Cat Health and Cat Diseases

Cat Health and Cat Diseases

The loved, cared-for cat may, if it is lucky, live out its lifespan, free of illness, a visit to the veterinary surgery proving necessary only for routine inoculations and/or attention to minor injuries, like the paw that gets trapped in a door, or a bite sustained in a cat fight.

Cats are, however, prone to a number of serious diseases and being the resilient creatures that they are, such conditions may go undetected if the owner does not watch for symptoms of unusual behaviour. Does our cat’s coat look other than glossy and shining? Is there discharge from the eyes and nose, and have we heard the occasional sneeze? A sure sign of trouble is when we find the cat maybe hiding in a corner, or sitting facing, and gazing at, the wall.

A healthy cat is a contented, bright-eyed, playful cat, with a healthy appetite. Remember, it cannot tell us when it is feeling out of sorts, so it is up to us to take heed of warning signs and seek veterinary attention immediately.

The following A – Z is intended as a guide to symptoms and their treatment. It is, however, essential that the diagnosis of a vet is sought in every case and that the owner does not resort to home remedies; for, while most of the veterinary preparations on sale from retail outlets are first class, only a vet is qualified to correctly diagnose our pet’s condition, and the tablets and creams purchased with good intent may, if not professionally prescribed, be quite the wrong treatment for the ailing pet.


An abscess can result from a bite, scratch, sting, or even a swelling as the result of an inoculation. The abscess may cause restlessness, be painful to the touch and, indeed, cause a rise in temperature making the animal go off its food. A cold cloth could help the condition but, if it persists, seek the advice of your vet who may need to drain the fluid. If you do not brush your cat regularly a wound such as this might go undetected.


With advances in veterinary science, pets are undoubtedly living longer, and whereas twelve years was once considered the life span of a cat, many are now living for fifteen or even twenty years. As with all domestic animals the care they have received in earlier life will often determine their living to a healthy, ripe old age. The cat from six years of age onwards will sleep more. It may, in its latter years, have failing eyesight and sense of smell. This is the time when it will need more care and affection than ever before, being kept away from draughts and receiving veterinary attention at the first sign of discomfort. Don’t make the mistake of introducing another cat, thinking that a kitten will put fresh hfe into your old pet; rather let him live out his final years with dignity in his accustomed number one place by the hearth.


This means fear of cats. Presumably someone with such a fear is an ailurophobic! The opposite of an ailurophobic is an ailurophile, a lover of cats. Ailurophilia means love of cats.


Just as some people develop an allergy to cats, which can be helped by a series of desensitization injections, so the cat itself may be allergic to certain foods and substances which can cause various skin complaints. Applications of soothing lotions are of little avail without correct diagnosis, which must be undertaken to trace the cause, often by a series of tests.


This is another word for baldness. The condition may be caused by dietary deficiency, kidney ailments and other causes. Alopecia, while unsightly, is not really harmful to the cat, but consult your vet as to treatment and cure.


Anaemia is common in cats, symptoms including lack of appetite and general lethargy, the animal often becoming disinterested in food. Can be treated with antibiotics and other drugs but sometimes a blood transfusion is necessary.

Anal glands

I was once horrified to receive a letter from a cat owner who, conscious of the need for regular worming, and having noticed that her cat continued to rub its bottom on the ground, had tried no less than twenty-six worm tablets to relieve a condition which was caused, not by worm infestation, but by irritation from the anal glands, the two small sacs on each side of the anus. These glands often, in both cats and dogs, become impacted with the yellow somewhat evil-smelling liquid which is secreted in the sacs. It is possible for the owner to empty the sacs of this liquid with the fingers and a handy piece of cotton wool. It is, however, something which they are strongly advised to have done by the vet initially, after which they may take the decision to carry out this operation themselves.

Anorexia nervosa

This is the complaint more often associated with teenage girls and in effect means refusal to eat. It is doubtful that the queen cat gives up eating to retain a sylph-like figure; more likely the condition is brought about by an emotional disturbance.

Ascarids (roundworms)

See Worms.


