Most of our kitties, at some point in their lives, will develop health concerns such as kidney disease, dental problems, or obesity. The good news is that many of these common conditions are preventable with good nutrition and regular veterinary care. Here’s a look at the top five diseases that cats are susceptible to.
Obesity in animals is defined as being 15% to 20% over ideal body weight. More than 50% of household cats are overweight or obese, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. This makes it the number one problem in companion felines. Excess weight diminishes a cat’s quality of life and predisposes him to diabetes, arthritis, liver disease and cancer. Obesity results from inactivity and an over-consumption of food that is often quite high in carbohydrates. If your cat is overweight, the best thing to do is to put him on a diet that is high in protein but low in carbs. If you simply cut back on the food you are already feeding your cat, or switch him to reduced amounts of a “lite” diet, you can shortchange him when it comes to vitamins, minerals, and protein. Weight loss should occur at 1% to 2% per week and be monitored by your veterinarian.
2. Feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD)
FLUTD is another common problem in cats. It can be caused by bladder infections, stones, stress, tumors or cancer. Common symptoms may include straining to urinate, blood in the urine, painful urination and licking the genitals. It can be a life-threatening problem if the cat is unable to empty his bladder, and requires immediate veterinary attention. It is important to get to the root cause of FLUTD in your cat. It may be preventable with a change of diet, or treatable with herbs or medications.
3. Dental disease
Dental disease is rampant among felines and can lead to a host of other health concerns. It is estimated that 85% of cats over three years of age have some form of dental disease.
Dental problems are not just cosmetic. Cats tend to accumulate plaque and tartar, which causes halitosis or bad breath. Other signs of dental disease can include excess salivation, difficulty eating, bleeding from the mouth, lethargy and a reduced appetite. Dental disease has also been linked to heart and kidney disease.
A proper high quality diet, together with regular dental checkups and professional cleanings, are the best preventive measures you can take.
4. Chronic kidney disease (CKD)
CKD can occur in any cat but is very common in those over seven years of age. It is a progressive disease with a myriad of causes, including toxins (drugs or medications), infections (including dental), tumors, chronic dehydration (from feeding only dry foods), or age-related changes. CKD requires lifelong management, and is eventually fatal. By the time your cat shows signs of CKD, two-thirds of the kidney is damaged. This makes early detection paramount. All cats over seven should be tested annually for CKD. Classic signs are increased urination and thirst, weight loss, decreased appetite and perhaps vomiting. Some cats will have high blood pressure from undiagnosed kidney disease; in others, the first sign may be blindness. Diagnosis is made by analyzing blood and urine for abnormal levels of kidney enzymes, or abnormal cells or protein in the urine. The foundation treatments for CKD are fluids (orally or subcutaneously), diets low in phosphorus and high in quality protein (but restricted in some forms of protein, depending on the stage of the disease), Omega 3 fatty acids, and pre- and probiotics. Herbal formulations can help the kidney cells to function, and acupuncture can help increase renal blood fl ow. Conventional medications or herbs can be used to regulate blood pressure. It is important that a cat with kidney disease continues to eat, so if he turns his nose up at special food, it’s better to compromise and find something he will eat. Balanced homemade diets can work well for this condition.
Hyperthyroidism is often found in older cats. It is associated with a tumor in the thyroid gland at the base of the neck. Typical signs include weight loss, increased appetite and thirst, increased activity, vomiting, panting and perhaps sudden blindness (from elevated blood pressure). A blood test can confirm this disease and check the status of the kidneys and heart, as these can be damaged by the elevated thyroid hormone. Treatments can include radioactive iodine, a special diet with restricted iodine, or medication and herbs. Caught early, hyperthyroidism can be very treatable. If the heart and kidneys are already damaged, these organs may still need to be treated after the thyroid condition is under control.
Many of these common diseases are preventable with attentive lifelong care that includes high quality nutrition and veterinary checkups at least yearly. Even if they do develop, they are treatable if diagnosed early.