Warnings about your pet – Part 2, cats

By Trevor Bailey

This is the second in a series of articles. The first concerned care of dogs (you can see it HERE) Looking after pets is a learning process.
Some of us are slower than others at realising what can kill our animals and how to protect them. I plead guilty. Two of our four dogs died young and in one case he may have lived a full life if I had been more aware.
Now we turn to cats. Dr Karly Lam of Animal Medical Centre lists the 10 most dangerous diseases for your cat in this part of the world and states how you can best safeguard it.

blue cross cat
My health is your responsibility. Photo: Blue Cross

TOXIN RELATED ACUTE RENAL FAILURE: Karly warns about lilies. Pull lilies out of any flower arrangement entering your house. Also keep medicines out of a cat’s reach. Anti-freeze too is dangerous to cats.  Make sure they can’t consume rat poison. Many triggers of this disease are unpredictable — insect stings, shock, clotting disorders. Beware of the symptoms and rush your cat to the vet when they show.
What happens with this disease: the kidneys suddenly fail to perform their filtration processes. The cat may vomit and show loss of appetite, listlessness, breath odour, diarrhea, seizures, twitching, and no urination.

Treatment: Clean the contaminated hair coat, avoiding the cat grooming itself, emesis, hydration with IV fluid. After any possible exposure to poison it is advisable to keep the cat under observation in a warm, quiet room for 24 hours.

AORTIC THROMBOEMBOLISM: This is common in cats with advanced heart disease. More often it is a breed correlated issue rather than an age issue. Suddenly the cat will be unable to use its back legs. It will drag the limbs and may cry with pain. Its back legs will be cold to touch. What has happened is that heart disease has caused disturbance to the blood flow leading to clots. These have gone downstream becoming lodged in the femoral arteries controlling blood flow to the hind legs.

Prevention: In the early stages heart disease may show no symptoms. Take your cat to the vet for annual checks. She will listen for heart murmurs or irregular rhythm and may order other tests (ECG). If she suspects heart disease may be at the initial stages she will put the cat on preventative medicines.

FELINE ASTHMA (bronchial inflammation): If your cat suffers a severe asthma attack, it can be life-threatening. Rush it to the vet. Feline asthma is inflammation of the small passageways of a cat’s lungs. It can be acute or chronic due to increased sensitivity to various stimuli. The passageways thicken and constrict — as in humans — making it difficult for the cat to breathe. In a state of respiratory distress, the cat’s condition can become grave in minutes.

Symptoms: Squatting with shoulders hunched, neck extended, rapid breathing or gasping, gagged up foamy mucus, blue lips and gums, weakness.

Causes: The exact cause of feline asthma is unknown. Allergens such as pollen, mold, dust from cat litter, cigarette smoke, perfumes, some foods or lung worms may trigger the episodes.

Treatment and prevention: X-ray may help with diagnosis. Steroid medication or other anti-inflammatory medications are commonly prescribed. For some cats, removing the triggering factors is required, others may need life long therapy. This disease can be progressive in nature.

FIP or FELINE INFECTIOUS PERITONITIS: This is fatal within two months in 95% of cases. Dr Karly says bluntly, “It’s incurable.” So study prevention measures below.
This is a viral disease that has spread worldwide caused by a coronavirus. Most kittens infected with feline coronavirus do not show signs of illness after initial infection. At most, they might experience very mild gastrointestinal diseases. 5-10% of affected kittens may show clinical diseases. There are two forms: “wet” or “dry”.  In the first there is a build-up of fluid in the cat’s abdomen (which becomes distended) or chest (laboured breathing). The cat has a fever that does not respond to antibiotics, little or no appetite, loses weight and is weak.

Prevention: There is no FIP vaccination available in Hong Kong. Clean any surface an infected cat has contacted. Common soaps, detergents, disinfectants neutralise the virus. An effective mix:

4oz of bleach in 4gal of water. Litter boxes should be scooped daily and the litter discarded. The boxes should be disinfected weekly. No more than two cats should use one litter box and that one only. Food and water should be changed daily and feeding bowls disinfected weekly. Cats should not share food and water bowls. Limit the number of new cats brought into a home. Isolate a new cat for a month and observe. Most important – minimise stress in the household environment.

LOWER URINARY TRACT OBSTRUCTION: This commonly occurs in middle-aged, overweight cats that get little exercise, are now allowed outdoors and eat a dry diet. It is life-threatening especially for males as their urethra is narrower. The cat will show signs of difficulty and pain in urinating, possibly blood in the urine, excessive licking, and may appear constipated. The cause is stones or plugs in the bladder or urethra.

Possible triggers: Stress, emotional or environmental; multicat house; sudden change in routine.

This is an emergency. Urgent action needed.

