As a cat parent, it is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of common illnesses so you can seek veterinary help for your feline friend in a timely manner if necessary. Read on for information about diseases and other medical inflictions that frequently impact cats.
Cancer is a class of diseases in which cells grow uncontrollably, invade surrounding tissue and may spread to other areas of the body. As with people, cats can get various kinds of cancer. The disease can be localized (confined to one area, like a tumor) or generalized (spread throughout the body).
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Causes of Cancer
Cancer is a “multifactorial” disease, which means it has no known single cause. However, we do know that both hereditary and environmental factors can lead to the development of cancer in cats.
- Squamous cell carcinoma of the ear, eyelid or nose is a skin cancer caused by repeated exposure to the sun. White, or light colored, cats are more susceptible to squamous cell carcinoma.
- Lymphosarcoma or lymphoma (LSA), is one of the most common type of cancer in cats. Some reports estimate that 30% of all reported cat cancers are due to LSA. Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) is linked to most forms of LSA except for the gastrointestinal (GI) form. FeLV is a transmittable retrovirus that can be passed in utero as well as through saliva and direct contact. Primarily a disease in younger cats, the virus doesn’t always manifest symptoms, so it is important to have your cat tested regularly to prevent transmission and progression. There is a vaccine available for FeLV that your veterinarian can discuss with you based on your cat’s lifestyle and risk of exposure to FeLV.
The GI form of LSA (the most common form) can cause a large mass in the stomach or intestine or diffuse infiltration throughout the intestinal tract.
It is important to take your cat to your veterinarian if any evidence of disease is noted. LSA is not curable, however, most cats respond well to treatment.
Symptoms of cancer in cats may include:
- Lumps (which are not always malignant, but are always worth having a veterinarian examine)
- Persistent sores or skin infections
- Abnormal discharge from any part of the body
- Bad breath
- Listlessness, lethargy or other marked change in behavior
- Weight loss
- Sudden lameness
- Diarrhea or vomiting
- Scaly and/or red skin patches
- Decreased or loss of appetite
- Difficulty breathing, urinating or defecating
- Change in behavior
Diagnosing Cancer in Cats
- If a lump is present, the first step is typically a needle biopsy, which removes a very small tissue sample for microscopic examination of cells. Alternately, surgery may be performed to remove all or part of the lump for diagnosis by a pathologist.
- Radiographs, ultrasound, blood evaluation and other diagnostic tests may also be helpful in determining if cancer is present or if it has spread.
Cats More Prone to Cancer
- Though cancer can be diagnosed in cats of all ages and breeds, it is much more common in older cats.
- Certain breeds are prone to specific cancers, but cats with white ears and heads are particularly susceptible to skin cancer.
Ask your vet if your cat falls into specific at-risk categories.
- Keeping your cat indoors will protect her from certain skin cancers caused by repeated sun exposure and sunburn.
- Breast cancer is a common cancer for cats, but it can be avoided by having your cat spayed before her first heat cycle.
- Treatment options vary and depend on the type and stage of cancer.
- Common treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and immunotherapy or a combination of therapies. Success of treatment depends on the form and extent of the cancer and the aggressiveness of the therapy. Of course, early detection is best.
- Some cat owners opt for no treatment of the cancer, in which case palliative care, including pain relief, should be considered.Regardless of how you proceed after a diagnosis of cancer in your pet, it is very important to consider his quality of life when making future decisions.
- Some cancers can be cured, and almost all patients can receive at least some benefit from treatment. Please note that if your cat’s cancer is not curable, there are still many things you can do to make your pet feel better. Don’t hesitate to talk to your vet about your options. And remember good nutrition and loving care can greatly enhance your cat’s quality of life.
Knowing When to Consult Your Vet
Contact your veterinarian immediately if your cat shows any of the clinical signs mentioned on the list above. Should your cat receive a diagnosis of cancer, you may wish to consult a veterinary oncologist, often employed by specialty veterinary practices and teaching hospitals.
