Common Cat Illnesses and their Symptoms

cat looking out a window

For many of us, our cats are cherished members of the family, bringing joy and comfort to us and our homes.

Because of this, when cats get sick, it can often cause a lot of distress, especially for kids. If you think your cat is ill, your first call should always be to the vet so that you can get a professional diagnosis and start your furry friend on the path to recovery.

However, it’s always a big help to understand more about the kind of illnesses that can befall your cat – knowing the common health problems can help you identify symptoms earlier so that you can ensure your pet gets the treatment it needs.

In this blog, we’re going to run through some of the most common illness that cats can get, detailing the symptoms of each one so that you know what to keep an eye out for.


Cat Flu

Just like us humans, cats can get flu and just like us it can be very serious for certain animals, especially for kittens, older cats, unvaccinated cats, or those with other conditions. Cat flu is an upper respiratory tract infection which can be hard to protect against, because in most cases the disease results from infection with several different viruses.

Symptoms of cat flu include:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Runny eyes
  • Fever
  • Inflammation of the gums
  • Loss of appetite

If you start seeing any of the symptoms above it is important that you get your cat to the vet as soon as possible, so that treatment can be started before the infection takes hold. If left untreated, cat flu can be life threatening, with some cats becoming dehydrated and developing pneumonia.


Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV)


Feline leukaemia virus is an important viral infection of cats which can cause severe disease and death. FeLV targets your cat’s immune system, weakening their first line of defence against disease and opening them up to all kinds of nasties, and causing severe illnesses such as anaemia and cancer.

FeLV is normally passed from cat to cat through bodily fluids like saliva, faeces, urine and from a mother cat to her kittens in the milk. The virus is more common in male outdoor cats or sick cats.

Symptoms of FeLV include:

  • Recurrent or persistent illnesses, such as respiratory infections, skin infections or gut issues
  • Pale gums
  • Lethargy
  • Weight loss
  • Tumours (usually internal so you won’t these on the outside of the cat)

The only way to get a definite diagnosis for FeLV is to take your cat to the vet, who will be able to run blood tests to check for the disease. Fortunately, vaccines are effective at preventing this virus, which is why it is important not to let your kitten outside until they are fully vaccinated and make sure your adult cats are vaccinated each year.



A common problem, tapeworms are parasites that make their way into your cat’s intestine, often after the cat has eaten a smaller animal like rodents or by swallowing a flea infected with a tapeworm larvae. Part of the family of parasites called cestodes, tapeworm are long flat worms made up of many segments. The tapeworm intermittently releases fully developed segments containing eggs which are passed in the faeces. These tapeworm segments look like grains of rice, and you may notice one around your cat’s bottom, in their faeces, or where they sleep.

These little critters don’t usually cause any serious problems, but symptoms include:

  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • The presence of tapeworm segments (which look like grains of rice) around the cat’s anus, in their faeces or in their bed

To prevent and treat tapeworm, your cat should receive routine flea control and worming treatment as advised by your veterinary clinic.


Diabetes mellitus

Another illness that cats share with humans is diabetes mellitus, a complicated condition which is often known as sugar diabetes. In a healthy cat, the hormone insulin is produced by the pancreas (an organ which sits near to the liver), and insulin is crucial in the control and use of blood glucose (sugars) within the body to give your cat energy. After your cat eats, blood glucose (sugar) levels rise and the hormone insulin is released which enables the cells of the body to take in the glucose and use it for energy and maintain the blood sugar levels.

In diabetes mellitus, either a cat is not producing enough insulin, or their body is not responding to the insulin like it should. This causes blood sugar levels to rise and as the body cannot get energy from sugar, it starts to breakdown fats.

Just like humans, being overweight and not exercising increases a cat’s risk of developing diabetes. Without treatment your cat can become extremely poorly, so it is important to look out for the following symptoms and get your cat to the vets as soon as you can to get a proper diagnosis and start them on the right treatment.

Symptoms of diabetes mellitus include:

  • Increased urination
  • Increased drinking
  • Weight loss
  • Increased appetite
  • Urinary tract infections



Sadly, one of the most common fatal illnesses that can affect humans also affects cats. Cancer can be both caused by hereditary elements, your cat’s environment, and certain viral infections, such as feline leukaemia virus. nearly one in five cats will face the illness at some The most common sites of cancer in a cat are the white blood cells (leukaemia and lymphoma), the skin, the mouth, the stomach and intestines and the mammary glands.

They key thing with cancer is that if it is caught early enough, it is more likely to be treatable. Regular check-ups with your vet will enable them to spot the symptoms before they develop into something far more dangerous, and initiate treatment immediately.


The symptoms of cancer vary depending on where the cancer is and often cancers grow over time, causing vague symptoms such as weight loss, lethargy, or a decrease in appetite. Occasionally if the cancer is in the skin, you may feel lumps on your cats, or if the cancer is in the stomach or intestines, your cat may have vomiting or diarrhoea. It is important to go to your veterinary clinic as soon as you notice any abnormalities with your cat, many other diseases will have the vague symptoms listed above, but your vet will be able to examine your cat and diagnose the problem early on.


Lower Urinary Tract Disease

More of an umbrella term for several health problems that can affect a cat’s bladder or urethra. Feline lower urinary tract disease, or FLUTD, can be a big problem for cats though it’s often hard to track down a single cause as to where the problem has come from. Perhaps the biggest issue that can come from FLUTD is the potential for urinary blockages in male cats, which is an emergency situation  and without treatment is fatal.

Symptoms include:

  • Straining to urinate
  • Urinating more often than usual
  • Blood in the urine
  • Urinating outside of the litter box
  • Licking of the genital areas

Those are just a few examples of some of the most common diseases that can impact your cat’s life. If you’re seeing any signs of discomfort, pain or unusual behaviour, going to the vet for a check-up, diagnosis and treatment should always be your first move – it’s never worth taking risks with your best furry friend’s health.

For more ideas, guides, tips and inspiration around looking after your cat, visit the Asda Money blog.

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