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Medical Information For Cats
Originally written 1991 & updated through 1997 by Cindy Tittle Moore. Maintained
by the Fanciers website as of July 1999.
Most cats will reach about 11 or 12 years of age. Some make it 18 and very
few to 20 and beyond. Much of this will depend on whether or not a cat is indoors
or allowed outdoors. Outdoor cats average about 8 years and indoor only cats
quite often reach 15 or more years of age.
As for "cat years" versus "human years", according to
material provided by the Gaines Research Center, cats will age 15 years in
the first year (10 in the first six months!) and 4 years for every year after
that. Other vets will say 20 years for the first year, 4 years for each year
Here are some highlights from the article in CATS Magazine, April 1992, pertaining
to cats with allergies.
- Cats can suffer from a wide range of allergies.
- A cat with one allergy often has others.
- 15% of all cats in the U.S. suffer from one or more allergies.
- Cats' allergies fall into several categories, each with a parallel complaint
among human allergy sufferers. Inhalant allergies are caused by airborne
articles, such as pollen, that irritate the nasal passages and lungs. Contact
alllergies manifest themselves when the cat has prolonged contact with a
substance that it just cannot tolerate. Cats have allergies to foods as well
-- not so much to the chemical preservatives but to the grains, meats and
dairy products used. Some cats react badly to certain drugs, such as antibiotics
- Flea allergy is the most common of all allergies. As cats age, their sensitivity
to flea bites increases. Prednisone (oral or injection) is commonly used
for a bad reaction.
- Between 5 & 10 percent of allergy cases are caused by food. Like contact
allergies, food allergies will show up as dermatitis and severe itching but
in some cases will also cause vomiting and diarrhea. Also, the cat may have
excessively oily skin, ear inflammation, or hair loss (which can also be
a sign of hormone imbalance).
- A food allergy doesn't show up overnight. It can take from a week to 10
years of exposure to show itself; more than 80 percent of cats with food
allergies have been eating the allergen-containing food for more than two
Studies are being done to determine possible connections between food allergies
and FUS, with some success in eliminating foods and cutting down on FUS symptoms.
Results are still experimental.
Food allergies are treated with a bland, hypoallergenic diet -- rice with
boiled chicken or lamb, and distilled water is commonly used. Two weeks is
the longest it usually takes for the bland diet to work.
Causes, symptoms, and treatments of some types of allergies:
Feline chronic renal failure is progressive and terminal but may be managed for
some time if diagnosed early. There is an excellent web page on this disease
kept at http://www.felinecrf.com/.
- Plants, especially oily-leafed ones, such as rubber plants, that might
be brushed against. Other contact allergens include: carpet fresheners, wool,
house dust, newsprint, cleansers and topical medications. Even the carpet
Signs of contact allergens: dermatitis, pigmentary changes or skin eruptions.
Most noticable on the chin, ears, inner thighs, abdomen, underside of the
tail, armpits and around the anus.
Skin patch tests are used to determine cause of contact allergies.
- Medications that commonly cause skin eruptions: penicillin, tetracycline,
neomycin and panleukopenia vaccine.
Each drug causes different symptoms, but the symptoms differ from cat
to cat. There is no way to predict how a cat will react.
Antihistamines or steroids may be used to eliminate symptoms (after ceasing
administration of the drug)
- Kitty litter - when new brands of litter come out, vets frequently see
a number of cats that have reactions to it. Other inhalant allergies can
include: dust from the furnace esp. when it is first turned on; cigarette
smoke; perfumes; household sprays and air freshners; pollen.
Inhalent allergies can also result in skin loss, scabbing pustules, or
ulcerated areas on the skin. This in addition to the asthmatic symptoms.
Treatment uses... antihistamines, such as chlortrimetron. More severe
cases are treated with systemic steroids, which can have drawbacks.
Feline urinary syndrome or FUS is the name given to a group of symptoms that
occur in the cat secondary to inflammation, irritation, and/or obstruction of
the lower urinary tract (urinary bladder, urethra, and penile urethra). A cat
with FUS can exhibit one, some,
or even all of the symptoms.
