Nine lives - really?
A cat has nine lives - so the legend goes ... Unfortunately, some humans seem to rely on that and they use this saying as an excuse to not to contact a vet when the cat is ill. "Well, he'll be alright", they would say, "After all, cats do have excellent self-healing powers, don't they ..."
Please realize that a cat is as vulnerable and mortal as every other living creature, and that a vet visit may save the cat's life - or at least the healing process may turn out to be quicker and less complicated.
Unfortunately, there are many diseases a cat can get, and some of them can be life-threatening. What makes it even more complicted is that cats usually try to hide an indisposition as long as possible. This is their natural behavior; in the wild, hiding weakness is a protective mechanism against enemies. When a cat is acting ill, you can be sure the illness has already progressed. So it is our duty to watch the cat closely. If you notice that anything has changed, or something seems odd to you, better take the cat to the vet. In my opinion, it's better to be safe than sorry.
Here follows a list of some common cat diseases which require veterinary aid:
Before I start, I would like to point out that I am no veterinarian. All my knowledge results either from my own experiences or from discussions with other cat friends and vetenerians, or I acquired it from reading relevant internet websites.
Unfortunately, cats would often get viral diseases such as leukemia, FIP, panleukopenia etc. These diseases are the most common causes of deaths in cats. Therefore it is absolutely necessary to have your cat vaccinated. You can learn more about this here: Do I have to vaccinate my cat?
Tumors & Cancer
Unfortunalety, cats are - like humans or dogs. too - prone to develop tumors. Statistically, tumors do more often occur in dogs, but for cats, the prognosis is poorer since cats would more often develop malignant tumors, which means cancer. So if there's only the slightest suspicion, your cat should go to the vet.
Theoretically, tumors can develop in each part of the body, so some of them - e. g. tumors of the inner organs - are hard to detect. For this reason, palpating the abdomen should always be part of the annual vet check-up. Some symptoms, such as continuing diarrhea respectively constipation or a loss of appetite and frequent vomiting could be a sign of cancer, so this should be taken seriously. If you can feel swellings or lumps somewhere in the cat's body, you should also contact your vet.
By spaying a female cat you prevent cancer of the ovaries and the uterus; two kinds of cancer that do occur relatively often in cats; especially when they are older. Spaying before the first heat will also reduce the risk of breast cancer.
Cats who are often exposed to sunlight are at risk to develop a so-called squamous cell carcinoma, especially cats with white fur. This very aggressive form of cancer affects the ear tips, the face or the mouth. In the beginning, this cancer will more resemble a wound; this is why many cat parents don't think of cancer at all.
So-called injection site sarcoma have been discussed a lot lately. It's a kind of fibrosarcoma that has been caused by vaccination. Especially the vaccines of feline leukemia or rabies have been associated with this (please read also: Do I have to vaccinate my cat?
By the way: A new study of the Tufts University of Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA has pointed out that cats living as passive smokers in smoking households have an increased risk of cancer! The risk of developing a lymphoma is as four times as high as in non-smoking-households. Passive-smoking is especially dangerous for cats because they are not only inhaling the fume, but they are also licking off the toxic substances from their fur when grooming. So - isn't this a great reason to quit smoking?!
Urinary Tract & Kidney Diseases
The bladder, urinary tract and kidneys are often the weak spots in many cats' systems. Often old cats would eventually die from kidney failure. The kidneys will slowly shut down, so toxic substances can no longer be sufficiently filtered from the blood, and one by one, the inner organs will fail. Loss of weight, frequent vomiting, extreme thirst and frequent urinating could be an indication for kidney failure. If you have a cat in chronic renal failure, I recommend to pay a visit to felinecrf.org
, a website with a lot of helpful information on this condition. Besides, chronic renal failure doesn't have to be an immediate death sentence! One of my cats got really ill with CRF in 2015 and was declining so quickly that I almost lost her. But with daily sub-q fluids, kidney diet and some other renal meds she soon felt much better and still lived for more than three years after her diagnosis.
Kidney failure can also occur in younger cats, either as chronic kidney failure or failure caused by e. g. poisoning (more in Sources of danger in the house
Many cats have a tendency to develop infections of the bladder. When a cat stops using the litter box, the first option should be a test for a urinary tract infection. (read also Litter box problems
). More symptoms are leaving small amounts of urine or blood in the urine. Urinary tract infections require immediate veterinarian aid since they can easily become chronic.
Another frequent problem are bladder crystals, which is painful and causes infections. Untreated, these crystals will form bladder stones (struvite and calcium oxalate stones). They can block the urinary tract - which is life-threatening! Especially male cats are in disadvantage here due to their longer urethra. Special diets, which are supposed to change the pH-value of the bladder, can dissolve the bladder crystals and prevent that new crystals are developing.
Heart diseases in cats are not as rare as assumed only a couple of years ago! One of the risk factors is overweight, which affects especially indoor cats. You differ congenital heart diseases such as defects of the valves and acquired ones, like hyperthrophic cardiomyopathy which can also come along with fluid collection in the lungs or abdomen.
Heart diseases are usually diagnosed at an progressed state because you won't notice any symptoms until the cat is seriously ill. Exhaustion, no interest in playing, panting or coughing after physical exertion and blue (cyanotic) mucous membranes could be symptoms of a heart disease. Only the vet can find out which kind of disease it is. In my opinion, every veterinarian check-up (at least twice a year) should include an observation of the heart with a stethoscope; so if there's a beginning heart disease, it's detected at an early stage and can possibly be treated.
