Common illnesses found in cats and kittens

Just like people, our pets get sick too. The only difficulty is that they cannot talk to us to tell us where it hurts, what they ate or what is wrong. It is important to know your cats physical body and health condition at all times.  A lump may seem like nothing, but it could be a dangerous abscess or a cancerous tumor. 

All pets deserve to have the best medical care we can provide and by adopting a kitty from us you are committing to that care for the lifetime of your pet.

This is also why I recommend that all cats/kittens stay indoors for their own safety. You may think it is great for the kitty to roam around outside and hunt for mice, but your neighbors do not. They DO NOT like your cat going potty in their gardens , howling all night or sleeping on top of their cars. 

This past year I had to witness the aftermath of cats and kittens left outside by their owners that were  run over by cars, drowned in swimming pools, beat to death, stomped on, burned, poisoned, fallen off balconies, trapped in trees, eaten by coyotees or other birds/animals and dumped at local shelters because they were found as strays with no micro-chip or name tags.  I do not appreciate getting calls from people looking for a new kitty because the last one they had mysteriously disappeared 2 days ago in coyote country.  Yeah right...

It is not a pretty sight to watch a 6 week old kitten go into 4 seizures, suffer extreme brain damage and then DIE a horrible death after eating pellets of rat poison!

Please check with your vet if you notice any of these symptoms or have any concern for your pet.

If you see any of the following signs, take the cat to the veterinarian immediately!

  • abdominal pain/body held in a hunched position
  • bleeding/abnormal discharge from a body opening
  • coat changes (dullness, dandruff, loss of hair, bald patches, excessive shedding)
  • difficult urination, inability to urinate, blood in the urine
  • difficulty in breathing; wheezing, choking
  • discolored tongue
  • disorientation
  • extreme thirst, increased water intake
  • increased hunger or food intake
  • increased urination
  • lumps or swellings
  • persistent cough
  • pupils different sizes or unresponsive to light
  • refusal to eat or drink
  • repeated vomiting
  • seizures
  • sever diarrhea
  • staggering, head tilt, inability to walk normally
  • sudden blindness or vision disturbances
  • unexplained weight loss or gain
  • unresponsiveness, unconsciousness, extreme languor, weakness

Here is a list of the most common diseases and ailments in cats and kittens.  Routine check-ups are very important for the safety and long term health of your pet.

Panleukopenia (FPV, Feline Distemper)

Feline panleukopenia virus is one of the most contagious and deadly of the feline diseases. The virus is transmitted by direct contact with an infected cat's feces, urine, saliva, vomit, or fleas, and indirectly from contact with contaminated objects. You can also bring the virus home if you touch and infected cat, or step in an infected cat's excrement or bodily fluid.

Onset is sudden and is characterized by any or all of these symptoms: fever, appetite loss, dehydration, depression, abdominal pain, vomiting and coat dullness. Infected cats often assume a hunched position. The mortality rate for this disease is high. The best defense is vaccination. Death occurs as soon as 24 hours.

Caliciviruses (FCV or FHV-1) 

This respiratory disease is a serious viral infection similar to FVR, with the additional discharge from the mouth, but the infection is usually milder. However, FCV can cause pneumonia which can be fatal, particularly to young kittens. Treatment is the same as for FVR. Vaccination is available for this disease.

Calicivirus complex usually always causes erosions on the nostrils, lips, gums, tongue, throat, and sometimes the inner mucous membranes of the eyelids. It is often complicated by a reduced appetite and dehydration. This disease usually runs a relatively short course, and is rarely fatal, but if untreated, the appetite loss and dehydration problems can be very serious. As in other viral diseases, infection with calicivirus reduces the animal's resistance to other diseases. It is often diagnosed concurrently with rhinotracheitis, and is also spread by aerosol.

Rhinotracheitis (FVR, rhino, Feline Herpes)

This acute disease affects the respiratory system. Symptoms are similar to our common cold, and include sneezing and coughing. Next the eyes become red, swollen and sensitive to light. The eyes produce a watery discharge, and the nose usually runs and forms a crust. Fever may be present, and the cat may stop eating and seem depressed.

Like the human cold virus, rhino is easily transmitted from one cat to another through direct contact, shared food and water dishes, litter boxes, or aerosol droplets drifting in the air from the emissions of an infected cat. Humans caring for infected cats can carry FVR on their hands, clothes, or even their feet. The risk of infecting your cat by petting a strange cat is small, although washing your hands after handling an unfamiliar animal is a wise habit to develop.

