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Serious Cat Illnesses & Diseases That Every Pet Parent Should Know About

Cats are experts at hiding when they are feeling unwell, making it very challenging for even the most attentive pet parents to recognize when their feline friend is sick. Today, our Seattle vets share some common cat illnesses and the symptoms to watch for.

Your Cat's Health

Cats are stoic beings who are exceptionally adept at concealing illness symptoms. Cats will frequently retreat to hiding when they are ill. This can make it extremely difficult to determine when your cat is ill. Nevertheless, it is your responsibility as a pet parent to monitor your cat's health and act accordingly if it begins to exhibit symptoms of illness. 

Common Cat Illnesses

Although some feline diseases are more prevalent than others, there are a few that every family member with a cat should be aware of. Here are some of the most prevalent feline illnesses seen by our veterinarians in Seattle.

Upper Respiratory Infections (Cat Colds)

Viruses and bacteria such as feline herpesvirus and feline calicivirus can cause your kitty to develop upper respiratory tract infections that affect their sinuses, nose, and throat.

Cats that reside in multi-cat households, shelters, or spend time outdoors where they may come into contact with other felines are susceptible to the transmission of these diseases. Feline calicivirus and feline herpesvirus are transmitted via commonplace behaviors including grooming, sharing a water or food bowl, coughing, and sneezing.  Cats that have contracted the virus have the ability to easily infect other cats in the household or in the neighborhood. In cats, the following are frequent manifestations of upper respiratory illness:

  • Coughing
  • Congestion
  • Drooling
  • Sneezing
  • Gagging
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nasal discharge

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus or FIV as it is commonly called is most often seen in male outdoor cats with a tendency to fight. This potentially serious cat illness is often passed along through bites sustained during fights, although in rare cases it can be passed from a female cat to her kittens.

FIV is a slow acting virus and in some cases symptoms may not show up until years after the initial infection occurred. That said, FIV can severely weaken your cat's immune system once the disease takes hold making your feline friend susceptible to a number of serious secondary infections.

With appropriate treatment, infected cats that are kept in an indoor, stress-free environment can live comfortable lives for a number of months or years before the disease reaches its chronic stages.

Symptoms of FIV infection in a cat may not manifest for several months to years, or they may occur intermittently. Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) may be the cause of any of the following symptoms in your cat. Urgent veterinary attention is required to prevent the symptoms from worsening.

Common symptoms of FIV include:

  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Fever
  • Anemia
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Poor grooming
  • Disheveled coat
  • Lack of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Abnormal appearance
  • Inflammation of the eye
  • Inflammation of the gums and mouth 
  • Skin redness or hair loss
  • Wounds that don’t heal
  • Sneezing
  • Discharge from eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Frequent urination
  • Straining to urinate
  • Urinating outside of litter box
  • Behavior change


If your cat is unable to produce enough insulin to balance glucose levels or blood sugar they will develop diabetes mellitus. Left untreated, diabetes in cats can shorten their lifespan and lead to nerve disorders, numerous health issues, and severe emergency situations requiring immediate veterinary care. Treatment for diabetes in cats is focused on managing the disease rather than a cure and may include insulin injections. Signs of diabetes in cats include:

  • Increased urination
  • Dehydration
  • Loss of appetite
  • Coma
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Motor function problems


There are a number of cancers that our vets commonly see in cats. Cancer first begins to grow within a cell, before attaching to tissue underneath the skin and potentially spreading to other areas. If detected early, cancer in cats may be treatable. Symptoms of cancer in cats can include:

  • Marked increase or
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Lumps that change in size or shape
  • Difficulty urinating 
  • Bad breath
  • Sores that do not heal
  • Chronic weight loss
  • Straining during bowel movements
  • Unexplained bleeding
  • Unexplained discharge

In regards to the treatment of cancer in felines, early detection is critical for favorable results. The disease type, the extent of its metastasis, and the site of the tumor are additional variables that impact the efficacy of cancer treatment. Surgical intervention, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy are as-recommended treatments for felines diagnosed with cancer.

What To Do If Your Cat Is Sick

If your cat exhibits any of the aforementioned symptoms, it is critical that you seek veterinary attention immediately. Numerous feline illnesses escalate rapidly and can become extremely severe within a short time.

Normally, cat illnesses are not contagious and, thus, should not affect humans

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is your cat showing signs of illness? Contact our Seattle vets right away to book an appointment for your feline friend.

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