common cat diseases and illnesses

4 Common Feline Conditions & Illnesses

If you own a cat, it is important to know and understand the various illnesses, diseases, and conditions that are common for their species. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of these common illnesses can increase your cat’s chances of survival if they are tended to in a timely manner. The following information details what signs and symptoms to look for, ways to prevent illnesses if possible, and treatment options for your furry friend.


There are several common types of worms that cats can get, including roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms, and lungworms. Any cat that is exposed to the outdoors where other animals defecate is at risk for worms. The worms live in the feces of other animals and if your cat eats the feces, they will acquire worms. Roundworms are the most common parasite in cats and these worms can be passed from a mother to her baby by way of breast milk, as well as through feces. Some common signs and symptoms that your cat might be infected are;

  • Anemia
  • Breathing Trouble
  • Bloody Stool
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight Loss
  • Worms in the stool or hanging out of the anus
  • Constipation
  • Coughing
  • Vomiting
  • Bloating

The best prevention of worms is to keep your cat indoors, eliminate their exposure to other infected cats and other animals, keep your home flea-free, wear gloves when changing out the cat litter and change the litter box frequently. Giving your cat an appropriate parasite treatment is also recommended. The treatment for worms depends on the kind of worms your cat has, so a professional diagnosis is necessary before starting treatment. Once diagnosed, there are several different medications that treat the various kinds of worms, and not all worm medications treat every kind of worm. Your vet will guide you on which treatments are appropriate for your cat, once the diagnosis has been made.


Like humans, cats can get various kinds of cancer, either localized like a tumor, or it can spread throughout their body, which is generalized cancer. Cancer isn’t caused by a single thing and the basic function of the disease is a cellular multiplication of the bad cells that eventually invade and take over the tissues and organs. One of the most common types of cancer in cats is called Lymphosarcoma, which is more commonly known as Lymphoma. The feline leukemia virus is linked to most forms of lymphoma and it can be transmitted from mother to baby in utero, as well as through direct contact and saliva. There is a vaccine for the feline leukemia virus, so prevention is possible. Another type of cancer seen in cats is called Squamous cell carcinoma and this shows up on the cat’s skin, ears, eyelids, and nose. It is caused by UV exposure and lighter colored cats are more susceptible to this kind of cancer. The following symptoms are signs you’ll want to pay close attention to and seek professional care right away.

  • Bad Breath
  • Abnormal Discharge
  • Lethargy, lack of energy
  • Swelling
  • Lumps anywhere in the body
  • Weight Loss
  • Skin sores
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Change in Behavior
  • Sudden Lameness
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty Urinating
  • Difficulty Breathing
  • Difficulty Defecating
  • Scaly patches of skin/Redness

A cancer diagnosis is a multi-layered process that typically includes a biopsy, x-rays, and blood work evaluations. If you notice any of the above symptoms in your cat, an immediate professional evaluation is encouraged. Depending on what breed of cat you have, their age and other factors will determine whether your cat is considered “high-risk” for cancer, or not. Treatment for feline cancer depends on the kind of cancer and the stage of it. Some common treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and other combinations of medication and immunotherapy. Treatment can be expensive and doesn’t always guarantee resolution of the disease. Some of the cancers can be cured so it’s important to get all the information available when determining the best course of treatment for your cat.

Many Cats sitting in a row, isolated on white

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)

Some cats that have been infected with the Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV), don’t show symptoms for years after the initial infection took place. The virus causes the cat’s immune system to become weakened which in turn gives way to other infections or illness to take hold. Often the secondary infection, whatever it might be, is the cause of the cat fatality, but the original cause is the infection from FIV. There are some supportive medical care practices that can afford the cat a relatively comfortable life for anywhere from months to years, but ultimately the disease will take hold and become fatal. There is no cure for this virus, but we have options for extending the life of your cat if she hasn’t yet shown signs of the disease progressing. The virus is not contagious from cat to human, it can only be passed from cat to cat. As stated above, this is a slow-moving virus, so it could take years before your cat shows any signs of the disease. The following symptoms are important markers to look for if you think your cat might be suffering. If your cat is demonstrating any of the following symptoms, please have her examined right away;