Treating FVR is usually symptomatic. Antibiotics are given to treat secondary infections. In severe cases, fluids are given to overcome dehydration, and oxygen is given if lack of respiratory function decreases the cat's oxygen intake.

Chlamydiosis (Pneumonitis)

This is a disease that is manifested by sneezing and inflammation of the membranes of the nostrils and the eyes. It is caused by the Chlamydia organism that is neither a virus nor a bacterium. The infection produces symptoms similar to calici and rhino viruses. It is highly contagious and may occur in cattery situations as a neonatal disease. It is treatable with antibiotics, and is, thus, less dangerous than calici or rhino. Unfortunately, all three of these diseases may infect a cat concurrently.

Chlamydia vaccine is a killed product that is frequently combined with the vaccines for FPV, FCV and FVR. THe same vaccination schedule may be used. Vaccines for the upper respiratory diseases are usually protective, however they are not 100% effective under all circumstances. Booster vaccinations are very important. Remember, in order to be effective, vaccinations must be given before the kitten or cat is exposed to the diseases.

Feline Leukemia (FeLV) 

This virus causes a complex, often fatal disease in cats that may be manifested in many different ways. It may suppress the cat's immune system and cause severe anemia, and it is frequently associated with cancer of the lymph glands, bones, nerves, lungs, gastrointestinal tracts, and kidneys. Often, the only outwardly visible symptoms are weight loss, lethargy, gradual health degeneration and depression.

Feline leukemia virus can be contracted through bite wounds and other physical contacts with infected animals, or it can be transmitted from mother to kittens before or at the time of birth. Blood tests can detect FeLV, but the interpretation and significance of test results are controversial in the veterinary community at this time. FeLV tests and vaccination programs vary from one area of the country to another, and from year to year, as new research results are published and new biologies are developed. Because FeLV is so unpredictable, your cat's doctor should be consulted before testing or vaccinating,

Infectious Peritonitis (FIP)

The disease associated with the FIP virus is actually caused by the body's immune response to the virus. The immune response assists the virus to spread throughout the body and cause damage. Researches think this virus is transmitted through bodily secretions such as feces or saliva, and contaminated objects such as dishes and litter boxes.

Two forms of the disease exist. The "wet" form is characterized by fluid accumulation within a cat's abdomen or chest that results in laborious breathing. Other symptoms include listlessness, fever, and appetite and weight loss. Usually the cat lives only days or weeks after the initial signs appear.

The "dry" form progresses more slowly. Symptoms vary, depending on the body areas affected, but usually include weight loss, intermittent fever and lethargy. A cat with the dry form usually dies within weeks or month of getting the disease.

Feline infectious peritonitis is usually fatal: no known effective treatment or cure exists at this time. Fortunately, an effective and safe intranasal vaccine for FIP is available.


Feline Immune Deficiency Virus (FIV or Feline AIDS)

Feline Immune Deficiency Virus is a condition that seems to be induced by FeLV. It is manifested by a general reduction of the functional immune system of an infected animal. Cats with immune deficiencies are susceptible to virtually dozens of infectious agents.

The syndrome has been associated with cases of feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), chronic respiratory infections, recurrent abscesses, and many others. According to current knowledge, the condition is not transmissible to other species.

FIV is a newly recognized feline virus resulting in immunosuppression - it suppresses the feline's normal immune response. The cat may appear completely healthy for months or years after infection. Eventually, the signs begin to appear as the disease suppresses the immune system's response, allowing secondary infections to take hold. Although this disease is similar to AIDS in humans, rest assured that FIV is species-specific. Contrary to recent erroneous rumors, it does not cause human AIDS and poses no threat to humans or non-feline companion animals. Nor can cats get AIDS from humans.

The cats most likely to be infected with FIV are young, free-roaming males. A cat can carry the virus for years before it attacks the immune system, then commonly causing the animal to suffer with chronic infections, weight loss and diarrhea, respiratory and skin infections, and fever.

The common mode of transmission is bite wounds. Like human AIDS, casual contact among cats is not an efficient way to transmit the disease. If you have a cat that tests positive for FIV, don't assume it is dying then and there, and don't automatically have it euthanized - it could live comfortably for years. You can keep a FIV-infected cat in a multi-cat environment with little risk to the uninfected cats, if they are well socialized.

Because the symptoms of the secondary infections vary, FIV is hard to identify and is easily confused with FeLV. Treatment options include protecting the cat from infections and treating the secondary infections when and if they occur. No cure or vaccines are currently available for FIV, but research is underway. The best prevention is to keep the cat away from high-risk cats (free-roaming, un neutered males). Any new cat brought into the household should be tested. Your cat can be screened for this disease with the same blood sample taken when testing for FeLV.


