10 Common Illnesses in Cats That May Surprise You

If your cat is displaying symptoms of any of these ailments, it’s time to see the vet.

Dental disease affects 85% of cats aged 3 years or older. By: David~O

As a student at vet school, one of the most useful things I was taught was “Common things are common.”

The lecturer pointed out that if you hear hoofbeats in the distance, you’re more likely to see a horse galloping over the horizon than a zebra — the point being to rule out obvious things before looking for a fancy explanation.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at the 10 cat ailments I see most commonly (listed in no particular order).

1. Abscesses

These bad boys may not be “sexy,” but they sure are common. The usual story is: Cat gets into a fight; cat gets an abscess.

The cat’s history usually goes something like this: “I heard a fight a couple of nights ago. Now she’s off her food and growls when I try to stroke her.”

Pair this up with a fever and swelling under the skin, and it’s probably an abscess.

2. Flea Allergic Dermatitis (FAD)

This is a skin condition where the cat develops lots of small scabs over the back and flanks. When stroked, her skin feels gritty to the touch. The cat is likely to scratch lots and may lick herself sore.

This is an allergy to flea saliva. So a single flea bite can cause an eruption of scabs (rather than each scab representing a bite.) A cat with FAD only needs 1 flea bite to trigger unpleasant itchiness.

3. Hyperthyroidism

This condition is caused when the thyroid glands (which control metabolic rate) produce too much thyroid hormone. This causes the cat to be hyperactive, burn calories too quickly and lose weight while having a ravenous appetite.

Different treatment options are available, but your vet will want to know how healthy the cat’s kidneys are (see #4) before deciding what’s best for her.

Sudden increased thirst is a telltale sign of kidney disease in cats. By: calliope

4. Kidney Disease

In many people’s minds, old cats and kidney problems go together like bread and butter. But what many people don’t realize is when the problem is diagnosed early and treatment is started, most cats live on for several years — and many die eventually from a problem unrelated to kidneys.

The signs of early kidney disease include increased thirst, which is also a symptom of our next common condition — diabetes.

5. Diabetes Mellitus

Sugar diabetes in cats is strongly linked to weight. Overweight cats have to store fat somewhere, and one such storage area are the cells in the pancreas, which produce insulin. Unfortunately, being swamped with fat stops the cells from making insulin and results in raised blood sugar levels.

The symptoms include drinking more water, with wetter litter trays as a result. The cat may have a good appetite but lose weight, and her coat becomes scruffy and dull.

6. Pancreatitis

This is another condition that involves the pancreas. This time, the pancreas is inflamed, which allows digestive juices to leak and attack the cat’s own tissue. This condition results in tummy ache, loss of appetite, vomiting and sometimes a fever.

It’s possible for vets to definitively diagnose pancreatitis more often than we used to in the past, thanks to helpful in-house blood tests that weren’t around 10 years ago.

Watch this obese cat try to shed some pounds by using an underwater treadmill:

7. Feline Urinary Tract Disease

This is bladder discomfort, meaning the cat strains to pass urine. It’s potentially very serious if a blockage develops in the urethra, but it’s also a common problem.

8. Dental Disease

Dental disease affects 85% of cats over the age of 3 years.

The types of issues involved include gingivitis (gum inflammation), holes in teeth enamel, heavy tartar deposits and wobbly teeth. The good news is this problem is preventable with regular brushing.

9. Arthritis

Ninety% of cats over the age of 12 have arthritis — but we don’t always recognize it. Classic signs include stiffness and difficulty jumping, but also, if your cat stops grooming her back end or starts toileting outside the litter box, you have reason to be suspicious.

10. Obesity

This problem is widespread, with people often not realizing their cat is overweight. Unfortunately, the problems these extra layers of love cause are numerous and include joint disease, diabetes, heart disease, urinary tract health and poor coat care.

This list isn’t exhaustive. Indeed, while writing, I was debating whether to include heart disease over cancer over liver disease over diarrhea — but you have to draw the line somewhere, right?


This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed Feb. 10, 2017.

Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS

View posts by Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS
Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS, is a veterinarian with nearly 30 years of experience in companion animal practice. Dr. Elliott earned her Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery from the University of Glasgow. She was also designated a Member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. Married with 2 grown-up kids, Dr. Elliott has a naughty puggle called Poggle, 3 cats and a bearded dragon.

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