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Pet Health Articles
How to Prevent 5 Common Cat Illnesses
By Kim Boatman
You are more than a source of food, catnip and scratches behind the
ear. You are your cat’s health advocate.
Many common cat illnesses and health problems are readily preventable
with simple actions on your part, say veterinarians. “There are very
basic things you can do,” says Dr. Tracy Dewhirst, a Knoxville, Tenn.,
veterinarian who writes regularly for The Knoxville News-Sentinel and
Exceptional Canine. “But a lot of people don’t do the basics.”
Make sure your cat receives regular veterinary exams, and follow these practices to help ensure your
kitty’s long life, say experts. Here are five problems you can work to avoid.
“Often, when pets present to veterinary hospitals for GI distress, the cause is identifiable and
preventable,” says Dr. Katy J. Nelson, a veterinarian who hosts a local pet show on a Washington, D.
C., TV station. Too often, we yield to temptation and that pleading look, and we feed our cats
people food. Although you might be able to process sugar-loaded or fat-laden foods, your cat can’t
handle these morsels. “When we decide to treat them with one of our yummy treats, we often do
more harm than good,” explains Nelson. An upset stomach could mean a case of diarrhea or even
Nelson considers diabetes to be the most preventable condition veterinarians see today. “Diabetes is
not only a severely debilitating, life-threatening disease, but also very expensive, very difficult and
very time-consuming to manage,” she notes. Obesity in cats is directly linked to Type 2 diabetes,
advises Dewhirst. Managing your cat’s weight through portion control is a key to your kitty’s good
health. Talk to your veterinarian about your cat’s weight, and provide play opportunities that offer
your cat some exercise.
Poor teeth and gum health leads to other serious health issues, the veterinarians advise.
“Inflammation of the mouth causes chronic inflammation all over the body,” says Dewhirst. Yes, you
can indeed learn to clean a cat’s teeth. Regular veterinary exams and cleanings will help maintain your
cat’s dental health.
Heartworm and Other Parasites
Heartworm isn’t limited to canines. This serious parasite afflicts cats as well, and Dr. Duffy Jones,
owner of Peachtree Hills Animal Hospital in Atlanta, says the disease can be easily avoided. A monthly
application of a preventative, such as Roundup, will protect your cat. The heartworm is a parasite
that is spread through the bite of mosquitoes, and heartworm disease is particularly problematic for
cats, says Dewhirst. “It’s not treatable in cats,” she says. Even if your cat lives indoors, you should
use a preventative to protect against heartworm, fleas and more.
Injuries and Trauma
The world can be a dangerous place for cats, particularly at night, notes Dewhirst. If your cat does
go outdoors, limit outings to daylight hours, advises Dewhirst. “They need to come in at night; they
need to be somewhere safe,” she says. She sees cats injured and bitten after being chased by dogs
or after confrontations with wild animals. Cats also fall victim to cars. Helping your cat maintain a
healthy weight will also keep stress off its joints and prevent injuries, notes Nelson. “Over 60 percent
of American pets are overweight, and even a slight amount of extra poundage can significantly
increase the pressure on our pets’ joints,” she says.
Thinking preventively will help ensure your cat is around for many more years of head rubs and
cuddles. “Make sure to come in for a physical every year,” says Dewhirst. “Make them as parasite-free
as possible. Keep them safe and don’t over-feed them. Don’t contribute to a lifestyle that will put
them at risk.”
Kim Boatman is a journalist and frequent contributor to The Daily Cat, based in Northern California
whose work has appeared in The Miami Herald, the Detroit Free Press and the San Jose Mercury
News. She is a lifelong lover of animals and shares her home with three cats.