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The Most Common Diseases Cats Can Catch
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The Most Common Diseases Cats Can Catch

Critter Culture Staff
Updated Jun 13, 2022

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Cat owners have a responsibility to their pets to keep them as healthy as possible. That may not always be possible, but the best an owner can do is to watch out for the signs of illness. Kitties can get all kinds of ailments, and some are serious enough to be a real problem for them. In some cases, cats carry diseases that even threaten the humans around them.

You owe it to your feline to keep an eye on their health and to seek help for them when there's something wrong. One of the best ways to do this is to know the signs of some of the most common and serious diseases domestic cats can get.

1

Kidney disease

Ginger cat step inside a litter box. Lightspruch / Getty Images

Kidney disease, sometimes called renal failure, is a leading cause of death for cats in part because it's so hard to diagnose early. Blood tests can only find the disorder when the cat's kidneys are already 75% impaired. Feline kidney disease can be caused by exposure to toxins or advanced age. Signs of renal failure include excessive thirst and urination, vomiting, constipation, weight loss, bad breath, loss of appetite, and lethargy.

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2

Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV)

cat laying down HotPhotoPie / Getty Images

Much like human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), FIV attacks cats' immune systems and leaves them vulnerable to other infections. Unlike HIV, FIV is transmitted via bites, almost always inflicted when two kitties are fighting. There's no cure, or even an effective treatment, for FIV, and it is unfortunately always fatal. Getting your cat neutered or keeping them indoors to prevent fights can help keep them safe from infected cats in the neighborhood.

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3

Feline distemper

Veterinarian examining a kitten in animal hospital Jeng_Niamwhan / Getty Images

Distemper spreads like wildfire through the unvaccinated, and kittens usually get it from their mothers through infected milk. Unvaccinated cats with distemper usually show signs like diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration, malnutrition, and anemia. You may only have a few days to deal with distemper after the symptoms appear before the disease becomes fatal. It's important to take your cat to the vet as soon as you notice any of the signs associated with distemper.

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4

Diabetes

cat on the table drinking from mug. Chalabala / Getty Images

Feline diabetes comes in two forms, just like human diabetes. In Type I, the cat's pancreas doesn't make enough insulin, while type II occurs when the cells of the body can't take up sugar properly. As with humans, this is more common for kitties because they live longer and eat less healthy food than in the past. Signs of diabetes in cats include thirst, vomiting, and, oddly, walking on their heels instead of their toes.

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5

Rabies

cat is sleeping, drooling

Rabies is a serious and nearly always fatal viral illness that affects a lot of warm-blooded animals. Cats are a common carrier of the virus, which can reach humans through infected bites. In humans, the virus is nearly always fatal as well, so it's especially important to keep your cat indoors and vaccinated. Rabies can lay dormant for weeks, months, or even years. Signs of the virus include yowling, shakiness, drooling, and fever.

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6

Leukemia

cat looking at food Catherine Falls Commercial / Getty Images

Feline leukemia attacks a cat's bone marrow and immune system, and it spreads quickly through saliva from both bites and sharing food bowls. Cats can even give it to each other through routine grooming. Leukemia can move fast in cats, sometimes leading to death within a few days. The disease shows up with dozens of different symptoms. You can prevent feline leukemia with a clean environment and current vaccinations.

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7

Heartworm

The vet is holding the cat and examining it during a checkup. FatCamera / Getty Images

Heartworms are a parasite your cat can get from mosquitoes. Unlike dog heartworm, there's no cure for cats with the condition. Infected felines may show signs of inflammation or other distress, but some cats show no signs at all until they suddenly die from it. A vet can prescribe various treatments for feline heartworm, which mostly slow the progress of the disease and helps your cat manage the symptoms.

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8

Arthritis

The hind legs of a domestic cat walking around the room. Roman Chekhovskoy / Getty Images

Like people, cats can get arthritis with advancing age. Arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disease that attacks the body's joints and causes severe pain. It doesn't have an outside cause, and many cats that live long enough will eventually get it.

There isn't a cure for arthritis, though treatment may be possible. Vets usually order X-rays to assess how serious the problem is, and they may prescribe low-level pain relief for your kitty.

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9

Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP)

kitten wrapped in blanket cristinairanzo / Getty Images

Cats under two years old may contract feline coronavirus (FCoV), which is a viral disease distantly related to the common cold and COVID-19 viruses that affect humans. Cats can get it from contact with infected fecal matter.

There is a vaccine for FCoV, but the evidence it works is shaky. In most cases, cat owners and their vets opt for palliative care to keep the cat comfortable until it's time for euthanasia.

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10

Hyperthyroidism

person petting cat disqis / Getty Images

A cat's thyroid gland can become overactive and secret too much thyroid hormone, which can affect every system of the body. Feline hyperthyroidism can cause vomiting, diarrhea, excessive urination, thirst, an abnormally dry coat, or a gain or loss of appetite. Treatment for hyperthyroidism involves feeding the cat a small amount of radioactive iodine, which travels to the gland and shrinks it down to limit its function.

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