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Common Health Issues for Cats: A Complete Guide

by Susan Pi August 20, 2016 0 Comments

Common Health Issues for Cats: A Complete Guide

We love our cats and that means caring for them in sickness and in health. Preventative care is important, but even with regular wellness exams, a proper diet, and plenty of socialization, cats are still susceptible to a variety of illnesses. In this article, we'll talk about three common health issues and how best to prevent them from happening to your cat.


My Cat has Fleas. Help!

Fleas are everywhere! Not even your indoor-only cat is safe, because fleas can fit through screens and ride in on clothes and shoes. Once they're inside your house, it won't take long before you're dealing with a full-blown infestation. 

Getting rid of fleas isn't complicated, but it does require diligence and hard work. Many people give up too soon, believing the infestation is gone when they no longer see any fleas. However, a flea's life cycle can last from weeks to months which means it can take a long time to get rid of them, especially if you're living in a moist and warm area. In their pupae stage, fleas can even lie dormant for years until vibration, body heat, or an increase in carbon dioxide signal that potential hosts are nearby.

So, how do you deal with an infestation? The problem needs to be tackled on two fronts: fleas on your cat and fleas in the environment.

Talk to your vet about starting your cat on a monthly flea preventative and avoid any generic brands you may find at your local grocery store. You'll want an FDA ( not just EPA) approved product like Advantage, Frontline, Cheristin, or Comfortis. There are both topical and oral kinds, and some are prescription only. Your vet can help you choose which one works the best for you and your cat. 

If you find your cat's flea preventative is no longer working, switch brands. Fleas can develop resistance, especially if you've been using the same product for years.

Flea baths and dips are quick fixes only, and they can be so toxic that many vets prefer to treat severe infestations in other ways. For example, Capstar is a single-use tablet that kills adult fleas quickly but only lasts for a day. 

As for your home, wash bedding and clothes in hot water then run them through a hot dryer cycle. Vacuuming carpets and couches can help to get rid of fleas and eggs, but make sure to throw away your vacuum bag and follow up with an area treatment spray. Your vet can recommend a reputable product to use. And since eggs can take anywhere from days to weeks to develop, you'll have to repeat again and again until the infestation is gone! 

Most importantly, don't give up. Fighting a flea infestation may seem hopeless, but it's not impossible. Treat your cat every month, regularly clean your environment, and you'll get rid of those pesky fleas.


How Do I Keep My Cat's Teeth Healthy?

Bad breath, discolored teeth, low appetite, and drooling are all signs of periodontal disease. Let it advance too far, and your cat may be susceptible to kidney, liver, and heart issues. Early detection is so important, and every vet will examine your cat's teeth and gums during wellness exams.

The most effective way to prevent periodontal disease is to brush your cat's teeth. Just like humans, regular brushing keeps teeth free from plaque which hardens into tartar. Once plaque and tartar is below the gum line, it can lead to infection and other health problems. Advanced cases will require cleaning below the gum line and decaying teeth to be extracted—a procedure that has to be done while your cat is under anesthesia.

Grooming salons will occasionally offer a non-anesthetic alternative called hand scaling where a technician scrapes away mild to moderate plaque and tartar above the gum line. The procedure is minimally effective and is rarely recommended for most cats because the cleaning is superficial and cosmetic. Unless properly addressed, any underlying dental health issue will continue to damage your cat's mouth.


But how do you go about brushing your cat's teeth?

Make the experience as pleasant as possible for both you and your cat. Give treats and praise, and do it when your cat is feeling relaxed and happy. If you have a kitten, start early to train him.

Do not ever use human toothpaste. Ask your vet or local pet store to recommend a reputable, flavored brand. 

While dental chews and rinses can help maintain your cat's dental health, nothing compares to brushing his or her teeth several times a week. 

For cats who are older or more difficult to train, go slow! The first step may be to lightly brush a finger along your cat's cheeks and face. Give a treat after each session so your cat associates having his face touched with a reward. When your cat is comfortable, dip your finger in tuna water and let him or her lick it off. When you can, gently rub your finger over his gums and teeth. Eventually, you can move onto gauze soaked in tuna water then finally a toothbrush.

