Taking good care of our feline friends is essential, yet even the toughest cats can’t avoid some of these common cat health concerns.

Knowing the signs and symptoms of some of the most widespread cat health problems can help address issues early on. You can also assist your clients to look out for telltale signs to ensure early diagnosis. Here are 5 common cat health concerns to be aware of.

1. Kidney disease

Kidneys play a vital role in assisting cats to expel waste and toxins and regulate blood pressure. They also play an essential role in producing enzymes, hormones and red blood cells. As such, when a cat’s kidneys stop working properly this can lead to serious and life-threatening problems.

It is vital to detect kidney disease early, before symptoms arise. This allows more time to address the underlying causes and slow disease progression. Indeed, as kidney disease is more common amongst older cats, you can suggest clients with senior cats ask their vet to screen for kidney disease as part of their annual health check.

The difficulty with kidney disease is the fact that many of the symptoms are the same as for other conditions. Nonetheless, symptoms to be aware of include:

  • Reduced appetite
  • Increased thirst
  • Blood in urine
  • Frequent or no urination
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Weight loss
  • Diarrhoea
  • Bad breath

Sadly, once the kidneys have become damaged it’s unlikely they’ll fully recover. Therefore, treatments generally involve slowing disease progression and assisting the cat to achieve a good quality of life.

2. Lower Urinary Tract disease

Lower urinary tract disease is an umbrella term that covers several conditions that affect a cat’s bladder or urethra.

There are multiple causes of feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD) including stress (emotional or environmental), urinary stones, bacterial bladder infection, as well as tumors in the bladder.

Signs of FLUTD include blood in the cat’s urine, frequent urinating, straining to urinate and vocalising when urinating, and urinating outside the litterbox. It’s also important to recognise that cats that vocalise and strain to urinate but don’t actually pass any urine may have a urethral obstruction. This can be fatal and requires immediate veterinary attention.

Where no obstruction is present, treatment might include pain relief, changes to the cat’s environment to relieve stress, regular changing of the litterbox, and ensuring the cat is well hydrated.

Diet also plays a role in reducing a cat’s risk for FLUTD. Vets may prescribe a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants.

3. Heart disease (cardiomyopathy)

Unfortunately, heart disease is a common cat health concern. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), heart disease in cats affects 1 of every 10 cats worldwide.

The three classifications include hypertrophic, dilated, and unclassified. However, the most common form of feline cardiomyopathy is hypertrophic.

Certainly, as pet professionals it’s important to have an understanding of this common cat health issue, as well as the causes and treatments. With this knowledge you can educate pet owners and clients and promote the importance of routine veterinary consultations.

Potential causes of heart disease in cats include infections, food deficiency and exposure to toxins. Furthermore, some breeds of cat are more prone to some types of heart disease.

For example, breeds such as the Maine Coon, Persian, Ragdoll, and Sphynx are at higher risk of developing hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

While some cases of heart disease present without warning (there are no signs), there are a few symptoms to be aware of. Symptoms of heart disease in cats include heart murmur, irregular heart beat, unusually fast or slow heart rate and enlarged heart muscle (which would be picked up via an x-ray).

Treatments might include taurine or l-carnitine supplementation (in the case of a deficiency), anti-hypertensive drugs, diuretics and changes to diet.

4. Feline virus (FIV)

Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is estimated to infect around 14-29% of the Australian cat population. However, another commonly diagnosed cat health issue is feline leukemia virus (FelV). Although, the prevalence rate for FelV is much lower than FIV, with only 1-4% of the cat population estimated to be infected.

FIV weakens a cat’s immune system and can be potentially fatal. It is spread across the cat population through biting. As such, outdoor and feral cats are more likely to be infected with FIV.

Unfortunately, symptoms of FIV may take years to develop. Once they do develop they can continue to evolve. Common reported clinical signs of FIV infection include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Vomiting and diarrhoea

While there is no specific treatment for FIV, antibiotics can be used to treat secondary infections. Indeed, as with many things, the best cure is prevention.

Cat owners can be encouraged to keep their cats indoors to avoid being infected. Making sure cats have a healthy lifestyle and high-quality food, as well as annual vaccines and health checks, can help keep our feline friends well.

5. Periodontal disease

Although often overlooked, periodontal disease is common in cats. If left untreated it can lead to infections in other vital organs, causing permanent damage. Cat owners can be alerted to the signs of dental disease. Symptoms may include:

  • Reduced appetite/lack of interest in food
  • Showing signs of discomfort or pain when chewing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Bad breath
  • Signs of blood in the saliva
  • Weight loss

The most common cause of periodontal disease in cats is plaque build up. As pet professionals you can remind pet owners of the importance of pet dental hygiene.

To help prevent dental disease in cats you can recommend feeding cats a healthy diet that encourages chewing. Raw meat and bones are useful for stimulating saliva production. There are also commercial cat foods and treats designed to assist with dental health.

Encourage your clients to check their cat’s teeth and mouth regularly for signs of decay. If necessary, they can contact their vet to get their purring pal’s teeth properly cleaned.

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Information sources:

Macarthur Veterinary Group. Feline immunodeficiency virus. January 2020. Accessed online Aug 2020 

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Liz has a passion for all things cat and dog, and was one of the first in Australia to bring Pet Insurance to the market. She has headed up Petsecure for the past 12 years, and is committed to promoting and supporting the amazing work done by rescue groups around Australia, and those who work to promote a better life for all animals.

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