Diabetes in cats is a complex disease caused by either a lack of the hormone insulin or an inadequate response to insulin. After a cat eats, her digestive system breaks food into various components, including glucose—which is carried into her cells by insulin. When a cat does not produce insulin or cannot utilize it normally, her blood sugar levels elevate. The result is hyperglycemia, which, if left untreated, can cause many complicated health problems for a cat.
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It is important to understand that diabetes is considered a manageable disorder—and many diabetic cats can lead happy, healthy lives. Some may even go into remission!
Diabetes can be classified as:
- Type I (lack of insulin production)
- Type II (impaired insulin production along with an inadequate response to the hormone).
Cats with type II diabetes can progress to type I diabetes. In fact, by the time most cats are diagnosed with diabetes, they are identified as having the type I disorder. These cats require insulin therapy for survival. Cats with type II disease may respond to other forms of therapy.
Diabetes Symptoms in Cats
The following are signs that your cat may be diabetic:
- Change in appetite (either increased or decreased)
- Weight loss
- Excessive thirst/increase in water consumption
- Increased urination
- Urinating in areas other than litter box
- Unusually sweet-smelling breath
- Unkempt hair coat
- Urinary tract infection
Causes of Diabetes
The exact cause of diabetes is unknown. Genetics, pancreatic disease, certain medications and abnormal protein deposits in the pancreas can play a role in causing this disorder.
The most important factors in the development of diabetes seem to be obesity, gender (male cats are more commonly afflicted than females) and age.
To properly diagnose diabetes, your veterinarian will collect information about clinical signs, perform a physical examination and check blood work and urinalysis.
- Every diabetic cat is an individual and will respond differently to therapy. Diabetes treatment is based on how severe the signs of disease are and whether there are any other health issues that could complicate therapy.
- Some cats are seriously ill when first diagnosed and require intensive hospitalized care for several days to regulate their blood sugar levels.
- Cats who are more stable when first diagnosed may respond to oral medication or a high-fiber diet.
- For most cats, insulin injections are necessary for adequate regulation of blood glucose. Once your pet’s individual insulin treatment is established, typically based on weight, you will be shown how to give him his insulin injections at home.
- Your vet may also show you how to perform glucose tests at home. Other routine blood work may also be necessary.
As your veterinarian will explain, it’s important to always give your cat insulin at the same time every day and feed her regular meals in conjunction with her medication; this allows increased nutrients in the blood to coincide with peak insulin level. This will lessen the chance that her sugar levels will swing either too high or too low. You can work with your vet to create a feeding schedule around your pet’s medication time. It is also important to avoid feeding your diabetic cat treats that are high in glucose.
A proper diet and regular exercise can go a long way to avoid the development of feline diabetes. Aside from other negative effects, obesity is known to contribute to insulin resistance.
If You Suspect Your Cat Has Diabetes
If your cat is showing any abnormal clinical signs as listed above, make an appointment to see your veterinarian immediately. If a diabetic cat is not treated, he can develop kidney disease, neurological disorders or other metabolic diseases. Cats with type I diabetes require insulin therapy for survival.
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)
Cats infected with feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) may not show symptoms until years after the initial infection occurred. Although the virus is slow-acting, a cat’s immune system is severely weakened once the disease takes hold. This makes the cat susceptible to various secondary infections. Infected cats receiving supportive medical care and kept in a stress-free, indoor environment can live relatively comfortable lives for months to years before the disease reaches its chronic stages.
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An FIV-infected cat may not show any symptoms for years. Once symptoms do develop, however, they may continually progress—or a cat may show signs of sickness interspersed with health for years. If your cat is demonstrating any of the following symptoms, please have examined by your veterinarian:
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Weight loss
- Disheveled coat
- Poor appetite
- Abnormal appearance or inflammation of the eye (conjunctivitis)
- Inflammation of the gums (gingivitis)
- Inflammation of the mouth (stomatitis)
- Dental disease
- Skin redness or hair loss
- Wounds that don’t heal
- Discharge from eyes or nose
- Frequent urination, straining to urinate or urinating outside of litter box
- Behavior change
- FIV is mainly passed from cat to cat through deep bite wounds, the kind that usually occur outdoors during aggressive fights and territorial disputes—a perfect reason to keep your cat inside.
