Feline Health

Feline health requires a good veterinarian, regular vaccinations, and your own intuitive knowledge of your pet. You know your kitten better than anyone else: You”ll be the first to notice sudden behavioral changes, lethargy, a loss of appetite or other clues that your cat may be sick. Any sudden change in personality or habits should be reported to your veterinarian.

Below you”ll find some of the more common threats to cat health. Some are simply irritants. Others are major health concerns. And some, sadly, are fatal. Knowing the symptoms of common diseases may help save your pet”s life.

Ear Mites

Ear mites are tiny white insects that can infect an animal”s ears. Chances are you won”t see the ear mites themselves, but you will see what looks like dirt or coffee grounds in your cat”s ears. This is excess earwax that builds up as a result of the mites. You may notice your cat scratching at his ears, or continuously shaking his head.

Kittens and stray cats are especially susceptible to ear mite infestations. Your veterinarian can provide you with special eardrops that kill the mites and help remove the excess wax. Severe infestations may require flushing of the ear canal, a procedure only your veterinarian should perform.

Feline Acne

If pimples or blackheads develop around your cat”s chin, he may have feline acne. Often the cause is infected hair follicles, not unlike human acne. The pimples are sometimes treated with antibiotics or antibacterial scrubs. Occasionally, cat acne is an allergic reaction, often to plastic feeding bowls. Try replacing plastic bowls with ceramic or metal bowls.

Feline Distemper

Unvaccinated kittens are highly susceptible to feline distemper (panleukopenia) because their immune system is not fully developed. The disease is very infectious, and the virus quite tough: It can survive at room temperature for up to a year!

Smptoms of feline distemper include high fever, vomiting, a lack of appetite, and diarrhea. Vaccinations against distemper are the best defense. Should your cat become infected, treatment by a veterinarian is essential. Treatment may include antibiotics, IV fluids, and even blood transfusions. It can cause depression so significant that considerable TLC is a must during the recovery period.

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)

Like HIV, FIV attacks the feline immune system, leaving the cat susceptible to secondary infections. Before anything else is said on this subject, it should be noted that no research to date indicates that FIV is transferable to humans.

Cats often catch the disease through fighting and cat bites. In fact, FIV is often called a “fighting-biting” disease. With a compromised immune system, the chance of death due to infection is much higher.

FIV is not an automatic death sentence, however. Infected cats often live for years in comfort, provided that they are not overly exposed to other cats who may pass on infections. For this reason, FIV positive cats are best kept isolated from other cats.

Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)

Feline leukemia, as the name implies, causes blood cell cancer in cats. The virus also attacks the immune system, leading to often-fatal secondary infections. Feline leukemia can be transmitted between cats through mutual grooming, biting and even sharing food or water bowls. No cure for feline leukemia exists. Although several FeLV vaccinations are available, none fully protects against the disease.

Parasites: Tapeworms and Roundworms

Tapeworms are parasites that infect the digestive tract. The presence of small, white rice-like (or sesame seed-like) particles in the feces or around the rectum indicates an infection with tapeworms. Most cases of tapeworm infection are due to the ingestion of fleas. The fleas eat the eggs of tapeworms, which are in turn ingested by the cat while grooming.

Roundworms are also intestinal parasites and the most common in cats. You may find long worms in either feces or vomit. If they occur in significant numbers, roundworms can be life threatening when they cause a blockage in the intestine.

Both roundworms and tapeworms can be treated with deworming tablets (or an injection) available through your veterinarian. Until your cat has been treated, restrict her interaction with small children. While both types of worms can infect humans, roundworms can be particularly damaging to children. Using good hygiene will help prevent infection. Wash your hands well after handling the cat or cleaning her litter box, and if she goes outside, check the yard for feces.


Despite its name, ringworm is not a worm, but actually a fungal infection. Many types of ringworm can infect cats, but only one is transmissible between cats and humans. Symptoms are usually circular crusty lesions and the hair around the lesion usually falls out. Kittens often catch ringworm, partly because their immune systems have not matured. Longhaired breeds seem more susceptible than shorthaired varieties. Antifungal shampoos are available to combat ringworm.