FUS is NOT a specific diagnosis: there are many known and some unknown factors
that may cause or contribute to FUS. Any cause resulting in particulate debris
in the urine is capable of causing obstruction in the male cat.
Males are much more likely to get this disease than females. There is no known
means of prevention. Treatment can vary from diet to surgery. Cats usually
recover if the disease is caught in time; often the cat must be watched for
any recurrence of FUS.
May appear periodically during the life of the cat.
- Females: straining to urinate, blood in the urine, frequent trips to the
litter box with only small amounts voided, loss of litterbox habits.
- Males: In addition to the above symptoms, small particles may lodge in
the male urethra and cause complete obstruction with the inability to pass
urine-this is a life and death situation if not treated quickly.
Obstruction usually occurs in the male cat and is most often confined
to the site where the urethra narrows as it enters the bulbourethral gland and
penis; small particles that can easily pass out of the bladder and transverse
the urethra congregate at the bottleneck of the penile urethra to cause complete
blockage. (note that the female urethra opens widely into the vagina with no
Symptoms of obstruction are much more intense than those of bladder inflammation
alone; this is an emergency requiring immediate steps to relieve the obstruction.
- Frequent non-producing straining-no urine produced, discomfort, pain, howling.
- Gentle feeling of the cats abdomen reveals a tennis ball size structure
which is the overdistended urinary bladder.
- Subsequent depression, vomiting and/or diarrhea, dehydration, loss of appetite,
uremic poisoning, and coma may develop rapidly within 24 hours.
- Death results from uremic poisoning; advanced uremic poisoning may not
be reversible even with relief of the obstruction and intensive care. Bladders
can be permanently damaged as a result.
In general: any condition that causes stricture, malfunction, inflammation, or
obstruction of the urethra. In addition, any condition that causes inflammation,
malfunction, or abnormal anatomy of the urinary
- Struvite crystals accompanied by red blood cells--generally caused by a
diet too high in magnesium relative to the pH of the urine.
- Fish-flavored foods tend to be worse
- The ability of a given diet to cause problems in an individual cat
is highly variable: only those cats with a history of this kind of FUS
may respond well to strictly dietary management. Many cats do not have
problems with a diet that may produce FUS in some individuals.
- Bladder stones, may occur from struvite crystals, or be secondary to
bladder infections. There are metabolic disorders (not all are understood)
that result in a higher concentration of a given mineral that can remain
in solution; hence stones are formed. Diet may greatly modify the concentration
of a given mineral in solution in the urine. Water intake may modify
the concentration of all minerals in the urine, and bacterial infection
increases the risk of stone formation.
- Anatomical abnormalities such as congenital malformations of the bladder
and/or urethra (early neutering is NOT a factor) OR acquired strictures
of the urethra and/or scarring of the bladder.
- Neurolgenic problems affecting the act of urination (difficult to diagnose
except at institutions capable of urethral pressure profiles)
- Primary bacterial infection--RARE!
- Tumors (benign/malignant)
- Protein matrix plug (generally urethral obstruction of males); can
be from non-mineral protein debris, viral-based, other causes are unknown.
- Suspected or unknown factors include non-bacterial infections, toxins,
stress, and seasonal influences.
Obstruction of the male cat is a medical emergency. The obstruction must be relieved
Failure to produce a good stream of urine after relief of obstruction is indicative
of urethral stricture and/or stones or matrex plugs. Failure of bladder to
empty after relief of obstruction suggests bladder paralysis (usually temporary
unless present prior to obstruction). In either event, a urinary catheter must
be placed to allow continual urination.
Treatment of uremic poisoning requires IV fluid therapy with monitoring of
blood levels of waste products until uremia is no longer present.
Permanent urethral damage with stricture, inability to dislodge a urethral
obstruction, or inability to prevent recurring obstructions are all indications
for perineal urethrostomy (amputation of the penis and narrow portion of the
urethra to create a female-sized opening for urination). This procedure is
usually effective in preventing reobstruction of the male cat, but this procedure
should be a last resort
If FUS is indicated without obstruction, 75 to 80% of FUS cats without obstruction
may be sucessfully managed by diet alone if urine reveals typical crystals
and red blood cells. Unobstructed male cats or non-uremic obstructed males
who have a good urine stream and bladder function after relief of an early
obstruction may be managed as above initially. Cats who are symptom-free after
7 to 10 days of dietary management and who have normal follow-up urines at
21 days, may be maintained indefinitely with dietary management only.
