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.

Cat Health – Using Your Veterinary

Hopefully, you will not need to attend your vet’s surgery with your cat too frequently. Even so, do not be misled into thinking that you should only take your cat there when you suspect that something is wrong. As a cat grows older, there are likely to be considerable benefits in regular check-ups. Signs of deteriorating health will be detected at an early stage, and will be much easier to correct before the cat’s well-being is seriously affected.

VeterinaryTaking your cat to the vet on a regular basis from an early age has many long-term benefits. Such care should ultimately extend your pet’s life expectancy.

Q. I’m worried about possible veterinary costs. What can I do ?

Insure your cat with one of the companies operating in the animal health field. Details can be found in veterinary surgeries, pet shops, and in animal magazines. Check out several companies and compare what is on offer before selecting a policy.

Q. Is anything excluded?

The most common exclusions are the cost of vaccinations and neutering, and any preexisting conditions that your cat had from when the policy was taken out. You can keep the cost down by opting for an excess sum, which you will pay first in the event of any claim. There are also limits for claims under the policy, and as always, you should read the small print very carefully and follow the correct procedure in the event of a claim.

Careful examination of your cat by the vet, coupled with blood or urine tests if necessary, will highlight any problems at a routine examination. It is also important to ensure that your cat’s annual vaccinations are kept up-to-date, because a cat’s immune system is likely to function less effectively as the years pass.


There may be times when you are unhappy with your vet, in which case you may want to discuss your concerns with the head of the practice. But remember that, unfortunately, vets cannot always bring good news. It can be hard to accept that your pet is suffering from a serious illness, especially if your cat appears to be reasonably fit and is not very old.

You may instinctively feel that you want a second opinion, but in the vast majority of the cases, sad as it will be, the conclusion will be exactly the same. However, a second opinion could be helpful in the case of a particular orthopaedic injury for example, where a specialist in the field may be able to offer a different technique to treat the problem.

  • A record of vaccination is important to both you and the vet. Always keep it in a safe place, and check that it is up-to-date from time to time. Take the record with you whenever you visit the vet.
  • A veterinary practice is obliged to offer cover around the clock, every day of the year to deal with emergencies. However, you must not consult your vet on a non-urgent matter outside regular hours. Such consultations could prevent a genuine emergency receiving urgent assistance.
  • If you wish your cat to be treated with complementary remedies, such as homeopathy, there are veterinary surgeons now specialising in this field.
  • It’s not a good idea to discuss your cat’s health with your vet when he is listening to your cat with a stethoscope. He may not be able to hear you, and it can be a distraction as well!


Fading Kittens – How To Help Sick Kittens

Although queens are usually good mothers, there are sadly occasions when kittens do not thrive after birth, and are at risk of dying. These are often described as fading kittens. There is no single cause of fading, but it is agreed that the protection provided by the mother’s milk in the early stages of life, known as colostrum, helps to ensure the kitten’s health in the crucial period after birth, before its own immune system is fully functional.

Sick KittensOrphaned kittens are at greatest risk of dying in the early stages, simply because they have not had the benefit of their mother’s early milk. ‘Formula’ milk for kittens does not have such a beneficial effect.

Q. What can I do to reduce the likelihood of losing a litter?

Ensure that the queen’s vaccinations are up to date before pregnancy, so that her immunity to infections such as FHV is boosted; this will then be passed on to her kittens.

Olostrum is produced by a queen before she produces full milk. It contains protective antibodies, which can be absorbed directly across the kitten’s intestinal tract into the blood immediately after birth.

In some litters, one kitten may be significantly smaller than the rest, and this kitten is often described as the runt. Such kittens are most likely to die, simply because they are not as strong as their littermates, and may not have obtained adequate colostrum. Supplementary feeding may be needed to help the runt survive, especially in the case of a large litter of six or more kittens.


On rare occasions, a kitten may be born with a congenital abnormality, which prevents it thriving. The most common condition of this type is a cleft palate, where the roof of the mouth is not properly sealed over. This will cause milk to run back down the kitten’s nostrils rather than entering the stomach, so that affected individuals will fail to put on weight. One of the commonest infectious causes of fading kittens is feline herpes virus (FHV). This will depress the kittens’ appetites, causing dramatic weight loss to the extent that they probably will fade away and die rapidly. The actual cause of death in such cases is typically pneumonia.

