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Get the facts on more than 20 feline illnesses. Browse information, links to helpful sites and other resources now.
Allergies that affect a cat's skin are grouped together under the term "allergic dermatitis." Cats can suffer allergies related to food, environment (atopy), and fleas and other parasites. Diagnosis can be difficult and is mostly a matter of ruling out certain causes. Often, there is never a confirmed diagnosis.
Feline asthma is a constriction of the airways, or bronchi — the two narrow tubes that lead directly from the trachea to the lungs. More the 800,000 cats suffer from asthma, and although this is only one percent of the total number of household cats in the U.S. (80 million), the cats that have asthma suffer greatly. Feline asthma is the most commonly diagnosed noninfectious respiratory disorder in cats. There is no cure for this medical problem.
Cancer is unrestrained cell division and growth in any part of a cat’s body. The most common sites in cats are the gastrointestinal tract, thymus and associated lymph nodes, bone marrow, liver, spleen, kidneys and breasts. Because advances in veterinary medicine are helping cats live longer and because cancer rates are higher in senior and geriatric cats, the prevalence of feline cancer is unfortunately increasing. Early detection of cancer signs and symptoms is critical in successful treatment.
Feline dental disease is one of the most common medical conditions seen by veterinarians. Approximately two-thirds of cats over the age of 3 have some degree of dental disease. Two of the most common presentations to the veterinarian are periodontal disease and gingivitis.
Diabetes Mellitus (Type II) is a complex but common disease in cats in which the cat either doesn’t produce or doesn’t properly use insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced in the cat’s pancreas and is responsible for regulating the flow of glucose (sugar) from the bloodstream into the cells of the body for energy. When insulin is deficient or ineffective, the cat starts breaking down fat and protein in its body to use as an alternative energy source.
Feline epilepsy is a recurring seizure disorder that originates from abnormal brain activity and is the most common cause of brain disorders in cats. Idiopathic epilepsy is a term that means unknown cause (includes genetic or congenital causes) and is the most common diagnosis. Seizures result in a sudden uncontrolled burst of activity with many abnormal signs. Seizures can occur as a single event or as a cluster of seizures over a short time or on a recurring basis every few weeks or months.
Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) is a progressive, fatal, viral disease in cats caused by certain strains of feline coronavirus. Infection with enteric feline coronavirus in the gastrointestinal tract is widespread. However, in about 5-10% percent of cats, the virus mutates during an existing infection with the enteric feline coronavirus and a strain of coronavirus emerges that has disease-causing potential, resulting in feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) disease.
Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) is one of two major feline retroviruses, which also includes feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). FeLV impairs the cat’s immune system and leaves the cat vulnerable to a host of secondary infections. The disease is second only to trauma as the leading cause of death in household cats, killing 85% of persistently infected cats within 3 years of diagnosis. However, about 70% of cats that encounter the virus are able to resist infection or eliminate the virus on their own. Many of these cats may become latently infected and become clinical cases later in life.
Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is one of two major feline retroviruses, which also includes feline leukemia virus (FeLV). 2-4% of cats in the United States are infected with FIV. FIV is a slow-acting, progressive infection that may be subclinical (without disease signs) for several months or years, but over time the cat’s immune system becomes severely weakened once the disease progresses. The cat is then susceptible to various secondary conditions and diseases, requiring treatment throughout its life.
Acute stage: four to six weeks after exposure
Latent stage: Few signs, if any<
Chronic stage: Signs appear and slowly progress over months or years
Feline gastrointestinal disorders comprise a general category used to describe a number of diseases and conditions affecting a cat's proper digestion and absorption of nutrients. The disorder can originate in any part of the cat's digestive system from the mouth and esophagus to the stomach, liver, pancreas, and large and small intestines. Contributing factors may include diet, foreign objects in the stomach or intestines, allergies, parasites, immune disorders, neurological conditions, stress and others.
Feline heart disease is due to an inherited (congenital) condition, or an acquired disorder. Inherited heart disease is relatively rare and can be diagnosed in cats as young as 10 months of age. Acquired heart disease involves a thickening of the muscles around one or both ventricles of the heart and is more common than inherited heart disease, accounting for two-thirds of heart disease diagnosed in cats.