DL-Methionine is often prescribed for cats with FUS. Most commonly, FUS-specific
diets contain this acidifier. Antibiotics may be used. Distilled water for
FUS-prone cats is often recommended as well.
Diabetes occurs when the cat cannot properly regulate its blood sugar level.
Symptoms may include excessive thirst and urination; it may lose weight or develop
diabetes because of obesity. Older cats are more likely to develop diabetes than
Treatment may consist of a carefully regulated diet to keep blood sugar levels
consistent (especially if the diabetes was triggered by obesity). In most cases,
daily injections of insulin are needed. Regular vet visits are required to
determine the proper dosage. In between visits, using urine glucose test strips
available from the pharmacy helps you determine whether the dosage of insulin
A bottle of Karo syrup or maple syrup kept handy is essential for bringing
the cat out of dangerously low blood sugar levels. Diabetic cats should be
kept indoors to prevent accidental feeding (and thus disturbing the regulation
of blood sugar levels).
If your cat has persistent diarrhea, take the cat to the vet if symptoms have
continued for more than 2 days. Bring a stool sample with you and have the vet
check for parasites and/or fever.
You can try changing (temporarily) the cat's diet to one or more of the following
(depending on the cat's preferences):
The emphasis on the above being as bland as possible. No spices allowed
as they tend to aggravate the stomach. This procedure may be advisable to reduce
the possibility of dehydration from the diarrhea.
- boiled rice
- cottage cheese
- plain yogurt
- boiled chicken
- chicken broth
- baby food (strained meat varieties)
The vet may or may not prescribe medication. One-half teaspoon of kaopectate
(NOT peptobismol, it contains aspirin) usually works pretty well too. The vet
may recommend withholding food for 24-48 hours to give the GI tract a rest
before starting with some bland food.
Usually diarrhea lasts only a few days. If it lasts longer than that, as long
as the cat does not have a fever, it usually does not mean anything
serious, but you must protect the cat from dehydration by making it take in
plenty of liquids.
From: Colin F. Burrows. 1991. Diarrhea in kittens and young cats. pp.
415-418 IN J.R. August. Consultations in Feline Internal Medicine. WB Saunders
Causes of acute (sudden onset) diarrhea
Most common causes are viral infections and dietary changes.
- Panleucopenia (distemper)
- Feline Leukemia Virus
- Escherischia coli (not documented in cats)
- Diet esp. dietary change or raid on the garbage
- Toxic or drug-induced
- Acetominophen (tylenol)
- partial intestinal obstruction
Causes of chronic diarrhea
You should enlist the help of your vet if symptoms persist for more than a few
days, or if your kitten is weak or listless, or refuses to take fluids. Dehydration
can rapidly kill a kitten.
Please see the Feline Leukemia
There is no vaccine for this. FIV is passed through open wounds, such as cat
- Viral and Bacterial
- as above, except Toxoplasma
- Dietary sensitivity
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease
- Drug Sensitivity
- Inappropriate use of antibiotics
- Bacterial overgrowth??
- Partial intestinal obstruction
- Idiopathic (no known cause)
This disease impairs the cat's immune system and it will often fall prey to
some other opportunistic disease. While the virus is related to HIV, it is NOT possible
to contract AIDS from a cat with FIV.
FIV-positive cats should be kept inside and away from other cats. With this
and other precautions, they may live a fairly long time. Because of their subsceptibility
to secondary infections and complications, these cats are rather vet-intensive.
They do not often die directly from FIV, but rather one of the diseases that
they can get when their immune system is impaired. FIV appears to involve three
stages: acute (swollen lymph glands, fever, depression, bacterial infections);
latent (apparent wel being, can last months to years); and chronic (cat is
susceptible to all kinds of other viruses, fungii, and bacteria). Survival
over two years is rare.
