The 10 Most Common Cat Health Issues

1 July 2021 - 10 min read

This article was written for the United States market and the advice provided may not be accurate for those in the United Kingdom.

Cats are exceptionally good at hiding their symptoms when they’re sick or injured. This certainly benefits cats in the wild, but how are pet parents supposed to get cats the help they need when we can’t even see a problem?

Knowing what to look for is a good start. In this guide, we’ll take a look at the ten most common cat health conditions, their causes and symptoms, treatment options, and which breeds are at highest risk.

Finally, we’ll include some tips on how you can lower your cat’s veterinary bills and help prevent health conditions from arising in the first place.

Lower Urinary Tract Disorders

Cat sleeping

The phrase feline lower urinary tract disorder (FLUTD) can be applied to multiple diseases that all cause similar symptoms. Feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC) is the most common, but urinary tract infections, urinary stones, and other conditions also fall under the FLUTD classification.

What causes lower urinary tract disorders in cats?

FIC has no single cause, but seems to develop when several risk factors combine. These  include stress, being overweight, eating mostly dry food, and living an indoor-only lifestyle. Bacterial urinary tract infections are more commonly diagnosed in older cats. Urinary stones can develop for a variety of reasons.

What are the symptoms of lower urinary tract disorders in cats?

Regardless of the underlying cause, cats with FLUTD typically have the following symptoms:

  • Straining to urinate

  • Urinating small amounts frequently

  • Painful urination, then licking themselves as a result

  • Urinating outside the litterbox

  • Discolored urine

A male cat may become “blocked” and unable to urinate at all, which must be treated as an emergency. If your male cat is unable to urinate, bring them to  the vet immediately.

How do you treat lower urinary tract disorders?

Treatment options should be directed towards the specific diagnosis. For FIC, your veterinarian may recommend:

  • Stress relief

  • Weight loss

  • A canned food only diet

  • Extra water intake

Urinary tract infections are treated with antibiotics. Some types of bladder stones can be dissolved with medications or a change in diet, while others require surgical removal.

Which breeds are most commonly affected?

Breed doesn’t play much of a role in most cases of FLUTD. However, one study did find that Tonkinese, Burmese, Devon Rex, Himalayan, Persian, and Siamese cats are at higher-than-average risk for calcium oxalate urinary stones.

Dental Infections

Cat sleeping on table

Cats and the bacteria within their mouths usually live in harmony with one another, but several health problems can give the bacteria an advantage over your cat’s defenses. The result? A dental infection.

What causes dental infections in cats?

Without good dental care, bacteria-laden tartar will inevitably build up on a cat’s teeth, resulting in gingivitis and eventually periodontal disease. Broken teeth and tooth resorption can also lead to (or look like) dental infections in cats.

What are the symptoms of dental infections in cats?

Cats with dental infections are in pain. They may not want to chew dry food, so you might see pieces falling out of their mouths. Other symptoms of dental infections in cats include bad breath, teeth chattering, discolored teeth, red gums, and swollen areas that may drain pus.

How do you treat dental infections?

A professional dental cleaning will be necessary to remove tartar and treat gingivitis. Severely damaged teeth may also need to be removed. To keep your cat’s mouth healthy in between professional dental cleanings, brush your cat’s teeth daily using a soft bristle toothbrush and a toothpaste designed for cats

Which breeds are most commonly affected?

Cats with short noses (brachycephalic breeds) like Himalayans, Persians, and Burmese tend to develop tartar and gingivitis faster than other cats because their teeth don’t  align normally.

Digestive Disorders

Cat at vet

Digestive disorders in cats are quite common and range in severity from the occasional hairball to potentially fatal diseases like gastrointestinal lymphoma (a type of cancer). Veterinarians typically divide digestive disorders into two categories: acute (symptoms begin quickly) or chronic (symptoms begin gradually and have been present for a relatively long period of time).

What causes digestive disorders in cats?

Common causes of acute digestive disorders in cats include:

  • Bacterial or viral infections

  • Intestinal parasites

  • Some types of poisonings

  • Drug reactions

  • Eating something indigestible

More chronic digestive disorders include food allergies or intolerances, inflammatory bowel disease, pancreatitis, and cancer. Health problems that originate outside of the gastrointestinal tract, like kidney or liver disease, can also lead to stomach upset in cats.

What are the symptoms of digestive disorders in cats?

Vomiting, diarrhea, and a poor appetite are the most common clinical signs of digestive disorders in cats. Weight loss, lethargy, constipation, and other symptoms are also possible.

How do you treat digestive disorders?

Treatment varies depending on the type of digestive disorder the cat has. Whenever possible, treatment should be directed at the underlying cause, but symptomatic and supportive care like fluid therapy, supplemental feeding, or medications to manage vomiting and diarrhea may also be necessary.

Which breeds are most commonly affected?