Under no circumstances give your cat aspirin. This is toxic for most cats. A cat’s reaction to aspirin is similar to that of a youngster having an overdose.

Bad breath

This can be caused by the aftermath of a strong smelling food such as fish, or could be a sign of worm infestation. Animal Amplex are effective but if the condition persists seek veterinary advice.


Cats loathe water so don’t bath unless absolutely necessary; water temperature should not exceed 26°C (80’F) and care should be taken to rub a little Vaseline round the eyes so that the water does not penetrate this area. Much better, though, to obtain a good dry shampoo which can be brushed through the cat’s coat.


Even a small bite could cause an abscess. Consult your vet who will doubtless prescribe antibiotics. Meanwhile you can gently cleanse the area with germicidal soap and water.

Blood disorders

More common in the older cat. Best to obtain veterinary diagnosis.


The cat which habitually lingers in the kitchen may at some time get in the way of a hot liquid, or even receive an electric shock. Best treatment, as with humans, is to apply a grease, such as Vaseline, or even butter if that is not available.

Don’t under any circumstances use an antiseptic; and if the burn is at all serious consult a vet.


Usually suspected because of the foul smell emanating from the cat’s ears and characteristic pawing of the head, or the cat rubbing its head on the ground. Can be caused by parasite infestation. Owners tend, however, to treat all ear ailments with canker remedies, which could do more harm than good. Best, therefore, to consult the vet for diagnosis and prescription.


See Neutering.

Cat distemper

This is similar to dog distemper but it is not the same disease; cats and dogs can’t infect one another with distemper. Symptoms are runny eyes and nose, with sneezing. Later, digestion and lungs may be affected. The cat should be kept quiet and warm and immediate veterinary help sought. Although not so deadly as enteritis, many cats die of this disease, and can only be saved by immediate treatment and careful nursing. Loss of appetite makes feeding difficult and glucose injections may be needed to maintain strength. The addition of something strong smelling, such as fish paste, to the invalid diet, may encourage a sick cat to take food. As in the case of human influenza, there are some years when the disease is not much worse than a bad cold, and in others it becomes dangerously virulent. Cats of all ages are liable to catch it; usually in catteries, or pet shops, where cats live in crowded conditions.


If the cat has access to the great outdoors it will wear its own claws down on trees, fences and other convenient surfaces. However, the indoor cat must be provided with a scratching post for this purpose. If your cat’s claws have reached dangerous proportions you can carry out the operation yourself with a pair of pet nail clippers, wrapping the cat firmly in a towel leaving the forefeet out if it is apt to struggle. Make sure you do not cut other than the ‘quick’. If in any doubt on where, and how to clip, your vet will not think you are wasting his time if you seek his help.


Common in cats and debatable as to whether the condition is more prevalent in the neutered animal. Blame has been attached to complete dry foods but this can probably be discounted. The cat with this ailment will frequently try to pass urine without success. This complaint is caused by stones blocking the urethral passage. Don’t delay in contacting the vet, who can remove the stones surgically, otherwise the condition could prove fatal.


Poisonous to cats. Do not use to combat fleas.


Not unusual in white cats and odd-eyed varieties. Might be attributable to an accumulation of wax. If your cat is irretrievably deaf, remember that it will be unable to hear approaching traffic so best to resort to a litter-tray and keep it indoors always, if you live in a built-up area.


Every pet owner wishes that their animal companion would, one day, pass away peacefully in its sleep, sparing them having to act out the role of judge and executioner. Heartbreaking though it is to have the life of a pet terminated, this should be done when the animal’s life has become a burden rather than a pleasure to it; for, in keeping a suffering pet alive, we are thinking of ourselves, rather than its well-being. When the time comes, take your pet to the vet and pluck up courage to stay with it while a tranquillizing injection is given. This will make your pet sleepy and contented prior to being put quickly and painlessly to its final rest.


Resorted to by some houseproud owners, but generally deplored. If you must have this operation performed, make sure it is done professionally.


