Cat Health

What To Look For

Cats will tell you when they do not feel well. The signs are just sometimes subtle. Cats who feel unwell will often stop drinking and/or eating. They might sit in a hunched or crouched position. They might be very lethargic, not interested in normal play or affection. They might be moody and short-tempered.

Often there will be a change in litter box habits. If something seems to be unusual with litter box habits at all, always check with your vet. That is often the first and clearest sign of a problem. Never assume it is just bad behaviour if the box habits change. Remember, it actually is rarely bad behaviour at all. Usually there is a good and logical explanation for it.

You cannot go by purring to determine that the cat is well or unwell. Yes, cats purr when they are happy and content. But they also purr to soothe themselves when they are sick and/or in pain. You also cannot tell by the feel of the nose or ears.

A cat can have a cool wet nose and still be sick. The signs will always be more subtle, more like a change all of a sudden in behaviour, a lack of energy, and all of the other things mentioned above. A good rule is, if you ever feel like anything is amiss, ask your vet.

There are several common diseases for cats. Most of them are minor, and some are serious. It is a good idea to know the facts about diseases and problems so that you can help your cat to be comfortable and happy.


Your cat cannot take him or herself to the vet, nor can he or she ask you directly for help. But, there are so very many ways the cat communicates this need, communicates that something is very wrong and help is needed. Everything is right there for you to observe. So if you are always carefully attentive and alert, and tuned in to what is normal and thus what is abnormal for the cat, you will always be able to pick up on this information.

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Health Problems


Two minor parasitic afflictions are fleas and ear mites. Both are characterized by excessive scratching around the ears, tail, neck, etc. To check for ear mites, if your cat is scratching all round the ears and shaking his head a lot, look into his ears with a small flashlight. Look for dark, dirty looking spots inside the ear canal. Similarly with fleas, look for tiny black specks at the base of the fur, specks that are often grouped together. In either case, consult your vet for topical treatments that work well for killing fleas and their eggs once they hatch.

Get these products from your vet or a trusted supplier of veterinary prescriptions. Do not use the cheap versions, the over the counter low-cost versions that you can find in grocery shops, etc. When in doubt, ask your vet.

Other examples are ringworm, hookworm, pinworm, and tapeworm, as well as heartworms.

Skin and intestinal parasites will be visible to you, either by actually seeing evidence of the worms, or through the cat’s behaviour. If the cat is lethargic, or is vomiting, or has loose stool, or is eating but losing weight, or you see evidence of the parasites around the cat’s anal area or in the litter box—it’s worms. There are easy and quick medications to clear it all up. It is usually just a matter of some pills or a simple shot, and the situation will start to go away. And always wash your hands thoroughly in those instances because you can catch it too.


There is always much more information about heartworms in dogs than in cats. Cats can get infected, too, though the way the disease is handled differs between cats and dogs. Dogs can be much more easily treated for heartworms. If a cat contracts them, it is more dangerous. That is why it is important to keep your cat away from mosquitoes. Heartworms come from mosquitoes and their bites. Mosquitoes pick up this blood parasite when they bite another infected animal. After that, each animal they bite they put at risk for the infection. These parasites get right into a dog’s or a cat’s lungs and heart. If dogs get it, the parasite can be killed though a lengthy process of treatment.

If a cat gets it, things are different. Cats will show symptoms by excessive shortness of breath and panting, lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting and a number of other common symptoms. You can kill the parasite in the cat, but killing heartworm often kills the cat as well, once the worm is in the organs.

If the parasite is killed (usually only one of them in a cat) it can harm the cat’s vital organs. You should talk to your vet about regular heartworm prevention options for your cat. The best prevention is to keep your cat inside. But if you must let them out, keep them in from dusk until dawn in mosquito season.


Upper respiratory Infection is something that cats very commonly break with at times of stress.
When you first adopt a cat you should expect that the cat may very well run a URI shortly after coming into a new home.

This is what happens to cats when they undergo a lot of change. If they are strays their energy all goes into surviving shelter life if they are lucky and life on the streets if they are not. Life has not been easy for them. Now they are in a new home. There is plenty of food, water, and nice people. It’s inside. It’s safe. It’s warm and it’s comfortable. They can relax, and then they get sick.