- Another, less common mode of transmission is from an FIV-infected mother cat to her kitten. FIV does not seem to be commonly spread through sharing food bowls and litter boxes, social grooming, sneezing and other casual modes of contact.
- Although any feline is susceptible, free-roaming, outdoor intact male cats who fight most frequently contract the disease. Cats who live indoors are the least likely to be infected.
Please note: FIV cannot be transmitted from cat to human, only from cat to cat.
- The best way to prevent your cat from contracting the virus is to keep him indoors, avoiding any chance of contact with infected felines.
- If you walk your cat, keep him on a leash when outdoors.
- If your cat is going to be spending any time in a cattery or in a home with other felines, make sure all cats have tested negative for FIV.
- Any recently adopted cat should be tested for FIV prior to entering your home.
- You may also want to speak to your veterinarian about the FIV vaccine and if it is appropriate for your cat.
When to Consult Your Veterinarian
If you suspect your cat has FIV, have him examined and tested by your veterinarian right away. During your visit, be ready to describe any symptoms that you have detected, no matter how minute they seem. Also make sure to keep your cat indoors, away from other felines who might possibly be infected or whom he could infect, until you have a diagnosis.
Without proper treatment, the secondary infections that can occur as a consequence of FIV can progress to life-threatening conditions. Additionally, cats with FIV can develop various forms of cancer, blood diseases or kidney failure, which will ultimately claim the cat’s life.
- FIV infection is routinely diagnosed by blood testing.
- The FIV status of every cat should be known.
- The most common type of test looks for the presence of antibodies to the virus in the blood. No test is 100% accurate all of the time, and your veterinarian will interpret the test result and determine whether further testing is needed to confirm either a positive or negative test result. Once a cat is determined to be FIV-positive, that cat is capable of transmitting the disease to other cats.
- Since it is possible for an infected mother cat to transfer FIV antibodies to her kittens, these kittens may test positive from their mother’s antibodies until they have cleared them from their systems, which happens by six months of age. Kittens who test positive for FIV antibodies when they’re younger than six months should undergo antibody tests again at a later date to see if they are infected.
Unfortunately, there is no specific antiviral treatment for FIV. Cats can carry the virus for a long time before symptoms appear. Therefore, treatment focuses mainly on extending the asymptomatic period or, if symptoms have set in, on easing the secondary effects of the virus. Your veterinarian may prescribe some of the following treatments:
- Medication for secondary infections
- Healthy, palatable diet to encourage good nutrition
- Fluid and electrolyte replacement therapy
- Anti-inflammatory drugs
- Immune-enhancing drugs
- Parasite control
Caring for an FIV-Infected Cat
- Keep your cat indoors. This will protect him from contact with disease-causing agents to which he may be susceptible. By bringing your cat indoors, you’re also protecting the uninfected cats in your community.
- Watch for changes—even seemingly minor—in your cat’s health and behavior. Immediately report any health concerns to your vet.
- Bring your cat to your vet at least twice per year for a wellness checkup, blood count and urine analysis.
- Feed your cat nutritionally balanced food—no raw food diets, please, as bacteria and parasites in uncooked meat and eggs can be dangerous to immunocompromised pets.
- Be sure your cat is spayed or neutered.
Feline Leukemia Virus (FelV)
First discovered in the 1960s, feline leukemia virus is a transmittable RNA retrovirus that can severely inhibit a cat’s immune system. It is one of the most commonly diagnosed causes of disease and death in domestic cats. Because the virus doesn’t always manifest symptoms right away, any new cat entering a household—and any sick cat—should be tested for FeLV.
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FeLV weakens an animal’s immune system and predisposes cats to a variety of infections and diseases, including anemia, kidney disease and lymphosarcoma, a highly malignant and fatal cancer of the lymph system.
Young kittens and cats less than one year of age are most susceptible to the virus. Cats living with an infected cat, allowed outdoors where they may be bitten by an infected cat, and kittens born to a mother who is FeLV positive are most at risk for infection.
- The FeLV virus is shed in many bodily fluids, including saliva, nasal secretions, urine, feces and blood.
- FeLV is most commonly transmitted through direct contact, mutual grooming and through sharing litter boxes, food and water bowls.