See Skin diseases. However this is a particularly unpleasant irritation with loss of hair and scaling. Can be caused by an allergy to household detergents – in both animal and human, and other causes such as diet, bites, and even excessive temperatures. Curable with soothing lotions.


A condition more usual in the old, or overweight, cat, which will be constantly hungry while shedding weight, drinking a great deal and having a continual need to urinate. The cat with diabetes can live on quite happily provided daily injections of insulin are administered. Tablets could be an alternative.


Could be caused by feeding sloppy foods. Add more starch to diet but if condition persists seek veterinary diagnosis without delay.

Digestive system

Similar to man’s except for the mouth, the cat swallowing its food after a much shorter period in the mouth. The cat will, however, retain the nutritious parts of meat, or other substances, in its stomach, regurgitating the remainder and/or that which is difficult to digest.


See Cat distemper.

Ear trouble

See Canker. There are different causes for what is commonly called canker of the ear, and only the vet, using a special instrument, can diagnose and, therefore, treat correctly. There could be a foreign body, such as a grass seed, in the ear though the commonest cause is the presence of a mite, which lives and breeds in the wax deep down in the ear. Delay in seeking help may cause great suffering, the cat shaking his head with pain and scratching the inflamed ear. Temporary relief may be given by pouring in a few drops of warm, not hot, olive or castor oil, and discharging wax may be gently swabbed out with cotton wool soaked in one part of methylated spirits to three parts of water. Great care must be taken, since the ear is very delicate, and the vet or clinic must be visited as soon as possible.


See Dermatitis and Skin diseases. Could be caused by anything from a blood disorder to wrong diet. Do seek correct veterinary diagnosis and do not experiment with a selection of creams and ointments.

Enteritis (infectious enteritis/feline enteritis)

The most serious of the diseases is infectious enteritis which, as previously stated, spreads so quickly in the neighbourhood, with such a high mortality rate, that people often imagine there has been malicious poisoning. The illness

comes on suddenly with a rise of temperature to 39°C (103°F). The cat refuses food, sits huddled up, often near a water bowl or sink, but without taking water. It vomits occasionally, cries faintly when picked up, and passes blood-stained motions. Death is likely to occur within forty-eight hours, often much sooner. Any cats which survive are immune for life. A vaccine is available which gives good protection. To withold such protection is, to my mind, criminally negligent.

Eyes, care of

Cats are prone to a number of eye diseases ranging from conjunctivitis to keratitis, which is inflammation of the cornea, to cataract, which is more prevalent in older cats and has to be treated by operation. Relief for eye diseases can be given by bathing with a warm solution of boric acid, and Golden Eye Ointment will give relief. However, don’t delay more than a day or two, if the trouble does not clear, in seeking veterinary diagnosis.

First aid

Prevention is always better than cure so make sure that you have a carrying basket in case your cat needs to be rushed to the vet, a supply of bandages, cotton wool, Elastoplast, surgical scissors, Milk of Magnesia, which is a mild laxative, Vaseline and a thermometer. The average normal body temperature of the cat is 38.6°C (101.5°F). This can vary a little according to the age of the cat and, for instance, whether it has been snoozing outside in a high temperature, but 32°C (90°F) is considered the danger level. A temperature above 38.9°C (102°F) indicates that the cat is unwell, and 40°C (KMT) indicates that it is seriously ill.


An infestation of fleas, if left unchecked, can cause skin disease; and as they can be carriers of parasites it is essential that the insects be removed. Don’t use DDT which is toxic to cats but obtain a suitable aerosol spray which can be brushed through your cat’s coat. Fleas are transmittable from animal to man and, indeed, other animals, so must be nipped in the bud in the early stages. Scratching, particularly around the ears, and poor coat are an indication of a flea burden.


Nowadays fractures can usually be dealt with skilfully, and effectively, by vets, but obviously the sooner the animal is taken to the surgery the better.

Furballs (hairball/digestive complaint)

In slight cases of these troubles, the cat will provide his own remedy by eating grass. Town cats should be provided with a patch of grass, growing in a window box or in the yard. Constipation may be relieved by a tablespoon (15 ml) of medicinal liquid paraffin which can be repeated twice daily for two days. For any more serious digestive upset veterinary advice should immediately be sought. Furballs are caused by the cat swallowing hair while grooming, particularly the long-haired varieties.


