Cat health

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Cats are frequently wounded in fights with other cats, and if punctures and tears caused by bites are left untreated, the wounds can lead to serious infections, including abscesses.[1]

The health of domestic cats is a well studied area in veterinary medicine.

Topics include infectious and genetic diseases, diet and nutrition and non-therapeutic surgical procedures such as neutering and declawing.


An abandoned near-white cat suffering from illness in Feira de Santana, Brazil.

Infectious diseases[edit]

An infectious disease is caused by the presence of pathogenic organisms such as viruses, bacteria, fungi, or parasites (either animalian or protozoan). Most of these diseases can spread from cat to cat via airborne pathogens or through direct or indirect contact, while others require a vector such as a tick or mosquito. Certain infectious diseases are a concern from a public health standpoint because they are a Feline zoonosis and transmittable to human.


Viral diseases in cats can be serious, especially in catteries and kennels. Timely vaccination can reduce the risk and severity of an infection. The most commonly recommended viruses to vaccinate cats against are:

Other viruses cats may be exposed to include:



Veterinary parasitology studies both external and internal parasites in animals. External parasites, such as fleas, mites, ticks and mosquitoes can cause skin irritation and are often carriers of other diseases or of internal parasites.

External parasites[edit]
Internal parasites[edit]

Genetic diseases[edit]

A cat displaying heterochromia

Domestic cats are affected by over 250 naturally occurring hereditary disorders, many of which are similar to those in humans, such as diabetes, hemophilia and Tay–Sachs disease.[2][4] For example, Abyssinian cat's pedigree contains a genetic mutation that causes retinitis pigmentosa, which also affects humans.[2]

Skin disorders[edit]

Skin disorders are among the most common health problems in cats and have many causes. The condition of a cat's skin and coat can be an important indicator of its general health.

Tumors and cancer[edit]

Other diseases[edit]

  • Anal sacs impaction
  • Cerebellar hypoplasia is a disorder found in cats and dogs in which the cerebellum is not completely mature at birth. Cerebellar hypoplasia causes jerky movements, tremors and generally uncoordinated motion. The animal often falls down and has trouble walking. Tremors increase when the animal is excited and subside when at ease.
  • A corneal ulcer is an inflammatory condition of the cornea involving loss of its outer layer. It is very common in dogs and is sometimes seen in cats.
  • Diabetes
  • Feline hyperaldosteronism
  • Epilepsy is characterized by recurrent unprovoked seizures. Epilepsy in cats is rare likely because there is no hereditary component to epilepsy in cats.
  • Feline asthma
  • Flat-chested kitten syndrome
  • Feline hepatic lipidosis also known as Feline Fatty Liver Syndrome, is one of the most common forms of liver disease of cats.[5] The disease begins when the cat stops eating from a loss of appetite, forcing the liver to convert body fat into usable energy.
  • Feline lower urinary tract disease is a term that is used to cover many problems of the feline urinary tract, including stones and cystitis. The term feline urologic syndrome is an older term which is still sometimes used for this condition. It is a common disease in adult cats, though it can strike in young cats too. It may present as any of a variety of urinary tract problems, and can lead to a complete blockage of the urinary system, which if left untreated is fatal.
  • Feline odontoclastic resorptive lesion
  • Feline spongiform encephalopathy
  • IBD - Intestinal Bowel Disease causes frequent vomiting and weight loss in cats. Similar to Crohn's disease in humans, a cat's intestinal antibodies view food as the enemy and attack nutritional absorption as well as the cat's own organs and intestinal fluids. A daily immunosuppressant (such as Prednisolone)is required, as well as changes to the diet that include canned foods with single-source proteins and limited ingredients. Most felines with IBD also have several food allergies, including red meat proteins, fish oils, and gluten, which must be addressed in tandem with the disease. Regular vomiting in a cat is not okay; discuss the possibility of IBD with your vet. Undiagnosed or poorly-treated IBD can lead to death through malnutrition even in a cat who is eating regularly.
  • Polyneuropathy
  • Pyometra
  • Uterine unicornis a condition in which the female cat is missing a uterine horn. A rare discovery by veterinarians, the condition can be detected by x-ray or ultrasound prior to spaying if the patient has a family history of the medical condition. There is no known scientific study to prove that uterine unicornis is a hereditary genetic disorder. In some cases, the patient may also be missing a kidney on the same side as its missing uterine horn. This phenomenon is also called unilateral renal agenesis.


