Here Are 9 Of The Most Common Cat Health Problems
Know the symptoms to look out for 🤕
As a cat parent, it’s important to know if your cat isn’t feeling well.
To help you out, The Dodo spoke to Dr. Michelle Burch, a veterinarian with Paramount Pet Health, and Dr. Jennifer Coates, a veterinary advisor for Pet News Daily, to put together a list of some of the most common cat health problems and their symptoms.
Common cat health problems
These are nine of the most common cat health problems, according to veterinarians.
Feline lower urinary tract disease
Feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD) actually refers to a number of conditions that affect the urinary tract of cats, and it can be brought on by multiple triggers.
“There are several causes, including inflammation, stress, infection and [urinary] stone formation, but all have similar symptoms,” Dr. Coates told The Dodo. “Cats with a lower urinary tract disorder often strain to urinate, urinate small amounts frequently and urinate outside the litter box. Male cats may become unable to urinate at all, which is a life-threatening emergency!”
Cats who are middle-aged, overweight, don’t get much exercise, or have a stressful environment (such as living with other cats or frequent changes to their routines) may be at greater risk. Male cats can also have a greater risk of developing FLUTD because they have a narrower urinary tract than females.
Symptoms of FLUTD include:
- Straining to urinate
- Painful urination
- Increased urination
- Excessive licking
- Urinating outside the litter box
Your vet will treat your cat based on the cause of his FLUTD.
“Treatment depends on the underlying cause but may include stress relief, increased water consumption, weight loss, antibiotics if an infection is present, a special diet, medications to dissolve some types of urinary stones, or surgery,” Dr. Coates said.
Worms are parasites that can live inside cats and dogs. Some of the most common types of worms that cats get include:
Cats can pick up worms in a number of ways, such as from parasite eggs in the soil, mosquitos, tick or flea bites, eating fleas or by coming into contact with an infected animal. They can even pick them up from infected dog poop. Kittens can also get worms from their mothers’ milk.
Signs that your cat might have worms include:
- Vomiting or passing worms in stool
- Dull coat
- Weight loss
- Swollen abdomen
- Pale gums
- Skin lesions
Treatment for worms is deworming medication, and you should talk to your vet to find the best dewormer for your cat. They can tell you what type of worms your cat has and the best type of medication to get.
Luckily, worms are pretty easy to prevent if you keep your cat on a good dewormer and parasite preventative medicine, so don’t wait until he gets worms to treat him!
Try vet-recommended Revolution Plus from Chewy for $127.10
It’s not only outdoor cats who get fleas. Indoor cats can actually get fleas too! And there are a bunch of ways that both indoor and outdoor cats can get fleas, including:
- Another pet bringing them in the house (a dog who goes outside, for example)
- People tracking fleas, eggs or larvae inside the house
- By coming into contact with other animals who have fleas
- By going outside
Signs that your cat might have fleas include:
- Excessive licking
- Bald spots
- Flea dirt — Flea dirt looks like little black specks in your cat’s fur left over from the fleas, and it’s easier to spot on cats than the actual fleas themselves.
If your cat has fleas, you can try a fast-acting treatment, like Capstar, to get rid of them. You should also put your cat on a preventative to make sure he stays protected. Talk to your veterinarian to find the best flea treatment for your cat. Some things to look for are products that are made for your cat’s age and weight and that are approved by the FDA.
Try vet-recommended Bravecto flea treatment for cats from Chewy for $40.49
Be sure that any product you choose is specifically made for cats, since dog medications can be toxic to cats.
Feline upper respiratory infections
According to Dr. Burch, a feline upper respiratory infection (URI) affects a cat’s nose, throat and mouth and is caused by a virus or bacterial or fungal infection.
“The most common cause of [URIs] is infections caused by the feline herpesvirus and calicivirus,” Dr. Burch said. “These two viruses account for 90 percent of colds in cats. Other diseases a cat may catch to cause a cold include chlamydophila, mycoplasma and bordetella.”
Kittens are at greater risk for getting a URI because their immune systems aren’t fully developed yet. Cats in shelters also have a higher risk of getting an infection because there’s more opportunity for the virus to spread in that environment and because of the stress of living with so many other cats. It’s pretty easy for your indoor-only cat to get infected, too, because infection can spread through contact with other infected cats or by sharing things like toys.
Typical symptoms of an upper respiratory infection in cats look pretty similar to those when you have a cold. They include:
- Eye and nose discharge
- Mouth ulcers
- Loss of appetite
“[Symptoms] in a cat will last for seven to ten days and usually only need supportive care for recovery,” Dr. Burch said. “It is essential to realize these infections will be permanent and re-emerge in stressful times. Stressful events such as surgery, boarding, or a new introduction to the family can cause symptoms to reappear.”
Most of the time, symptoms are mild (but still annoying), like a typical human cold. But occasionally, they can become more severe. If you notice your cat isn’t eating, has a high fever or has trouble breathing, take him to the vet.
