Rabies is a common occurrence in all mammals, cats included and it is fatal if not treated immediately. There are vaccines for prevention and serums available widely in the market for post-exposure redressal. Rabies is transmitted from a bite by an infected animal or when its saliva mingles with open wounds or mucous membranes. Stray dogs and wild or feral cats are prolific carriers of this virus. If you are adopting a stray or a rescue cat, an anti rabies jab is mandatory for your own protection.
Symptoms of this disease are not always visible at once and can even take months to manifest. Apart from affecting the spine, this disease can increase aggression, drooling, loss of muscle control, loss of appetite, seizures and death. In such a situation, your cat itself becomes a carrier of the virus and can affect every other living being it comes into contact with. Though your cat might be vaccinated, it will require a booster shot if you see wounds on its body that are caused after a fight or even if it has been missing for an extended period of time and returns home unharmed. Be up to date on your own anti-tetanus shots to preempt contracting the disease.
Worms can be found in various types and can be dangerous for the human members in a cat home too. The most widely occurring types are roundworms, tapeworms, lungworms, hookworms and heartworms. A wandering cat is most likely to pick up these parasites and they do not display external signs of affliction. The most common way of being affected by these parasites is by skin exposure or eating foods and substances that carry their eggs and unvaccinated “queens”.
Roundworms are three to four inches long and can be acquired by kittens from its mother’s milk if she is infected. Hookworms are tiny and live in a cat's small intestine. They are passed on by ingestion or skin contact. These result in anemia and death.
Tapeworms are long, flat, that grow from four to twenty four inches in length. Symptoms can include vomiting and weight loss.
Lungworms, as the name suggests, are found in a cat’s lungs. Symptoms include coughing. In almost the same vein as lungworms, heart worms (contrary to its name) also infect a cat's lungs. These are mosquito borne and symptoms include coughing and wheezing (often confused by being bronchitis or asthma), loss of appetite and weight, liver & kidney failure; resulting in death.
Ringworm is a highly contagious fungus that infects skin, fur and claws. This condition can be identified by lesions around the head, ears and front legs that look like red bald patches or dandruff. Senior and immuno-compromised cats are especially more at risk to this fungus. After conducting a skin test, the vet will prescribe a medicated shampoo or ointment for its treatment. Since this can spread to humans and other animals, you will need to perform a deep cleaning and disinfection of your home.
As a broad indicator, an infected cat will display symptoms such as diarrhea, bloody stool, distended abdomens, rapid weight loss and laboured breathing. If the condition is particularly bad, worms can be seen in its fecal matter by the naked eye. Worm prevention programs are easily available and should be administered as prescribed for a particular type of worm by the vet. Litter boxes must be cleaned out frequently, if not daily and sanitise that area properly.
Diabetes in cats, like all other mammals, is caused by the deficiency of insulin or an impaired response to the hormone. Glucose is formed in a body upon being broken down by the digestive system. If glucose is not transmitted to the various cells in a body, sugar levels spike and result in hyperglycemia. Diabetes can be managed with subcutaneous injections and lowering carbohydrate content in the diet by avoiding dry foods and increasing fibre intake. Cats usually suffer from type II diabetes and can progress to type I as well.
Typical symptoms include obesity or weight loss, altered appetite, dehydration causing increased water consumption and urination and UTI, and lethargy. A blood test will determine if your cat has diabetes.
Cancers of different types can seriously affect the lifespan of felines in much the same way as in any other mammal. They are caused by DNA mutation in cells where they can divide and grow uncontrolled and unregulated. Cancers can either be localised to one area in the form of a tumor or generalised all over the body.
Overexposure to the sun can cause skin cancer that affects the ears, eyelids or nose. Lymphosarcoma or lymphoma (LSA, untreatable, yet manageable), feline leukemia virus (FeLV) gastrointestinal (GI), affecting the stomach and intestines) and breast are other forms of cancer that cats are susceptible to. Leukemia (FeLV) is not curable and can be transmitted “in utero”, through saliva, nasal secretions, urine, feces and blood and direct contact. There are vaccines available for FeLV at the kitten stage and you should consult with the vet for your cat’s participation in this program. Cat parents should be alert to incidences of lumps and swelling, skin infections, unusual discharges, lethargy, appetite and weight loss, gastric disorders, skin abnormalities, and digestive Senior and white haired & eared cats have heightened susceptibility to skin cancer.
Post diagnosis, strength and treatment can include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation depending on the type and proliferation (stage) of the disease. Depending on the type and spread of cancer, you will need to decide on a future course of action and will probably need to make hard and unpleasant decisions. There might be palliative care options available or situations where the disease is far too advanced for meaningful treatment. Your vet is the best source of information and guide in these eventualities.
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) severely and adversely affects a cat’s immune system. Your pets stand in danger of being exposed and susceptible to secondary infections and these can progress gradually over the years. Similar to other illnesses, FIV’s symptoms can entail fevers, anemia, weight and appetite loss, dull coats, excess shedding & bad skin, gastrointestinal disorders, gums and mouth diseases, eye infections and impaired kidney functioning. They can be a major contributor to life threatening diseases like cancer. FIV occurs on account of catfights and maternal transmission. Tests and vaccinations are available to prevent this condition. There might be occasions where you will need to manage secondary infections with medication. It cannot be stressed enough that a well balanced diet regimen must be followed at all stages, especially kittens, to prevent this condition. Raw foods are to be avoided without exception.
Upper Respiratory Infections, (meaning the nose, throat and sinus areas) can be attributed to viral and bacterial infections. These can be transmitted in a multi-cat home through shared feeding and water bowls, respiratory conditions and close proximity. Symptoms include sneezing and running noses, lung congestion and cough and fever. Your cat should be current on its vaccine program to mitigate the severity of infection.
Though cats are fiercely independent and have an acquired survival streak, they require constant monitoring of their diet and health. A well planned and executed nutrition and diet foundation can ensure years of company of this delightfully intelligent pet.