Researchers at the University of Cornell Feline Health Center believe that "most zoonotic diseases pose minimal threat" to humans. However some humans are particularly at risk. These are people "with immature or weakened immune systems" (infants, the elderly, people undergoing cancer therapy, and individuals with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).

Some common and preventable forms of zoonosis [6] are as follows:

Preventative medicine[edit]


Vaccinations are an important preventative animal health measure. The specific vaccinations recommended for cats varies depending on geographic location, environment, travel history, and the activities the animal frequently engages in. In the United States, regardless of any of these factors, it is usually highly recommended that cats be vaccinated against rabies, feline herpesvirus 1 (FHV-1), feline calicivirus (FCV), and feline panleukopenia virus (FPV). The decision on whether to vaccinate against other diseases should be made between an owner and a veterinarian, taking into account factors specific to the cat.

Detection of diseases[edit]

Feline diseases such as FeLV, FIV, and feline heartworm can be detected during a routine visit to a veterinarian. A variety of tests exist that can detect feline illnesses, and with early detection most diseases can be managed effectively.

Parasite medication[edit]

Once-a-month topical products or ingestible pills are the most commonly used products to kill and prevent future parasite infestations.

Diet and nutrition[edit]

Veterinarians commonly recommend commercial cat foods that are formulated to address the specific nutritional requirements of cats although an increasing number of owners are opting for home-prepared cooked or raw diets.

Although cats are obligate carnivores, vegetarian and vegan cat food are preferred by owners uncomfortable with feeding animal products to their pets. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration Center for Veterinary Medicine has come out against vegetarian cat and dog food for health reasons. Cats require high levels of Taurine in their diet. Taurine is an organic acid found in animal tissues. It is a major constituent of bile and can be found in the large intestine. Taurine has many biological roles such as conjugation of bile acids, antioxidation, membrane stabilization and modulation of calcium signaling. It is essential for cardiovascular function in cats, and development and function of skeletal muscle, the retina and the central nervous system. Although meat protein can be substituted with vegetable proteins, vegetable proteins don't provide sufficient amino acids which are vital for a cats body to function.[7][8]

Cats can be selective eaters. Although it is extremely rare for a cat to deliberately starve itself to the point of injury, in obese cats, the sudden loss of weight can cause a fatal condition called Feline Hepatic Lipidosis, a liver dysfunction which causes pathological loss of appetite and reinforces the starvation, which can lead to death within as little as 48 hours.

Pica is a condition in which animals chew or eat unusual things such as fabric, plastic or wool. In cats, this is mostly harmless as they do not digest most of it, but can be fatal or require surgical removal if a large amount of foreign material is ingested (for example, an entire sock). It tends to occur more often in Burmese, Oriental, Siamese and breeds with these in their ancestry.

Food allergy[edit]

Food allergy is a non-seasonal disease with skin and/or gastrointestinal disorders. The main complaint is pruritus. The exact prevalence of food allergy in cats remains unknown. There is no breed, sex or age predilection, although some breeds are commonly affected. Before the onset of clinical signs, the animals have been fed the offending food components for at least two years, although some animals are less than a year old. In 20 to 30% of the cases, cats have concurrent allergic diseases (atopy / flea-allergic dermatitis). A reliable diagnosis can only be made with an elimination diet. Challenge–dechallenge–rechallenge is necessary for the identification of the causative food component(s). Therapy consists of avoiding the offending food component(s).[9] Cats with food allergies constantly itch their red, hairless, and scabby skin. Hair loss usually occurs on the face and/or anus. It may take, depending on the severity of the reaction, two weeks to three months for a cat to recover if the offending allergen is removed.


