It may come as a surprise, if you’re a new cat owner, that many health problems may befall your feline friend. Some problems are easily preventable, while others are hereditary.
Hairballs are among the most common of cat health problems. Cats groom themselves almost constantly, and swallow the loose hair that comes off their tongues. Occasionally, the hair gathers into a ball and lodges in the cat’s digestive tract instead of passing on through the body. If your cat starts coughing and hacking, he probably has a hairball. While the end product is unpleasant for the owner, most cats don’t have a problem dislodging hairballs.
However, hairballs can occasionally pass into a cat’s intestines and cause a blockage. This can be a life-threatening problem. There are a few signs to look for to see if your cat’s hairball is dangerous. If your cat is constipated, off his feed, or is lethargic with a dull coat, then he could have a serious blockage. A vet exam is definitely in order.
To prevent hairballs, groom your cat frequently to remove loose hair. In addition, feed your cat food that helps control hairballs.
For many cats, worms are a recurring problem. Roundworms, tapeworms, and hookworms most commonly infect cats. Cats can occasionally develop heartworms, as well. If your cat seems unable to gain weight, is infested with fleas, or has white specks that look like grains of rice in his stools, take him to the veterinarian for worm testing.
Worms are easily cured with a few doses of medication, but if left untreated, they can be fatal.
Urinary Tract Infections
Urinary tract infections are another common health problem in cats. This infection is particularly common in unneutered male cats, although female cats can also develop this problem. If your cat suddenly stops using the litter box, a urinary tract infection is suspect. If your cat’s urine smells strong, again a urinary tract infection may be the cause. These infections need to be treated by a veterinarian. Ask about cat foods that reduce the likelihood of another infection.
Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP)
FIP is caused by a mutation of the corona virus. According to some experts, cats living in multi-cat environments tend to test positive for enteric corona virus. Cats can live with that virus remaining quietly in the intestines with no sign of disease for their entire lifetime. In other cases, probably a genetic pre-disposition, the virus mutates into FIP.
Once a cat has contracted FIP, it will display symptoms of a mild upper respiratory infection: sneezing, watery eyes, and nasal discharge. It may also have diarrhea, weight loss and lethargy. Most cats fully recover from this primary infection, although some may become virus carriers. A small percentage of exposed cats develop lethal FIP weeks or even years after the primary infection.
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus
FIV, or cat AIDS, is not always fatal. FIV decreases the ability of the cat’s immune system to fight infections. Cats with FIV may remain free of symptoms for years. It is when the cat contracts other illnesses in the chronic stage of FIV infection that FIV is first suspected. This long list of illnesses includes oral-cavity infections, upper-respiratory infections, weight loss, ear infections, kidney disease, and many others. Although there is, as yet, no vaccine, all cats should be tested for the virus. The virus is transmitted through saliva, usually when a cat is bitten in a cat fight.
Feline Leukemia Virus
FLV was, until recently, the most common fatal disease of cats. But with a vaccine now available, the number of cases is dwindling. Although the name leukemia means cancer of the white blood cells, this is only 1 of the many diseases associated with this virus, such as other types of cancer, anemia, arthritis and respiratory infections. FLV is preventable if the cat is immunized before being exposed to the virus. Although the disease is not always immediately fatal, cats with FLV rarely have a long life expectancy. NEVER bring other cats into your household when you have a cat with FLV.
If your cat spends time outdoors, you should check him regularly for ticks. If you find a tick on your cat’s body and he has been lethargic and acts as if he is in pain, ask your vet to test for Lyme Disease. This disease is transmitted to people and animals by deer ticks.
Some cats may show subtle symptoms while others may show none — symptoms are hard to recognize and often may be confused with other illnesses or old age. Be observant of your pet’s behavior. It is the only way to know if your pet has contracted Lyme disease if no tick was found. Some symptoms of Feline Lyme Disease include:
(b) reluctance to jump or climb stairs,
(c) limping, or reluctance to put weight on a paw,
(d) loss of appetite.
The key to dealing with Feline Lyme Disease is prevention and early diagnosis and treatment. You should reduce the tick population around your home with simple landscape changes and spraying.
Good Health Care
Taking your cat for a regular check-up with the vet, and keeping all vaccinations on schedule will help assure your cat a long and healthy life. Prevention is the first line of defense for most feline illnesses.
Many owners keep their cats indoors to protect them from cars, from cat fights which may expose them to deadly viruses, from ticks, and other hazards.
Outdoor cats will enjoy greater freedom, but require a watchful eye, loving attention to their health status, and regular visits to the veterinarian.