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9 of Your Most Pressing Cat Health Questions Answered

Christie Long is a small animal veterinarian with 10 years experience in medicine, surgery, and acupuncture. As PetCoach's Chief Veterinarian, she directs a global team of veterinarians fielding inquiries regarding all aspects of pet car...

We've got the answers to all of your cat health questions

At PetCoach, we answer nearly 2,000 questions per week from pet parents, so we know the kinds of questions that have them scratching their heads. Here’s a list of some of the most common health concerns from cat owners.

Why does my cat vomit routinely?

I’ve often heard, “He’s a vomiter,” when cat owners describe their otherwise apparently healthy cat’s habits at his routine veterinary visit. It’s as if this is normal for cats, which is an unusual thing to assume, since most people wouldn’t consider the same thing “normal” in themselves or their human children.

Since cats groom themselves by licking, they often swallow fur, and subsequently get hairballs that they need to relieve themselves of. But actual vomiting, i.e., bringing up food or liquid from the stomach, isn’t routine, and should always be investigated. The causes of frequent vomiting in cats include food allergies and sensitivities, intestinal parasites, heartworm disease, kidney disease, inflammatory bowel disease, liver problems, and many, many other things. If regular vomiting doesn’t resolve with the addition of a hairball paste or diet, it needs to be investigated.

More: How much does it actually cost to own a cat?

Why is my cat peeing outside of the litter box?

Abnormal litter box use is the bane of cat ownership. How can your beloved fur-ball take vengeance upon your grandmother’s Persian rug? The answer isn’t always simple.

In most cases, the simple answer is that cats avoid the litter box when they associate it with pain. When they seek out other places to urinate, such as directly on top of your boyfriend’s shirt, it’s not because they’re trying to punish you for spending time with him. It’s because their tiny kitty brains are telling them that if it hurts to pee in the litter box, they should try going somewhere else.

What’s causing the pain? In cats over 7 years of age, urinary tract infections are frequently the cause, and they can have bladder stones or even bladder cancers as well. In cats under 7 years of age, the cause is most frequently a condition known as feline idiopathic cystitis, which means all of the pain and inflammation of a bladder infection is there, but there’s no infection. This can be a complex situation to manage and often requires a diet change and medications.

Why does my cat sleep all the time?

Adult cats sleep a lot under normal circumstances — by some estimates as much as 15 to 20 hours per day. If your cat is acting normal otherwise, this shouldn’t be cause for concern.

However, if your previously normal cat begins to sleep more, take note. Don’t mistake sleep for true lethargy. Lethargy can have a number of causes, including low oxygen levels due to anemia (decreased numbers of red blood cells) or heart disease and just plain not feeling well due to nausea or pain. Evaluate your cat’s well-being in a holistic fashion, noticing food and water consumption, litter box use, and interaction with family members and other pets.

Is sneezing a sign of illness in my cat?

Surely, a sneeze here and there isn’t likely a big concern. But sneezing that becomes frequent, especially when accompanied by nasal or ocular (eye) discharge, may be a sign of a respiratory problem.

Feline herpesvirus is extremely common, to the point that the majority of cats in the U.S. have it. Most of them never have problems with it after they become adults and their immune systems mature, but some cats will be affected their entire lives, especially during times of stress. Just like in people, the virus replicates when the immune system is compromised, and the results in most cats are mild respiratory signs that usually resolve in a few days. If lethargy, decreased appetite or yellow or green nasal or eye discharge are noted, a veterinary visit is warranted, since these signs likely signal the presence of a secondary bacterial infection.

More: 12 surprising (and sometimes creepy) signs your cat doesn't actually hate you

Why do my cat’s eyes seem to water all the time?

Once again, our old friend herpes is often the culprit. Herpes virus often manifests in cats that are chronically affected as watery discharge from one or both eyes. It’s usually not a big problem, but when the discharge turns cloudy or the cat begins to squint (which indicates sensitivity to light and thus, pain) it’s time to consider treatment.

Supplementation with the amino acid lysine seems to slow down the rate at which the herpesvirus can reproduce, and subsequently improves the symptoms. Lysine supplements for cats come in many forms, many of which can be bought over the counter at pet stores. Discharge that persists should always be checked out by your vet, as it can indicate a serious eye problem that can quickly worsen.

Why does my cat seem skinny all of a sudden?

While you may be trying to get your hefty kitty to slim down, you want to do it in a controlled fashion that encourages gradual weight loss over time. Rapid weight loss, especially when coupled with a normal or increased appetite, can be a sign of hyperthyroidism. Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland kicks into overdrive and ramps up the cat’s metabolism, causing increasing nutrient consumption and ultimately weight loss.

Another important cause of weight loss, especially in previously overweight cats, is diabetes. Unlike in dogs, weight loss is a relatively late stage complication of diabetes in cats and indicates that the disease is significantly advanced. Cancer and heart disease can also cause weight loss along with other serious problems. Unexplained weight loss needs to be investigated by your vet immediately.

Why is my cat hiding out?

In the wild, cats are nocturnal animals, which means that they sleep during the day and hunt at night. Thanks to us, they don’t have to hunt anymore, but especially when they’re young, many of them retain this schedule until they start to adapt more to ours as they age.

When a previously social cat suddenly starts to avoid contact with the other animals and the humans in the family, it’s likely a sign that something is wrong. Withdrawing from social contact is a common response to feeling unwell in wild animals since the animal does not wish to appear weak to potential predators. If your cat starts to avoid you, make an appointment with your veterinarian to determine what could be causing this sudden change in behavior.

How come my cat is so itchy?

There are basically three causes of itching in cats: parasites, fungal infections and allergies. Parasites, like fleas and mites, are clearly much more common in cats that go outside, but in households with cats and dogs, fleas can hitchhike in on the dogs and jump onto the cats. Mites are less common, but can be transmitted from other cats and dogs. Ringworm is actually a fungus, and not a worm, and is common in cats and kittens recently housed in shelters or rescues.

If fleas, mites and ringworm have been ruled out, it’s likely that allergies are making your cat itchy. Allergies can be tough to treat in cats, and usually we need to use special medications that suppress the immune system and thus, the allergic response. Many cats also benefit from a change to a prescription hypoallergenic diet. Allergies typically require lifelong therapy, although some cats are affected only during specific seasons of the year.

How do I know if my cat has parasites?

Intestinal parasites in cats, especially cats that go outside, are common. Usually, the cat will show some signs of intestinal distress, such as vomiting or diarrhea. Your veterinarian can easily pick up on most intestinal parasites by checking a sample of your cat’s feces for parasite eggs. But tapeworms, which are one of the most common intestinal parasites in cats, often don’t cause a lot of symptoms, and don’t usually show up on fecal tests.

Tapeworms are almost always transmitted to cats when they are bitten by fleas, but they can also get tapeworms from eating rodents. Owners are often disgusted to actually see the tapeworm “segments” crawling around on their cat’s rear end, where they quickly die outside of their preferred environment (the cat’s intestines). If your cat has tapeworms, you’ll want to be sure to not only treat the tapeworm infestation with appropriate deworming treatments prescribed by your veterinarian, but also treat your cat for fleas every month, to prevent another infestation.

More: 25 random cat behaviors finally explained

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