Malnutrition has been seen in cats fed home-made or vegetarian/vegan diets produced by owners with good intentions, and most published recipes have been only crudely balanced (by computer) using nutrient averages. Because the palatability, digestibility, and safety of these recipes have not been adequately or scientifically tested, it is difficult to characterize all of these homemade diets. Generally, most formulations contain excessive protein and phosphorus and are deficient in calcium, vitamin E, and microminerals such as copper, zinc, and potassium. Also, the energy density of these diets may be unbalanced relative to the other nutrients. Commonly used meat and carbohydrate ingredients contain more phosphorus than calcium. Homemade feline diets that are not actually deficient in fat or energy usually contain a vegetable oil that cats do not find palatable; therefore, less food is eaten causing a calorie deficiency. Rarely are homemade diets balanced for microminerals or vitamins. Owner neglect is also a frequent contributing factor in malnutrition.[10]

Cats fed exclusively on raw, freshwater fish can develop a thiamine deficiency. Those fed exclusively on liver may develop vitamin A toxicity.


Neutering and overfeeding have contributed to increased obesity in domestic cats, especially in developed countries. Obesity in cats has similar effects as in humans, and will increase the risk of heart disease, etc. thereby shortening the cat's lifespan.

Non-therapeutic surgical procedures[edit]

Dangers in urban environment[edit]

Toxic substances[edit]

The ASPCA lists some common sources of toxins[11] that pets encounter, including: plants,[12] human medications and cosmetics,[13] cleaning products,[14] and even foods.[15]

Some houseplants are harmful to cats. For example, the leaves of the Easter Lily can cause permanent and life-threatening kidney damage to cats, and Philodendron are also poisonous to cats. The Cat Fanciers' Association has a full list of plants harmful to cats.[16]

Paracetamol or acetaminophen (trade name Panadol and Tylenol) is extremely toxic to cats, and should not be given to them under any circumstances. Cats lack the necessary glucuronyl transferase enzymes to safely break paracetamol down and minute portions of a normal tablet for humans may prove fatal.[17] Initial symptoms include vomiting, salivation and discolouration of the tongue and gums. After around two days, liver damage is evident, typically giving rise to jaundice. Unlike an overdose in humans, it is rarely liver damage that is the cause of death, instead methaemoglobin formation and the production of Heinz bodies in red blood cells inhibit oxygen transport by the blood, causing asphyxiation. Effective treatment is occasionally possible for small doses, but must be extremely rapid.

Even aspirin, which is sometimes used to treat arthritis in cats, is much more toxic to them than to humans and must be administered cautiously.[18] Similarly, application of minoxidil (Rogaine) to the skin of cats, either accidental or by well-meaning owners attempting to counter loss of fur, has sometimes proved fatal.[19][20]

In addition to such obvious dangers as insecticides and weed killers, other common household substances that should be used with caution in areas where cats may be exposed to them include mothballs and other naphthalene products,[18] as well as phenol based products often used for cleaning and disinfecting near cats' feeding areas or litter boxes, such as Pine-Sol, Dettol (Lysol), hexachlorophene, etc.[18] which, although they are widely used without problem, have been sometimes seen to be fatal.[21] Ethylene glycol, often used as an automotive antifreeze, is particularly appealing to cats, and as little as a teaspoonful can be fatal.[22] Essential oils are toxic to cats and there have been reported cases of serious illnesses caused by tea tree oil, and tea tree oil-based flea treatments and shampoos.[23][24][25]

Many human foods are somewhat toxic to cats; theobromine in chocolate can cause theobromine poisoning, for instance, although few cats will eat chocolate. Toxicity in cats ingesting relatively large amounts of onions or garlic has also been reported.[18]

Ethylene glycol (antifreeze) poisoning[edit]

Cats can succumb quickly from ethylene glycol poisoning, after ingesting as little as one teaspoon.[26] The primary source of ethylene glycol is automotive antifreeze or radiator coolant, where concentrations are high.[26] Other sources of antifreeze include windshield deicing agents, brake fluid, motor oil, developing solutions for hobby photographers, wood stains, solvents, and paints.[26] Some people put antifreeze into their cabin’s toilet to prevent it from freezing during the winter, resulting in toxicities when animals drink from the toilet.[26] Small amounts of antifreeze may be contained in holiday ornaments such as snow globes.[26] A cat suspected of having ingested ethylene glycol requires immediate veterinary treatment, to receive an antidote within three hours. The earlier the treatment is started, the greater the chance of survival.[27]


