This is not an extensive list of common cat ailments; because unfortunately our feline friends can be prone to very many different conditions ranging from those incurred as a result of an accident or injury, to those which have medical roots. Notable conditions which are not outlined below include gastrointestinal problems (which may arise for a variety of reasons), urinary tract disease, renal dysfunction, hyperthyroidism, dental disease and the most common problem of all – obesity. This article would be very long indeed if all of the conditions that often affect cats were covered, so the focus here is limited to the 3 described below.
An abscess describes a pus filled swelling, which in cats usually occurs as a result of a bite from another feline. Cats living in multi-cat households where there are sometimes territorial disputes, and cats who have outdoor access (particularly in cat-dense neighbourhoods and areas where there are un-neutered cats) are the most at risk of an abscess. The most common site is the face or the rump depending on whether the cat was defending himself or running away at the time of the bite! Cat bite wounds often become infected due to the large number of bacteria that inhabit a cat’s mouth.
Prompt veterinary treatment is essential, because even though some abscesses burst naturally, antibiotics and pain-relief are very important in order to prevent infection from spreading and to alleviate the intense discomfort. Sometimes it will be necessary to surgically lance the abscess in order to drain the pus and properly clean the wound. As this is extremely painful, heavy sedation or general anaesthesia is usually administered.
Once an abscess has burst or been lanced, the area will look unsightly as the fur around the wound will have been clipped to allow proper cleaning. Also, the wound will not be sutured (unless a surgical drain has been inserted) because the idea is to allow fluid to drain out rather than to re-accumulate. Your cat may need to wear an Elizabethan collar to prevent him interfering with the wound, and it’s important he is kept indoors during recovery to:-
a) Ensure that sedation/anaesthesia drugs are properly out of his system.
b) Prevent him from getting his Elizabethan collar caught on plants or fences if he is wearing one (they also obscure the normal range of vision leaving him vulnerable to further attack).
c) Help to keep the wound clean – this won’t happen if your cat is rolling around in dirt or dust outside.
The good news is that if properly and promptly treated, a cat bite abscess is usually fairly quick to heal. If your cat will tolerate salt water bathing daily, this can help to speed up the healing process.
All cats can suffer from fur balls, although long-haired cats and those who groom excessively (e.g. as a result of skin allergies) are the most at risk. When your cat grooms, some hair is caught on the hooks of the tongue and ingested. The majority will simply pass through the digestive tract and be eliminated within the faeces without any problems, but excessive amounts can form a ball in the stomach. This will usually be voided by vomiting, but in some cases a large fur ball can cause an obstruction that will require veterinary attention. Persistent vomiting of fur balls can cause inflammation to the oesophagus. Watch out for retching and gagging, inappetence, lethargy, vomiting and diarrhoea and if an obstruction is suspected, do not delay in seeking veterinary advice. The best way to reduce the risk of fur balls is to groom your cat regularly to help remove the dead hair regardless of the length of the coat. If your cat is over-grooming, do speak to your vet about the reasons why this might be happening and what to do. A diet with an alternative protein and carbohydrate source may be necessary if a food allergy is diagnosed as the cause or suspected cause.
For cats who are prone to fur balls, there are commercial supplements available. The most common type is a lubricant to aid the passage of the ball through the digestive tract (although be aware that some contain cod liver oil which is high in vitamin A and may not be suitable for long term use, and many have laxative effects). Adding fibre to the diet may be successful in some cases. Vets who practice complementary medicine may recommend Nux Vomica. Did you know that the medical term for a fur or hair ball is a trichobezoar?!
Fleas are the bane of many a cat owner’s life. These irritating parasites are no fun for your cat either as their saliva is the most common cause of allergic skin disease. A heavy infestation can even result in anaemia. Fleas are also a host of immature tape worm.
Fleas can be difficult to detect if you have a black or dark coloured cat. There may only be a couple living on your cat, but for every one or two adults on board, there may well be hundreds in various life-stages in the environment. To check for fleas you can groom your cat and look for eggs (which are pearly white in colour and about the size of a grain of salt). The problem with this method though is that the eggs don’t stick to the fur, so they are not on the cat for very long. Another method is to groom your cat over a damp piece of white absorbent paper. Flea dirts will leave red brown marks on the paper as a result of the blood they’ve ingested when they come into contact with it.
When the eggs hatch, larvae are produced which live in carpets, cracks in the floor or in soft furnishings and bedding. They feed on dust and adult flea faeces, and when they have eaten sufficiently well, they spin a cocoon. Fleas can be present in this dormant stage for months, which is why it is really important to not only treat your cat with a safe and effective product, but your home too. If your cat has access to any outbuildings, then don’t forget to treat those too. Fleas tend to be a year round problem due to central heating.
There are many different flea preparations available in a variety of formats. Whichever you choose, make sure it is safe, species appropriate and one which your vet recommends. Household treatments are usually in the form of a spray (the majority are dangerous to fish, so take extra care if you have a tank).