Any cat can develop a digestive disorder, but occurrences are much more frequent in older cats. Some evidence suggests that inflammatory bowel disease may be more common in purebred cats, and Siamese cats in particular have a heightened risk for some times of intestinal cancer.

Kidney Disease

Cat's face

Kidneys do  many important jobs, including filtering waste products out of the blood and preventing excessive water loss in the urine. When the kidneys quickly lose their ability to perform these functions, cats are diagnosed with acute kidney disease. Chronic kidney disease occurs when the kidney problems develop gradually.

What causes kidney disease in cats?

There are many causes of acute kidney disease in cats including:

  • Infection

  • Exposure to certain types of toxins (like antifreeze, some medications, and lilies)

  • Trauma

  • Kidney cancer

  • Anatomic abnormalities

  • Blockage of the urinary tract

  • Episodes of low blood pressure

Any of these can play a role in the development of chronic kidney disease as well, but often a specific cause can’t be identified.

What are the symptoms of kidney disease in cats?

Cats with kidney disease tend to drink and urinate more than normal. With time, however, they may stop producing much urine at all. Other symptoms include poor appetite, weight loss, vomiting, a scruffy appearance, and diarrhea or constipation.

How do you treat kidney disease?

Specific treatment may be available (antibiotics for a kidney infection, for example) if a cause for acute kidney disease can be identified. However, chronic kidney disease often can only be managed with symptomatic and supportive care like fluid therapy, special diets, and medications and supplements that address problems like high blood phosphorus levels or vomiting.

Which breeds are most commonly affected?

Cats of all types and ages can develop acute kidney disease, but chronic kidney disease is especially common in older cats and in certain breeds. According to the International Renal Interest Society, Persians, Abyssinians, Siamese, Ragdolls, Burmese, Russian Blues, and Maine Coons are possibly at higher-than-average risk for chronic kidney disease.


Cat hiding in a box

The thyroid gland produces hormones that help set a cat’s metabolic rate. With hyperthyroidism, a cat’s thyroid gland overproduces thyroid hormones, leading to a rapid metabolism.

What causes hyperthyroidism in cats?

Most cases of hyperthyroidism in cats are caused by a benign tumor within the thyroid gland. The reasons behind the formation of the tumor are unclear, but may have something to do with problematic nutrient levels in a cat’s diet or exposure to chemicals that affect the thyroid gland.

What are the symptoms of hyperthyroidism in cats?

Cats with hyperthyroidism often lose weight despite having ravenous appetites. They may also drink and urinate more than normal, become hyperactive, develop vomiting or diarrhea, and have a scruffy appearance. Hyperthyroidism can lead to heart disease, high blood pressure, and kidney disease.

How do you treat hyperthyroidism?

Four treatment options are available for hyperthyroidism in cats:

  • Medical management with drugs that reduce the production of thyroid hormone

  • Surgery to remove abnormal thyroid tissue

  • Radioactive iodine treatment to kill off abnormal thyroid tissue

  • Dietary management with a low iodine food (iodine is necessary for thyroid hormone production)

Talk to your vet about which option would be best based on the specifics of your cat’s case.

Which breeds are most commonly affected?

Hyperthyroidism is usually diagnosed in middle aged to older cats. Some studies indicate that domestic short and long haired cats (mixed breeds) are at higher risk for hyperthyroidism than purebred cats.

Upper Respiratory Infections

Cat smiling illustration

The upper respiratory tract is made up of the nose, nasal passages, and the back of the throat. A viral or bacterial infection affecting any or all of these areas can be called an upper respiratory infection.

What causes upper respiratory infections in cats?

Many different types of viruses and bacteria can cause upper respiratory infections in cats. Some of the most common are herpesvirus, calicivirus, and Chlamydophila bacteria. Cats become sick after contact with infected cats or environments where infected cats have shed these pathogens.

What are the symptoms of upper respiratory infections in cats?

Cats with upper respiratory infections usually have some combination of the following symptoms:

  • Sneezing

  • Nasal discharge

  • Irritated eyes

  • Eye discharge

  • Sores in or around the mouth

More severely affected cats can have a poor appetite, become lethargic, and have difficulty breathing.

How do you treat upper respiratory infections?

Most cats with an upper respiratory infection get better in a week or two with simple, supportive care. Encourage your cat to eat, drink, and rest, and wipe their eyes and nose clean with a warm, damp cloth. Talk to your vet if your cat’s symptoms don’t improve. Antibiotics, antiviral medications, and other treatments are sometimes necessary.

Which breeds are most commonly affected?

Breed isn’t an important factor in determining which cats develop upper respiratory tract infections. Any cat who lives in crowded, stressful conditions is at high risk for an upper respiratory infection, particularly if they are very young or not adequately vaccinated.