This can happen with a cat already well accustomed to the family, as well, especially during a big transition like a move.
Knowing the symptoms of URI helps you catch it before it goes into something far more dangerous like pneumonia, or before it gets too bad that the cat stops eating.
Symptoms of URI include sneezing, runny nose, clogged sinuses, fever, lethargy, and loss of appetite. Take your cat to the vet as soon as the illness sets in. It is a viral illness, but the vet will put the cat on antibiotics to fight off the possibility of any bacterial infections moving into the lungs or throughout the body.
If your cat gets sick, move them into an isolated, quiet room. They will need a lot of rest. Get food into your cat any way that you can. Since the stuffy head keeps them from smelling anything, they cannot smell their food and do not want to eat it. It is dangerous, however, for cats to go even a few days without food. So, it is time to tempt the cat with other food.
Two favourites are chunk tuna packed in water, and mushy baby food. Let the cat eat these treats, if they won’t take their usual cat food. Also, you can put liquid antibiotics or a crushed (fully crushed to a powder, so it is much less detectable) antibiotic pill into this food, and get the medicine into your cat.
A URI can last from one week to three or four. It all depends on the cat and the strength of the cat’s immune system. Stay in contact with your vet and the staff with any questions.
If a cat has a clogged nose and is unable to breathe through it, you can also try this handy remedy. Boil water and put it into a mug. Add a teaspoon full of a mentholated, vaporizing chest rub ointment into the water. Take it to the cat. Don’t let the hot mug touch the cat. Don’t touch the water from the mug. What you want to use is the steam. Sit quietly with the sick cat, talking to her calmly. Wave the mug back and forth under her nose, but not too close. She will wince from the vapours. Keep lazily waving the mug back and forth. Keep her with you, and follow her with the mug, letting her catch a whiff whenever possible. There should be a slight movement in the sinuses. It is not a miracle remedy, but it is highly recommended to help the cat breathe more easily.


There are three major feline diseases. Most cats that are ill will have something routine and treatable. But you should know the facts about these as well, just in case. You might hear about these when you go to the vet, they are FIV, FeLV and FIP. This will be just an overview, but perhaps it can answer some questions.

FIV – FIV is the Feline Immunodeficiency Virus. The virus attacks white blood cells, and destroys the immune system. People have often equated it, in that sense, to HIV.

But you need to know and remember:

  • FIV cannot be transmitted to humans ever.
  • HIV cannot be transmitted to felines.
  • If a cat has FIV, it does not mean the cat has AIDS
  • FIV, HIV and AIDS are not all the same disease
  • FIV does destroy the immune system, like HIV does. It leaves the cat open to all kinds of opportunistic infections, and the cat has difficulty fighting those infections off. But the diseases do not progress the same way at all.

Cats get infected with FIV by fighting. The disease goes in through the bloodstream via deep puncture wounds. This is why male cats who are not neutered and who are outside roaming are at the highest risk.
These males commonly get into aggressive, territorial fights with other males. So, one infected cat bites another cat, and then transmits the virus.
Up until about 10 years ago, most veterinarians would have said that an FI diagnosis meant the cat needed to be euthanized immediately. That is not so anymore. It is still a relatively new disease. FIV was only discovered within the last 20 years, so there is much still to be learned about it.
There will always be some actions needed on your part, though. FIV cats must stay inside. They cannot risk exposure to any other unknown cats and infections. Catching a simple cold can be a disaster for an FIV cat, as they can’t fight it off and it can rapidly go into serious pneumonia. The FIV cat needs to see the vet several times a year. FIV tends to create a lot of “nuisance problems” for the cat, like chronic sinus trouble, skin problems, chronic gingivitis, fluid in the ears, skin problems, and thick, brittle claws.
They can also be at risk for an uncomfortable, though not life-threatening form of mange. It is a type that usually only dogs get, called demodex mange. Cats are almost never at risk for this uncomfortable, itchy condition…unless they are FIV cats, when the compromised immune system makes it possible.
Most of the care needed is maintenance care. There is no cure for the disease. But if an FIV cat has a loving and safe home and family, excellent nutrition, medicines when needed, regular dental screenings, a totally indoor life, and a doctor who is informed about FIV, then that cat can live for many years. Some cats carry the virus but never become symptomatic. Some take years to become symptomatic. Some, of course, deal with more severe bouts with the virus early on. An FIV cat can live with another cat, so long as neither cat is aggressive toward the other. Playing won’t transmit it. The bite would need to be an aggressive bite – a deep puncture wound.
If you are told your cat has FIV, you need not panic or think this means the cat will soon die. Most vets know the disease is manageable, and that the cat’s quality of life has every chance of being good, so long as her symptoms are treated, and her family is committed to her and her ongoing care. That is why it will be so important, if you care for an FIV cat, to pay attention to what is communicated.
Always watch for the little signs like sniffling and sneezing, itchy red skin, loss of appetite, fluid in the ears, trouble breathing, thick or abnormal saliva, any unusual swelling, change in litter box habits or behavioural habits, or anything else that you see that worries you. Getting to the vet early on helps to beat a lot of the symptoms while they are still very manageable.

