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Feline Health Problems


Diarrhea usually doesn't last long or indicate anything more than a mildly upset digestive system. However, if it persists for more than 2 days, is accompanied by fever or vomiting, or contains blood, take your cat to the vet immediately. If possible, take a stool sample along for analysis.


Dehydration can kill a kitten in a matter of hours. If your kitten has diarrhea or vomits repeatedly, seek veterinary help immediately.

In most cases, feeding your cat a bland diet for a few days will clear up diarrhea and prevent dehydration. Some combination of plain yogurt, cottage cheese, boiled chicken, unsalted chicken broth, bread soaked in broth, or boiled rice works well, although you might have to experiment to find a combination your cat will eat. Some people also use strained, unseasoned baby food. Withholding food for a day or two before starting the bland diet might help. Do not withhold water!

Your veterinarian might prescribe medication or recommend an over-the-counter (OTC) treatment. Don't give your cat any human medication without first consulting your vet. Some contain aspirin or other ingredients that can harm your cat.


Cats, especially kittens, sometimes ingest things that cannot pass through their digestive systems. String and yarn are especially hazardous. If you see a foreign object protruding from your cat's anus or throat, do not try to pull it out. You can seriously injure or even kill your cat. Take her to the vet immediately.

Common causes of acute diarrhea include changes in diet, partial blockage of the intestines, medication, allergic reaction, poisoning, parasites, disease, or infection. Chronic diarrhea can be caused by partial blockage of the intestines, inflammatory bowel disease, sensitivity to food or medication (particularly antibiotics), bacteria, viral infection, or parasites, or it might be idiopathic, or have no known cause.

Epilepsy and Seizures

In a healthy brain, neurons transmit messages so the animal can think and move normally. If the neurons fire randomly, the animal experiences a seizure, which can be anything from a momentary loss of awareness to a full-blown convulsion. Seizures can be caused by a host of factors that affect brain activity, including toxins, drug sensitivity or overdose, head trauma, and disease. If the cause is identified and removed, the seizures usually stop.

Idiopathic epilepsy (also called primary epilepsy or just epilepsy) is a condition in which no specific cause can be determined for the seizures. It is often inherited, and symptoms usually appear when an affected cat is 2 to 3 years old. Although epilepsy is incurable, the seizures can often be controlled with anticonvulsant drugs such as Phenobarbital that calm the nerves in the brain. If seizures occur only occasionally (once a month or less), anticonvusants are not usually prescribed.


Feline lymphoma is a common cancer of cats. It can affect different organs but always involves lymphoid cells. Because feline lymphoma is more common in cats who have FeLV or FIV, FeLV vaccination is recommended for cats who might be exposed to other cats outdoors, at shows, or in other contexts.

Chemotherapy can increase life expectancy in affected cats, de-pending on the location and stage of the disease when diagnosed. Radiation or surgery may also be used in some cases. Remission and life expectancy in cats with lymphoma depend on the location of the tumor(s) and how soon the disease is found and treated. The majority of cats live 4 to 6 months with treatment, 4 to 6 weeks without. The survival rate is lower in cats with FeLV or FIV.

Cancer treatment is a rapidly evolving field, so if your cat is diagnosed with lymphoma (or another cancer), you might want to consult a veterinary oncologist.


Your cat needs to see his veterinarian immediately if he has any of the following symptoms:

  • Blood in his vomit
  • Diarrhea or abdominal swelling or pain
  • Vomiting repeatedly within a few hours
  • Listlessness
  • Repeated vomiting of clear or white fluid
  • Vomiting of worms or foreign objects

Thyroid Problems

Hyperthyroidism—overproduction of thyroid hormone—is the most common endocrine problem in cats. Middle-age and older cats are most often affected, although hyperthyroidism can develop in cats as young as 4 years old. Environmental, nutritional, and immunological factors are believed to play a role in the development of tumors that stimulate the thyroid glands to secrete excess thyroid hormone.

Symptoms of hypothyroidism vary widely from one cat to an-other. More than half of affected cats lose weight and experience increased appetites, heart murmurs, or elevated heart rates. Vomiting, increased thirst and urination, and increased activity levels are also common. Some hyperthyroid cats experience, in various combinations, diarrhea, lack of appetite, weakness and lack of energy, or respiratory problems. Hormone levels can be determined through blood tests. Drugs, radioiodine therapy, or, occasionally, surgery are effective in controlling an overactive thyroid.


Vomiting does not necessarily mean a cat is ill. Most carnivores can vomit at will to empty their stomachs of anything that disagrees with them. This ability makes sense in the wild, where it's easy to get spoiled, potentially dangerous, meat. Domestic cats retain this ability.

Cat Nip

If your cat vomits on your carpet or upholstered furniture, first clean the spot (Dawn dish detergent works well), rinse thoroughly, then apply a stain remover according to the manufacturer's directions. Vomit should not leave bright red or orange evidence behind (the coloring is caused by dyes in your cat's food, which may even contribute to her digestive difficulties). Switching to a dye-free cat food might help considerably.

The most common cause of vomiting is hairballs. If your cat is throwing up small gray lumps, she is clearing hairballs out of her tummy. To help your cat eliminate existing hairballs and prevent new ones, brush her frequently, and, if necessary, give her an antihairball product (available from pet supply stores or your vet). Although these products are supposed to be yummy, they often have a petroleum jelly or toothpaste consistency, so if your cat doesn't want to eat the anti-hairball goo from your finger or a spoon, smear it onto her paw. Be sure to smear well, because she'll probably try to fling it off before licking her paw, and you don't want globs of hairball medication on the walls and ceiling.

Overeating can cause your cat to vomit, too. If the vomit looks like a ball or tube of partially digested food, your cat probably just pigged out. Try feeding smaller portions. Playing hard or drinking a lot of water right before or after eating can also cause your cat to throw up. An isolated incident doesn't mean he's sick.

Vomiting can, of course, be due to more ominous causes than hairballs or gluttony. If your cat's “vomiting habits” change suddenly or if his vomiting accompanies other physical or behavioral changes, take him to the vet. If possible, take in a sample of the vomit for analysis—it might speed up diagnosis and treatment. Although most feline vomiting doesn't indicate a life-threatening crisis, repeated vomiting can result from poisoning, intestinal obstruction, serious disease, or infection. It can also be a sign of food allergies, intestinal parasites, or other problems.

More on: Pets

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting and Owning a Cat http://life.familyeducation.com/cats/health/45708.html 2005 by Sheila Webster Boneham, Ph.D. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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