Five Common Cat Illnesses and Their Symptoms

Many cat owners know very little about cat healthcare, me included. I’m quite often at a loss when my cats seem out of sorts and I haven’t the foggiest idea what may be wrong with them. It makes me feel pretty helpless.

When one of my cats seems to be under the weather I want to know what to look for and if I should take my cat in for medical treatment. Spotting symptoms early will lead to early treatment and less stress for your pet. The following is not medical advice. Only your veterinarian can properly diagnose and treat your cat’s illnesses. This is a short list of common illnesses, the symptoms and how your veterinarian may treat the problem.

Urinary Tract Infection

Cats can get urinary tract infections just like we do. Signs of this in cats will vary. Many cats will whine or yelp when using the litter box and you may find blood in their urine. They may also have ‘accidents’ even if they use the litter box without trouble otherwise. You may notice your cat makes frequent trips to the box but they seem to have trouble getting any urine to pass.

UTI will vary in severity and you may not even know they have one. These extremely mild cases will clear up before you become aware there is a problem. By the time you do notice something is wrong it is probably time to visit your veterinarian.

Antibiotics are the common first step in treating UTI and will most likely clear up the problem if it is diagnosed early. Your veterinarian should do a series of test to determine the origin of the problem for proper care. In some cases the infection may spread to the kidney and complicate the situation. Kitty might be in a lot of pain. If you see any symptoms please make an appointment as soon as possible. If there is any blockage preventing your cat from using the box this can become life threatening very quickly.

Upper Respiratory Infection

This is much like the human cold. The great news is that most indoor pets will not contract this infection. This is a contagious illness and one cat must come in contact with another to catch it. If your cats stay inside and don’t come into contact with other cats you may not have to worry about this one. Cats that go outside however may come into contact with a variety of cats, any of which may pass along germs.

A cat with a respiratory infection will sneeze, cough, have a runny nose or even develop a fever. You may also notice watery eyes and a raspy meow. In many cases this is more of an annoyance to the cat and veterinarian care will not be needed. If you notice your cat is not eating or drinking and seem lethargic they may be very sick and need to go in as soon as possible.

URI are generally caused by a virus. Antibiotics are generally administered not to treat the virus but to hold off any secondary bacterial problems that can occur while your cat is sick. Your veterinarian may also give your cat medications to help break up mucus so your cat can breathe easier. In severe cases your cat may become dehydrated and will require a fluid drip.

Feline Panleukopenia

This condition is caused by a virus and is most commonly known as feline distemper. Though any cat can contract this condition kittens are at the most risk. Distemper is a contagious infection that is spread through litter boxes and contaminated food and water sources.

The symptoms of distemper are easy to spot. Your cat may become listless and lethargic. They may have severe diarrhea, vomiting and refuse to eat or drink. Their skin will become dry due to dehydration and their fur may fall out and look dull and lifeless.

If you suspect distemper get to your vet as quickly as you can. It can be diagnosed through symptoms and a white blood cell count. There is no medication to fight the virus but an antibiotic will be administered to fight off secondary infections. Your cat will need to be treated for dehydration immediately.

The bad news is that distemper is hard to fight off and many cats die from the infection very quickly. The good news is that there is a vaccine. All cats should be vaccinated against distemper while they are kittens as a part of routine veterinarian care.

Chronic Kidney Failure

Kidney failure is most common in senior cats and happens as a result of the aging process. The kidneys begin to deteriorate and lose their ability to properly remove waste from the blood stream.

Symptoms of renal failure include constipation, lack of appetite, lethargy and possibly nausea or vomiting. As the kidneys fail they require more and more liquids to process the toxins. Eventually the cat cannot drink enough water and the toxins begin to affect their entire body. Your veterinarian will most likely do blood and urine tests on your cat to confirm kidney failure.

There is no cure for renal failure but your veterinarian may be able to suggest things to help you prolong your cat’s life. Common treatments include an IV drip or even a dialysis machine. This special machine can help your pet filter the toxins but this can also be very costly.


Much like their human friends cats can develop diabetes. The disease is the same; the body does not produce enough insulin to properly maintain blood sugar levels. If diabetes is not properly diagnosed it can severely shorten the life of your cat.

Early symptoms of feline diabetes may include increased appetite with no weight gain. You may even notice weight loss in your pet. Your cat may also be drinking and urinating excessively. As the disease progresses you may notice your cat becomes less active and their coat loses its luster. In some cats ketoacidosis will occur. This will come in the form of weakness, fatigue, vomiting, diarrhea and muscle weakness. Breathing will become labored and signs of dehydration will be noticeable.

Your veterinarian will run both blood and urine tests to screen your cat for diabetes. If the results are positive there are a number of treatments available depending on the severity of the disease. Many cats will require insulin shots once or twice a day along with a special diet. A very sick cat will need to be treated for dehydration and other issues before insulin and diet will help. Your veterinarian will work out a treatment for your pet as needed. You might also want to read Veterinary Care Considerations for Cats.

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