What is the hidden benefit of pet insurance?
Well, one unexpected benefit is that the data from insurance claims gives us valuable insight into which conditions are most common. That’s because when claims are processed, a diagnosis is recorded. This provides a large database of statistics about why people take their sick cat to the vet.
I thought it would be useful to look at the top 10 reasons most common cat health problems. It’s good to be aware of the signs of those conditions, just in case your cat is affected.
10 Most Common Cat Health Problems
10. Snuffles and Sneezes
The 10th condition most commonly treated in cats are upper respiratory tract infections such as cat flu or even the common (cat) cold. Happily, these infections are cat-specific, so your cat doesn’t pose a risk to your children.
Signs are usually obvious and include a runny nose, sneezing, poor appetite and runny eyes. Some cats can become very sick and require dedicated nursing.
For viral infections, there is no specific treatment. It’s a matter of nursing the cat and treating complications such as chest infections with antibiotics.
The good news is that many of the more serious infections are preventable with vaccination.
This is a form of cancer that affects the body’s white cells. Too many white cells are produced (often a type of cell called a lymphocyte, hence the name), which floods the bloodstream.
The suspicion may be raised because the cat’s lymph nodes become noticeably swollen. Lymph nodes are the store houses for white cells (like our tonsils) and are found in pairs in places such as in the throat, armpits, shoulders, groin and behind the knees.
Outcomes vary, with some cats doing very well, others not so much. However, the cat is going to need rafts of tests and repeated chemo, so it can be costly to treat.
8. Bladder Infections
Bladder infections in cats are urine infections with bacteria, which cause the lining of the bladder to become inflamed.
- Frequent visits to the litter box
- Discomfort when passing urine, including crying
- Blood in the box
- Licking the rear end a lot
- Squatting outside the box
However, these signs are quite general and are similar to feline lower urinary tract disease (which appears at the end of this list). They also overlap with the potentially life-threatening condition when the bladder is blocked and the cat can’t urinate at all.
Long story short, if you see the above signs, then an urgent trip to the veterinarian is essential.
When your cat uses a litter box, you know all about their bowel habits. Diarrhea is a common problem, and can have a number of different causes.
Problems leading to diarrhea in a cat include:
- Food intolerance: Such as overly rich food, milk or an allergy to a food
- Parasites: Such as roundworms or tapeworms
- Infections: These include viral, bacterial or protozoal infections
- Inflammatory bowel disease: A complex condition with many trigger factors
- Cancer: Such as intestinal lymphosarcoma
- Secondary to other problems: When an organ, say the liver or pancreas, isn’t functioning properly, complications such as diarrhea can develop
For this condition, it’s not the treatment that’s expensive so much as the diagnostic tests to work out the cause of the problem.
6. Diabetes Mellitus
A combination of overeating, lack of activity and age mean that sugar diabetes is common in cats.
Symptoms of diabetes in a cat include:
- Drinking excessively
- Peeing excessively
- A good appetite but the cat loses weight
- Walking on the flat of the heels (advanced stage)
- Cataracts (advanced stage)
When caught early, diabetes in a cat can sometimes be reversed by the cat losing weight. Otherwise, it’s down to daily injections of insulin to control the blood sugar levels.
Some cats are so-called “happy vomiters” and throw up once a week but are otherwise well. However, if your cat vomits more often than this, loses weight or has an altered appetite, then you need to take notice.
Much like diarrhea, vomiting is a symptom rather than a diagnosis in its own right. The vet needs to investigate to determine what the underlying cause is to stop the sickness.
Some examples of things that can cause vomiting in cats include:
4. Kidney Disease
It’s the problem that often springs to most people’s minds when thinking about sick cats, but it’s not the most common reason that sick cats need a vet’s attention.
Kidney disease can occur for a number of reasons. The most common is old-age changes within the kidney where scar tissue develops in an attempt to repair aging kidneys.
A surprising amount can be done to support kidney function and extend the cat’s life. This includes:
- Special diets that give the kidneys less work to do
- Medications to help the kidney filter more effectively
- Food additives that reduce the levels of minerals the kidneys struggle to process
- Medication to reduce high blood pressure
- Antacids to relieve nausea and help appetite
- Drugs to improve appetite
- Fluid administration to flush toxins out of the system
Listen to this vet discuss vaccinations for pets:
3. Overactive Thyroid Glands
This condition didn’t exist when I was at vet school. Seriously — the lab tests that could diagnose hyperthyroidism weren’t around yet, so many older cats went undiagnosed or labeled as “kidney” cats.
Happily, we now have lab tests we can run in-house, so there’s no reason a cat can’t be diagnosed and treated.
The options to treat hyperthyroidism in cats include:
- Drugs to lower thyroid level
- A prescription diet food
- Radioactive iodine treatment
Hyperthyroidism tends to occur in senior cats, and the signs include:
- A ravenous appetite
- Increased thirst and lots of puddles in the litter box
- Weight loss despite a good appetite
2. Bad Teeth
Do you brush your teeth every day? Well, what about your cat’s teeth?
You can imagine how horrid your teeth would be if you skipped daily toothbrushing. It’s the same for your cat.
1. Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD)
Ta-da! The most common reason for insurance claims for cats is FLUTD. This includes a huge number of cats who have bladder inflammation for a reason that can’t be identified.
These cats are hugely uncomfortable and sometimes even throw debris clots up the urethra that can prevent the cat from peeing. This can be incredibly serious and requires urgent veterinary attention.
This article on the 10 most common cat health problems was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed May 4, 2018.
What to read next:
Certain signs of pet health trouble have “Urgent!” stamped all over them. Watch out for these 10 signs. See the article