Not only humans can develop diabetes, also cats can have it. Overweight is also a risk factor here. The vet will find this out by doing a blood test. Diabetes isn't necessarily a death sentence for a cat. With the help of insulin and a special diet the animal may be able to live a normal life again.
Symptoms of diabetes could be: extreme thirst, constant hunger, frequent urinating of huge amounts of urine, weight loss, and - when the disease has progressed - vomiting.
Fleas, ticks, mites and various worms ... they all can bother your cat! And they're not only annoying - no, if untreated, they can cause some serious health problems. Therefore these parasites should be treated immediately.
When a cat has fleas, humans won't hesitate to do something about it: No one likes to have a flea invasion in his house! Constant scratching and licking, and tiny black spots in the fur (flea feces) will make you aware of the problem. Massive flea infestation can even cause anemia, especially in kittens, old cats and ill cats. The vet will provide you with effective anti flea products. You may also get anti flea shampoos in the pet store.
Outdoor cats will often get ticks in the summer. Even though - unlike in humans and dogs - only little is known about borreliosis in cats, ticks should always be removed carefully since a strong tick infestation may cause anemia and infections, and it's also weakening the immune system. There are also products which can protect your cat from being bitten by ticks.
One thing: Never use flea and tick treatments for dogs on your cat, for that may cost the cat's life!
Many spot-on products for dogs contain a high dosage of Permethrin
which is toxic to cats as their systems lack the enzyme to deal with that. If you are unsure which products to use for your cat, please ask your vet.
Ear mites are a problem for many cats! Cats with ear mites will be scratching their ears and shake their heads a lot, and there may be a smelly secretion coming from the ear. Ear mites need to be treated, because the secretion and swelling from the inflammation may irritate the cat's sense of hearing.
Roundworms, tapeworms - almost every kitten is infested with worms, they are born with them or acquire them through the mother's milk. Adult cats are getting infested from eating prey that carried worm eggs or larvae. The larvae would migrate to the lungs of the cat, later, the adult worms will remain in the cat's intestines. There, they are producing new eggs which will leave the cat's body with the feces. These eggs can survive in the environment for a long time, and humans may carry them with their shoes into the house. That's why even indoor cats should be regularily tested for worms respectively should be dewormed (as it seems, this subject in handled differently in different parts of the world: while German vets usually recommend one or two deworming treatments per year as a prevention - and even more when the cat goes outdoors -, in the United States cats are usually first tested for worms and only get a treatment if necessary). Besides, you should abstain from feeding raw meat, since this can be a carrier of worms as well.
In most cases, you cannot see if a cat is worm-infested or not, but with a massive infestation there may be symptoms such as weight loss, digestive disorders, vomiting, and - if the lungs are infested - coughing and panting. Sometimes you would also see worms in the stool or in vomit. Strong worm infestation weakens the immune system of the cat and makes it vulnerable to other diseases.
So deworming respectively testing for worms is the responsible cat parent's duty. There are different opinions about how often the worm treatment or the tests should be done, so please contact your vet and ask what he thinks would be the best for your cat.
The diseases I have listed above are some of the most common and most dangerous ones, but of course there are many more. Like humans, also cats can have colds, a sore throat or stomach flus. These diseases have to be treated by the vet, too.
Controlling the teeth should also be part of the annual health check-up. Tartar is very common in cats, especially in those who eat mainly canned food. Tartar not only causes gum inflammation and leads to loss of teeth ahead of time, it may also lead to heart and kindney diseases (when bacteria get from the mouth into the blood stream), so it should be removed if necessary.
Some cats vomit a lot. If a cat throws up food or fluid and this problem continues, it has to go to the vet because a severe disease could be the cause. Many cats throw up hair balls (hairs they have swallowed up when grooming), often with the help of cat grass. If the cat has problems to get rid of those, it is at risk of developing a blockage of the bowels. When you notice that your cat is having problems to throw up these hair balls, there are malt pastes available which can help.
Frequent diarrhea should also be taken seriously. First, the stool should be tested to find out if bacteria could be the cause.
Constipation is also something that requires medical treatment. You have to make sure that it's no blockage of the bowels (caused by tumors, hair balls or swallowed objects), since this would be life-threatening.
Generally spoken, each change in behavior or look of the cat is potentionally suspicous. It might, however, have a harmless cause or be a mental problem like depression, but only a vet can make the diagnose.
Not only illness can threaten a cat's life, it can also suffer accidents. Unfortunately, it's not that the cat knows instinctively what to do and what better not to do; especially young cats don't have enough experience to know what's dangerous (please read also Sources of danger in the house
If you're suspicious that your cat might have eaten a toxic subtance or has swallowed up an object, please don't hesitate and go to the vet! Same goes when the cat had a accident, like being hit by a car or fallen down somewhere - even when you don't see any injuries! Only a vet can find out if there are injuries of the inner organs. Also, the cat could have suffered a shock. Shock occurs after accidents, but can also be a result of blood loss (also internal bleeding!) or dehydration. A cat with shock breathes quickly and "flat", the paws are getting cold and the gums are pale. The cat should be kept warm and in a quiet place, and go to the vet as soon as possible.
I hope that your cat will never experience any of these diseases listed above. And if it does, I wish your little patient all the best and a speedy recovery! In many cases, early diagnosis avoids a turn to the worse. For this reason I would like to point out once again how important it is to take your cat to the vet when there's anything suspicious. You're the one who knows your cat best, so you will realize when there's something wrong. Trust your instincts - it may save your cat's life!