Common Cat Health Issues: How To Spot and Treat Them

Veterinarian holding a cat and examining him with stethoscope

Key Points

  • Brushing your cat's teeth prevents tartar and plaque buildup, leading to other periodontal diseases.

  • Ensure your cat gets plenty of exercise to prevent obesity, which sometimes leads to diabetes.

  • Dietary changes, stress, and food allergies cause gastrointestinal issues in cats.

How do you know when your cat has health problems? Do they tell you? Most cats don't. Even the most conscientious cat owner may miss the signs. Information is your strongest weapon and best friend in protecting your cat's health, and this informative guide explains some common cat health issues, how to spot them, and how to treat them.

Cats are predators, but some animals see them as prey. Showing health issues reveals a weakness that puts them in danger. For this reason, cats are adept at hiding health complications and pain until the problem becomes too great to conceal.

Dental Disease

If you have a toothache, you know it hurts. The same is true for cats. Plaque and tartar buildup, eventually leading to periodontal disease, are the primary culprits of dental disease. Poor oral hygiene habits, such as poor brushing, worsen the condition. Dental disease may contribute to other health problems.

Several factors contribute to the development of dental disease in cats. Plaque forms when bacteria in the mouth combine with saliva and food particles. Over time, plaque hardens into tartar, which irritates the gums, causing inflammation. When this happens, bacteria may enter the cat's bloodstream, causing even more health issues.

Unlike a dog, a cat's mouth is rarely open. You must examine them to spot any signs of problems. Bad breath (halitosis) is a common trait of gum disease. Cats may have difficulty eating or chewing due to pain. They may drop food out of their mouth or chew on just one side. Red, swollen, or bleeding gums, excessive drooling, and loose or missing teeth are signs of dental problems in cats.

Treatment and Prevention

Treatment usually involves professional dental cleaning performed under anesthesia. During the procedure, a veterinarian removes tartar and plaque buildup and addresses any dental issues. Brush your cat's teeth daily. Be sure to use a toothbrush and toothpaste made especially for cats. The toothpaste has a flavor that cats accept more readily.

If they're not used to it, you may have to introduce the procedure gradually. A June 27, 2023 TikTok video discusses the importance of brushing your cat's teeth and shows that some cats accept it well.


Feline diabetes is a metabolic disorder that results from insulin resistance and imbalances in glucose regulation. The disease occurs when a cat's body cannot produce enough insulin or effectively use it.

Diet and obesity are often associated with diabetes in cats. The condition is more prevalent in older cats, overweight cats, and those with a genetic predisposition. Insulin regulates blood sugar levels, and its malfunction may lead to various health issues.

Increased thirst and urination are typical signs of feline diabetes. Another is weight loss despite an increased appetite. Some diabetic cats gain weight and become obese. Lethargy, weakness, and poor coat condition are other common symptoms. If left untreated, diabetes often leads to severe complications and even life-threatening conditions. A blood test from your vet detects diabetes and identifies which type.

Managing and Treating Diabetes

Managing feline diabetes requires a multi-faceted approach. Regulating blood sugar levels often requires insulin therapy administered by a veterinarian. Regular monitoring of blood glucose levels using at-home test kits is vital for adjusting insulin doses.

Dietary modifications, such as controlled carbohydrate intake, are part of the program. It's important to control your cat's weight and make sure they get regular exercise. Diabetes can be prevented with proper care.

Feline Upper Respiratory Infections

Feline upper respiratory infections (FURIs) are highly contagious viral or bacterial infections that affect the respiratory system. Cats living in multi-cat households or shelters are particularly susceptible.

Various viruses cause FURIs, including feline herpesvirus and calicivirus. Bacterial infections like bordetella or chlamydia also cause FURI. These infections typically spread through airborne droplets or direct contact with an infected cat. Stress or low immune systems increase the cat's susceptibility.

Sneezing, coughing, and nasal discharge are common symptoms of FURIs. Affected cats may also have watery or crusty eyes, often accompanied by reddened conjunctiva. FURI sometimes causes a temporary loss of appetite and lethargy in cats.

Treatment and Prevention

While there's no cure for viral FURIs, supportive care is critical for recovery. Providing a warm and stress-free environment is essential for healing. Your vet may prescribe medications, including antivirals and antibiotics for secondary bacterial infections.

The team at Fairview Veterinary Hospital in Bellingham, Washington, provides this advice: "Upper respiratory diseases are among the hardest to get good, solid immunity against. However, FURI vaccines are generally considered about 80% effective in preventing FURI for about 12 months. If a vaccinated cat develops a FURI, the severity is often reduced."

They suggest isolating new cats from your existing cat for at least a week. For kittens to throw off the infection, they need some maturation and a robust immune system. Make sure their diet includes balanced nutrition with prebiotics and probiotics.

Gastrointestinal Issues

Gastrointestinal issues are common in cats and have various causes, including dietary changes, infections, allergens, and stress. Viral and bacterial infections also cause gastrointestinal distress. Stress leads to gastrointestinal problems in cats prone to anxiety. Vomiting and diarrhea are common symptoms of gastrointestinal issues in cats.