- It can also be passed in utero or through mother’s milk.
- Infected outdoor cats fighting with other cats can transmit the disease through bites and scratches.
Healthy cats over three months of age and vaccinated for FeLV are highly unlikely to contract the virus from another cat.
Signs of FeLV
Cats can be infected and show no signs. Others may exhibit:
- Loss of appetite and weight loss
- Pale or inflamed gums
- Poor coat condition
- Upper respiratory infections
- Diarrhea and vomiting
- Changes in behavior
- Vision or other eye problems
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Reproductive problems (in females)
- Chronic skin disease
- Respiratory distress
- There is a vaccine available for cats who are at risk of contracting FeLV. Like all vaccines, there are risks involved in vaccination, and the vaccine is not a 100% guarantee against infection. Your veterinarian can best evaluate whether this vaccine is right for your cat.
- As with any infectious disease, the best prevention is eliminating sources of exposure. Routine FeLV testing and keeping your cat indoors and away from cats whose FeLV status is not known remain the best way to prevent your cat from becoming infected.
There are several types of tests available to diagnose FeLV.
- Most veterinarians and shelter professionals use the ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) test, which detects antigen to the FELV virus in the bloodstream.
- Other tests like the IFA (indirect fluorescent antibody) test or PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test are recommended to confirm positive ELISA test results.
Caring for a Cat with FelV
- Feed your cat a nutritionally balanced diet, one free of raw meat, eggs and unpasteurized dairy products, which can harbor bacteria and parasites and lead to infection.
- Provide a quiet place for your cat to rest indoors and away from other cats who could promote disease.
- Bring your cat to the vet every six months—at the very least—for a wellness checkup and blood tests.
- During the early stages of infection, a cat may not show any clinical signs, but he can still pass the virus to other cats. It’s not advisable to introduce a new uninfected cat into the household, even one who has been properly vaccinated against FeLV. Those living in close quarters with infected cats are most at risk for infection, and should be tested for the virus and, if negative, be housed separately.
- FeLV is contagious to other cats, but not to humans or other species. Other cats in the house can acquire the virus from an infected cat. Though the virus doesn’t live long outside of the body, and is easily inactivated with common disinfectants, it can be passed through mutual grooming, shared food and water as well as common litter boxes.
- Sadly there is no cure for FeLV, and it is estimated that less than 20% of clinically infected cats survive more than three years of active infection. In the case of those cats who develop cancer, chemotherapy can help prolong life, but treatment often focuses on providing the best quality of life.
Spread by infected mosquitoes, heartworm is increasingly being recognized as an underlying cause of health problems in domestic cats. Cats are an atypical host for heartworms. Despite its name, heartworm primarily causes lung disease in cats. It is an important concern for any cat owner living in areas densely populated by mosquitoes, and prevention should be discussed with a veterinarian.
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You may have thought heartworm disease only affects dogs, and it’s true that the infection is less common in cats. The cat is not a natural host for the heartworm parasite, Dirofilaria immitis, and so the heartworm is not likely to complete its entire life cycle. That means that fewer and smaller worms survive, and many do not reach a cat’s heart. The worms that do survive—and the resulting immune reaction that the cat’s body sets up to kill the developing worms—can cause severe health problems.
Causes and Signs of Heartworm Disease
When a mosquito carrying the heartworm parasite, Dirofilaria immitis, bites a cat, larvae are transmitted into the bloodstream. The larvae migrate toward the heart over a period of around four to six months, maturing as they go, then settle in the heart, pulmonary arteries and blood vessels of the lungs. Because a domestic cat is not a natural host for the heartworm parasite, many of the worms die. These—along with the living worms—cause severe inflammatory and immune responses in an infected cat.
Cats of all ages, living in any region, can contract heartworm, but the disease is more prevalent in felines who live in areas densely populated by mosquitoes. Outdoor cats are at greater risk because of increased exposure to mosquitoes. However, indoor cats are also susceptible to mosquito bites, so it’s smart to discuss prevention with your vet. The heartworm infection can be especially life-threatening to kittens and older cats.