  • There are special milk replacements for kittens, but no substitute for colostrum, so it is better to foster newly-born kittens to a queen with a litter of the same age.
  • One in ten kittens may die in the first fortnight, with whole litters being lost if there is FHV.
  • If all the kittens are failing to thrive, there could be something wrong with the mother, such as mastitis – inflammation of the mammary glands.

Q. Is there any treatment for fading kittens?

This depends on the cause. If FHV is involved, the outlook is very bleak, as antibiotics will not overcome the virus. Supplementary feeding may help, but if the kittens are very weak, this must be done with care, to prevent the onset of pneumonia.

Q. My queen lost her last litter to FHV. Will her next litter be safe?

If she is vaccinated, then the chance of any problem is low. FHV only survives for one day outside the body, so there is no trace of the original virus in your home.


Signs Of Illness In Cats

Signs Of Illness In Cats

Being able to spot Signs Of Illness In Cats is important, as it means that you can then seek veterinary help without delay, and this will hopefully speed the cat’s recovery. One of the most obvious signs is often a loss of appetite, but this will give no indication of the severity of your pet’s condition. As a result, it is a good idea to contact your vet, particularly if there are other symptoms, so that the cat can be examined thoroughly at an early stage.

Changes in your cat’s behaviour and appearance can both be indicative of illness. The appearance of the third eyelid in the corners of your cat’s eyes can sometimes be a sign of illness.

Unfortunately, cats cannot tell us when they feel ill, so you need to be aware of possible signs that could indicate veterinary treatment is needed. Some are more obvious than others, with injuries resulting from accidents being among the most readily apparent. External bleeding, collapse and laboured breathing will be clear, even to people who do not know your cat well, compared with more subtle behavioural changes that you may pick up in other cases.

As a general rule, clear-cut signs of this type linked to a possible accident or poisoning are serious, even to the extent of requiring emergency first aid before it is possible to seek veterinary help. Yet it may only be when you try to pick your cat up that you discover it is in pain. This is further evidence that urgent veterinary assistance is required.

Cats in general, and particularly breeds of Asiatic origin such as the Siamese, often suffer from respiratory illnesses, so beware of any repeated sneezing or coughing. Unfortunately, you may miss other signs of illness if your cat wanders outdoors. It may be suffering from vomiting and diarrhoea, or could be afflicted by a urinary tract disorder. If you are worried, keep your pet indoors and provide a litter tray, to check all is well. On the other hand, some signs are impossible to miss, such as the repeated scratching and nibbling at the skin which indicates the presence of fleas. You yourself may even be bitten by these parasites!

  • By examining your cat, your vet will be able to judge whether the signs you have observed are serious.
  • It’s often said that a dry nose is a sign, of illness, but this is not necessarily true if your cat has been sleeping in a warm spot.
  • Cats normally have very elastic skin which moves easily –this is not indicative of illness and weight loss.
  • It helps to make a note of signs of illness and when they appeared; then you can relay this information to your vet.

Does the appearance of the third eyelid indicate that a cat is ill? This often appears at the side of each eye nearest the nose, but is not seen in every case of illness, particularly at the start. What happens is that the eyeball rests in the socket on a pad of fat, and if this begins to be broken down because the cat is not eating, then the eye sinks fractionally back into the head. This in turn allows the emergence of the `haws’, indicating a loss of condition rather than a specific illness.

What behavioural changes would suggest that my cat is ill? Cats are normally lively and responsive, so be concerned if your pet loses interest in its surroundings, or appears lethargic. Beware also if the cat stops grooming itself and has little interest in food, or drinks much more than usual.

Feline Leukaemia Virus – FeLV

Feline Leukaemia Virus, FeLV Test Kit

Feline Leukaemia Virus – FeLV, has long been a killer of cats, but thankfully, there is now a vaccine available which offers good protection against its effects. This is important because cats that are infected with feline leukaemia are a particular threat to the health of unvaccinated felines in the neighbourhood. Although the virus can be confirmed easily by means of a blood test, the symptoms associated with it can be overlooked in the early stages.

Why should my cat’s anaemia be linked with an FeLV infection? FeLV attacks the bone marrow where red blood cells are produced and so lessens the number in circulation. It can also destroy those already in the bloodstream, resulting in anaemia.

My cat has FeLV, but he was vaccinated. What has happened? The most likely explanation is that your cat was already infected with FeLV prior to being vaccinated. Some vets will test cats for the virus prior to vaccination.

