How to Recognize Most Common Cat Illnesses

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This article will detail how to recognize symptoms of the most common cat illnesses, how to treat them and how to avoid them if possible. When a beloved pet becomes sick it can be a scary event for the whole family. Hopefully, these tips will help you know what to look for, recognize what you are seeing and understand what type of treatment to seek.


ILLNESS: As with humans cancer is a leading cause of illness and death in cats. Also like humans, cats are susceptible to several different types of cancer such as skin, stomach, and kidney.

SYMPTOMS: One of the main indications that something is wrong is if you notice a lump somewhere on your cat’s body or a skin lesion that doesn’t seem to heal. Symptoms of internal cancers can include changes in behavior, weight loss, lethargy, loss of appetite, sudden lameness, diarrhea or vomiting. Though cancer can occur in cats at any age, it is most prevalent in cats over 8 years of age. There is no known prevention for internal cancers, though some studies suggest feeding the highest quality nutrition available will help lengthen a cats lifespan.

Skin cancer occurs most frequently in cats with white or light-colored heads and ears. Ask your vet if your cat may be at risk. If so, keeping your cat indoors is the best prevention for this type of cancer.

TREATMENTS: For a visible lump or lesion the first thing to do is get a biopsy to confirm a cancer diagnosis. After that other tests can determine if the cancer has spread. Some cancers can be cured, but if your cat’s cancer is not curable you can certainly take measures to make her life as comfortable and pain-free as possible.


ILLNESS: Diabetes is a very complex disease in cats. As in humans it is either a lack of the hormone insulin or inability of the cat’s body to process and use it normally. This results in a condition known as “hyperglycemia” or extremely high levels of sugar in the blood system. For some reason, male cats are more prone to this disease than female cats.

SYMPTOMS: If you notice your cat’s water or food bowls are being emptied faster than usual, or your cat is urinating more frequently this could be a sign that glucose levels are going unregulated. Excess glucose in the bloodstream will make a cat thirsty when they are not usually thirst driven. A simple blood test at the vet can confirm a diagnosis of diabetes.

TREATMENT: Although there is no cure for diabetes it can be controlled with injections and pills to control glucose and dietary changes. Some cats, particularly overweight cats who successfully lose weight, can stimulate their pancreas to begin functioning normally again and overcome the need for continued medication. This is the best possible outcome, and the cat can continue to live a long, healthy and happy life.


FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus)            

ILLNESS: A cat with this virus can live symptom free for years, but once the illness takes hold it can create many different health problems even before reaching the chronic stages. Once symptoms begin to develop they can continually worsen.

SYMPTOMS: Some of the most common signs to look for are: enlarged lymph nodes, weight loss, fever, dull messy coat, diarrhea, discharge from eyes or nose, wounds that don’t heal, or any other significant behavior change.

PREVENTION: Since this disease is mainly transmitted from cat to cat through deep bite wounds during fights, usually over territory or during mating (another good reason to keep kitty indoors!) It doesn’t seem to be transmitted through the sharing of food bowls or litterboxes. The most susceptible cats are free-roaming intact males. Cats which are kept indoors are the least likely candidates for infection.

TREATMENT: Unfortunately there is no standard protocol for the treatment of FIV. There are things that can be done to help an infected cat stay healthy and live as long and as comfortably as possible. There are medications for secondary infections, healthy diets, fluid replacement therapy, and immune system enhancing drugs. And you definitely want to spay or neuter and keep an infected cat indoors only.


FeLV (Feline Leukemia)                                 

ILLNESS: Feline Leukemia can be difficult to distinguish due to the widely varied symptoms that can be displayed. These can include loss of appetite, poor coat condition, uneven pupils, infections of the skin and respiratory tract, weight loss, litter box avoidance, and recurrence of other viral ailments. Some cats can be asymptomatic carriers and have no symptoms of the disease, sometimes for years.

Feline Leukemia is passed from cat to cat through close contact with infected saliva and mucus through biting or even grooming.

The infection rates are much higher in stray city-dwelling cats than in rural cats simply due to the increased contact they have with each other.

PREVENTION: There are now vaccines available in both the U.S. and Europe to aid in the prevention of Feline Leukemia, although none is considered 100% effective. Serious side effects have also been reported as a result of the vaccine in a small number of cats, the worst being the development of an aggressive tumor at the injection site. More often than not your veterinarian will still recommend the annual vaccination.

TREATMENT:  For the past 8 years in the U.S. and Europe there has been an injectable treatment aid available which can reduce the mortality rate from approximately 50% to around 20%. It can only be administered to cats over 9 weeks of age in non-terminal stages of the disease.


IN CONCLUSION: While the possibility of a beloved cat contracting one of these serious illnesses may be worrisome, it is far better to be educated and aware of the possibility than to ignore it altogether. With the help of a trusted veterinarian most of these common diseases can be prevented, or at the very least treated with an early diagnosis. We do it for ourselves and for our children, we should do the same for our furry companions.

If you have questions about how to prepare your cat for a trip to the vet check out the tips here:

Let me know your thoughts, comments and discussion are always welcome!

Kyle Ann


*Information courtesy PetMD and Wikipedia  *photos courtesy Pexels


22 thoughts on “How to Recognize Most Common Cat Illnesses”

  1. Hi Kyle Ann,

    Thanks for your post on cat illnesses, very informative.  All of my kids have had four legs as well as tails–1+ dogs, 8 horses, and cats–many, many cats…lost count.

    We moved (with two dogs) to a farm in Indiana 27 years ago and started with two horses, and eventually grew to eight horses and one time nine dogs…all the while cats wandered in to barn, and stayed.  When my wife passed away three years ago, I re-homed our last two horses to a family that had kids to ride them. 

    The four or five barn cats then became carport cats.  Two years ago, I rented out the place next door to a single mom/daughter, and they brought their five horses to my barn/pasture.  About a year ago, there seemed to have been a cat explosion–three females with litters of two, three, and six, plus a mix of others…total population was 24!!!  Into action, spaying and neutering and finding homes for some, and the last male was neutered about a week ago.

    After my move to Florida this past May, she now rents my home in Indiana also, and is caring for the cats (as well as her six dogs and horses).  “I’m not a cat person” she declared to me two years ago, and although she has a favorite of the eight or nine cats left there, none of which will be sent to other homes, she still declares “I’m not a cat person”…she will definitely get the valuable information you provided here…thanks a bunch!!!

    Keep up the good work, and best wishes,

    Joe (joejr49 in WA)

    1. Hi Joe,

      My what a variety of experiences you have had with four legged companions!  I had horses at one time myself but  my ill health wouldn’t allow me to maintain their upkeep so I downsized to a small townhouse in town and reduced my pet population to a dog and two cats. 

      A good relationship with a trusted veterinarian can be invaluable.

      You are fortunate to have found a trusted friend to care for your property and animals.

      Thanks for taking time to read my post and add your comments. Please come back soon to see what’s new.

      All the best,


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