FELV – This is the Feline Leukaemia Virus. It is a blood cancer which results in tumours throughout the body. FeLV is spread more easily than FIV. It is spread through saliva. So, if cats share a food dish or a water dish, or if they hiss at each other, the disease can transmit from one cat to another.
FeLV cannot be transmitted to humans. Though FeLV is ultimately fatal to the cat, a vaccine does exist to prevent it. That means that, if your cat goes outside, or if he sits in the window at the screen, or he hangs out on a screen porch where other cats can come up and go nose to nose with him through that screen, he should have the vaccine annually.
Sometimes, certain cats will incubate the disease for years, until it breaks. FeLV cats have weak immune systems. They must stay inside at all times. If they go outside, they will infect other cats.

FIP – FIP is Feline Infectious Peritonitis. FIP is rare and it is harsh. There are some people who do not euthanize their FIP cats, who keep them and try to manage the symptoms. But FIP is a tough disease. FIP is always fatal. It is also quite rare. There is a common corona virus that all cats carry. Of these cats, only about 1% will break and become FIP symptomatic. Very young cats and geriatric cats are most at risk. FIP symptoms can onset quickly.
The virus will either fill the cat’s belly with fluid, or fill the lungs with fluid. Or, it will attach onto vital organs in the form of lesions.
FIP is difficult to detect and diagnose. There is a test, but it can be inconclusive in many cases. There is a nasal vaccine that is not yet widely used and, vets can disagree about its actual effectiveness. There is a shortage of information because the disease is a more recent discovery.
It is known that FIP transmitted from nose to nose, though saliva and the disease can be shed out through the fur. Humans cannot get FIP.
FIP does not have a good prognosis, and by the time a cat has broken with the symptoms, it is near the end.
Again, this tragic disease is rare. Symptoms would include the cat being very lethargic, having a swollen or distended, fluid filled abdomen, and difficulty breathing. As with all suspicious symptoms, if something worries you that your cat is displaying or doing, always pay close attention and ask your vet to take a look at your cat as soon as is possible.

Upset Stomach
Upset Stomach

It is normal for any kind change of location or change of food to give your new cat an upset stomach. Also, it can be caused by parasites, or colitis, or a variety of other illnesses. As unpleasant as it is, your cat communicates via his litter box. You should have a look at how everything is when you clean the box up daily. Any illnesses or problems or abnormalities often show up there first. So it helps if you know what is familiar and normal for your cat and what is not.
If your cat suffers from diarrhoea, then you can try switching them off the usual canned and dry food, and on to something gentle and temporary, like mushy baby food, until their stomach gets stronger and their stool more solid.
They will get a bit spoiled on the special foods, but you do not want them to get dehydrated. So, any food that they’ll take is good. And baby food is easy and highly digestible. After a few meals of baby food, you can start mixing back in the canned cat food, and make the transition that way back to the regular kind, once the tummy seems like it is getting back to normal.
Also watch for very dry stool, or your cat throwing up hairballs. These are all signs of too much fur getting into the cat’s tummy. You should brush your cat every day, or at least every other day, thoroughly. And if you have a very long-haired cat that is always having digestive problems, you may want to consider having the vet do a quick, painless “Lion Shave” on the cat, taking the fur off except for on the head, neck, paws and tail. If you do this, your cat will communicate some very unhappy messages! But cat stomachs can very easily get clogged with fur and the intestine impacted.
So it is always better to have a healthy cat than a fluffy sickly, suffering one. Which means, though you and the cat might love that fur, if it really has got to the point where the cat is getting sick, get the shave done. It will help your cat’s health a great deal.


Urinary Tract Infections can be at the very least terribly uncomfortable for female cats with painful spasms in the urethra, and burning upon urination. And at worst, in male cats, involving a urethra blockage that keeps him from emptying his bladder and that creates a very serious threat to the cat’s life from a build up of bacteria. This can happen fast, within 24 hours. So if you think your male cat is trying to tell you something, seems to be straining or squatting in the litter box, call the vet right away.
The condition is treatable if it is handled right away with antibiotics. So always make sure that, if one of your cats ever urinates outside of the litter box, that you contact the vet right away for a check-up, just to be sure.
Though your cat will never request to specifically go to the vet, they will appeal to you with the clues they offer that they are not feeling at all well and need your help.

Kidney Trouble and Diabetes
Kidney Trouble and Diabetes

These two problems have been together because they have similar onset symptoms. We are back to that litter box again, and to looking for any abnormalities, in this case, excessive urination. Keep an eye on how much water your cat drinks. It is fine for the cat to get thirsty and drink a good bit, but if your cat is either drinking excessively and not urinating, or always drinking excessively and always heavily urinating, there may be a problem.
Watch for any change in your cat’s breath, particularly if it picks up a urine scent—that is a symptom of serious kidney problems. And urinating outside the box can also be a symptom of painful kidney stones that the cat is dealing with. And if your cat sits staring at the water dish, looking as if they want to drink, but time and time again does not drink, this is reason also to call the vet right away.