Please see the Feline Infectious Peritonitis
Upper respiratory disease ("cold" or "flu"-like symptoms)
is generally caused by viral or bacterial infection. Some common causes are feline
herpes virus type 1 (FHV-1); feline calicivirus (FCV); and Chlamydia psittaci
(a bacteria-like organism). In many upper respiratory infections, viral infections
are complicated with secondary bacterial infections. Also, one or more viruses
may be involved at the same time.
Vaccines for FHV-1, FCV, and Chlamydia are available and are generally given
as part of the standard kitten shot series. These vaccines protect against
systemic infection (symptoms like fever, diarrhea, pneumonia) but they do not
give such good protection against local infection of the upper respiratory
tract (symptoms like sneezing, runny eyes).
FHV-1 (previously known as feline rhinotracheitis virus) can cause a variety
of different clinical syndromes. The most common symptom is a runny nose and
sneezing (rhinitis) which may be combined with reddened, squinting, runny eyes
(conjunctivitis). FHV can also cause corneal ulcers, oral ulcers, fever, and
diarrhea. In kittens, FHV infection can be severe. FHV is generally transmitted
through direct contact or sneezing, and may be transmitted from a mother to her
kittens before they are born.
A vet will usually prescribe a broad spectrum antibiotic to clear up secondary
bacterial infections, but there is no real cure for the viral infection, just
management of it. As in human herpes virus infection, cats may develop a latent
infection that causes virus shedding or mild recurrent attacks when the cat
is stressed. If you know your cat has had herpes virus infection, try to keep
your cat from getting stressed (when that's possible). If he is under stress,
he can begin to shed the virus again without showing any signs of being sick
himself, which means he may infect other cats. Note that FHV affects only cats.
Don't worry, you can't get herpes from your cat!
FCV can also cause a variety of clinical syndromes similar to those caused by
FHV. FCV infection is more often associated with oral ulcers, fever, and joint
pain, but may also be a contributing factor in rhinitis, conjunctivitis, and
gum disease. A vet will usually prescribe a broad spectrum antibiotic to clear
up secondary bacterial infections, but there is no real cure for the viral infection.
As with FHV, cats may develop a latent infection and may shed virus even though
they have no symptoms.
Unlike FHV, shedding is not influenced by stress.
Chlamydia is a bacteria-like organism that inhabits mucous membranes, primarily
the tissues around the eyes (conjunctiva). Chlamydia can cause a variety of clinical
syndromes similar to those caused by viruses and other organisms. The most common
symptom is conjunctivitis, which (unlike that caused by FHV) is generally seen
in one eye at first, then spreading to both eyes. Chlamydia can also cause rhinitis,
fever, pneumonia, and diarrhea. Chlamydia infection responds well to topical
tetracycline (given as an eye ointment). It is sometimes treated with other topical
antibiotics or with systemic antibiotics (given in pill form). A similar organism,
Mycoplasma, also causes conjunctivitis and is treated with antibiotics. Be careful
to wash your hands after treating a cat with chlamydiosis, as it is possible
for humans to develop a mild form of the
disease through contact.
Cats are far more prone to hyperthyroidism, in which too much thyroid is produced,
as opposed to too little (hypothyroidism). Symptoms include ?.
Some cats vomit all the time; other cats do so relatively rarely. Vomiting is
not a sign of the same sort of distress as it is in humans. Because they are
carnivores, they need to be able to vomit quickly and almost at will without
- Regular doses of Tapazol.
- Surgery to remove most of the thyroid. This is a difficult and potentially
dangerous operation (especially for an older cat), and it is not necessarily
effective. That is, it will reduce the thyroid activity, but not necessarily
stop the runaway thyroid growth--it may only reduce or delay the problem
and you'll have to give Tapazol anyway. At the other extreme, you might also
end up having to give the animal thyroid supplements...
- Radioactive Iodine treatment of thyroid. This is reported to be very effective
in solving the problem. The troubles are it is very expensive, and
it means leaving your cat at the facility where it is done for up to two
weeks (they have to monitor the cat to make sure all the radioactivity is
gone before letting it go home). Leaving a cat at a facility where there
are other cats can expose it to the health problems of the other cats there.
