Last Updated on March 19, 2021 by Julia Wilson
HealthyPaws Pet Insurance has produced data that outlines the top ten ailments which affect cats and dogs. This is based on data collected from 200,000 claims from June 2016 to June 2017. Their data reveals the following conditions are the most to occur in cats:
Several problems can occur in the stomach which include foreign objects such as cooked chicken bones, intestinal parasites (roundworm, hookworm, tapeworm are the most common), hairballs, food intolerances, stomach ulcer, and gastroenteritis.
- Weight loss
- Pot-bellied appearance (roundworm)
- Failure to grow in kittens
- Abdominal pain
- Vomiting (which may contain blood)
This will depend on the underlying condition but may include:
- Anti-parasite medication to treat intestinal worms
- Hairball diet as well as frequent grooming to reduce the amount of hair ingested
- Avoid foods that cause intolerances
- Stomach protectants for cats with a stomach ulcer
- Supportive treatment for cats with gastroenteritis, which may include fluids and antibiotics
Urinary tract disorders:
Urinary tract infections
UTI’s are bacterial infections that can develop anywhere along the urinary tract. There is a higher incidence in female due to their shorter urethra, which makes it easier for bacteria to ascend from the perineum into the bladder.
Bladder stones form when certain types of minerals build up in the cat’s urine and form crystals which eventually become stones. The most common types are struvite and calcium oxalate. Other less common bladder stones include ammonium urate, calcium-ammonium-phosphate, urate, cystine and compound (stones that contain different materials).
Bladder stones run the risk of causing a potentially fatal urinary obstruction which is a medical emergency that requires immediate veterinary attention. Symptoms of urinary obstruction include straining to urinate, frequently visiting the litter tray, urinating in inappropriate spots, genital licking, and crying. Males are at greater risk of urinary obstruction due to their narrower urethra.
- Blood in the urine
- Frequent urination
- Painful urination (crying in the litter tray or urinating outside the litter tray)
- Foul-smelling urine
- Absent urination
- Frequent genital licking
- Urinary tract infections are treated with antibiotics and supportive care.
- Bladder stones may need to be surgically repaired; smaller stones can be treated with stone dissolving diets.
There are four types of allergy in cats, food, insect, inhaled and contact. Cats of any age can develop allergies.
The most common allergens in food are fish, beef, eggs, and wheat. Storage mites which can affect dry food, are an under-reported cause of allergies in cats. Fleas are an extremely common cause of insect allergy, but flies, mosquitoes, ants, bees and other stinging or biting insects can also cause a reaction. Inhaled allergens include pollen, dust mites and cigarette smoke. Contact allergies are the least common of the four types of allergy in cats and are the result of direct contact with an allergen, such as a topical flea product.
- Areas of hair loss
- Avoidance of the allergen where possible
- Switch to a hypoallergenic or novel diet or canned food (if storage mite allergy is suspected).
- Diligent flea control both on the cat and inside the home.
- Corticosteroids to reduce inflammation.
- Antihistamines to reduce symptoms.
An abscess is a walled-off collection of pus beneath the skin which is most often the result of a bite from another cat. As more white blood cells collect, the wall stretches and eventually ruptures, causing the foul-smelling contents to ooze out.
- Pain and swelling of the affected area
- Firm warm lump
- Lameness (if the limb is affected)
- Loss of appetite
- Hair loss
Lance and drain the abscess if it has not opened on its own. Flush with saline solution and place a drain where indicated. The cat will be discharged with a course of oral antibiotics.
Over-grooming is a stress-related disorder and can be classified as obsessive-compulsive behaviour. During grooming, endorphins (hormones that make your cat happy) are released, making grooming a pleasurable and relaxing pursuit. So it seems quite natural that when the cat becomes stressed, he attempts to calm himself down by pursuing a relaxing activity such as grooming.
- Patches of bald or thinning hair. The hair shaft may be damaged and shortened, and the belly and thighs are the most common areas to be affected.
- Other behaviours may also present; these may include withdrawal from the family, or in contrast, clinginess, excessive crying, loss of appetite.
- Over time, the skin may become damaged, leading to infection.
- Keep your cat’s day as routine as possible. Make sure you feed, play, exercise your cat at the same time daily. Cats like routine.
- Provide your cat with a rich and stimulating environment. If you are out for long periods you could consider a cat video or a fish tank for your cat’s viewing pleasure when you are home, set aside a play date with your cat every day.
- If you are out of the house for long periods and you think your cat may be lonely (or bored), consider the addition of another cat for company.
- Schedule play with your cat every day. 15-30 minutes of active play can keep him stimulated, relieve boredom and stress.
- If it isn’t possible to bring your cat’s behaviour under control by changing the stress and environment, then it may be necessary to try medications such as anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications. The goal is usually to give this medication until the behaviour decreases and then gradually taper off the medication. It can take several months for the fur to re-grow. Always use medications in conjunction with behaviour modification.
Feline acne is a skin disorder affecting the chin of cats where hair follicles plug with oil and dead skin cells, to form (comedones) blackheads. There are several causes including plastic food bowls, overactive sebaceous glands, hormones, stress, allergies, immunosuppression and excessive chin rubbing.
- Blackheads (comedones) on the chin which has the appearance of dirt. There may be some redness of the affected area. Hair loss may also occur in the affected area. Some cats may remain at this stage.
- Papules, pustules, itching, and swelling develop as the condition progresses.
- Firm, painful nodules with draining lesions with severe acne. Over time, scarring and thickening of the skin can develop.
- Secondary infection can develop, with the most common microorganisms including gram-positive Streptococcus spp, Staphylococcus spp, Pasteurella bacteria and Malassezia yeast.
- Swollen lymph nodes.
- Loss of appetite may develop in severe cases due to pain.
