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The 5 Most Common Cat Diseases

Nothing is worse than a sick cat, but when you are armed with information about the top cat diseases that your feline friends can get, you'll be prepared for anything.

If you have a cat, you know how aloof they can be. Your furry friend may be happy and playing one minute and then hiding the next. This often makes it hard for you to tell when your pet is not feeling her best. As such, it’s super important for you to be aware of different cat diseases and the specific symptoms you should look out for.

Though of course there are certain diseases that most commonly affect kitties, these can vary based on your particular cat’s situation. “The most common cat diseases will vary by region, age (kitten, adult) and lifestyle (outdoor stray vs. indoor),” says Dr. Brittin Ross, the director of veterinary medicine at spcaLA. With that in mind, here is a general idea of the most common diseases that can affect your cat and how you can prevent, spot and treat them.

  1. Feline Rabies
    Rabies is an inflammatory infection that affects your cat’s brain. Your cat can get this disease if he’s bitten by an infected animal. The symptoms include involuntary muscle movement, aggressiveness, frothy saliva and excitability. According to the ASPCA, there is no treatment or cure for this fatal disease — but prevention is simple and effective. Have your pet sitter keep your cat indoors for the majority of the day, as this will reduce his odds of coming into contact with animals who are carrying the disease.
  2. Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)
    FeLV is a serious disease that can affect your cat’s immune system and lead to a variety of secondary illnesses. Cats can pass it to each other via blood, saliva or, in some instances, feces or urine. If your cat suffers from FeLV, she may have tumors, be lethargic or experience a change in weight, according to the ASPCA. FeLV can also cause your kitty’s gums to bleed.

    Your vet can confirm this disease by conducting blood tests, urine tests and, in some cases, bone marrow analyses. If your cat is diagnosed, your vet will prescribe medications over the course of several months to treat the virus, but any secondary illnesses brought on by the virus, such as cancer, will need to be treated separately. The best way to prevent your cat from developing this disease is to make sure she gets the corresponding vaccination.

  3. Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)
    Pet owners can sometimes mistake FIV for FeLV in their cats, as the symptoms are virtually identical — but they are two totally different cat diseases. While both affect your cat’s immune system, FIV is slow-acting, and its severity worsens over time. According to the ASPCA, it is mostly transmitted through bites from infected animals, but rarely, it can be passed down from a mother to her kittens.

    The common symptoms include enlarged lymph nodes, loss of fur, eye infections, weight loss and fever. Though there is no cure, your cat can be treated with a variety of medications that can increase his quality of life, and perhaps even extend it. The best preventative measures you can take are to get your pets spayed or neutered and test any new cats for FIV before you bring them into your home.

  4. Renal Failure
    Renal failure, or kidney disease, mostly affects older cats, but it can also affect kittens who are born with weakened kidneys. This disease can be caused by trauma, shock, blockages and infections. If found early, your kitty’s prognosis is generally good. But acute renal failure can happen suddenly if your cat eats something poisonous. If you notice your cat relying on scent instead of sight to find his favorite toys or food, or if he has cloudy eyes, he may be losing his sight — and this is a sign of renal failure. The best line of defense against acute renal failure is to keep dangerous home goods out of reach of curious cats.

    But any aging cat can develop renal problems. Advanced age in cats calls for added vet work. “After about the age of seven years, it is recommended that cats also get annual blood work to help detect diseases like hyperthyroidism, kidney disease and diabetes early,” says Dr. Tania Hunt, an associate veterinarian at VCA Veterinary Specialists of the Valley. If you have an older cat, talk to your vet about appropriate testing.

  5. Feline Panleukopenia
    This disease is the most common cause of death for kittens in unsanitary conditions, which can be hard to control when there are many kittens in a litter and the mother cat won’t let humans get too close. This virus attacks white blood cells, causing infection and paralysis, and it affects central nervous system functions. Affected cats may sit at their water bowl for hours and never drink.

    Your cat’s skin may lose elasticity due to dehydration, and itching might cause your suffering cat to bite his tail and the back of his legs. Vaccination is important, as it is the best defense against this highly contagious cat disease.”Vaccines do not prevent infection, but can reduce the severity and duration of disease, although the vaccine for panleukopenia virus is very effective at preventing disease in kittens,” says Ross.

Overall, the best line of defense for many of these diseases is simple — vaccinations. “The vaccination recommendations for cats may change slightly based on the cat’s age, lifestyle and past medical history,” says Hunt. “American Association of Feline Practitioners recommends that all cats receive the core vaccines to protect them from the most common and highly contagious diseases; these viruses can cause debilitating and potentially life-threatening illness.”

Want to learn more about FIV? Read Understanding FIV in Cats.

Christina Montoya Fiedler is a Los Angeles-based writer who lives with her husband, two sons, one fur baby and two feathered babies. Follow her twitter.

 *This article is for general informational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be providing medical advice and is not a substitute for such advice. The reader should always consult a health care provider concerning any medical condition or treatment plan. Neither nor the author assumes any responsibility or liability with respect to use of any information contained herein.