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What Are the Most Common Cat Illnesses?

Cats and dogs differ so greatly that they don’t even share some of the same ailments and sicknesses.  Did you know that cats suffer with viruses and diseases that dogs cannot contract?  Even for the illnesses that dogs and cats do share, cats exhibit symptoms differently than their canine family members.  Cats really are their own unique creature and we are still learning more and more about them and their intricate systems.

Here, we break down the most common illnesses to plague cats, the signs and symptoms to watch out for, and how to keep your feline healthy from these sicknesses, and others.

DIABETES

Older cats and diabetes seem to go together like cookies and milk.  This is commonly due to a low quality diet leading to an overweight or obese cat who does little to no activity or exercise.  Sounds like nearly every older cat in America, right?  That’s why diabetes is such a common disease for felines.  Cats naturally slow down and mellow out in their golden years; i.e. they like to sleep a lot, nearly 20 hours per day, in fact, and focus on things that include only grooming or eating.

SYMPTOMS of diabetes include increased thirst and urination, weight gain, increase or decrease in appetite, lack of interest in grooming habits, lethargy, urinating outside of the litter box, and sweet smelling breath.  Contact your vet if you notice any of these symptoms in your cat.  A blood test will screen for diabetes and other illnesses.

PREVENTION starts with a high-quality, specie-appropriate food fed in multiple, small meals throughout the day, instead of free-feeding.  Free-feeding encourages cats to eat out of boredom, rather than out of actual hunger.  Maintaining a healthy weight is key to an all-around healthy cat.

DENTAL DISEASE

Everyone should know the importance of dental health for our pets by now (after talking about it here, and here, oh and here, too), but let us shine a light on it just once more.

Cats suffer with dental disease more commonly than dogs.  Because cats do not naturally have the urge to gnaw or chew, they miss out on the teeth cleaning benefits that dogs reap in their normal, day-to-day.  Gingivitis and other infections of the mouth can lead to organ and heart issues, which is why proper dental hygiene is so important.

SYMPTOMS of dental disease manifest as foul smelling breath, red, swollen or bleeding gums, pawing or scratching at the mouth, difficulty chewing, avoidance of hard food or treats, decreased appetite, lethargy, and change in grooming habits.

PREVENTION is all in the care of the teeth and mouth!  Schedule a teeth cleaning for your cat and talk to your vet about at-home dental habits to keep your kitty’s teeth healthy.

URINARY TRACT INFECTION (UTI)

Just like humans, cats commonly suffer from infections in the urinary tract, known as UTIs.  Male cats are more susceptible to urinary issues, however both male and female cats are prone to infections, crystallization, and other urinary/bladder complications.

SYMPTOMS of urinary tract infections or other urinary problems include straining to urinate, decrease in amount of urine output, meowing or howling when urinating, blood in the urine, and urinating outside of the litter box.

PREVENTION of UTIs is simple for most cats:  ensure your cat drinks plenty of fresh, clean water by refreshing dishes at least once or twice per day, or offering a cat fountain.  Cats are more inclined to drink from moving water, which has made cat fountains a huge success.  You can also offer more moisture in their diet by feeding canned or moist cat food in addition to, or in place of, dry kibble.  Remember to pay close attention to urination habits and scoop the litter box daily to notice any changes as they happen.

Feline Calicivirus Infection (FCV)

This hardy virus is quickly spread from cat to cat as a respiratory infection that can develop into much worse.  FCV can effect cats of any age, but young kittens or older cats with weakened immune systems are the most susceptible.  Because medications are not effective against viruses, cats suffering with FCV are given supportive care such as IV fluids to prevent dehydration, antibiotics to prevent secondary infections such as pneumonia, and plenty of TLC.

SYMPTOMS of calicivirus include abnormal discharge from the eyes, nose or mouth, loss of appetite, ulcers on the tongue and mouth, fever and lameness.

PREVENTION of FCV is offered in the form of a vaccine, although the vaccine has not been proven to prevent the sickness.  It has, however, shown signs of lessening the symptoms, should a vaccinated cat become infected with the virus.  Keeping your cat indoors and away from possibly infected, or unvaccinated, cats is the best prevention against this and all other viruses.

RABIES

Yes, dogs can get rabies, too, along with a slew of other mammals, including humans.  But, we have listed it here because cats contract rabies more than any other domestic animal.  Seem surprising?  When you think of the large feral cat population across the country and the wildlife they come into contact with each and every day, it may not come as much of a shock.

Your cat isn’t feral, you say, so there’s no risk.  Wrong!  Indoor/outdoor cats are likely to meet a feral cat carrying rabies and it takes just one scuffle or bite on the ear to transmit the virus to your cat.

SYMPTOMS of rabies may not show right away and can take as long as 4-6 weeks after initial conception.  Strange behavior and howling along with loss of appetite, depression, discharge and/or drooling, loss of balance and coordination, fever and weight loss are what you should look for in case of a rabies infection.  There is no cure for rabies and the disease is usually fatal after reaching the nervous system.

PREVENTION is best accomplished through proper and complete vaccination, which is mandatory in most states.  Also, keep your cat solely indoors to avoid contact with infected feral cats or other wildlife that may be carrying the virus.