What should I do with my cat now he is positive for FeLV? Keep him in strict isolation, as he represents a danger to other cats. Sadly, a second positive test means that he is almost certainly going to die. Unfortunately, there is no treatment available. Thankfully however, not all cats that are infected by FeLV actually go on to develop the disease itself.

If a cat gives a positive blood test, confirming the presence of the virus in its body, then it should be tested again about three months later. By this stage, it is possible that the body’s immune system will have overcome the virus, eliminating it before it can cause any lasting harm.

In spite of its name, FeLV’s main effects are on the lymphoid tissue rather than the blood, causing malignant tumours known as lymphosarcomas.

Feline Leukaemia Virus – FeLV – Symptoms to Look For

FeLV may cause a range of symptoms, depending on which part of the body is affected. Young cats, and especially Siamese may suffer tumours of the thymus, which is located at the front of the chest, and these will cause difficulty in breathing. Another common site for lymphosarcomas is the intestinal tract, with recurrent bouts of diarrhoea being the most likely indicator of their presence here.


The secondary effect of these growths is that as the lymphoid tissue forms a vital link as part of the body’s immune response, so the body’s ability to fight off infections is reduced. Cats suffering from FeLV often develop relatively minor ailments such as inflammation of the gums (gingivitis) which they cannot shake off easily.

  • If your cat has died from FeLV, and you feel ready to acquire another cat, you must allow at least a month before getting one. It is better to acquire a cat that has been immunised against the virus. Also disinfect all equipment that is not being replaced.
  • Extensive tests have shown that FeLV cannot be passed to humans, so if your cat falls ill, the virus is not likely to spread to other members of the family.
  • In the case of pregnant cats, FeLV can cause abortion, and may be a cause of so-called `fading kittens’, which die at an early age.
  • Abyssinians used to be thought to be most susceptible to the infection, but any cat is vulnerable. The infection has even been identified in lions.

Cat Health Problems – Special care for elderly cats

Elderly cats are often excellent companions, although they may be less sprightly and playful than they were in their younger days. Older cats do need special care, however, if they are to enjoy their twilight years, and are likely to develop certain health and dental problems. But the two of you will have been through a lot together, and you owe it to your elderly cat to look after it. You will need to watch over it just as carefully as you did in its kittenhood.

elderly cats

An older cat needs a lot more sleep than he did when he was young and frisky. The best thing you can do is to provide a warm, comfortable bed (or armchair) and leave him to it.

It’s not uncommon for an elderly cat to develop problems with its teeth – just like human beings – such as loose teeth, gum damage and inflammation of the tooth sockets. If you’ve looked after your cat’s dental health when it was young, however, this is a lot less likely. It’s a particularly good idea to clean an elderly cat’s teeth once or twice a week, though if you didn’t start this habit when your cat was younger, it may find it difficult in its old age to develop any tolerance of this particular indignity.

As cats get older, they change physically: their strength and stamina diminishes, their appetite often alters and they may lose a lot of weight. They tend to slow down, to become stiffer and less mobile, to be less tolerant of the cold and to sleep a lot more. A lot of the problems that a cat may suffer from as they grow older, such as a failing liver or kidneys, are difficult to diagnose in the absence of specific symptoms, so it’s a good idea to arrange regular check-ups with a vet every three to four months.


Old cats sometimes lose control of their bowels or bladder. Whatever the problem, ask your vet to see if he can find the cause and, having done that, ask if it is treatable.

Don’t just dismiss the problem as `old age’ and assume nothing can be done. Some cats suffer from involuntary ‘leaking’ caused by cystitis, for example, which can be treated, so it’s worth finding out.


Many elderly cats suffer from failing hearing and eyesight. If this befalls your cat, you will have to protect it from dangers that it can no longer hear or see. Try not to rearrange familiar furniture, always keep its feeding bowls in the same place, and be careful of dangers such as open fires.

  • The average lifespan of the domestic cat is 15 years. Some survive beyond this, though very few cats get to 20 years of age.
  • The record for the oldest domestic cat was a tabby called `Puss’ who died when he was 36 years and a day.
  • The Manx has the reputation of being one of the longest-lived pedigree breeds. One, called Grand Champion Nila-Blite Pola, even won a best-in-show award at the age of 13 years.