Prevention: Give cats small meals frequently. Consult your vet on the best diet. Clean fresh water always available. There must be an adequate number of litter boxes — one more than the number of cats. Don’t allow your cats to become overweight.

Litter boxes must be clean and in a safe part of the house. Reduce stress, minimise routine changes; consider with your vet a product called Feliway.

DIABETIC KETOACIDOSIS: This can occur in older overweight cats and is more common in females. Acid in a cat’s blood rises abnormally due to “ketone bodies”. The diabetic cat’s body cannot absorb sufficient glucose causing a rise in blood sugar levels.
Ketoacidosis can follow the diabetes and is a dire emergency.

Symptoms: Vomiting, weakness, depression, lack of appetite, weight loss, increased thirst, yellowing of skin, gums and eyes. Triggering factors: obesity, stress, surgery, infection, and other disease of kidney or heart or cancer.

Treatment: Prognosis is very poor long term. Vigilance is essential in the recovery phase. Follow the vet’s advice on insulin injections and diet exactly.

Prevention: Do not allow your cat to put on excess weight. Ensure it is active, provide playthings to stimulate it. Get annual check-ups at the vet and follow her diet recommendation.

petsworld cat
If you negligently allow your cat to become obese, you put it at risk of multiple diseases. Photo: Petsworld

HEPATIC LIPIDOSIS or FATTY LIVER: Obesity increases the risk. The disease can start if a cat stops eating because of loss of appetite. The liver is forced to convert body fat into energy. Fat builds up in the liver cells and disease is onset.

Causes: Your cat stops eating because of separation anxiety, moving, gaining or losing other pets, going on holiday or prolonged boarding.

Treatment: Untreated, the cat will probably die. Early stage treatment results in recovery 80 to 90% of the time.  Aggressive feeding is the usual treatment.

Prevention: Do not allow your cat to become obese. If it stops eating for one or two days rush it to the vet. The longer the disease progresses the higher the mortality rate.

PYROMETRA / HYDROMETRA: This is a very serious condition more common in older cats. Bacterial infection can develop in a cat’s uterus if it is sexually intact and has been on heat. Infection can spread throughout the body.
It manifests as two types: pus leaks from the vagina or is held inside by a closed cervix. Get your cat to the vet fast.

Symptoms: Change in drinking and urinating habits, possibly vaginal discharge, loss of appetite, depression, weakness, diarrhea, fever, weight loss.

Treatment: Spaying once the pet has been stabilised plus course of antibiotics.

Prevention: Desexing at an early age.

CAT FLU: It’s like the human cold: runny nose and eyes, sore throat, aches and pains. Mouth ulcers can occur, along with dribbling, sneezing, voice loss and fever. Flu is not usually serious in older cats, but they must see a vet.
It is serious in kittens — often fatal — and in adults that have other illnesses. If an eye ulcer develops there is risk of lasting damage.

Causes: Two types of virus and sometimes bacteria. Ill cats are the biggest source of infection. Healthy cats can be carriers. Flu can be spread by infected feed bowls, toys and even your clothing if you have been in contact with an infected cat.

Treatment: There are no effective antiviral drugs. Antibiotics can help prevent secondary bacterial infections because of a cat’s weakness.

Nursing at home is important. Your pet may have lost its sense of smell so offer strong smelling foods such as sardines, roast chicken or special foods from the vet. Encourage the cat to drink as fluids help loosen catarrhal secretions.

Wipe discharge from the cat’s eyes and nose (teaspoon of salt in a pint of water).

Prevention: There are many strains and vaccine is not effective against all. Nevertheless, get the vaccination. Two doses followed by boosters. If your cat is going boarding, it must be vaccinated.

daily-mail-cat.jpg
Photo: Daily Mail

GASTROINTESTINAL LYMPHOMA:  This is responsible for 90 percent of feline blood cancers and about 33 per cent of tumours. It’s a cancer of the white blood cells (lymphocytes). These are the major cells in the lymph nodes found throughout the body. Lymphocytes are part of the immune system producing antibodies and other substances to fight diseases. There are several different types of gastrointestinal lymphoma. Exposure to feline leukaemia virus and immunodeficiency virus are believed to be associated with the disease. It can spread almost anywhere and affect many organs.

Symptoms: Lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, depression, open mouth breathing, cough and perhaps swollen lymph nodes.

The gold standard is chemotherapy — it causes remission and kills most cancer cells, which works in 50 to 75 per cent of cases. In some cases surgery to remove tumours. Other alternative treatments include steroids, acupuncture, and Chinese herbal medicine (Yunzhi).


Dr Karly Lam operates Animal Medical Centre, which is in the street behind Centro. She has been practising for three years after obtaining her doctor of veterinary medicine and bachelor of biomedicine at the University of Melbourne.

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