It may come as a surprise, especially if you're a new cat owner, that many health problems can befall your feline friend. But like us, our pets are just as susceptible to illnesses too! As it happens, it is instinct to hide their illnesses to protect them from predators or other cats that could be a potential threat. Given how they’re so skilled at hiding their ailments, all the more we need to keep a keen eye on our cats and note any changes in their behaviour that could be a sign of something more serious! Rest assured that most of these problems are easily preventable, while others are hereditary and can be treated early on.
Hairballs are among the most common of cat health problems. Cats, being the neatniks that they are, groom themselves frequently. Grooming not only helps to maintain healthy skin and coat, but also removes loose hair and dirt that are trapped in their coat. Our kitties then swallow the loose hair that had come off onto their tongues. Occasionally, the hair gathers into a ball and lodges in the cat's digestive tract instead of passing out through their faeces. If your cat starts coughing, hacking or vomiting, it probably has a hairball, but don’t panic yet — this is a normal way of expelling hairball.
If, however, this happens too frequently, do contact your vet. While it may not be as common as a regular hairball, sometimes hairball can move from a cat’s stomach to its intestine and this can potentially be a life-threatening problem if not addressed by a vet immediately. Some other symptoms to look out for apart from frequent retching are constipation, diarrhoea, lethargy and a dull coat.
We stress the importance of grooming your cats frequently to remove loose hair and prevent hairball but if you’re unable to commit to a regular grooming routine, feel free to schedule an undercoat removal appointment with us! Other than regular brushing, feeding your cat hairball-specific foods can help to prevent hairball from forming in your cat’s tummy too.
For many cats, worms are a recurring problem. Roundworms, tapeworms, and hookworms most commonly infect cats usually through the unintentional consumption of worm eggs. Cats can occasionally contract heartworms too, which infect the heart and lungs, causing heartworm disease. When this disease is not treated, it can be fatal.
Some general symptoms that your cat has worms are if it seems unable to gain weight, is infested with fleas, or has white specks that look like grains of rice in its stools. If you notice any of these symptoms in your cat, take it to the veterinarian for worm testing. For the worried pet parent, don’t worry, worms are usually easily cured with a few doses of medication.
Urinary Tract Infections
Urinary tract infections (UTI) is an umbrella term for a variety of conditions that affect the bladder and urethra of cats. The most common disorder is feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC) and is associated with abnormal urination. Some UTIs also cause the formation of crystals/stones (struvite/calcium oxalate) in the urinary tract and can be painful for cats.
It is important to note that there is no single cause to urinary tract infections in cats. Still, there are a number of factors that can lead to this infection like stress, a bacterial infection, obesity, anatomical abnormalities, confinement and genetics. As such, it is imperative that pet owners always pay attention to their cat’s behaviour and the colour of its urine so that you can help your vet make an accurate diagnosis of a urinary tract disease. Several symptoms that you can look out for are:
• an abnormally foul-smelling urine • straining to urinate • bloody/discoloured urine • frequent urination • inability to urinate • urinating in unusual locations • urinating in small amounts • crying out while urinating • excessive licking of the genital area
Feline Infectious Peritonitis
Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) is a viral disease caused by a mutation of the coronavirus. According to some experts, cats living in multi-cat environments tend to test positive for enteric coronavirus. The most insidious thing about FIP is that cats that have been exposed to it can live on normally without showing any outward symptoms; some even become carriers of the virus and infect other kitties by accident.
However, there are still some infected cats that can display symptoms of a mild upper respiratory infection such as sneezing, watery eyes, and nasal discharge while others may experience diarrhoea, weight loss and lethargy.
There are many different strains of feline coronavirus — there are some strains that are harmless and most cats fully recover but there are also strains that mutate to become a more harmful type of virus which can be fatal.
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV), or cat AIDS, is not always fatal. FIV decreases the ability of the cat's immune system to fight infections. Cats with FIV may remain free of symptoms for years. It is when the cat contracts other illnesses in the chronic stage of FIV infection that FIV is first suspected. That being said, common symptoms of FIV are:
• enlarged lymph nodes • fever • anaemia • weight loss • dishevelled coat • poor appetite • diarrhoea • abnormal appearance or inflammation of the eye (conjunctivitis) • inflammation of the gums (gingivitis) • inflammation of the mouth (stomatitis) • dental disease • skin redness or hair loss • wounds that don’t heal • sneezing • discharge from eyes or nose • frequent urination, straining to urinate or urinating outside of litter box • behaviour change
Although there is, as yet, no vaccine, all cats should be tested for the virus. This virus can be transmitted through saliva when a cat is bitten in a cat fight.
Feline Leukaemia Virus
Feline Leukaemia Virus (FLV) was, until recently, the most common fatal disease of cats. But with a vaccine now available, the number of cases is dwindling. Although the name leukaemia means cancer of the white blood cells, this is only 1 of the many diseases associated with this virus, such as other types of cancer, anaemia, arthritis and respiratory infections. FLV is preventable if the cat is immunised before being exposed to the virus. Although the disease is not always immediately fatal, cats with FLV rarely have a long life expectancy. Never bring other cats into your household when you have a cat with FLV.
If your cat spends time outdoors, it is highly advisable that you check it regularly for ticks. In the event that you’ve found ticks on your cat's body and it has been lethargic or behaves as if it is in pain, ask your vet to test for Lyme disease.
Be that as it may, some cats may not show any symptoms of this disease at all! Symptoms of Lyme disease can be difficult to recognise and may often be confused with other illnesses or side effects of old age. However, if you’ve been noticing symptoms such as lethargy, reluctance to jump or climb stairs, limping or disinclination to put weight on a paw, or loss of appetite, consider taking your cat to get it checked. The key to dealing with feline Lyme disease is prevention, early diagnosis, and treatment so be observant of your pet's behaviour.
One way you can help to lower the risk of your cat contracting Lyme disease is to reduce the tick population around your home with simple landscape changes and spraying.
The Importance of Good Health Care
There you have it — 7 common health problems in our feline friends! Now that you know what to look out for, keep in mind to pay closer attention to your cat’s behaviour, urine and eating habits so that you’ll know if anything is amiss. Take your cat for regular check-ups with your vet, and stick to all of your pet’s vaccinations appointments to help ensure your cat lives a long and healthy life. Prevention is the first line of defense for most feline illnesses. You can also prevent your cat from contracting illnesses or diseases from other kitties by keeping it indoors. If you have an outdoor cat, simply ensure that you keep a watchful eye out for any behavioural changes and make regular health appointments with your vet!