For cats who have a mild URI, your vet will likely recommend treating the symptoms with eye and nose drops. For more severe cases, your cat might need antibiotics or antivirals or hospitalization.
Diabetes is when your body can’t produce insulin, which is a hormone that controls your blood sugar levels.
“Diabetes is common in middle-aged to older, overweight cats,” Dr. Coates said.
Obese cats are much more more likely to develop diabetes, which is why it’s important to make sure your cat stays healthy and gets lots of exercise.
“The first symptoms that pet parents typically notice when a cat develops diabetes are drinking and urinating more than normal and losing weight despite a good appetite,” Dr. Coates said.
Symptoms of diabetes in cats include:
- Weight loss
- Increased thirst
- Increased urination
Cats with diabetes will need to take insulin injections.
“Initially, they will need insulin injections, but if they are treated quickly and can regain a healthy body weight, some cats will go into diabetic remission and may be able to be weaned off of their insulin,” Dr. Coates said.
Diabetic cats will also need to eat a special diet to help regulate their blood sugar.
“Cats with diabetes should eat a high-protein, low-carbohydrate food,” Dr. Coates said.
Some of the most common cancers in cats are:
- Mammary — Most breast tumors in cats are malignant (which means cancerous). Breast tumors on cats are located around their belly and chest area. Mammary tumors are very rare in male cats.
- Fibrosarcoma — This is a tumor in the connective tissue. It can be called an injection-site sarcoma because it’s sometimes caused by a cat’s inflammatory response overreacting to injections.
- Lymphoma — This is more common in older cats. Cats who get the feline leukemia virus have a greater risk of getting lymphoma.
- Squamous cell carcinoma — This is a type of oral and skin cancer. Too much sun exposure can lead to skin cancer in cats, just like with people.
Signs of cancer to look out for are:
- Sores that don’t heal
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Bad odor
- Lameness or stiffness
- Difficulty eating or swallowing
- Difficulty going to the bathroom
Treatment will depend on the type of cancer your cat has. Some cancers require surgery to remove a tumor, and your cat may need additional chemotherapy.
Detecting cancer early will often lead to a better outcome for your cat. Here are some ways to detect it early and help prevent it:
- Take your cat for regular vet checkups.
- Regularly feel around for any lumps on your cat when you’re petting him.
- Spaying your cat when she’s young greatly decreases the risk of getting breast cancer.
- Consider getting your cat vaccinated against the feline leukemia virus.
Dental disease is a super common issue in cats. The most common dental problems include:
- Gingivitis — inflammation of the gums
- Periodontitis — severe damage to the gums and teeth
- Tooth resorption — a condition when the dentin in a tooth erodes
Symptoms of dental diseases in cats include:
- Bad breath
- Difficulty eating
- Loose or missing teeth
- Irritated gums
- Discolored teeth
For gingivitis, your cat will need a professional teeth cleaning. If your cat has periodontitis, your vet will examine his teeth to figure out how severe it is and if any teeth need to be removed. For tooth resorption, the affected teeth will have to be removed.
The best ways to prevent your cat from getting dental diseases are to take him for regular teeth cleanings and to brush his teeth every day.
Try out teeth cleaning treats like Feline Greenies (which we reviewed and gave our Paw of Approval). You can get them from Amazon for $2.34.
Obesity is a serious issue for cats as it can lead to a variety of other health issues, such as diabetes and heart disease. It also lowers their quality of life because cats who are overweight aren’t able to do the fun things that cats usually like to do, like pounce on their toys and jump on cat trees.
To prevent your cat from getting too chubby, you should feed him an appropriate amount of healthy food and make sure he gets lots of playtime.
Cat trees are a good source of exercise for cats. You can get the AmazonBasics multi-level cat tree from Amazon for $80.99.
Vomiting is pretty common and can have a variety of different causes, including eating something toxic, like a plant or human food. It can also be a symptom of another illness or can be caused by eating something inedible.
If your cat is throwing up more than just hair balls, you should contact your vet.
How to pay for vet costs
Vet checkups are essential for keeping your cat healthy, but the annual costs can definitely add up. Plus, even a healthy cat might need an emergency trip to the vet at some point, which can be really expensive.
There are a few different ways you can curb the costs of vet bills you can’t afford. You can try researching low-cost clinics in your area or asking your vet about payment plans. Or you can try pet health insurance.
Pet insurance is probably one of the best ways to help pay for expensive vet bills, especially when your pet is still young and healthy, since most policies don’t cover pre-existing conditions.
(If you're looking for pet insurance, you’ll want to check out Fetch by The Dodo since it's made by and for adoring pet parents, and because it's the most comprehensive coverage in the US and Canada, covering things that other providers don't or charge extra for.)
It can be super upsetting when your cat gets sick, which is why it’s so important for you to keep tabs on his health. So make sure to schedule his vet appointments and always keep an eye out for signs of illness.
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