See Furballs.


Like the dog the queen can mate only when in season, also, like the dog, it can nowadays be given an injection or tablet to delay season, though spaying is more sensible if the queen is not required for breeding.


See Worms.

Hip dysplasia

This is malformation of the ball-and-socket joint of the hip, and although sometimes found in cats is more prevalent in dogs, causing the animal to be crippled often before middle age.

Breeders are conscientiously endeavouring to breed only from registered HD free stock and similarly cats with hip dysplasia in their ancestry should never be bred from. This is a congenital disorder which can manifest itself after skipping one or two generations.


Often occurs prior to, or after giving birth, and in times of emotional disturbance. The vet will advise treatment ranging probably from use of tranquillizers to spaying and other remedies.


Every kitten should be inoculated against infectious (feline) enteritis. Thereafter a booster injection should be given every two years. Better to be safe than sorry! A reputable cattery will not admit your pet without proof of inoculation.

Kidney disease

Kidney failure is common in the old animal and usually detected by frequent urination. Kidney failure is irretrievable but your vet may be able to prolong your cat’s active life.


Try to find cause. If it lasts over two hours or so consult vet.


See Skin diseases.


See Ageing.

Mange (sarcoptic and demodectic)

Mange is a most unpleasant skin disease caused by parasitic mites. Sarcoptic mange* is, in fact, the commonly known disease scabies or red mange.

Sarcoptic mange, the more common variety is highly infectious and can be transmitted not only from dog to cat and vice versa but also from pet to man. Demodectic mange, the more serious variety which at one time was almost impossible to cure, is rarely transmittable. Briefly, the mites lay eggs under the skin and cause the cat to scratch its body continuously. The disease is first detected by loss of hair around the infected area and crustation of the skin. It is not difficult to cure but does require early veterinary attention. Demodectic or follicular mange is caused by mites invading the hair follicles and sebaceous glands and usually manifests itself in the area around head and ears. Again it is detected by scaliness, dry skin, loss of hair and red sores which may secrete blood.


Often a disease of older cats, metritis is acute inflammation of the uterus. A common cause is infection following kittening. Metritis is generally detected by a discharge of blood from the vagina and increased thirst and vomiting. There may also be lack of appetite. Veterinary attention should immediately be sought.


A monorchid is a cat, or dog, which has only one testicle descended into the scrotum. Monorchids can reproduce but the condition would preclude the cat from a show career. Whether the affliction is congenital is subject to debate.


A kidney complaint prevalent in old cats. Can be checked by a veterinarily prescribed diet.

Nervous system

The cat is a highly nervous animal equipped to move at lightning speed at the slightest sound. It is, therefore, as adept at avoiding danger as it is at hunting its prey.


Also called doctoring and castration. It is a kindness to neuter the torn cat not required for stud purposes. Unneutered, he will not only have a lemming-like urge to do battle but will also spray an unpleasant odour. It is also a kindness to spay the queen which is not required for breeding.

Non-parasitic skin diseases

See Skin diseases. Allergy, alopecia, dandruff, dermatitis, eczema and impetigo all come under the heading of non-parasitic skin conditions and require veterinary advice as to cause and treatment. (Parasitic skin conditions include demodectic mange, sarcoptic mange, ringworm and favus which is caused by a fungus.)

Old age

See Ageing.



Rabies is a truly dreadful disease. It almost always leads to a pitiable death, preceded by severe discomfort, paralysis and convulsion. It is usually passed on in saliva through a bite, and all mammals are thought to be susceptible to it. The biggest danger to humans is the risk of being bitten by an infected domestic pet, particularly a dog or cat. Apart from two cases, in 1969 and 1970, Britain has been free from rabies outside quarantine since 1922. Everyone taking holidays abroad is urged to make sure that this record of freedom from the disease is maintained, not only accepting the need to abide by the necessary animal control measures themselves, but also by doing their best to see that other people do the same. Do not attempt to take your cat out of Britain and remember that should you do so, the animal will be required to spend six months in a quarantine kennel approved by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, on its return. Penalties for smuggling pets into Britain are very severe indeed.