The following signs may indicate that your cat has been infected:
- Persistent cough
- Breathing difficulties (panting, wheezing, rapid or open-mouthed breathing)
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Sporadic vomiting
- Sudden death
Breathing difficulties that occur in the first stage of heartworm disease, caused by worms newly arriving in the heart and lungs, were likely previously diagnosed as feline asthma or bronchitis. However, these breathing problems are now thought to have actually been due to what is now called heartworm-associated respiratory disease (HARD).
- There are several FDA-approved medications available that reliably prevent feline heartworm infection. Check with your vet and please remember, it’s recommended that cats are screened for heartworm infection with blood tests before being given any type of preventative medication.
- It’s also a good idea to limit your cat’s exposure to mosquito-infested areas and bring her in for preventative screenings during vet visits.
- Regular checkups are key to detecting early infections and can give your cat a good chance at recovery.
Diagnosing Heartworm Disease
Heartworm disease is not as easily diagnosed in cats as it is in dogs.
- Routine testing requires a combination of blood tests.
- When cats show signs of respiratory difficulty and heartworm is suspected, diagnosis is usually based on a cat’s history, physical examination, radiographs, echocardiogram and blood tests.
Treating Heartworm Disease
There are currently no products in the United States approved for treating feline heartworm infection. The good news is that many heartworm-infected cats are able to fight the infection themselves, and can be monitored with radiographs every few months, while waiting out the worms’ lifespan. If an infected cat shows symptoms of lung disease, the cat can be given a cortisone-like medication as needed. Medication can also be given to help control coughing and vomiting.
Although some cats are able to fight the infection on their own, the following can occur if heartworms are not monitored and treated:
- Damage to walls of heart
- Damage to pulmonary blood vessels
- Possible obstruction of blood flow through pulmonary arteries
- Impaired breathing
- Heart and lung failure
- Kidney and liver damage
- Sudden death
Many pet parents eagerly open their windows to enjoy the weather during the summer months. Unfortunately, unscreened windows pose a real danger to cats, who fall out of them so often that the veterinary profession has a name for the complaint—High-Rise Syndrome. Falls can result in shattered jaws, punctured lungs, broken limbs and pelvises—and even death.
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- Cats have excellent survival instincts, and they don’t deliberately “jump” from high places that would be dangerous. Most cats fall accidentally from high-rise windows, terraces or fire escapes.
- Cats have an incredible ability to focus their attention on whatever interests them. A bird or other animal attraction can be distracting enough to cause them to lose their balance and fall.
- Because cats have little fear of heights and enjoy perching in high places, pet owners often assume that they can take care of themselves. Although cats can cling to the bark of trees with their claws, other surfaces are much more difficult, such as window ledges, concrete or brick surfaces.
- When cats fall from high places, they don’t land squarely on their feet. Instead, they land with their feet slightly splayed apart, which can cause severe head and pelvis injuries.
- It is a misconception that cats won’t be injured if they fall from one- or two-story buildings. They may actually be at greater risk for injury when falling shorter distances than by falling from mid-range or higher altitudes. Shorter distances do not give them enough time to adjust their body posture to fall correctly.
- When cats fall from high-rise buildings, they may end up on sidewalks or streets that are dangerous and unfamiliar to them.Never assume that the animal has not survived the fall; immediately rush the animal to the nearest animal hospital or to your veterinarian.
- There is a 90% survival rate for cats who are high-rise victims if they receive immediate and proper medical attention.
Preventing High-Rise Syndrome
To keep your cat safe during the summer, take the following precautions:
- Install snug and sturdy screens in all your windows.
- If you have adjustable screens, please make sure that they are tightly wedged into window frames.
- Note that cats can slip through childproof window guards—these don’t provide adequate protection!
Rabies is a viral disease that affects the brain and spinal cord of all mammals, including cats, dogs and humans. This preventable disease has been reported in every state except Hawaii. There’s good reason that the very word “rabies” evokes fear in people—once symptoms appear, rabies is close to 100% fatal.
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There are several reported routes of transmission of the rabies virus.
- Rabies is most often transmitted through a bite from an infected animal.
