A Guide to Cat Health: Understanding and Managing Common Issues

Key Points

  • Medical and behavioral health of cats go hand in hand, so you should always report changes to your vet.

  • Prevent periodontal diseases in your cat by maintaining a daily dental hygiene routine.

  • Several diseases are preventable with vaccinations, such as rabies, feline leukemia, and herpesvirus.

Investing in your cat's health increases their happiness and awards a better chance at a long life. Understanding and managing common health issues ensures that your feline companion maintains a high-quality existence.

This comprehensive guide provides the knowledge and tools necessary to address various aspects of cat health, including behavioral health, dental care, nutrition and diet, parasite control, senior cat care, vaccinations and preventive care, and weight management.


There are connections among all areas of health. What affects one usually influences another. This is true of humans and felines alike.

Debra F. Horwitz and Ilona Rodan of the Veterinary Behavior Consultations, St. Louis, Missouri, and the Cat Care Clinic and Cat Behavior Solutions, Madison, Wisconsin, respectively, published an article in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. Their goal is to help veterinarians to recognize stress and distress associated with mental and physical diseases in felines.

Horwitz and Rodan point out: "There is ample evidence in the feline literature that medical and behavioral health go hand in hand. In most feline cases, medical and behavioral conditions contribute concurrently to clinical signs."

A veterinarian can only do so much in your cat's regular visits. You observe your cat's behaviors every day, so it's important to communicate with your vet. Let them know about any changes you see in your feline, whether physical or behavioral.

Behavioral Health

This may be the most underrated and overlooked aspect of a cat's health. One reason may be that it's not easily measurable. What's normal behavior for one cat may not be for another. Behaviors such as aggression, separation anxiety, and litter box problems arise in cats for various reasons. Fear, stress, or territorial disputes may cause aggression. It's vital to identify the triggers and provide socialization, training, and environmental enrichment.

You may see separation anxiety in the form of excessive meowing, destructive behavior, or elimination outside the litter box. Creating a safe and stimulating environment helps alleviate this issue. Cats are usually very independent, but a cat with separation anxiety might need help achieving some independence.

Litter box problems may occur due to litter, box preference, stress, or underlying medical conditions. Providing multiple litter boxes helps, especially if you have multiple cats. You should have at least one for each cat. Place them in quiet areas or buy the hooded variety. Regularly cleaning them helps encourage usage as well. If behavioral issues persist, consult a veterinarian or animal behaviorist.

Cats usually don't need training when using the litter box, so this issue is easy to spot. Other problems may require more diligent observation.

Dental Care

Brushing your cat's teeth takes a bit of finesse. If they're not used to it, gradual steps make them accustomed to this routine. Many cats suffer from dental diseases, including tartar buildup, gingivitis, and periodontal disease. These may lead to pain, tooth loss, systemic health issues, or surgery to remove infected teeth.

Establish a daily dental care routine with cat-friendly toothpaste to maintain proper dental hygiene. Finger brushes exist for cats that don't like regular brushes. Dental treats or toys that promote dental health reduce plaque and tartar buildup. Regular veterinary check-ups should include dental examinations to detect early signs of diseases.

In cases of dental diseases, professional dental cleaning by a veterinarian under general anesthesia may be necessary.

A veterinarian examines a cat's teeth.

Nutrition and Diet

One of the most apparent aspects of health is a proper diet. With so many options from numerous companies, research to find the one you feel is right for your cat's needs. Adequate nutrition plays a vital role in maintaining a cat's health and preventing diseases. Cats are obligate carnivores, requiring a diet rich in animal protein and specific nutrients. High-quality commercial cat foods should meet these requirements.

When selecting cat food, look for options labeled as complete and balanced for the life stage of your cat. Follow the feeding guide on the back of the package to ensure your cat gets the appropriate amount. Whether you feed dry or canned food is a personal preference. They each have pros and cons. However, your vet may recommend one over the other, depending on whether your cat is over or underweight.

Some cat owners prefer homemade diets, but you should consult a veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist to confirm the diet is nutritionally appropriate for your cat's needs.