Rabies is probably only a remote threat to an indoor cat, but it is a fatal disease of all mammals and there are circumstances in which it's prudent to have your pet vaccinated against it, and in fact, in some places it's required by law

If your pet ever goes outdoors, even in the city, it should have the rabies vaccine. If you have a lot of in-and-out traffic through your house, as, for instance, with kids, who might inadvertently leave a door open or not notice your cat darting out when they come in, it's best to have the animal protected. If you take your pet with you to the country where it might slip outdoors and be bitten by a rabid animal (an infected skunk, raccoon, dog, or bat, for example), by all means have your cat get rabies shots

Also, if your darling cat has an unsocial disposition toward other people, and could conceivably bite a visitor, you yourself might need the legal protection of being able to prove that the animal has been inoculated against rabies.

And if you plan to take your cat abroad with you, it must have rabies shots in order to enter certain countries. Check with the consulate of every country you plan to visit - don't expect your veterinarian to be up on the requirements of other countries.

Some veterinarians give the rabies vaccine at the same time they inoculate a cat against FVR, FCV and FPV.

Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD)

The disorders of a cat's urinary system may be referred to as feline urologic syndrome (FUS). Or they may be called feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD) and include cystitis (a bacterial infection) and urolithiasis (granules or "stones" in the urinary tract).

Some urinary disorders create blockage of the urinary tract; others cause frequent, painful, bloody urination.

The cause of urinary tract disorders is unknown. Viruses, bacteria, stress, low water intake, diet, and lack of exercise have all been suspected. Another possibility is an unclean litter box that a cat is reluctant to use - it might retain its urine on purpose. Food high in ash (mineral) have been blamed too, but whether they cause or only aggravate the condition is unknown. Too much magnesium and phosphorus in a cat's diet can contribute to forming crystals, so a cat food low in these minerals is recommended for the cat.

Male cats, because of the naturally narrow shape of their urethra, are more prone to urinary blockage than females. Indoor cats are perhaps more susceptible than others because of limited exercise, especially if they are obese. And some cats just seem more predisposed than others.

Any time a cat breaks litter-box training, urinary tract disorder should be suspected. The first symptom in a female may be little drops of urine around the house - in the bathtub, on the kitchen floor, wherever.

Or you may notice your pet, especially a male, making frequent trips to the litter box and staying in it for long periods, straining to urinate. It may cry in pain when urinating or trying to. A male may lick its penis agitatedly. The cat may lose its appetite, or eat eagerly and then vomit. It may become careless about its grooming.

Other symptoms of FLUTD include inappropriate urination, frequent voiding, straining at the end of urination, and blood in the urine. The cat also may be off his/her feed and excessively thirsty.

Take him/her to the vet immediately. This is a life-threatening emergency!

Cats with FLUTD develop sand size crystals in their urine, which, combined with mucus and sloughed tissue and blood, can form blockages in the urinary tract. A cat suffering from any abnormal urinating needs prompt veterinary attention. A urinary blockage can kill a cat in forty-two hours.


The formation of hairballs (trichobezoar), these small dense elongated bits of swallowed hair in the stomach and intestines of cats is a common condition. Even short-haired breeds are susceptible, but Himalayans, with their long, luxurious fur, are particularly predisposed. As cats continuously groom themselves with their raspy tongues, which are perfect for gathering hair that they swallow during the grooming process.

Hair is nearly indigestible and it mats into tightly woven masses in their stomaches or upper small intestines. Usually the hair moves through the digestive tract and passes out with the feces with no trouble. Sometimes, however, the hair accumulates in the stomach, forming compact mouse-shaped hair balls. Usually your cat will vomit them up onto your newly cleaned carpet. THis is a normal process for cats as their systems are designed to rid themselves of indigestible items such as feathers, for example. Hairballs are not a cause for concern as long as they are occasional (except now you have to clean your carpet again..) You should be aware, however, that hairballs can lead to constipation, or even life-threatening obstructions.

Symptoms include appetite loss, retching, vomiting, wheezing, and a swollen and painful abdomen. If your cat displays any of these symptoms, take her to the vet immediately.

Treatment for normal hairballs, if needed, usually employs the regular use of lubricants that may be added to the cat's food, or given directly from a squeeze tube. Thor likes the kitty treats for hair balls. Smokey, Precious and Buckwheat like to eat it right out of the tube.

Skin Problems (Ringworm and Feline Acne)


Ringworm is a common condition in cats. It is a contagious fungal skin disease caused

not by worms but rather a fungus invading the skin's outer layer, causing patches of hair loss. It is more commonly seen in cats that are under stress from overcrowding, lack of exercise, poor nutrition, or an unclean environment. Humans can catch ringworms, so provide prompt veterinary treatment.

