact with all manner of potential health hazards. This section looks at some of the commoner ailments, with advice on how to treat them
Some of these ailments are rare, so don't assume all pet cats will catch them!
A routine check up at the vet's will nip most potential problems in the bud
Cat Diseases Prevented By Vaccination
All the following can be prevented via vaccination. If your cat has not been vaccinated against these, it is still possible for your vet to pull them through with treatment, in most cases. But hopefully these details will underline the importance of vaccination:
Feline Herpes Virus (FHV). This is the most common virus to affect the upper respiratory tract of cats. It is highly contagious and infected cats will often remain infected without showing outward symptoms. It can be spread by direct contact with an infected cat’s bodily fluids (e.g. via bites, or by sharing food bowls, bedding, etc). The symptoms are conjunctivitis, sneezing, fever, coughing, lethargy, salivation and nasal discharge. In chronic cases cats can develop FHV dermatitis. This causes crusty patches, ulcers and scabs around the cat’s head, face and sometimes forelimbs.
Feline Calicivirus (FCV). The second most common upper respiratory tract virus, after FHV. The virus can quickly become resistant to antiviral treatments. NOTE: Vaccinations do not always prevent the disease, but are highly recommended because it is believed that vaccinated cats that become infected will have much milder symptoms than non-vaccinated individuals. A highly infectious and resistant form of FCV known as Virulent Systemic FCV (VS-FCV) can cause life threatening infection. It is spread in the same manner as FHV. Symptoms include eye and nasal discharge, fever, ulcers around the mouth, face and claws, lethargy, loss of appetite and pneumonia. VS-FCV may also cause arthritis, lameness, fever and multiple organ failure.
Feline Leukaemia Virus (FLV). An often fatal virus, transmitted via bodily fluids such as blood and faeces. It doesn’t survive for long outside of the body. It is most common in stray or feral cats. These cats can then pass it on to our pet cats if they fight at night. In a multicat household it is easy for the virus to spread through close contact and sharing of food bowls and beds. It is also possible for a mother cat to pass on FLV to her kittens. It hammers the cat’s immune system, opening the door to various infections and illnesses, including the blood cancer leukaemia. Symptoms include diarrhoea, fever, pale gums, weight loss, sterility, jaundice, anaemia, swollen glands and inflammation of the mouth and face.
Feline Bordetellosis. This is caused by a bacteria rather than a virus, infecting the upper respiratory tract. It is referred to as ‘kennel cough’, as it is most common in multi animal households or catteries. It is easily transmitted through the air via cough and sneezes. The commonest symptoms are coughing and sneezing. If your cat is infected, the disease is easy to treat through antibiotics. This fact, along with the fact that the bacteria is not commonly found in cats, means the vaccine is not always offered.
Feline Chlamydophilosis is caused by a bacteria and infects the upper respiratory tract. Unlike most cat ailments, this one can be passed to humans, where it can lead to the eye infection Chlamydia conjunctivitis. The bacteria can be transmitted through contact with the cat’s bodily fluids, on an infected piece of furniture, for example. It most commonly infects the cat’s conjunctiva (the mucous membrane that surrounds the eye), causing swelling, redness and watery discharge. Other symptoms include breathing difficulties, runny nose, weight loss, loss of appetite, coughing, fever and breathing difficulties.
Rabies is a viral disease that causes an acute infection of the brain. It is most common in dogs but all warm blooded species can get it. The virus is usually present in the nerve cells and saliva of an infected animal. This means that it can be passed on by close contact through things like sharing food bowls, cats grooming each other, or if a cat is bitten by or eats an infected animal. The classic symptoms are alarming – frothing at the mouth and aggressiveness. Other symptoms include fever, lethargy, seizures, paralysis, lack of coordination and an inability to swallow. It is fatal in cats.
Look out for any changes in your pet's behavior
Other Cat Diseases
Vomiting and Diarrhoea
Very common, and nearly always due to your roaming pet’s hunting instincts an catholic tastes! It’s not usually anything to worry about and is easy to manage. Don’t feed your cat for 24 hours, unless she cries for food. In this case, give her something super-bland, such as boiled rice and chicken. You should have plenty of water on offer for your cat as well, but be careful not to give her too much as this can cause further vomiting.
If the vomiting or diarrhoea continues beyond 24 hours, take your cat to the vet.
Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD)
This is a term that refers to various diseases or infections of the urinary tract. Bacterial infections are the most common cause, but bladder stones, anatomical defects, cancer, or a blockage in the urethra can be causes too. FLUTD can be hard to spot if your cat is in the habit of urinating out of sight, outside.
- Blood in the urine
- Painful or difficult urination-Your cat may be straining to urinate or yowl in pain
- Your cat is frequently urinating
- Urinating in unusual places such as not in her litter tray
- Overgrooming in their genital area due to soreness and irritation of the urethra
- Inability to urinate
Increasing the cat’s liquid intake by feeding wet food instead of dry food may help. In any circumstance, take her to the vet.