- Less frequently, it can be passed on when the saliva of an infected animal enters another animal’s body through mucous membranes or an open, fresh wound.
- The risk for contracting rabies runs highest if your cat is exposed to wild animals. Outbreaks can occur in populations of wild animals (most often raccoons, bats, skunks and foxes in this country) or in areas where there are significant numbers of unvaccinated, free-roaming dogs and cats.
- In the United States, rabies is reported in cats more than in any other domestic species.
- Unvaccinated cats who are allowed to roam outdoors are at the highest risk for rabies infection.
- Feral cat populations remain a reservoir host for the rabies virus.
- Vaccination is the key—and in many areas of the country, such as New York City, it’s the law.
- Some local ordinances require lengthy quarantines—or euthanasia—of pets who have bitten someone if their owners do not have proof of current vaccination.
- Vaccinating your cat doesn’t just protect her from rabies—it also protects your cat if she bites someone.
- In municipalities where rabies vaccinations for cats are not required, the decision to vaccinate is best left to the judgment of the veterinarian and the cat guardian because some cats experience serious side effects to the rabies vaccine.
- The vaccine should definitely be administered if your cat spends any time outdoors (ASPCA experts recommend keeping pet cats indoors).
Symptoms of Rabies
- Animals will not show signs immediately following exposure to a rabid animal. Symptoms can be varied and can take months to develop. Classic signs of rabies in cats include:
- Changes in behavior (including aggression, restlessness and lethargy),
- Increased vocalization
- Loss of appetite
- Sudden death
- There is no accurate test to diagnose rabies in live animals.
- The direct fluorescent antibody test is the most accurate test for diagnosis, but it can only be performed after the death of the animal.
- The rabies virus can incubate in a cat’s body anywhere from just one week to more than a year before the virus appears in the saliva and the cat is capable of transmitting the disease.
- When the animal becomes infectious, symptoms appear quickly. It is possible for a cat, or dog, to shed the virus for several days before clinical signs appear.
- There is no treatment or cure for rabies once symptoms appear. The disease results in fatality.
What to Do if Your Cat Interacts With a Rabid Animal
- Put gloves on to protect yourself from infection.
- Call your veterinarian for an immediate appointment!
- Contact local animal control officers if the animal who bit your pet is still at large; they will be best able to safely apprehend and remove the animal from the environment.
- A cat who is up to date with his vaccinations and who has been bitten by a possibly rabid animal should also be given a rabies booster vaccine immediately and kept under observation for 45 days.
- If you think you’ve been bitten by a rabid animal, see your doctor immediately!
Note: Do not attempt to handle or capture a wild animal who is acting strangely (i.e., a nocturnal animal who is out during the day, an animal who acts unusually tame). Report the animal to local animal control officers as soon as possible.
Although the name suggests otherwise, ringworm isn’t caused by a worm at all—but a fungus that can infect the skin, hair and nails. Not uncommon in cats, this highly contagious disease can lead to patchy, circular areas of hair loss with central red rings. Also known as dermatophytosis, ringworm often spreads to other pets in the household—and to humans, too.
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Classic symptoms of ringworm in cats include:
- Skin lesions that typically appear on the head, ears and forelimbs.
- Ringworm can cause flaky bald patches that sometimes look red in the center.
- In mild cases, there may be localized areas of redness or simply dandruff, while more severe infections can spread over a cat’s entire body.
- It’s also possible for a pet to carry ringworm spores and not show any symptoms whatsoever.
A cat can get ringworm directly through contact with an infected animal—or indirectly through contact with bedding, dishes and other materials that have been contaminated with the skin cells or hairs of infected animals. Ringworm spores are notoriously hardy and can survive in the environment for more than a year!
- Any cat can develop ringworm, but kittens less than a year old and geriatric cats are most prone to infection.
- Long-haired cats and those who are immunocompromised are also more susceptible.
- Ringworm can quickly spread in shelters or other crowded environments.
- Warm and humid conditions tend to promote ringworm infections.
Because infection can potentially spread over a cat’s body, it is important that you see your vet for an accurate diagnosis if you suspect your pet has ringworm. And because the infection can easily spread to you and other animals in the household, it’s a smart idea to immediately quarantine your cat until a veterinarian can confirm a diagnosis. You should also thoroughly wash your hands after you touch your cat.