On the other hand, a cat that suddenly starts to vomit, or vomits more than
usual or in some way demonstrates a departure from its normal habits should
be checked by the vet.
Most commonly, a cat vomits because it has hairballs. To check for this, examine
the vomit carefully for small grayish pellets or lumps (it doesn't matter what
color your cat's hair is). If these are present, then hairballs is the problem.
Hairballs occur even with shorthair cats. All cats benefit from regular brushing
to help minimize shedding and ingestion of hair. If your cat is vomiting because
of hairballs, its normal behavior is not affected. That is, it will be its usual
self immediately before and after vomiting.
To help prevent this kind of vomiting, feed your cat on a regular basis some
petroleum jelly (aka as Vaseline). If they don't like it, you can try Petromalt,
a malt-flavored petroleum jelly. Pats of butter will also work. To give it
to them, if they won't eat it of their free will, smear some on top of their
paw and they will lick it up as they clean it off. Be careful to rub it in
thoroughly, otherwise when they shake their paw, you'll have gobs of vaseline
go flying onto the walls or carpet. Give it to them daily for a few days if
they've just upchucked or are in the midst of dry heaves; go back down to a
weekly dose once they've gotten rid of existing hairballs and this should keep
them hairball free. Frequent brushing also helps; every bit of hair on the
brush is less hair in your cat's stomach.
Another common reason for vomiting is overeating, particularly dry food. The
dry food absorbs water and swells, and then they have to throw it back up.
If the vomit looks like a semi-solid tube of partially digested cat food, that's
probably what it is.
A cat may vomit when it is allergic to its food. You can check this out by
trying another brand of food with substantially different ingredients and no
Sometimes cats vomit when they have worms. Consult your vet for a worming
If the vomit is white or clear, that can be one of the symptoms of panleukopenia,
feline distemper. If such vomiting occurs a coule of times over the course
of a day or night, a phone call to the vet is in order.
If cats eat something that obstructs their digestive system, they may try
to vomit it back up. If you can see some of it in their mouth, DO NOT PULL
IT OUT, especially if it is string. You may just cut up their intestines in
the attempt. Take the cat to the vet immediately.
If the cat displays other changes of behavior along with the vomiting, you
should consult the vet. Eg. listlessness, refusing food along with vomiting
may indicate poisoning.
Periodic throwing up can be a sign of an over-active thyroid. This is particularly
common in older cats. Your vet can do a blood test and find out the thyroid
level. It can also be indicative of a kidney infection: something that your
vet can also check out.
In general, as distasteful as it may be, you should examine any vomit for
indication of why the cat vomited.
Dietary problems include:
Problems with drugs include:
- sudden change in diet
- ingestion of foreign material (garbage, plants, etc)
- eating too rapidly
- intolerance or allergy to specific foods
Ingestion of toxins:
- specific reactions to certain drugs
- accidental overdosages
- Lead, ethylene glycol, cleaning agents, herbicides, fertilizers, heavy
metals all specifically result in vomiting.
Disorders of the stomach:
- diabetes mellitus
- too little or too much of certain hormones, trace elements, etc.
- renal disease
- hepatic disease
- heat stroke
Disorders of the small intestine:
- obstruction (foreign body, disease or trauma)
- assorted gastric disorders
- ulcers, polyps
Disorders of the large intestine:
- intraluminal obstruction
- inflammatory bowel disease
- fungal disease
- intestinal volvulus
- paralytic ileus
- irritable bowel syndrome
- gastrinoma of the pancreas
- peritonitus (any cause including FIP)
- inflammatory liver disease
- bile duct obstruction
- pyometra (infection of the uterus)
- urinary obstruction
- diaphragmatic hernia
You may now have stains on the carpet that you want to get rid of. Spot Shot,
and other stain removers, work well at removing stains. If you're having trouble
with bright red or orange stains, you may want to invest in a cat food that doesn't
use dyes. That can help
considerably in reducing the stain factor.
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- pain, fear, excitement, stress
- motion sickness
- inflammatory lesions