Parasite Control

Parasites aren't just annoying little nuisances. They have the potential to cause serious illness if they're not repelled. Fleas, ticks, intestinal worms, lice, and mites are common parasites that affect cats. If your cat catches and eats mice or birds, this habit increases the risk of contracting these problematic parasites.

Regular use of flea and tick medication keeps your cat protected. Ask your veterinarian to recommend suitable products for your cat's lifestyle and parasite exposure risk. Most treatments are harmless to your cat, but if you don't want to use synthetic chemical treatments, natural remedies exist, too. Routine fecal examinations help detect and treat intestinal worms. Give medications for deworming as recommended by your veterinarian.

External parasites like lice and mites are also problems for some cats, especially if they spend any of their time outdoors. If you notice your cat biting their skin or scratching excessively, this may be a sign of fleas or ticks. Consult with your veterinarian for appropriate diagnosis and treatment options.

Senior Cat Care

With age comes other health issues. You're not stopping the aging process, but you may make your cat more comfortable as they go through their senior years. As cats age, they become more prone to specific health concerns. Arthritis and joint issues are common, causing discomfort. Ask your veterinarian to suggest strategies, supplements, or medications to help.

Chronic conditions like kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, and diabetes are also more common in senior cats. Regular check-ups and blood work identify these conditions so you can manage them more effectively. Dietary changes and medication are often necessary.

Cognitive decline, known as feline dementia or cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS), sometimes occurs in older cats. Symptoms may include confusion, disorientation, and changes in behavior. Providing physical and mental stimulation and medications prescribed by your veterinarian helps support cats with CDS.

Senior cats may still enjoy a fulfilling life. Even those with physical limitations may enjoy playing with senior cat toys that don't require overexertion. Don't give up on them just because they're old.

Vaccinations and Preventive Care

Prevention is much easier than dealing with a problem once it sets in. It's usually easier on your wallet as well. Vaccinations protect cats from various preventable diseases. Vets recommend core vaccinations for all cats, including feline herpesvirus, calicivirus, panleukopenia, and rabies. Many vet offices don't treat animals unless they have the rabies vaccine. These vaccinations protect against highly contagious and potentially life-threatening diseases.

Non-core vaccinations, such as those for feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency viruses, are recommendations based on your cat's lifestyle and risk factors. Some illnesses have no cure, so preventing them is extremely important.

Following a vaccination schedule provides optimal protection. Stay up-to-date with booster vaccinations so immunity remains effective. If cost is a concern, consider pet insurance. In a Reddit post on June 28, 2023, one user suggested getting pet insurance as soon as possible, as some companies don't cover preexisting conditions.

Weight Management

The causes of obesity in cats vary. They may be overeating due to stress, a lack of exercise, or an underlying health problem like hyperthyroidism. Whatever the reason, obesity isn't healthy. Obesity increases the risk of diabetes, arthritis, and heart disease. Exercise is essential when dealing with an overweight animal; the effects are reciprocal. If your cat doesn't move around much, they gain weight; if they gain weight, they can't move as easily.

If your cat is overweight, consult your veterinarian to develop a weight management plan. Sometimes, switching to wet food helps, as it has a higher percentage of protein and lower carbohydrates. Playing with your cat for an extra 15 minutes a day gives them much-needed exercise.

Monitor your cat's progress by regularly weighing them and tracking body condition scores. Some cat owners refer to the Chonk Chart as a guide. Slow and gradual weight loss is ideal, aiming for approximately one to two percent of body weight loss per week.

Remember, weight management requires long-term commitment and lifestyle changes. A short-term diet doesn't work if they return to their regular eating and activity habits after losing weight. They easily gain back what they lose.

Impact on Your Cat's Health

You try to lead a fulfilling life and want the same for your cat. This includes providing plenty of mental and physical enrichment and taking a proactive role in their healthcare. You ensure your cat's well-being and longevity by addressing behavioral health, dental care, nutrition and diet, parasite control, senior cat care, vaccinations and preventive care, and weight management.

Provide the kind of health for your cat that promotes a happy spirit, a strong body, and an active mind. Regular veterinary check-ups, open communication with your veterinarian, and a commitment to preventative care are vital to providing your cat a happy and healthy life.

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