- Since some cats show few or no symptoms, a diagnosis of ringworm is rarely made just by looking at the skin.
- A veterinarian may use an ultraviolet light to diagnose ringworm, or may examine a fungal culture taken from a cat’s hair or skin cells.
- Skin biopsy and microscopic exam are sometimes also performed.
Treatment of ringworm depends on the severity of the infection.
- A veterinarian may prescribe a shampoo or ointment that contains a special medication to kill the fungus.
- In some cases, oral medications are necessary.
- To ensure that you’ve eradicated this resistant and hardy fungus, treatment may have to be given for several months or more and fungal cultures rechecked periodically.
- It’s also important to treat the cat’s environment to prevent infection from recurring.
If your veterinarian has diagnosed your cat with ringworm, he or she will explain what you must do to prevent the fungus from spreading to your other pets—and to the human members of the household. But keep in mind that if you have other pets, it’s likely that most of them have been exposed as well. Your veterinarian may recommend that you do the following:
- Bathe all pets in the household with a medicated rinse or shampoo.
- Wash the infected animals’ bedding and toys with a disinfectant that kills ringworm spores.
- Discard items that are impossible to thoroughly disinfect (carpeted cat trees, etc.)
- Frequently vacuum to rid the house of infected hairs and skin cells. (Yes, the fungus can survive on hair and skin that your cat sheds!)
- Thoroughly wash your hands after you bathe or touch your cat.
If a cat with ringworm is not properly treated, the lesions can spread over large areas of the animal’s body, causing hair loss and skin infections.
Upper Respiratory Infections
A cat’s upper respiratory tract—the nose, throat and sinus area—is susceptible to infections caused by a variety of viruses and bacteria.
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Causes of Upper Respiratory Infections
- Viruses are the most common causes of upper respiratory infections (URIs) in cats.
- Feline calicivirus and feline herpesvirus account for 80 to 90% of all contagious upper respiratory problems, and are prevalent in shelters, catteries and multi-cat households.
- These viruses can be transmitted from cat to cat through sneezing, coughing, or while grooming or sharing food and water bowls.
- Once infected, cats can become carriers for life, and though they may not show clinical signs, they can still transmit the viruses to others.
- Cats often develop bacterial infections secondary to these common viral infections.
- There are also upper respiratory infections in cats that are primarily caused by bacteria. Chlamydia and Bordetella—commonly found in shelters and areas with multiple cats—are two such bacterial infections.
- Less common in cats than dogs, Bordetella is usually associated with stress and overcrowded living conditions.
Preventing Upper Respiratory Infections
- Keep your cat indoors to minimize the risk of exposure to infected animals.
- Properly isolate infected cats to protect other pets living in the same environment.
- Minimize stress.
- Keep your cat up to date on vaccines as recommended by your vet. Vaccines for upper respiratory disease in cats may not actually prevent infection, but they help lessen the severity of the disease in some cases.
- Regular veterinary exams and preventative care can help catch and treat problems early. A cat’s best defense against upper respiratory infection is a healthy immune system.
- Practice good hygiene and wash your hands thoroughly when handling multiple cats.
Symptoms of Upper Respiratory Infections
Symptoms differ depending on the cause and location of the infection, but some common clinical signs of upper respiratory problems in cats include:
- Runny nose
- Clear to colored nasal discharge
- Gagging, drooling
- Loss of or decreased appetite
- Rapid breathing
- Nasal and oral ulcers
- Squinting or rubbing eyes
- Open-mouth breathing
Diagnosing Upper Respiratory Infections
- Age, vaccination status and physical condition all play a role in a cat’s susceptibility to upper respiratory infections.
- Cats who live in multi-cat households or shelters are most susceptible.
- Veterinarians have found that stress plays a role in causing outbreaks of URI, and cats in any shelter, cattery or boarding facility are generally experiencing high levels of stress.
- Cats who have recovered from URI can become carriers, and may experience recurrences when stressed.
- Certain breeds like Persians and other flat-faced breeds have a predisposition to develop upper respiratory infections due to their facial structure.