Skin Allergies (Atopy)

Cat's making friends

If you have allergies, you’re probably all too familiar with the sneezing, the congestion, and the itchy, watery eyes that allergies cause in humans. But cats are different: Their skin is the primary location for allergic reactions.

What causes skin allergies in cats?

Genetics factors are  important in the development of allergies in cats. The genetic predisposition towards having allergic skin disease is called atopy, and the most common environmental triggers are pollen, mold spores, and house mites.

What are the symptoms of skin allergies in cats?

Cats with skin allergies are itchy. They may bite and scratch so much that they develop areas of hair loss, skin infections, and a variety of skin lesions.

How do you treat skin allergies in cats?

Symptomatic management is a popular way to treat skin allergies in cats and can include:

  • Bathing frequently to remove allergens from the cat’s coat

  • Reducing the presence of allergens in the environment (like increased cleaning and keeping windows closed)

  • Giving medications and nutritional supplements, like fish oil, that reduce the immune response

Allergen immunotherapy via allergy shots or drops is another good treatment option for many cats. Talk to your vet about how best to manage your cat’s allergies.

Which breeds are most commonly affected?

Cats of any breed can develop skin allergies. However, one small study did seem to indicate that mixed breed cats are at highest risk, followed by Abyssinians and Devon Rex.

Heart Disease

Cat getting scratched

Several different types of heart disease affect cats. In some cases, the heart never developed properly, meaning that a kitten is born with heart problems (a hole in the wall that divides two heart chambers, for example). Cats can also develop heart problems as adults.

What causes heart disease in cats?

The most common type of adult-onset heart disease in cats is called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). With HCM, the muscles that make up the part of the heart that pumps oxygenated blood to the rest of the body become abnormally thick, which reduces heart function.

What are the symptoms of heart disease in cats?

Symptoms of heart disease in cats vary with the type of heart disease involved, and with its severity. Some cats may have few symptoms, at least initially, but over time they can develop:

  • Lethargy

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Poor appetite

  • Weight Loss

  • Hind leg paralysis and pain from blood clots

How do you treat heart disease in cats?

Treatment options for many types of heart disease include medications that normalize heart rates and rhythms, help reduce abnormal accumulations of fluid, and prevent the formation of blood clots. Unfortunately, most forms of heart disease in cats worsen over time.

Which breeds are most commonly affected?

Breed is an important risk factor for HCM. This cat health condition is frequently diagnosed in Maine Coons, Ragdolls, British Shorthairs, Sphynx, Chartreux, and Persian cats.


Cats spend a lot of their time lounging, but they tend to be quite agile when they’re active. Because of this, most cat injuries aren’t caused by normal cat activities like running and jumping, but by external forces. Spending unsupervised time outdoors is the biggest cause of cat injuries.

What are common injuries in cats?

Fights between cats often lead to abscesses. Being attacked by a larger animal can result in broken bones, large lacerations, and worse. Cars are also an ever-present danger as a cause for cat injuries.

What are the symptoms of injuries in cats?

Injured cats are in pain, but they can hide that fact very well. Subtle symptoms, like being less active and more reclusive than normal, can be a sign that a cat is injured. Of course, you should also take immediate action if your cat is bleeding, having difficulty breathing, or has obvious swelling or open wounds.

How do you treat injuries in cats?

Veterinary care is necessary for all but the mildest of cat injuries (small scrapes and bruises, for example). Abscesses need to be drained, flushed, and treated with antibiotics. Lacerations require stitches. Hospitalization for appropriate treatment and close monitoring may also be necessary.

Which breeds are most commonly affected?

Lifestyle is more important than cat breed when it comes to injuries. The best way to prevent injuries to your cat is to keep them indoors.

Lowering Your Cat’s Veterinary Costs

Cats at window

Because cats hide their symptoms so well, their illnesses and injuries often become quite severe  before even an observant pet parent figures out what’s going on. As a result, diagnosing and treating cat health problems can get pricey.

Fortunately, there are ways to keep your cat healthy and to lower your veterinary costs:

  • Keep your cat indoors.

  • Stay up-to-date on wellness care like vaccines and parasite prevention.

  • Feed your cat a nutritionally complete, age and lifestyle appropriate food, keeping portion control in mind. Keeping your cat slim will help prevent pet health problems like diabetes.

  • Play with your cat daily to ensure that they get enough physical exercise and mental stimulation.

  • Purchase a pet insurance policy that covers common health problems in cats. Coverage for routine care is an added bonus!

If your cat does become sick or injured, you want to be making decisions based on their best interests, not money. With a good cat insurance policy, you’ll be confident that you can choose whatever treatment options make the most sense for you and your feline friend.

Jennifer Coates, DVM
Veterinarian, Veterinary Writer, Editor, and Consultant

Dr. Jennifer Coates is a writer, editor, and consultant with experience in veterinary medicine, science, animal welfare, conservation, and communications. She has written for outlets including petMD, Chewy, and ManyPets.