Long-term problems often lead to weight loss, loss of appetite, and reduced energy levels. They may also have abdominal discomfort, bloating, and excessive gas. Treatment for gastrointestinal issues depends on the specific cause and severity of the problem. Rest and adequate hydration are critical initial steps. Your vet may prescribe medications such as anti-emetics and probiotics.

Determine if your cat has any food allergies by eliminating certain ingredients one at a time. Common allergens include specific proteins and types of grains. Switching to a grain-free or limited-ingredient diet narrows the list of possible sources.


Hyperthyroidism — when the thyroid gland produces too many thyroid hormones — is a common endocrine disorder in cats, particularly among older felines. The exact cause of this malady is unclear, but hormonal imbalances may play a role. The thyroid gland's function may change as cats age, leading to the overproduction of thyroid hormones. Genes appear to contribute to the development of the condition in certain cats.

Increased appetite and weight loss are distinct symptoms of hyperthyroidism in cats. Cats with hyperthyroidism often exhibit hyperactivity and restlessness. Due to the increased metabolic rate associated with the condition, cats may experience poor coat condition and vomiting.

There are several treatment options for hyperthyroidism. Anti-thyroid medications control hormone production, but regular monitoring is essential to ensure appropriate dosage. Your vet may recommend dietary changes, including iodine restriction. Another treatment option is radioactive iodine therapy, which destroys the overactive thyroid tissue. In severe cases, surgical removal of the thyroid gland may be necessary.

An overweight cat sits on a scratching post.


Sometimes, a lazy cat turns into a fat cat. Excessive weight gain leads to multiple health problems, reducing the cat's quality of life. A sedentary lifestyle is a common problem for indoor cats. They may become bored and inactive. Overfeeding or genetic factors also contribute to weight gain. Emotional and stress-related issues can lead to overeating and worsen the problem.

A tell-tale and obvious sign of obesity is when your cat becomes rounder, and it's difficult to feel their ribs. An obese cat often has difficulty grooming, leading to matted fur and skin problems. You may also notice breathing issues, joint pains, and decreased activity levels.

Overcoming obesity in cats involves controlled feeding and portion sizes. Try a slow-feed bowl if your cat tends to overeat. Switching to a balanced diet for weight management is a good start. Increasing exercise levels and stimulating activity through interactive toys allows cats to burn calories and lose weight. Cat towers and other climbing shelves offer exercise. Encourage your cat to use them by placing their food or treats on upper levels.

Parasites (Fleas, Ticks, Worms)

Parasites like fleas and ticks attack from the outside. Others, like worms, infest cats from within. All types of parasites affect a cat's health and comfort. Common parasites afflicting your feline include fleas, ticks, roundworms, hookworms, and tapeworms. Fleas cause skin irritation and allergies.

Ticks are notorious for transmitting diseases, and the 2023 tick season is a particularly nasty one. Intestinal worms affect the cat's digestive system and nutrient absorption.

Cats infested with parasites often experience itching and hair loss due to scratching the itchy bites. Flea infestations contribute to anemia and fatigue by causing blood loss. Digestive issues like diarrhea and weight loss often occur with intestinal worms. You may also see the worms in your cat's stool, emerging from the rectum, and on their body and bedding.

Use regular flea and tick control measures to prevent infestations. Topical spot-on treatments, collars, and oral medications are popular preventive options. Deworming medications effectively treat intestinal worms. Some are prescription, but there are also over-the-counter versions.

Preventive medications minimize the risk of future infestations. After eliminating the parasites, vacuum, wash, and clean all bedding and areas where they hang out or sleep.

Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) affect cats and cause discomfort and potential health complications. UTIs are more common in female cats. Males are also especially susceptible to feline lower urinary tract disease, which is slightly different from a UTI.

UTIs often occur due to bacterial infections in the urinary tract, primarily the bladder. Certain factors, such as urinary stones or crystals, predispose cats to UTIs. Stress-related issues sometimes contribute to urinary problems in cats.

Frequent urination, often in small amounts and accompanied by straining, is a common sign of UTIs in cats. Blood in the urine, inappropriate litter box habits, and urinating outside the litter box are other noticeable symptoms. Cats with UTIs may appear lethargic and experience discomfort when urinating.

Veterinary examination and urinalysis are necessary to diagnose a UTI. Antibiotics are typically prescribed to treat bacterial infections. Pain relief medications may also alleviate discomfort. Encouraging more water intake is essential to flush out the urinary system. Dietary modifications, such as providing wet food or prescription diets to support urinary health, further prevent UTIs. Many cats prefer moving water, so a pet fountain is an excellent tool for increasing hydration.

Don't Let a Minor Malady Become a Dangerous Dilemma

Being sick isn't a pleasant experience for anyone, including a cat. They hate to experience it and are master actors at hiding it. Apply the tips and insights in this article to your cat's health and everyday routine. If you notice anything unusual, talk with your vet about your concerns.

Simple lifestyle adjustments prevent many health problems. It may be nothing more than behavior modification or a change in their food. It sounds easy and small, but it may make all the difference in your cat's vitality. You want your cat to be happy. More importantly, you want them to be healthy.

Don't let their health issues slip by you — spot and treat them before they become a serious concern. For more information regarding your cat's health, subscribe to Cattitude Daily so you don't miss out.

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