There are two types of ringworms. Acute clinical and subclinical. In an acute clinical infection, skin lesions are raised, inflamed, hairless circles on the skin. Subclinical ringworm is much more common, and is manifested by scaling of the skin, broken hair shafts, and only slight hair loss.

Cats with subclinical infections may go unnoticed by owners, and they often act as carriers or reservoirs of infection for other cats, other household pets, and sometimes humans. Fungus infections can be spread by handling an infected animal, then handling a susceptible animal.

Specific diagnosis is not always easy, and must be made in a clinical lab. Treatments will vary according to the specific circumstances. It might be necessary to use oral medication, medicated baths, topical medication, or a combination of the three techniques.

I recommend using Miconozole 2% (women's yeast cream) for over the counter treatment of your pets.

If you get ringworm.  Put some Liquid Band-aid on it to suffocate the fungus.  Leave on for a few days.

Feline Acne

Feline acne is quite common in cats and usually appears on the face and chin. Openings of the hair follicles become plugged with dried sebum (an oily material secreted by the sebaceous glands) and keratin (a protein substance in hair). When the plug is exposed to oxygen, it changes color and becomes a blackhead. Treat this condition by feeding your cat on plates rather than in bowls and cleansing the affected area with a benzoyl peroxide shampoo recommended by your vet.


This inflammation or infection of the gums is usually associated with dental problems such as heavy tartar on your cat's teeth. The usual signs noticed are bad breath and reluctance to pick up or chew solid food. It is a condition seen primarily in middle-age or older cats. Treatment usually begins by cleaning the teeth and removing the tartar. In advanced cases, a tooth or several teeth may require extraction.

Eye Ailments

Himalayans and Persians can have constrictions or blocks in the ducts that drain tears into the nasal cavity because of their foreshortened muzzle. This will cause tears to overflow at the inner corners of the eyes. The tears then leave yellow or brown stains on their facial fur. You might ask your vet to prescribe eye drops to reduce the tearing.

The Siamese "squint" is a genetic disorder that causes abnormal nerve connections between the eye and brain, resulting in double vision. The cat squints in an attempt to correct this.

Conjunctivitis, inflammation of the eyelid membranes, is a common ailment in cats, and is caused by many different factors: irritants such as cigarette smoke, injury, viruses, bacteria, and plant pollens. Symptoms can include cloudy or discolored discharge from the eye, blinking, and reddened, exposed, or swollen third eyelids (also called haws or nictating membranes). Don't hesitate -- you need to see your vet now so ointments can be prescribed to help the eye heal.

If you notice black or brown spots on the surface of your cat's cornea, take the cat to see your vet. It might be a sign of corneal sequestration, where deposits of pigment develop on the surface of the cornea. This condition is most often seen in the Himalayan and Persian cats. It is treated with veterinarian prescribed medication, and sometimes a soft contact lens is put over the eye to help it heal.

Ear Problems

When cats have ear problems it is usually due to parasites or injury. Injuries can include lacerations caused by another cat's claws, attempts to ease an itch or irritation by the cat herself. If you notice your cat shaking her head or scratching at her ears, or if you see dark brown, waxy deposits in her ears, it is usually a sign of parasite infestation, (See Mites above), ear infection, or a foreign body in the ear, such as a foxtail. Foxtails are a particular problem to the Himalayan, because they cling to the long hair. Don't ignore these symptoms. See your vet.


Abscesses are quite common in cats, mostly outdoor cats, especially tom cats. They are caused by animal bites, puncture wounds resulting from cat fights, imbedded foxtails, and other small puncture wounds. They often go unnoticed since they are generally small and hide easily under the cat's long fur.

The initial injury usually does not bleed much. Abscesses usually appear a few days after the injury as a hot, hard swelling accompanied by pain and sometimes fever. An infection can be life threatening, so it is very important for you to check with your veterinary as soon as possible. Treatment of wounds or abscesses depends upon the location and state of the infection. Prevention is easier, cheaper, and safer than treatment.


CATS SHOULD NOT BE FAT!  NO EXCEPTION! Check your cat's ribs. An overweight cat's ribs are difficult or almost impossible to feel. The abdomen might protrude, and fat may hang down below the belly. She may also develop bulges of fat on the rump, and the face will become broader.

Always check with your vet before you put your cat on a diet. She or he will check your cat to make sure she doesn't have other health problems that might be contributing to her obesity. Never put an obese cat on a strict, extremely low calorie diet. This could cause life-threatening problems.