Feline heartworm disease is spread by the bite of infected mosquitoes and is increasingly being recognized as an underlying cause of health problems in domestic cats. Cats and dogs are hosts for this disease. Despite its name, heartworms primarily cause lung disease in cats. While the occurrence of feline heartworm disease is more rare than in dogs, it may be more severe. It is an important concern for any cat owner living in areas densely populated by mosquitoes. The severity of the disease in cats is dependent on the response of the infected cat. Some cats overcome the infection. Prevention is available and should be discussed with a veterinarian.
Hypertension (high blood pressure) is fairly common and potentially a severe threat to a cat’s health. The condition can be dangerous in itself (primary hypertension) and it can also indicate the presence of underlying diseases (secondary hypertension). Hypertension occurs most commonly in older cats and is damaging to a cat’s body, affecting the eyes, brain, kidneys and heart.
Feline hyperthyroidism, caused by excessive concentrations of the thyroid hormone, is the most common endocrine (or hormonal) disorder in cats. The thyroid gland secretes hormones to regulate many metabolic processes such as growth, development and energy.
No known prevention at this time
Kidney disease is the inability of the kidneys to remove waste products from the blood. When there is a buildup of toxic waste products (called uremic poisoning), the signs and symptoms of kidney disease become obvious. Kidney disease can occur gradually over years (chronic) or come on suddenly over a few weeks (acute). Chronic kidney disease is incurable and is a leading cause of death in household cats. Acute kidney disease is treatable if causes are diagnosed very early and treated immediately.
Chronic kidney failure:
Acute kidney failure
Feline liver disease is broadly defined as any condition that affects the liver’s ability to function properly. The cat’s liver is large in comparison to other organs, and the array of life-supporting tasks it carries out is huge. There are many very complex causes of liver disease in cats and diagnosis of the exact cause is critical to knowing how to treat the disease. Depending on the type of liver dysfunction, it is often possible to successfully treat feline liver disease – but only if it is caught early. For instance, cat owners should seek immediate (or emergency) veterinary care if their cat has not eaten for two days.
Diagnosis is as complex as the disease itself, but generally includes:
Feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD) is a collection of conditions that can affect the bladder and urethra of cats. This syndrome can have many possible causes, but cats generally exhibit similar signs. The condition can be seen in any ages of cats.
Feline panleukopenia, also referred to as feline infectious enteritis and feline distemper, is the disease caused by feline parvovirus (FPV). It is a highly contagious viral disease in housecats, wild felines and raccoons, mink and foxes. Virtually all cats are exposed to the virus during their lives through secretions and excretions of infected cats. In the past, feline panleukopenia was a leading cause of death in cats. Today, it is a fairly uncommon disease, due to the availability of highly effective vaccines.
Parasites are organisms that survive by feeding off animals and humans. Parasites roughly fall into 2 groups: 1) Internal (gastrointestinal) parasites that include nematodes ("worms") and one-celled protozoan organisms; and 2) external parasites that cause skin diseases. Some parasites are zoonotic, which means they can be transmitted between different species, such as from a cat to a human.
Ringworm isn't caused by a worm as its name suggests, but is a highly contagious fungus, also known as dermatophytosis, that infects the skin, hair and nails of cats, and can spread to other pets and humans, too. Ringworm is the leading cause of skin disease in cats.
Toxoplasmosis is an infectious disease caused by a microscopic parasite called Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii). It is one of the most common parasitic diseases and can infect nearly all warm-blooded animals, as well as humans. Cats are the primary living host during the parasite's life cycle when they pass on the parasite's eggs (oocysts) through their feces and into the environment. Toxoplasmosis is a zoonotic disease, which means it can be transmitted between different species, such as from a cat to a human.
Chronic form of toxoplasmosis – Cats with healthy immune systems who are infected with the parasite usually have no clinical signs.
Acute form of toxoplasmosis – Kittens and cats with undeveloped or compromised immune systems that progress to the acute clinical stage may have these signs:
A cat's upper respiratory tract, including the nose, throat and sinus area, is susceptible to infections caused by a number of viruses and bacteria. Feline Calicivirus (FCV) and Feline Rhinotracheitis (FVR) account for 80-90% of all contagious upper respiratory infections in cats. Bacterial upper respiratory infections caused by bacteria include Chlamydophila and Bordetella.
General signs of most feline respiratory diseases:
Newer strains of calicivirus (VS-FCV) signs: