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Common Feline Health Conditions

Below are some of the most common medical conditions that affect cats.


Fleas tend to be more of a seasonal concern, being the most prevalent in the summer and early fall. Often the first time you might notice fleas is when they bite you and your family, so watch closely for the symptoms of fleas on your cat and use protective measures to prevent them.

The warning sign of fleas are excessive biting; scratching and rubbing by the cat; small, visible, fast-moving brownish-black bugs; multiple skin irritations caused by the flea bites and noticeable “flea dirt;” the small black feces of the flea.

To test for fleas, moisten a sheet of white paper and hold it under your catT. Briskly comb the cat’s fur. Any “flea dirt” which falls onto the paper will produce a visible red bloodstain.

To prevent fleas, keep your cat away from unfamiliar animals, especially wild animals. Vacuum and clean the carpet, furniture and the cat’s bedding repeatedly to remove fleas and eggs. Fleas on your cat can be controlled with many different treatments available from your vet. All animals in the home must be treated for fleas as well. Ask your vet or a pest control company for the best way to treat your home and yard for fleas.

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Ear Mites

Ear mites are insects that are too small to see with the naked eye. If the condition goes untreated, ear mites may cause a secondary infection that must also be treated. Ear mites are transmitted by direct contact between your pet and another infected animal, so be sure to keep your cat away from other animals that have ear mites. Symptoms are vigorous shaking, scratching or rubbing of the affected ear and a thick black crust formed in the ear canal of the animal.

If you suspect your cat may have ear mites, it is advised that you have your veterinarian check his or her ears. Your veterinarian can recommend the appropriate treatment since many forms of treatment can be effective. The cat should be immediately isolated from other pets until completion of the treatment.

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Feline Upper Respiratory Infection (URI)

Feline upper respiratory infection is often referred to as URI. The viruses that cause feline URIs are common among cats. In fact, most cats are carriers of these viruses, even if they never show any signs of illness. Stress and other diseases can cause an otherwise healthy cat to become clinically ill. Feline URIs are often found in situations where there are many cats housed in close quarters, such as animal shelters and pet stores.

Typical signs of URI are fever, lethargy, decrease appetite, sneezing and/or coughing and discharge from the nose and sometimes the eyes. The discharge may be runny and colorless to thick and yellow or green. In some cases there may be ulceration, or sores, on the nose and/or within the mouth.

Many cases of simple viral URI resolve without specific treatment in five to seven days. More complicated cases usually require treatment with antibiotics or other veterinary intervention. Good nutrition is essential, but many congested cats refuse to drink or eat. Warming a “smelly” type of canned cat food may help encourage your cat to eat. You should seek the assistance of your veterinarian if mild signs of upper respiratory infection persist for more than five to seven days. Also, see the vet if there is a thick or discolored discharge from the eyes or nose, if your cat is very lethargic or if his or her appetite is greatly decreased. If your cat has a significantly decreased appetite for more than a week, it is important to call your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Although it does not prevent infection, previous vaccination can often eliminate or reduce signs of illness upon subsequent exposure. Vaccination when a cat is ill is not of benefit and is not recommended.

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Otitis occurs when moisture collects in the ear canal resulting in decreased air circulation, inflammation and eventually infection. Factors contributing to Otitis include excess hair in the ear canal, a history of allergies and dirty or wet ears. Typically, you will notice your cat scratching at his ears or shaking his head. Additionally a strong odor about the face or ears may be detected as well as redness in the ears or an increase of wax in the canal. If severe or left untreated, the infection can result in rupture of the eardrum, excessive growth of the tissues of the ear canal and even deafness. To prevent Otitis, it is helpful to remove excess hair from the ear canal. This can be done by a groomer, veterinarian or by the guardian, if properly trained. Be sure to keep your cat's ears clean and dry. If you notice any redness, discharge, or foul odor of the ears it is important to contact your veterinarian for proper care and treatment of your cat’s ears. Ask your veterinarian for a recommendation on a diet which may help to reduce cases of infection. 

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Feline Leukemia

Feline leukemia is a contagious viral disease of cats. It is transmitted through the saliva and nasal secretions of an infected cat and infects only other cats. Feline leukemia can cause tumor formation, bone marrow disorders, immunosuppression and many secondary diseases. Most cats that develop a persistent infection die from the disease within two years. Feline leukemia is a disease found in our area, so your cat is at risk.

Luckily, feline leukemia can be prevented! It is important that you talk to your veterinarian about an appropriate vaccination program. Another preventative measure you should take is to not allow your cat to roam outdoors, which could result in contact with a feline leukemia positive cat.

Even if your cat or kitten has tested negative for feline leukemia, it is important to have the cat re-tested in the future in case of recent infection and also to keep your cat current on her vaccinations.

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Feline Panleukopenia

This virus is also called feline distemper, feline parvovirus or feline enteritis virus. It is contagious to all species of cats and raccoons. Signs include vomiting, depression, fever and severe diarrhea. The virus may attack the fetus in utero or kittens shortly after birth and cause death or birth defects. The younger the cat, the greater the chance he or she will NOT survive. The virus is transmitted through all body secretions, but urine and feces are the most potent sources of infection. The virus can also live on contaminated rugs, bedding, shoes and other objects. An effective cleaning disinfectant is 4 ounces of bleach in one gallon of water.

Cats remain highly susceptible to panleukopenia until two weeks after the last injection of the immunization series. Death from panleukopenia may result from dehydration, overwhelming bacterial infection from the cat’s lowered resistance or blood loss from internal hemorrhage.

In Feline panleukopenia, the cat often becomes ”dehydrated” from the vomiting, diarrhea and inability to consume fluids. Life is NOT possible when 12-15% of the normal body fluids are lost. This is the reason fluid therapy is so important. Treatment is aimed at maintaining the normal composition and preventing secondary bacterial infection. We have no cure for any animal virus, just as there is no cure for any human virus.

Whenever you suspect an illness, infection or virus of your cat, please contact your veterinarian.

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