6 Common Cat Illnesses and What You Need to Know

Urinary issues at the vetPart of being a responsible cat owner is knowing how to recognize when something isn’t right. While the thought of your beloved companion getting sick is a frightening one, unfortunately, no cat is immune to illness. 

As veterinarians, we’re here to diagnose and care for your cat if they ever get sick. Still, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with some of the most common feline illnesses and their symptoms. In this blog post, we’ll be discussing some of the most common cat illnesses and what you need to know about them. Let’s take a closer look.


1. Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD)

Feline lower urinary tract disease, or FLUTD, refers to a group of diseases involving the bladder or urethra in cats. Urinary tract problems are common in cats - particularly male cats! - and can cause many complications when left untreated. These issues are most common in middle-aged and overweight cats. While the causes are numerous, factors like environmental stress, eating only dry food, obesity, and changes in daily routines may make a cat more susceptible to FLUTD.

Symptoms of FLUTD include:

  • Straining to urinate,
  • Prolonged or frequent attempts to pass urine,
  • Passing only a few drops of urine at a time,
  • Excessive licking of the genital area,
  • Crying out during urination,
  • Blood in urine,
  • Urinating outside of the litter box,
  • Decreased appetite,
  • Vomiting,
  • Dehydration, and
  • Lethargy.


If your cat ever has trouble passing urine, contact us immediately. Urinary problems in cats are always an emergency and require urgent veterinary care. Left untreated, some urinary issues (like blockages) can be fatal. Treatment varies, depending on the issue, and your vet will need to do a full exam and possibly blood work and/or x-rays, and they may need to hospitalize your cat for a few days.

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2. Cancer

Cancer in cats comes in many different forms. It causes cells to grow out of control and spread to surrounding tissue, often spreading to other parts of the body. Like humans, cats can experience localized cancer that’s confined to a single area or more generalized cancer affecting multiple body parts.

There is no singular cause of feline cancer, and it can cause a wide range of symptoms.

Some of the most common symptoms of cancer in cats include:

  • Persistent skin infections or sores,
  • Lumps,
  • Bad breath,
  • Lethargy,
  • Weight loss,
  • Diarrhea/vomiting,
  • Decreased appetite,
  • Abnormal discharge from any body part,
  • Difficulty urinating or defecating, and
  • Labored breathing.


3. Kidney Disease

pet doctorChronic kidney disease (CKD) is a very common health problem for senior cats. The kidneys are responsible for healthy elimination functions, as one of their purposes is to remove waste from the body. But they also have other important functions, including regulating blood pressure, blood sugar, and blood volume, and making hormones. Therefore, when the kidneys are compromised, your cat's health is in danger. 

There are two types of kidney failure in cats -- acute and chronic. Acute kidney failure can be brought on by ingesting poisons like antifreeze or toxic plants, and it can happen to any cat at any age. Yet, it’s usually the chronic type of kidney failure (CKD) that affects older cats.

The most common symptoms of CKD include:

  • A change in bathroom habits (usually increased urination), 
  • Excessive thirst,
  • Lethargy,
  • Weight loss, and
  • Failure to groom regularly, though there are a myriad of less common symptoms.


Untreated CKD is fatal; however, there are many different ways the disease may be managed to make your cat more comfortable and, hopefully, to slow the disease's progress, giving you and your kitty more years together.

Your veterinarian will examine your cat and make recommendations based on your pet’s condition and history. Dietary modification, controlling high blood pressure, and other therapies have been proven effective in treating CKD depending on when the disease is diagnosed. The earlier it's caught, the more likely therapies can help. However, because cats' kidneys have ways to compensate for functional loss and because changes can happen very gradually (making it look like your cat has no symptoms!), CKD is often caught too late to be treated effectively. 

Therefore, regular veterinary visits with blood work and urinalysis are critical to early diagnosis, whether your cat seems sick or not.


4. Diabetes

In cats, diabetes occurs due to either a lack of insulin or an inadequate response to it. In healthy cats, insulin carries glucose from digested food to their cells. However, when a cat cannot use or produce insulin normally, glucose causes blood sugar levels to increase. This causes hyperglycemia, which can have devastating consequences.

Like humans, cats can suffer from type I or type II diabetes. In type I diabetes, cats cannot produce insulin. With type II diabetes, cats experience impaired insulin production, and their body fails to respond to the hormone appropriately. In many cases, cats with type II diabetes develop type I diabetes, too. Most diabetic cats are not diagnosed until they have type I diabetes and need insulin therapy to survive. The exact cause of diabetes is unknown, but obesity makes cats more susceptible to the disease. Male cats are also more prone to diabetes than females.

The symptoms of feline diabetes include:

  • Increased or decreased appetite,
  • Weight loss,
  • Increased thirst,
  • Frequent urination,
  • Urinating outside the litter box,
  • Lethargy,
  • Sweet-smelling breath,
  • Unkempt coat, and
  • Urinary tract infections.


5. Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)

The feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) can severely weaken a cat’s immune system and makes them highly susceptible to secondary infections. FIV-infected cats often do not show symptoms for several years, or they may develop symptoms gradually over time.

FIV cats can have great livesSome of the symptoms of the FIV virus include:

  • Fever,
  • Weight loss,
  • Decreased appetite,
  • Swollen lymph nodes,
  • Diarrhea,
  • Inflammation of the eyes, mouth, or gums,
  • Unkempt coat,
  • Hair loss,
  • Wounds that won’t heal,
  • Eye or nose discharge,
  • Frequent urination or straining to urinate, and
  • Behavior change.


FIV is typically passed from one cat to another through deep bite wounds. Though less common, infected mothers can also pass FIV to their kittens. Keeping your cat indoors is the best way to protect them against this devastating illness. We also recommend testing new kittens or any new feline addition to your home for FIV (and other transmissible diseases) before introducing them to existing pets.


6. Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)

Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) was discovered in the 1960s and is one of the most common causes of premature death in cats. It doesn’t always cause symptoms immediately, so it’s essential to have any new cats entering your home tested before introducing them to your other pets.

FeLV weakens cats’ immune systems and makes them more susceptible to kidney disease, lymphosarcoma, and anemia. This virus most commonly affects kittens under a year old. Keeping your cat up-to-date on their FeLV vaccination is the best way to protect them against this potentially deadly illness. We also recommend testing new kittens and any new feline addition to your home for FeLV before introducing them to any existing pets.

Symptoms of feline leukemia virus include:

  • Weight loss,
  • Decreased appetite,
  • Fever,
  • Upper respiratory infections,
  • Poor coat condition,
  • Enlarged lymph nodes,
  • Abscesses, and
  • Eye problems.

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When you think your feline friend might be sick, every second counts. Illnesses tend to progress rapidly, so it’s always best to seek veterinary care at the first sign of trouble. If your cat is feeling under the weather or not acting quite like themself, contact us right away.


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