Five common cat illnesses every owner should know about

With the help of Petplan veterinary expert Brian Faulkner, we look at key symptoms to watch out for in cats, and how to help your sick pet.

Here at Petplan, keeping your pet healthy and happy is our number one priority. Many pet owners assume that accidents are the biggest risk their pet faces, yet 90% of the claims we receive are for ill health rather than injuries. Here, we round up some of the most common conditions your cat might experience – and what you can do about them.

1. Stomach upsets and other gastrointestinal problems in cats

Gastrointestinal (or digestive) disorders in cats can have many different causes, ranging from something they ate to bacterial infections, viruses or conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease. While occasional stomach upsets in cats are not unusual and likely to be short-lived, do keep an eye on your pet. They may be weak, in discomfort and at risk of (potentially dangerous) dehydration.

Know the signs

The most common symptoms of gastrointestinal disorders in cats include vomiting, diarrhoea, poor appetite, weight loss, straining to pass stools, constipation or lack of energy. These may occur suddenly or develop gradually over a longer period.

What to do

If your cat has a minor stomach upset, offer them plenty to drink, followed by bland, easily digestible meals after 24 hours. But if you’re worried about the severity of their symptoms, or they’re getting sick regularly, see a vet to investigate possible underlying causes.

2. Heart problems in cats

Just like humans, cats can suffer from a range of heart conditions, particularly in mid- to later life – although in rare cases, kittens may be born with congenital heart problems. The most common type of heart disease in cats is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a thickening of the heart muscle that prevents it from pumping blood efficiently. Influenced by genetics, this progressive disease can be managed with the right treatment.

Other heart problems in cats include high blood pressure, and hyperthyroidism (see below) can sometimes lead to heart problems in cats.

Know the signs

Heart disease in cats can be very hard to spot until it becomes serious, but low energy or panting may indicate a problem. Your vet may pick up a heart murmur or an abnormal heart rhythm at a routine health check.

What to do

Make sure your cat has regular vet check-ups – ideally at least once a year, or more if they’re elderly. Heart problems may sound worrying, but the good news is that many conditions can be managed with medication, careful monitoring and a healthy diet and exercise regime.

3. Feline respiratory problems such as asthma

Cats of all breeds and ages can suffer from feline asthma. Other causes of feline respiratory (breathing) problems include heart disease, bacterial and viral infections, inhalation of toxins, and lung and airway disorders or obstructions.

Know the signs

Symptoms of respiratory problems include coughing (which may occur in fits and starts), wheezing and other breathing difficulties. Other indicators of an underlying problem include your cat being off their food and becoming lethargic.

What to do

Your vet will be able to help investigate any signs of respiratory illness. You should definitely get your cat checked if a suspected chest infection comes on suddenly, as wheezing can also be a symptom of cat bronchitis. If your cat is diagnosed with asthma, you can help manage the condition at home with cat-specific inhalers and nebulisers.

4. Urinary problems and kidney disease in cats

Urinary problems in cats are often part of a wider complex of symptoms that vets call feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD). FLUTD can affect the bladder and/or urethra. Cystitis means inflammation of the bladder. It is common for pet owners to assume that cystitis is due to a urinary tract infection (UT). While UTIs can occur, cystitis is more commonly due to other underlying health conditions, such as bladder crystals or stones, as well as tumours, diabetes or stress.

Another urinary system problem, which is particularly common in older cats, is kidney disease (or kidney failure). This means their kidneys gradually stop filtering out toxins and reabsorbing water. Although irreversible, the correct diet and treatment can help slow the condition.

Know the signs

Watch out for any changes to your cat’s regular toilet habits, such as peeing in the wrong places or excessive cleaning after urination. Cystitis results in frequent, painful attempts to urinate, sometimes with blood in the cat’s urine. Symptoms of kidney disease include increased thirst, weight loss and passing more urine than usual.

What to do

A trip to the vet will help diagnose your pet’s particular problem, and help relieve any discomfort and slow down the progression of the issue.

While you can’t always prevent urinary tract disease, you can help keep your cat healthy by feeding an appropriate diet, encouraging them to drink regularly and maintain a healthy weight, and tackling any causes of stress (overweight or stressed-out moggies are more prone to UTIs).

5. Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) in cats

Your cat’s thyroid glands are located in their neck, and control their metabolism. Hyperthyroidism, when the glands become overactive, is a common hormonal condition in cats. A large number of cases are due to a benign (non-cancerous) swelling in the gland itself.

Know the signs

Symptoms of hyperthyroidism in cats can include an increased appetite, yet also a loss of weight, drinking more, sickness, diarrhoea and lethargy.

What to do

If left untreated, hyperthyroidism can lead to heart failure, so do consult your vet. They will be able to recommend treatments to help ease the condition, or, if appropriate, surgery to remove the thyroid gland.

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