Teaching your cat to accept regular teeth brushing requires patience, but it has to be done! The alternative is costly deep cleaning procedures every couple of years, and while anesthetic procedures are safer now more than ever, there are still risks. Your cat may never thank you for brushing his teeth, but you'll be doing what's best for him.

If you have a it's likely you will encounter one or more of these problems over time


Why is My Cat Peeing Outside of the Litter Box?

Inappropriate elimination happens for a variety of reasons. The cause may be a behavior or medical problem but one thing is clear: A healthy cat will always use a litter box. If your cat is peeing outside his box, something is wrong.

If it's a behavior issue, there are many strategies to get your cat to use a litter box again, but it's always a good idea to rule out any medical conditions first, especially if nothing in your environment has changed and your cat has always had near-perfect litter box habits.


Symptoms of a urinary tract infection or blockage include:

- Straining

- Crying while using the litter box

- Leaking urine

- Flinching when you touch his or her abdomen

- Using the litter box more frequently

- Hunching over while peeing

- Licking urinary area


Common medical conditions that cause inappropriate elimination are urinary tract infections and bladder stones or obstruction. The prognosis is good for both as long as the condition is caught early, but an obstruction can become a life-threatening emergency fast. If your cat exhibits any of the above signs, call your vet right away. 

To figure out the underlying cause of an obstruction, your vet may collect a sterile urine sample to analyze as well as order x-rays and ultrasounds. Treatment depends on the severity of the case: fluids, urethral massage, and medication can help. Once the obstruction is removed, a urinary catheter is often left in place until your cat is ready to be sent home.

Studies show that stress, genetics, and even gender can make a cat more susceptible to urinary issues. For example, male cats are prone to urinary obstruction because of their urethra size, and urinary diseases are more common in female cats. No one can guarantee that your cat won't get a urinary tract infection or an obstruction, but there are a few things you can do to minimize the risk:

- Feeding your cat a high-quality wet food and making sure he or she drinks plenty of water will go a long way. If your cat doesn't normally drink enough water, try using a drinking fountain or putting a small amount of tuna water or clam juice into his water bowl.

- Keeping your cat at a healthy weight. Overweight cats are prone to not only urinary issues but also diabetes, liver disease, arthritis, and skin problems.

- Research has shown that stress can cause urinary issues to flare up. Enrich your cat's environment and be aware of any possible stress triggers in your home.

If your cat is diagnosed with a medical condition, he or she may develop a chronic aversion to using the litter box. To your cat, his or her litter box has become a source of pain and discomfort, and it will require patience and time to retrain him. Using a different box or a new brand of litter or even placing the litter box in another part of the house may help. Talk to a cat behaviorist if he doesn't go back to normal soon after coming home from the vet. And until your cat feels more like himself, use these tips to prevent cat urine stains and odor in your home.


What's the One Thing I Can Do to Keep My Cat Healthy?

According to a study by Bayer and the American Association of Feline Practitioners, 52% of cat owners avoid seeing the vet, but for cats in particular, wellness exams are extremely important. Cats are good at hiding their pain, and regular check ups are the best way to catch serious illnesses early. If your cat hasn't been to the vet in a while, take him in. Even if he's healthy, ask your vet to run lab work so there are baseline numbers for when your cat does get sick.

September may be Happy Cat month and October is National Pet Wellness Month, but all cat lovers know that a happy and healthy cat is a year-round commitment. We love our cats, and not just because they're adorable, self-reliant, and fluffy. So, to help you stay on top of your cat's health and vaccine schedule, we're giving you a downloadable cat health record booklet!


Click here to download your free Cat Health Record Booklet  


How many cats do you have and what else do you do to keep them healthy? We'd love to see photos of your four-legged family members. Visit our Community Page

Susan Pi
Susan Pi

Susan Pi is a freelance writer, specializing in pets, travel, and history. When she's not traveling, she enjoys playing story-driven video games. You'll often find her in San Francisco dreaming of cats.

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