Common Cat Illnesses

Like us, cats can suffer from a variety of different illnesses; cats can get sick from ingesting something they shouldn’t have, from a genetic illness, from their environments, etc.. Of course having an indoor cat means lessened risks for some diseases, but it doesn’t mean indoor cats never get sick. Here are some of the most common illnesses in cats, as well as some signs to look for to determine whether your cat isn’t feeling well. 

Upper Respiratory Infection

Similar to a cold but significantly more dangerous, upper respiratory infections are most commonly caused by viruses. Sometimes bacteria that targets the upper airway can also cause URIs. Unfortunately this illness has a high contagiousness rate since the viruses are easily spread through direct contact, and they also live on surfaces.

Cancer

Sadly cancer is one of the many common cat illnesses, especially ones that live to be seniors. Much like humans, cats can also have a variety of different cancers, the most common being lymphoma. Often tumours are operable, however other times the cancer is too advanced for surgery to be curative. This was the case for my own cat a few years ago; despite frequent vet visits, it was much too late to do anything for her (she lived a great, long life though!). 

Diabetes

Some cats may not produce insulin or the response to insulin isn’t adequate. As a result, their blood sugar levels elevate as a result. Typically in cats the majority of diabetes is type 2. If this is left untreated, it can lead to vomiting, dehydration, depression, and potentially even death. As I mentioned previously, just because a cat is an indoor cat, doesn’t mean they can’t get sick; diabetes is actually found most commonly in indoor, middle-aged, obese cats. Oral medications, as well as dietary changes can help with treatment of diabetes, but insulin injections are most commonly needed. This may seem daunting, but they’re usually a very quick procedure that with practice, anyone can do at home. 

Chronic Kidney Disease

Another one of the common cat illnesses is kidney disease. Kidney Disease is a problem that often arises in older cats. With age, kidneys start to have issues with efficiently removing waste products. Acute renal failure can be the result of poisons, trauma, shock from blood loss, infections in the kidneys, blockages, and heart failure. If diagnosed in time, it can often be reversed. Chronic kidney problems themselves are harder to treat, but they are still manageable with a diet change and medications. 

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)

Similar to HIV or AIDS; FIV damages a cat’s immune system, leaving it vulnerable to other potential infections that may not be as serious on their own, but that can cause serious damage in a compromised immune system. Outdoor cats are more vulnerable to FIV, as most cases are caused by a bite from another infected cat. However a mother cat with FIV can also pass the virus on to her kittens. Unfortunately, there is no cure for FIV, but it is a misconception to think that FIV is a death sentence. FIV-positive cats may live for around 5 years post diagnosis! There have been cases of cats living far beyond that, and happily at that! 

Feline Panleukopenia

This highly contagious disease is caused by feline parvovirus. The name may sound familiar for those who’ve had to deal with canine parvo, but this is not the same illness. Kittens tend to be most vulnerable to this virus; unfortunately it is also kittens that are most susceptible to passing away from feline panleukopenia.

Cats can get infected easily, since the virus can be transmitted through urine, stool, and even fleas. It can also be transmitted easily due to it surviving up to a year in the environment. This means that cats who haven’t directly been in contact with an infected cat can still become infected. Kittens under 8 weeks old have a very small chance of recovery and survival. With proper treatment (medications and fluids), older cats can survive the illness. The likelihood of survival decreases exponentially without proper treatment however. Much like some other cat illnesses, the best protection is prevention via vaccine. In case you missed it, we do have a post about some common vaccine-related questions answered by Dr. Sarah Engbers that can be found here!

Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)

Most people are familiar with FeLV as one of many common cat illnesses. The virus itself may not always be deadly, but since it suppresses the immune system, cats lose that important ability to fend off other infections that might not usually affect them as negatively. This is an illness that is transmitted only between cats through saliva, blood, and possibly urine and feces, and kittens can also catch the virus in utero or through an infected mother’s milk. Since this is an illness transmitted from cat to cat, the likelihood of a cat in a single cat household contracting this virus is very, very low. Though there is no cure for FeLV, again, the best treatment is prevention via vaccine.

Feline Lower Urinary Tract Diseases (FLUTD)

This term generally describes any disease present in the bladder or urethra but there can actually be multiple causes of it, such as bladder stones, bladder infection, inflammation of the bladder, or urethra obstruction. Illnesses pertaining to the urinary tract often lead to cats urinating outside of their litter box, and sadly this becomes grounds for relinquishment to animal shelters for many cats despite it being a potentially manageable problem. Because FLUTD is so broad, there are a number of treatment options depending on the cause. Bladder infections can be treated with antibiotics, whereas bladder stones could require surgical removal. In any case, the best prevention for these issues involves a good quality diet, always having accessible water for your cat and a proper litter box (and frequent cleaning of it). 

Moving Forward

Lastly, cats can be stoic animals and unwilling to show pain and weakness, so it’s important to pay attention to physical and behavioral changes in your feline friend when they don’t seem to be acting like themselves.

Aside from signs of obvious distress, you should be monitoring any breathing changes or persistant  coughing, abnormal litter box behaviour, various discharges (including from the eyes and nose), as well as vomiting or a sudden change in appetite. If your pet is usually very excited and engaged and suddenly they’re lethargic and fatigued, that could be a key indicator something is very wrong as well. Of course there are also indications like bumps or growths or even a cat dragging its back legs or limping all of a sudden as well.

For me personally, I knew something was definitely wrong with my cat when she started hiding away in more unusual places, like under my bed (she was a superstar and wasn’t prone to hiding in general, least of all under my bed) and she stopped eating. She was still drinking water and using the litter box, but even those two signs were enough of a cause for concern for us and we called the vet immediately at that time. It’s important to always be vigilant, since our feline companions can’t just tell us when something is wrong! 


Ioana Busuioc

Blog and Website Content Creator

Got ideas for our next blog? Email me at [email protected]!

October 27, 2021