Upper Respiratory Infections (URI)
Bacterial and viral infections in cat’s respiratory system are quite common. Cats with flat faces such as the Persian or the Himalayan Cat are particularly prone to them. URI’s are common in cats living in catteries, shelters or with fellow pet cats under one roof. They are usually caused by viruses, and can be spread through coughing, sneezing, or a shared water or food bowl.
80-90% of all contagious URIs are caused by the viruses Feline Calicivirus and Feline Herpesvirus.
- Runny nose/nasal discharge
- Loss of appetite
Viral infection can sometimes develop into bacterial infections which are more serious. It is important that if you notice any of the above symptoms you take your cat to the vets before the infection develops into something more serious. Treatment usually involves a course of antibiotics to clear the infection and sometimes your cat may need to be isolated to avoid passing the infection on to other cats.
The most common eye infections are Conjunctivitis, third eyelid protrusion, Keratitis, Cataracts, Glaucoma, bulging eye, retinal disease, and watery eyes.
Symptoms of a potential eye infection include;
- Watering/streaming eyes
- Closed or partially closed eyes
If you notice any of these symptoms you should take your cat to the vet. Treatment can vary depending on the cause of the eye infection. It is most likely that you will be given some eye drops to administer, but some eye conditions can require surgery. Read our section on how to check your cat’s eyes here.
Unfortunately kidney disease is pretty common in cats, particularly older cats. This is due to the fact that cats urinate much less frequently than dogs or humans. Cat’s kidneys hold very highly concentrated urine, so their kidneys are constantly working quite hard. If not treated early, kidney disease can be fatal.
Symptoms of kidney failure or infection include:
- Appetite loss
- Weight loss
- Change in water consumption
- Pain when you touch their kidney area
- Straining to urinate
- Pain when urinating
- Failing to use their litter box/urinating in unusual places
- Bloody or cloudy urine
If you suspect your cat may have a kidney infection it is very important that you get her to the vet. Some kidney infections can be fatal but if they are diagnosed and treated early enough your cat can fully recover.
Diabetes is fairly common in older cats. It can be fatal if it goes unnoticed, but is very manageable and won’t reduce your cat’s quality of life. The symptoms change if the disease goes untreated.
Early stage signs are increased frequency in urination, and excessive drinking and eating.
Later stage signs are loss of appetite, vomiting, weakness, acetone breath, dehydration, laboured breathing, lethargy, and in extreme cases, coma.
Treatment will involve daily insulin injections daily and a closely controlled diet. Your vet will show you how to administer the injections. The needles are very small and sharp and won’t cause your cat any distress.
Periodontal disease is a gum condition that affects 85% of cats over the age of 2. It can be prevented by brushing your cat’s teeth daily. Read our section on how to clean your cat's teeth here. There are two types of periodontal disease; Gingivitis and Periodontitis. Periodontal disease is the result of a buildup of plaque which hardens into calculus (tartar) and irritates the gums. Calculus is a hard brown or yellow substance which is a mixture of calcium phosphate and carbonate and causes both gingivitis and periodontitis.
Gingivitis is the inflammation and receding of the gum around the teeth. This is caused by calculus building up and pushing the gum away from the teeth. Small pockets in the gum can form trapping food. Bacteria thrive in these small pockets causing inflammation and infection.
- Red or swollen gums
- Receding gums
- Calculus build up
Severe gingivitis (see above) can result in periodontitis which is the infection of the tooth socket. This can result in loss of teeth and painful abscesses in the mouth.
- Foul smelling breath
- Inflamed gums
- Licking at food or not eating at all
- Weight loss
- Severe calculus build up
- Pockets of pus in the gums
- Tooth loss
Treatment of periodontal disease involves professional teeth cleaning by your vet. The vet will scale and polish teeth removing tartar build up, drain pus pockets, and remove any damaged teeth restoring the mouth back to its original state. After care should involve a good dental hygiene routine. You should aim to brush your cat’s teeth daily to prevent another case of periodontal disease.
Not a disease, as such, but definitely something that impacts a cat as much as any viral or bacterial ailment.
Cats survive falls and scrapes of all kinds - hence the legend about them having nine lives - but they do sometimes break bones. This is most often the result of being hit by a car, or sometimes a misjudged leap or fall from a height. Cats most commonly fracture the femur (thigh bone), jaw, tail, pelvis (hip), or vertebrae (back). Fractures can vary in severity from a hairline fracture (just a crack in the bone), to a compound fracture (where the bone protrudes from the skin).
Symptoms of a fracture are:
- Vocalisation- crying, meowing, yowling, growling
- Not walking or putting any weight on a limb
- Loss of appetite
- Not grooming themselves
- Swelling at the fracture site
If your cat has a fractured bone you must get her to the vet as soon as you can. Treatment will depend on the severity of the fracture. Some fractures may need an operation, but some just require immobilization and your cat will have to wear a cast or splint for 4-6 weeks. It is important that you restrict her activity whilst she is healing. The vet will advise you on how best to do this.