  • Weight Loss
  • Anemia
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Gingivitis
  • Disheveled Coat/Fur
  • Enlarged Lymph Nodes
  • Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)
  • Sneezing
  • Cuts that Don’t Heal
  • Frequent Urination
  • Dental Disease
  • Discharge from Eyes
  • Change in Behavior

Typically, a blood test is used for diagnosis and it’s encouraged that every cat owner knows the FIV status of each cat in their care. Because FIV is highly contagious between cats, making sure your cat isn’t spreading the virus to other cats, is very important. You’ll want to isolate your cat if you think they are showing signs of this virus and get them to the vet immediately for evaluation.

Feline Leukemia Virus (FelV)

Feline Leukemia Virus is the second leading cause of cat deaths each year. 85% of cats infected with this virus will die within three years of the onset of the illness. The virus suppresses the immune system which then leaves your cat susceptible to other deadly infections taking hold in their bodies. Not every cat that is exposed to the virus falls ill, in fact, 70% of cats are able to resist the infection and/or eliminate the virus altogether. It just depends on your cat’s ability to fight infection and the overall immune health of your cat. Feline Leukemia disease only affects cats, it cannot be transmitted to humans, dogs or other mammals. The transmission from cat to cat is done through body fluids, like saliva and blood. It can also be transmitted through urine and feces but that is less common. The virus cannot live outside of the cat’s body for a very long time, so within hours, it will die off if not exposed to another cat. Generally, cats transmit the virus through grooming each other or the exchange of saliva or blood during a catfight. Kittens can also contract the disease in utero and through nursing, from the mother’s milk. A healthy cat can carry the virus unknowingly and infect another cat without ever showing signs of having the infection themselves. Therefore, the disease has a high mortality rate because of cats that transmit the virus unknowingly. This disease affects all breeds of cats and is responsible for most of the deaths of household cats. Male cats are more likely to contract the disease and the infection typically attacks the cat’s immune system between the ages of 1 and 6. There are three types of Feline Leukemia Virus, FelV-A, FelV-B, and FelV-C. FelV-A occurs in all cats infected with FelV, which is the virus that weakens the immune system. FelV-B affects about 50% of cats infected with FelV and is what causes tumors and other abnormal growths. FelV-C is the least common type of the three and only occurs in about 1% of FelV infected cats. This is the type that causes severe anemia in cats. There are quite a few symptoms that can help identify this virus, so take a look and if you are seeing any or all of these symptoms in your cat, please schedule an appointment with your vet as soon as possible.

  • Enlarged Lymph Nodes
  • Weight Loss
  • Anemia
  • Fever
  • Uncoordinated and Wobbly
  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Abscesses
  • External Infections
  • Diarrhea
  • Inflammation in Gums/Mouth
  • Inflammation in Nose or Eyes
  • Fibrosarcomas (Fibros Lumps)

Once you’ve identified the symptoms and taken your cat to the vet, certain tests will be run to rule out other possible infections before the diagnosis is made. Blood work will also be done to determine if the cat is anemic or has any other blood disorders. As part of the diagnostics, a urinalysis or bone marrow biopsy might also be done. Treatment for FelV is mostly monitored through medication and diet. As stated above, it is possible for a cat to live a normal, healthy life with the virus and never show symptoms. The biggest threat with this disease is the secondary infections that might occur because of the weakened immune system. Keeping your cat on a routine vet visit schedule and making sure their diet has the appropriate nutrients, will help keep your cat’s immune system working well. Vaccines for the disease are available but make sure your cat is tested prior to giving the vaccine, just to make sure they don’t already have the virus. This disease can be fatal so keeping preventative health in mind is one of the best safeguards against the illness.