Cat exceeding their optimum body weight by 15 percent are considered obese. They should be fed a reduced calorie food. Many different kinds and flavors of reduced calorie foods are available. Ask your vet to recommend what is best for your cat.

When changing from the old food to the new reduced calorie food, "wean" your cat slowly from her old food to the new one. Provide extra play time with her favorite toy to help your cat stay slim and alert.


We humans are much more likely to catch diseases from one another than from our pets. However, there are a few diseases that can pass from pet to owner. These type of diseases are called zoonotic diseases.

Our beloved cats can host the toxoplasmosis organism which is called Toxoplasma gondil. This disease can be transmitted to a cat's human through contact with an infected cat's feces and can cause damage to developing human embryos. It is also dangerous to people who have had a course of immunosuppression therapy (which is given to them after an organ transplant surgery), to people who have impaired immune systems such as people with AIDS, and those undergoing chemotherapy.

Women who are pregnant and people with impaired immune systems should not clean litter boxes and should take the precaution of wearing gloves when they garden because of the risk of the Toxoplasma gondil possibly being transmitted to them. This does not mean it is necessary to give the cat away if you are at risk, as toxoplasmosis is transmitted only through direct contact with the contaminated feces. If you have any concerns or questions, have your vet check the cat for this disease. While its true cats are a definite transmitter, most reported cases of toxoplasmosis is acquired by eating undercooked meat.

Chances of you or your cat contracting any zoonotic disease is almost nonexistent if you have your cat tested and then keep her inside.

Fatty Liver Syndrome

The liver is the largest organ in a cat's body (as it is in the bodies of all mammals, humans included). When an animal is sick with any type of disease, the liver is the first to be affected. Cats somehow seem to have a propensity for liver diseases, most notably hepatic lipidosis, or fatty liver syndrome. No one understand its exact cause, but veterinarians most often see it in cats that live indoors that were once obese and then stopped eating and therefore lost weight.

Even cats can become anorexic (refusing to eat), most often this is triggered by some sort of stress. A cat who is upset about moving to a new house, a new household member, the absence of its owner, or a change in her diet can suffer from stress. Whatever has caused this stress, if the cat stops eating for as long as two weeks, and especially if she was overweight before, she is at risk for fatty liver syndrome. That's the reason you should never suddenly put your chubby cat on a crash weight-loss diet.

When a cat lives in a multiple-cat household stops eating may not be noticed until one day it dawns on the owner that their beloved cat, who was rather fat, hadn't shown up for meal lately. By the time you get your cat to a vet, she could be very sick.

The treatment, once the necessary test are taken and your cat has been diagnosed with fatty liver syndrome, is immediate nutrition - forced feeding of a high protein diet, by tube if necessary. Unfortunately, a cat who has this disorder only has about a fifty-fifty chance of recovering. You will probably have to learn how to tube-feed her yourself, since the cat will do much better in her own home, perhaps for many weeks. Your vet will show you the proper way to do this.

Anal Sac Impactions

This condition is often a nuisance that worries owners. Scent sacs are a normal part of the anatomical structures in many carnivores, cats and dogs included, but they are best developed in skunks.

Normally, the foul- smelling scent oil is periodically eliminated from the anal sacs when the cat passes its feces. But when hair, feces or other solid matter obstructs the natural opening of an anal sac, th oily secretion is trapped inside the sac, and the cat may suffer some discomfort. When a cat scoots on its bottom, that is sometimes a sign of feline anal sac impactions (this is also the most common symptom in dogs).

A cat may also display quite different symptoms. She may be resting, then jump up and look behind her as if bitten on the derriere, and she will often switch her tail violently. At times, her skin will twitch or "crawl" from the root of the tail forward along its spine. She may suddenly sit down, turn, and begin licking at its anal area.

When you see these symptoms, make an appointment with your veterinarian. Altho impactions are not emergencies, they should still be treated. If the condition occurs frequently, you might want to ask the vet to teach you how to express the anal sacs at home.


This is a feline infectious disease that causes anemia, depression, and loss of appetite. It is contagious, but no vaccine is available at this time. The disease is caused by a bacterium, Hemobartonella felis, that attaches itself to and parasitizes the red blood cells of affected cats, destroying those cells.

In the early stages of the infection, the cat will run a fever of 104 to 105 (40-40.6 celcius). As the infection progresses, anemia is seen, resulting in weakness, pale mucous membranes, and loss of weight. Sometimes, jaundice, or yellow discoloration of the cat's mucous membranes occurs when the red blood cell destruction is sufficiently extensive.