Mild acne can be treated at home with witch hazel or chlorhexidine to keep the area clean. Switch to stainless steel or ceramic food bowls.
Severe acne will need to be treated with topical antibiotic ointment.
Ringworm a common fungal infection that affects the skin, fur, and nails of cats. It is caused by a microscopic group of parasitic fungal organisms known as dermatophytes. It is of particular significance because it can be passed from cats to people. Cats become infected by direct contact with an infected animal or via fungal spores which are in the environment.
- Circular, scaly red lesions which start small and increase in size
- Areas of hair loss
- Small pustules may be found in the lesion
- Itchiness (occasionally)
- The head, ears, and tail are most commonly affected
Anti-fungal dips, shampoos or oral medications. It is also important to treat the home with a 1:10 bleach solution to kill spores in the environment.
Dandruff is a common condition characterised by small, white flakes of skin in the fur. It is a symptom rather than a disease in itself and can be caused by external factors (such as seborrhea), low humidity, parasites, or internal factors (such as diabetes) and dehydration.
The most obvious symptoms are flecks of white skin in the fur on the face and along the back. It is more obvious in cats with dark coats. Other symptoms will vary depending on the underlying cause.
Treat the underlying cause, increase hydration, omega 3 fatty acids, and moisturising shampoos can all help dandruff.
Kidney disease relates to a loss of function of the kidneys which are responsible for removing toxins from the blood. Once this ability declines, toxins build up in the blood. A loss of 70% of kidney function can occur before symptoms become apparent. Kidney disease can be acute (sudden onset) or chronic (slow and progressive).
Acute kidney failure can occur due to toxins, injury, urinary blockage, blood loss and blood infection (sepsis).
Chronic kidney disease is a common disease affecting older cats. There are several causes of chronic kidney disease including infection, hereditary, kidney tumours, nephritis and nephrosis, polycystic kidney disease, aging and idiopathic (no known cause).
Symptoms of acute and chronic kidney disease are similar, although the onset of clinical signs is much faster in cats with acute kidney failure.
- Increased thirst and urination
- Absent urination in cats whose kidneys have shut down (more common in cats with acute kidney failure)
- Urinating outside the litter tray
- Decreased appetite
- Weight loss
- Vomiting especially on a morning due to having fasted for several hours overnight
- Drooling (due to nausea)
- Poor coat condition
- Bad breath
The goal of treatment for cats with acute kidney failure is to address the underlying cause as well as provide supportive care such as fluids to help the kidneys flush out toxins and anti-nausea medication.
Chronic kidney disease cannot be reversed but its progress can be managed this will include:
- A prescription diet that is low in protein and phosphorous
- Anti-nausea medication
- Phosphorous binders to bind to phosphate in the gastrointestinal tract, which prevents it from getting into the bloodstream
- Appetite stimulants
- Fluids, where necessary, to treat dehydration
- Erythropoietin, a hormone that is usually produced by the kidneys which stimulate the bone marrow to produce red blood cells
Cancer is the unchecked division of cells within the body that can originate from any cell line and can spread to other parts of the body. The most common types of cancer in cats include lymphoma, mast cell tumours, squamous cell carcinoma, fibrosarcoma, and osteosarcoma.
Causes include environmental toxins, sun exposure, viruses (feline leukemia virus), cigarette smoke, obesity, genetic predisposition but in most cases, the cause is unknown.
Due to the many types of cancer, which can develop on any part of the body (including organs and skin), it is not possible to cover all symptoms. Read here for ten warning signs of cancer in cats. Symptoms to look out for include:
- Weight loss
- Lumps and growths
- Unexplained bleeding
- Sores that don’t heal
- Difficulty eating
- Blood in the urine or feces
- Change in toilet habits
The method of treatment will depend on the type and the location of the tumour. This can include:
- Surgery to remove the tumour
- Chemotherapy before and/or after surgery to shrink the tumour, kill any remaining cells, or in cases where surgery is not possible
- Radiotherapy before and/or after surgery to shrink the tumour, kill any remaining cells or in cases where surgery is not possible
- Cryosurgery can be used to treat small skin tumours
- Amputation may be necessary for cats with tumours on the limbs, as well as partial or full pinnectomy for cats with squamous cell carcinoma on the ear(s)
As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure. Not all diseases can be prevented, but we can all take steps to keep our cats as healthy as possible as well as reduce their chances of becoming sick, or catch diseases early on, to slow down their progression.
Schedule annual veterinary health checks, and once the cat is seven, switch to bi-annual visits. It is recommended baseline tests such as biochemical profile, urinalysis, and fecal tests are carried out at this time. All cats over seven should have their blood pressure checked during the examination.
Avoid the use of chemicals in and around the home and smoke outside.
Keep your cat’s vaccinations up to date. Kittens should receive a series of 3 shots at 8, 12 and 16 weeks, followed by a booster at 1 year and then every 1-3 years depending on your cat’s risk factors.
Regularly treat your cat for internal parasites and fleas.
Quarantine new pets for at least two weeks before introducing them to resident cats.
Limit your cat’s sun exposure, if the cat goes outdoors (free-roaming or in an enclosure), provide plenty of shade and avoid the hottest hours between 10 am – 2 pm. This is especially important for white cats.
Never administer human or dog medication to a cat. Only ever give medications prescribed by your cat’s veterinarian.
Between visits, perform monthly health examinations on your cat. Start from the head and work your way down the body. Where possible, check the mouth for signs of redness, bad breath, and lumps. Check the eyes and nose for discharge. Run your hands along the body, checking for lumps, bumps, and sores. Assess the condition of the cat’s coat, weight, and overall condition.
Feed a good quality diet and ensure your cat is a healthy weight. Obesity is linked to a number of diseases in cats.