Respiratory system

The respiratory system of the cat is similar to other mammals, the cat breathing through nose and mouth. There is a tube extending from the cat’s throat into its chest which branches to two other tubes which are known as the bronchial tubes, one of these being attached to each lung.


See Skin diseases.


See Worms.

Scratching post

See Claws and De-clawing.

Skin diseases

I have already categorized parasitic and non-parasitic skin diseases. If sore or bald patches, or pimples, appear on the skin, veterinary help is needed. It is dangerous for the owner to apply ointments, since the cat may be poisoned by licking them off. Also, there are many different causes for similar-looking conditions. There may be mange, or ringworm, serious if neglected, but easily cured by the right treatment. The skin trouble may be caused merely by fleas or lice, or it may be due to some internal complaint such as kidney trouble obviously needing skilled treatment. If, therefore, you detect sore places, or loss of hair, on your cat, or if the animal is scratching unduly, do not delay in visiting the veterinary surgery.


See Worms.

Toilet training


Make up your mind (see Rabies) that if you wish to take a holiday abroad your cat cannot accompany you. It is sometimes possible to take your cat to a caravan or seaside holiday site, addresses of which can, in Britain, be located in a booklet entitled Pets Welcome published by Herald Advisory Services. There is, however, always the fear of a loved pet getting lost, so if you do not have a neighbour willing to call and feed the cat during your absence, it is better to make a reservation at a recommended cattery where you can be sure that your pet will be safe, and well looked after, during your absence. Addresses of catteries can easily be located in the telephone book Yellow pages. However, sensible owners usually book their pet’s holiday at the same time as their own, so do not forget about puss until a week or two before you set off and be surprised if there isn’t a vacancy. If you must travel with your cat do make sure that it is in a strong cardboard box. You can obtain cat-carrying cases from an RSPCA centre. Don’t let your cat loose in a car as he is likely to be nervous and may cause an accident by leaping about in the car and distracting the driver; also be prepared for a noisy ride!


Unusual in cats who cannot contract the disease from humans but strangely enough can do so from cows and other animals. It is suggested that Siamese cats may be more susceptible.


The cat may vomit to get rid of hairballs, to dispel worms, through excitement, or any number of other reasons. Omit a meal but if the vomiting persists do not delay in seeking veterinary advice. Possibly your cat has been poisoned!


This is a rat poison and supposed to be non-toxic. Repeated doses could, however, be dangerous. Frankly, I am against putting down rat poison, of any type, in areas frequented by domestic pets. If your pet has been poisoned, don’t delay in reaching the veterinary surgery with a sample of vomit if possible, so that your vet can analyse the cause. There is, alas, no antidote for the weed poison, Paraquat.


See Worms.


Regular worming is an absolute must for pet owners and, although many proprietary brands of treatment are widely available, it is best to have tablets prescribed by your vet which can easily be administered in your pet’s food. Worming is particularly important in kittenhood, and before and after the queen cat gives birth. Thereafter it should be a six-monthly occurrence. There are various types of worms which often confuse the cat owner. There are ascarids or roundworms which are those most commonly found and for which kittens and puppies are commonly treated. Roundworm infestation is generally detected by a plump tummy, a staring coat with lack of gloss, bad breath, diarrhoea, maybe vomit in which worms are expelled, and rubbing of the posterior along the ground. Tapeworms are also common in cats and kittens and look rather like an expulsion of spaghetti. Additionally, there are bladder worms which cause inflammation of the bladder and are not so frequent; whipworms which are more common in the USA than in Britain; and hookworms which inhabit the cat’s intestinal tract. Publicity given in recent years to diseases transmittable from animal to man through lack of worming has caused considerable alarm. It must be remembered that even man is not worm-free and that with a sensible programme of pet owner education and regular worming there is absolutely no reason why anyone keeping a pet should contract disease.