  1. ^ Bites, puncture wounds, and abscesses, John A. Bukowski, DVM, MP and Susan E. Aiello, DVM, ELS,; accessed March 30, 2009.
  2. ^ a b c "Domestic cat genome sequenced". Genome Research. Retrieved 14 Feb 2015. 
  3. ^ Blanton, J. D.; Hanlon, C. A.; Rupprecht, C. E. (2007). "Rabies surveillance in the United States during 2006". Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 231 (4): 540–556. doi:10.2460/javma.231.4.540. PMID 17696853. 
  4. ^ Sharon Guynup (April 21, 2000). "Cats and humans share similar X and Y chromosomes". Genome News Network. Retrieved 14 Feb 2015. 
  5. ^ Welcome to! Archived 2007-09-28 at the Wayback Machine.
  6. ^ Zoonotic Disease: What Can I Catch From My Cat?
  7. ^ Vegetarian dogs and cats: Kibble doesn't cut it anymore
  8. ^ Nutrition for Cats
  9. ^ Verlinden, A.; Hesta, M.; Millet, S.; Janssens, G.P. (2006). "Food Allergy in Dogs and Cats: A Review". Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 46 (3): 259–273. doi:10.1080/10408390591001117. PMID 16527756. 
  10. ^ John E. Bauer (2005-01-01). "Nutritional Requirements and Related Diseases". The Merck Veterinary Manual, 9th edition ISBN 0-911910-50-6. Merck & Co., Inc. Retrieved 2006-10-27. 
  11. ^ "A Poison Safe Home". Animal Poison Control Center. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Archived from the original on 2012-06-08. Retrieved 2012-07-08. 
  12. ^ "Toxic and Non-Toxic Plants". Animal Poison Control Center. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Retrieved 2012-07-08. 
  13. ^ "Human Medications and Cosmetics". Animal Poison Control Center. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Archived from the original on 2012-06-24. Retrieved 2012-07-08. 
  14. ^ "Cleaning Products". Animal Poison Control Center. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Archived from the original on 2012-06-22. Retrieved 2012-07-08. 
  15. ^ "People Foods". Animal Poison Control Center. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Archived from the original on 2012-08-06. Retrieved 2012-07-08. 
  16. ^ "Plants and Your Cat". The Cat Fanciers' Association, Inc. Archived from the original on 2010-03-26. Retrieved 2007-05-15. 
  17. ^ Allen AL (2003). "The diagnosis of acetaminophen toxicosis in a cat". Can Vet J. 44 (6): 509–10. PMC 340185Freely accessible. PMID 12839249. 
  18. ^ a b c d "Toxic to Cats". Vetinfo4Cats. Retrieved 2007-01-18. 
  19. ^ Camille DeClementi; Keith L. Bailey; Spencer C. Goldstein; Michael Scott Orser (December 2004). "Suspected toxicosis after topical administration of minoxidil in 2 cats". Journal of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care. 14 (4): 287–292. doi:10.1111/j.1476-4431.2004.04014.x. 
  20. ^ "Minoxidil Warning". Archived from the original on 2007-01-03. Retrieved 2007-01-18. Very small amounts of Minoxidil can result [in] serious problems or death 
  21. ^ Rousseaux CG, Smith RA, Nicholson S (1986). "Acute Pinesol toxicity in a domestic cat". Vet Hum Toxicol. 28 (4): 316–7. PMID 3750813. 
  22. ^ "Antifreeze Warning". The Cat Fanciers' Association, Inc. Archived from the original on 2009-06-20. Retrieved 2007-05-15. 
  23. ^ K. Bischoff; F. Guale (1998). "Australian tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) Oil Poisoning in three purebred cats". Journal of Veterinary Diagnostic Investigation. 10 (108). Archived from the original (– Scholar search) on October 15, 2006. Retrieved 2006-10-17. 
  25. ^ Be Wary of Aromatherapy Claims for Cats Archived 2008-07-27 at the Wayback Machine.
  26. ^ a b c d e "Antifreeze Poisoning in Dogs & Cats (Ethylene Glycol Poisoning)", Pet Poison Helpline, accessed Sept. 11, 2014.
  27. ^ "College of Veterinary Medicine: Pet Health Topics: Antifreeze Poisoning", Washington State University, accessed Sept. 11, 2014.

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