Common Cat Diseases Every Owner Should Know

Jan 7, 2021

Owning a cat brings a lot of joy, and as a rule, cats are pretty low-maintenance pets. However, cats are susceptible to a few diseases that you should know about. 

Cats tend to hide their sickness, so it’s important that you know what to look for. 


Most kinds of animals are vulnerable to cancer, and cats are no exception. Cats can get many different kinds of cancer. The tumors may be localized to one area or spread through the body, or be generalized. We aren’t sure why cancer occurs, but it does seem that some things are more likely to lead to cancer in your cat:

  • Sun exposure.  Squamous cell carcinoma can occur in the nose, ears, and eyelids of cats who are frequently exposed to the sun. It is especially likely in light-colored or white cats.
  • Feline leukemia virus. This is an uncommon virus that leads to the most common type of cancer in cats: lymphosarcoma. Feline leukemia virus is likely responsible for most cases of most types of lymphosarcoma except for gastrointestinal lymphosarcoma.

How To Reduce Your Cat’s Risk of Developing Cancer

We don’t know all of the causes of cancer in cats. There is nothing that you can do to eliminate the possibility of your cat developing cancer. 

However, there are some things that you can do to make it less likely that your cat will suffer from this debilitating disease:

Reduce sun exposure, especially in light-colored cats.

We all know how much cats love to sunbathe, but since sun exposure can be linked to cancer, especially in light-colored cats, it may be wise to have a UV filter installed on your windows so that your cat can sunbathe safely. 

Another good option is to provide other sources of heat like a pet-approved heating blanket so that your cat will have another warm place available to them.

Be proactive with the feline leukemia virus.

Many cats are born with this virus, and in this case, there’s not much you can do to prevent it. However, it doesn’t always manifest symptoms, so you should have your cat tested regularly so that they won’t transmit it to any other cats and so you can stall its progression. If your cat is not currently carrying the feline leukemia virus, you can have them vaccinated to reduce the likelihood that they can get it. 


Diabetes is an extremely complex disease involving the hormone insulin. When your cat’s digestive system breaks down food, insulin signals to the other organs to take in the glucose to use as energy. Cats that don’t have sufficient insulin or don’t utilize it correctly experience high sugar levels. This condition, known as hyperglycemia, can lead to complicated health problems for your cat. There are two kinds of diabetes in cats:

  • Type 1 diabetes is a lack of insulin production
  • Type 2 diabetes is tied to insufficient insulin production or inadequate response to  insulin

Cats with type 1 diabetes need insulin therapy to live. If you catch your cat’s diabetes earlier on, they may be able to respond to other types of treatment. Therefore, it is essential to catch symptoms of diabetes as early as possible. Cats are well known for their tendency to hide illness.

It is important that you are very attuned to your cat’s normal behavior, including eating patterns and other typical behavior so that you will notice as soon as they begin to show the first signs of illness. Here is what to look for:

  • Appetite changes. If your cat eats more or less or you notice weight loss, it may be a sign of diabetes. Excessive thirst and water consumption also indicate the disease in cats.
  • Increasing or inappropriate urination. If your litter-trained cat is having accidents or if you notice that they are using the litter box much more than usual, hyperglycemia and/or diabetes may be the problem. 
  • Strange breath and an unkempt coat. Cats suffering from diabetes may not seem to be grooming themselves or they may look unkempt despite grooming. They also have strange-smelling, (sometimes strangely sweet,) breath. 
  • Lethargic and dehydrated. Diabetic cats may seem to be lying around excessively and may not display their usual energy or vigor, especially when given food or playing. 

How To Prevent Diabetes in Cats  

We don’t know exactly why cats develop diabetes. Genetics, medications, and pancreatic disease may also play a role. However, one very important factor that you do have control over is your pet’s weight. 

Obesity may increase the likelihood that your cat will develop diabetes, so be sure that you feed them according to your veterinarian’s instructions and provide plenty of opportunities for exercise. 

Male cats are more prone to diabetes than female cats and the likelihood of cats developing diabetes increases with age. Therefore, it is especially important to pay attention to your cat’s weight if they are male and as they get older. 

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus

This can be a heartbreaking disease, as there is no treatment for it. However, it can be managed. Cats diagnosed with feline immunodeficiency virus often live many years comfortably without severe symptoms. 

Other cats have symptoms interspersed with healthy periods. You must have a dedicated network of veterinarians you can speak with as needed to manage your pet’s symptoms. This is an ongoing disease that requires consistent management to offer your cat the best possible quality of life. 

This is a very slow-acting virus that gradually weakens your cat’s immune system. Because of the weakened immune system, cats are susceptible to secondary infections. 

Typically, the best treatment is supportive care and an indoor environment free of stress and potential sources of secondary infections. 

In this way, cats live for months or years until the disease seriously affects their quality of life. If your cat is affected by the feline immunodeficiency virus, you need to have them diagnosed as soon as possible so that they can be protected from additional infections and kept calm. 

Here are some signs of infection with the virus:

  • A poor appetite and weight loss
  • Disheveled coat, red skin, hair loss, and gum disease
  • Mucus, discharge, and inflammation of the gums and mouth
  • Wounds that don’t heal for abnormally long periods of time
  • Behavioral changes including frequent urination, urinating outside of the litter box and straining to urinate

Causes of Feline Immunodeficiency Virus 

Naturally, you’ll want to do everything in your power to protect your cat from this dangerous disease. The most common cause of virus transmission is through deep bite wounds from cat to cat. 

This is one of the reasons that it is so important to keep your cat inside when possible if there are stray cats in your neighborhood. Fights like this can occur because of territorial disputes. Your cat may be attacked by another cat even if they do nothing to provoke it.

Cats can also get the infection from their mother, so if your cat came from an unknown background and they show signs of the virus, it may be more likely that they have contracted it from their mother. Be sure that any new cats are tested for the virus before they enter your home. It is possible to get a vaccine against the virus, so if your cat is high-risk, talk to your veterinarian about what vaccinations entails and what it protects against. 

High-Rise Syndrome

High-rise syndrome is the tendency of cats to fall out of windows. This might not technically be a disease, but it happens so often that it is very well worth mentioning to any prospective cat owner. Since healthy cats are generally cautious and self-aware animals, it comes as a surprise to many pet owners that many cats fall victim to falling out of windows. 

However, it is no surprise to veterinarians, who see many cats that have been injured after falling out of windows every year. Cats don’t usually deliberately jump out of the window, but they can be so focused on something they want outside that they fall. 

This is especially likely since cats are so likely to enjoy perching in high places. Most cats have relatively little fear of high places, so they may become more relaxed than is safe for them.

Be Cautious When Changing Window Screens 

Some cats may be surprised when a screen replaces the window that they are accustomed to. They may have been used to learning against the window and will be surprised when the screen can’t support their weight.  

Pick a Quality Veterinarian to Provide Your Cat With the Best Medical Treatment

No matter how hard you work to provide the best possible life for your cat and keep them safe from any possible harm, the chances are good that they will experience some illness or injury throughout their lives. 

Having a quality and experienced network of veterinarians available to help you look out for your cat’s well-being can set you both up for success.