Common Feline Diseases and What You Need To Know About Them
Cats just like other companion animals fall sick every so often and need veterinary attention. Feral or stray cats are normally carriers of some of the common infectious diseases. Keeping your pet indoors or closely monitoring them while outside is imperative to prevent transmission. This however does not mean that indoor cats cannot contract infections but are less at risk compared to outdoor cats. Also, keeping your cats free from diseases carrying parasites such as fleas and ticks goes a long way in preventing some of these ailments. Proper hygiene especially during feeding (clean food and water bowls) and litter boxes is of utmost importance.
Proper and early treatment is essential as some of these diseases when in advanced stages are harder and more expensive to treat. Cat owners should therefore be keen to notice any changes or signs of disease in their cats to allow early veterinary intervention.
Below we discuss common illness in cats.
Worms are a common culprit affecting both humans and animals. These include hookworms, tapeworms, round worms and whip worms.
Cats get infected by roundworms by ingesting rodents that have tissues infected with roundworm eggs as well as when they step on feces containing roundworm eggs during grooming. Round worms grow up to 5 inches and feed on the cat’s food in the intestines robbing them off essential nutrients. Owners should ensure proper litter box hygiene as well as getting rid of rodents in the household to prevent infection and reinfection.
Tapeworms appear as long white segmented strands containing eggs which at times break off and are released in feces as grains of rice or resembling sesame seeds. They mature in the large intestines where they feed on essential nutrients. Cats get infected by swallowing fleas which contain eggs of tapeworms during grooming. Flea control is essential to prevent tapeworm infestation.
Hookworm larvae on the other hand penetrate through body tissues to the lungs. They later move to the small intestines where they mature and attach to the intestinal lining and suck blood. High hookworm infestation often leads to anemia, bloody diarrhea and death due to shock.
Whip worms are less common and are found in the large intestines. They however don’t cause serious disease.
Worm infestation causes diarrhea, vomiting, loss of body condition, weight loss and loss of appetite. Having a regular deworming schedule goes a long way in keeping worms away.
Upper respiratory Tract infections
Upper respiratory tract infections also commonly known as cat flu mimic the common cold in humans. They are caused by viruses as well as bacteria. The most common causative agents include: Viral (Feline Herpes Virus type 1 also known as Feline Viral Rhinotracheatis (FRV), Feline Calicivirus (FCV)), Bacteria (Bordettela bronchoseptica and Chlamydophila felis). Viruses usually cause the most common infections.
Cat flu is highly contagious. It’s transmitted either through direct contact with saliva, nasal and eye discharges from an infected cat, or through environmental exposure of contact with contaminated objects such as feeding and water bowls. Pregnant cats can also pass to their young ones during birth. The infection has an incubation period of approximately 2 to 10 days while the infection itself lasts for about 7 to 10 days. Signs include:
- Conjuctivits (inflammation of the inner lining of the eyelid)
- Nasal and eye discharges
- Loss of appetite
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- In cases of FVR and FCV mouth ulcers are observed.
Cats infected with FVR become lifelong carriers though symptoms are usually not apparent unless during periods of stress e.g. surgery, age which can reactivate the virus.
There is no known treatment especially if the infection is viral. Treatment is geared towards reliving the symptomats. This includes administering nasal drops to relieve blockage and sneezing, eye drops to relieve the conjuctivitis, steroids to reduce inflammation and fluids in case the cats becomes dehydrated. Antibiotics are also prescribed to prevent or treat secondary bacterial infections. Cases of bacterial URTIs are treated using specific antibiotics.
Prevention for FVR and FCV is through vaccination. These are core vaccinations which should be administered during the first 12 weeks of life. They don’t offer 100% protection but they reduce severity of infection and the duration of disease. Chlamydiosis can be prevented through vaccination also the vaccine can cause adverse side effects and should therefore be administered under the guidance of a veterinarian.
Urinary Tract Infections
This can be defined as the colonization of parts of the urinary tract by infectious agents such as bacteria, fungi and viruses. They normally affect the urinary bladder, urethra and at times the prostate gland. It’s common in middle aged cats, overweight cats and those on a dry diet. Stress either emotional or environmental is also a known trigger. It’s also common in multicat households.
Urinary tract infections are can occur due to an underlying condition such as diabetes, bladder and urethral stones and obstructions. Infections in the body can also which travel through blood to the urinary system causing a UTI. Male cats are more prone to these infections due to their long and narrow urinary tract
Common symptoms observed include:
- Straining while urinating
- Blood in urine
- Frequent urination
- Pain while urinating
- Break in toilet training. Many cats are observed to urinate outside the litter box
- Excessive licking of the genital area
Diagnosis is done by carrying out urinalysis test where the urine pH, concentration, presence of crystals/stones, inflammatory cells is checked. Culture and microscopic examination of the urine can also be done. X-rays are also carried out especially if bladder stones or urethral obstructions are suspected.
- Treatment depends on the causative agents.
- Bladder stones are treated by either removing the stones surgically (Calcium oxalate) or through diet (struviate stones).
- Urethral obstructions are treated by dislodging the obstruction either by flushing the obstruction back to the bladder where it’s dissolved and passed down in urine or surgically removed.
- Cases of diabetes are treated by prescribing insulin and dietary management.
- Fluids are also administered since dehydration and electrolyte imbalance is common in UTIs.
- Antibiotics and antifungal medication are prescribed depending on the causative agent.
Here are some ways to prevent:
- Give clean ample water at all times
- Litter boxes should be kept clean at all times to prevent bacteria from travelling up the urinary system.
- Stress should be kept at a minimum
- Cats prone to bladder stones should be put on a prescription diet to prevent future occurrences.
This is the inflammation of the gingiva or gums and is the earliest stage of periodontal disease. It occurs in cats between 3 to 10 years of age. It’s common in cats suffering from Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, bacterial infections as well as those with nutritional and hormonal disorders.
Gingivitis is usually seen as the presence of plaque on the teeth which illicit a reactive immune response causing major inflammation which leads to destruction of the gum tissue. This often results in redness of the gums, swelling and collagen loss from the gums. Plaque is mineralized with time and hardens to form calculus.
Common causes of gingivitis include;
- Poor dental hygiene or health care
- Soft food
- Old age
- Autoimmune diseases
- Feline Immunodeficiency Virus
- Feline Leukemia Virus
Common signs observed include:
- Red swollen gums
- Bad breathe
- Plaque and calculus
- Pawing at the mouth
- Lack of appetite due to pain
- Excessive salivation
- Blood in saliva
Diagnosis is usually through physical examination. Treatment entails dental cleaning which helps remove the plaque and calculus. Badly affected teeth or loose teeth are also removed. Antibiotics are prescribed to deal with any underlying infections.
Observing dental hygiene by brushing your cats’ teeth using veterinary toothpaste or cleaning them with an antibiotic solution to reduce plaque buildup goes a long way in preventing gum disease.