Ask The Vet: What Are The Symptoms Of Infectious Illness In A Cat?


Even indoor cats get contagious diseases sometimes. Many people do not realize how to spot the symptoms. Cats can come into contact with infectious agents even though they do not go outside or see other cats. Some of these pathogens can even be tracked inside on people’s feet or clothing. For cats, infectious diseases fall into a few common categories: Respiratory infections, gastrointestinal infections and systemic infections (those affecting multiple body systems). Cats are tough, but they can get really sick quickly and they act like they are fine until they cannot hide it anymore.

Respiratory infections are very common among felines. They tend to be extremely contagious and are sometimes even airborne. The causative agents can be bacteria or viruses and many times more than one agent will be playing a role in the disease.

The signs of upper respiratory infections are familiar to all cold and flu sufferers: Coughing, sneezing, +\- fever, runny eyes, mouth ulcers and anorexia. The trouble is that some of the upper respiratory infections for cats can be much more serious than a common cold. If your cat is not feeling well, has nasal or ocular discharge and is coughing or sneezing, you will need to seek medical help.

Do not wait until your cat is critically ill to see a veterinarian. Such infections can become very serious, especially if they progress to pneumonia. There are also other causes of upper respiratory signs that only your vet can rule out.

Gastrointestinal signs include vomiting, anorexia, and diarrhea. Infections can also cause fever, blood work abnormalities, lethargy and anorexia. A single episode of vomiting may not require veterinary attention, but if your cat seems lethargic and anorexic for more than a short time, you will need to seek medical help. Cats can become dehydrated with the ongoing losses created by more than occasional vomiting or diarrhea. Viruses and bacteria can cause infectious gastrointestinal disease, as can intestinal parasites. There are viral causes of GI signs in cats that are very serious and untreated parasite infections can even be a risk to the humans in the home. Don’t delay seeking attention for a cat showing these signs.

It is also very important that there can be underlying infections in cats, such as Feline Leukemia and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) suppressing the cat’s normal ability to resist disease. Any sick cat should be tested for these viruses, no matter what. These agents can hide in your cat’s bone marrow and lurk there, waiting for a chance to progress your cat to terminal stages.

If you think that your cat is sick, you are probably right. You know your cat. Let your veterinarian help.

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Written by Dr. Kathryn Primm
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