It’s important to bring your cat to a veterinarian if you think she may be suffering from an upper respiratory infection. A brief exam by a veterinarian will help to determine if your cat requires medication, has a fever or is dehydrated. Avoid self-diagnosis, since your cat may be infectious and require isolation, antibiotics or additional veterinary care.
Treating Upper Respiratory Infections
Your veterinarian will prescribe the best course of treatment for your cat, which may include:
- Support with fluids
- Nutritional support
Left untreated, some upper respiratory infections can progress to pneumonia or have other serious complications, such as blindness or chronic breathing difficulties.
Cats can acquire a variety of intestinal parasites, including some that are commonly referred to as “worms.” Infestations of intestinal worms can cause a variety of symptoms. Sometimes cats demonstrate few to no outward signs of infection, and the infestation can go undetected despite being a potentially serious health problem. Some feline parasitic worms are hazards for human health as well.
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Common Types of Worms in Cats
Outdoor cats and those who are routinely exposed to soil where other animals defecate are prone to worms. Kittens and cats who do not receive regular preventative health care are most at risk for developing complications associated with internal parasites.
- Roundworms are the most common internal parasites in cats. Resembling spaghetti, adult worms are three to four inches long. There are several ways cats can become infected. Nursing kittens can get roundworms from an infected mother’s milk, while adult cats can acquire them by ingesting eggs from the feces of an infected cat.
- Hookworms are much smaller than roundworms—less than an inch long—and reside primarily in the small intestine. Because they feed on an animal’s blood, hookworms can cause life-threatening anemia, especially in kittens. Hookworm eggs are passed in the stool and hatch into larvae, and a cat can become infected either through ingestion or skin contact.
- Tapeworms are long, flat, segmented parasites that range from 4 to 28 inches in length. An infestation can cause vomiting or weight loss. Cats acquire tapeworms by ingesting an intermediate host, like an infected flea or rodent. When cats are infected, tapeworm segments—actual pieces of the worm that resemble grains of rice—can often be seen on the fur around a cat’s hind end.
- Lungworms reside in the lungs of a cat. Most cats will not show any signs of having lungworms, but some can develop a cough. Snails and slugs are popular intermediate hosts of this type of parasite, but cats are usually infected after eating a bird or rodent who has ingested an intermediate host.
- Though means of transmission can vary, one of the main ways that cats get worms is through the ingestion of the feces of infected felines. Mother cats can also pass on worms to their kittens.
- Keep your cat indoors to avoid exposure to infected cats, rodents, fleas and feces.
- Make sure your home, yard and pets are flea-free.
- Practice good hygiene and wear gloves when changing cat litter or handling feces. It’s also important to frequently dispose of stool.
- Ask your veterinarian to recommend an appropriate internal parasite treatment or prevention program for your cat.
Symptoms of Worms in Cats
Symptoms differ depending on the type of parasite and the location of infection, but some common clinical signs include:
- Worms visible in stool or segments of worm seen near anus
- Bloody stool
- Bloating or round, potbellied appearance to abdomen
- Weight loss
- Trouble breathing
If you think your cat may have worms, it’s important to bring her to a veterinarian, who can confirm the presence of worms. Avoid self-diagnosis, since worms are not always visible or identifiable.
Treatment for Worms
Please don’t attempt to treat your pet yourself—your cat should be treated for the specific type of worms he has.
- Not all dewormers eradicate all types of worms. Your veterinarian will determine the type of worm(s) infestation(s) your cat has, and prescribe the best course of treatment. Your veterinarian will also be able to tell you if the dewormer should be repeated, and when.
- Not all dog medications are safe for cats.
- Some over-the-counter deworming medications can be harmful if used inappropriately.
Transmission of Worms from Cats to Humans
A large number of roundworm eggs can accumulate where cats defecate. People, especially children, who ingest such eggs can develop serious health problems, such as blindness, encephalitis and other organ damage. Treatment of blindness caused by roundworm may involve surgical removal.
Hookworm larvae can penetrate human skin and cause lesions. People can acquire tapeworms through the ingestion of an infected flea, although this is rare.
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