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One of the perks of having a cat is that they’re relatively low maintenance, but even your feline friend isn’t immune to health problems and diseases. As a cat parent, it’s important to be able to recognise the signs and symptoms of common cat diseases, so that you can seek proper veterinary help for your kitten.

Recognising when your cat is unwell and needs treatment could prevent the situation from getting worse and save you from expensive vet bills.

So, without further ado, here is a list of common cat health problems and diseases that all cat owners should be aware of.

1. Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV)

Feline immunodeficiency virus is a common cat disease that has been estimated to infect 14-29% of the Australian cat population.1 FIV is usually found in the saliva of cats and the most common exposure source for cats are deep bites from other cats infected with the disease. It’s difficult for the virus to spread through casual contact, so it’s unlikely the disease will spread through grooming or sharing feeding bowls and litter trays.

Many FIV-positive cats live up to their normal life expectancy and have a similar quality of life to uninfected cats.1


The virus causes a gradual decline in immune function, which can render them more susceptible to other illnesses and diseases.2 Common symptoms include:

    • fever;
    • inflammation of mouth and/or gums;
    • recurrent infections;
    • discharge from eyes and/or nose;
    • diarrhoea;
    • decreased appetite;
    • lethargy;
    • anaemia; and
    • weight loss.2

Cats infected with FIV may not show symptoms for years after they have been initially infected,1 which is why it’s important to get your cat examined as soon as you suspect that it may have FIV.

2. Cat flu

Cat flu is a term for a group of highly contagious respiratory diseases caused by Feline Herpes Virus type-1 (FHV1) and Feline Calicivirus (FCV).3 This disease is debilitating for all cats, but this common cat disease is particularly aggressive in kittens and older cats due to their lesser developed/compromised immune systems.3

Cat flu is highly contagious, as it can spread through direct and indirect contact – it can spread through bodily fluids, such as through saliva, tears and nasal discharge, and also through food bowls, litter trays and human hands.


The symptoms of cat flu are similar to the symptoms of the influenza virus in humans. Common symptoms may include:

    • sneezing;
    • discharge from the nose and/or eyes;
    • fever;
    • difficulty breathing;
    • coughing;
    • fatigue;
    • loss of appetite; and
    • mouth and/or eye ulcers.3

If untreated, the condition can worsen and cause permanent eye damage, pneumonia or death.

3. Fleas

Fleas are small parasites that feed off the blood of a wide range of hosts (including you and other animals in your home).4 Fleas are the most common skin concern in all pets. It’s important to treat your cat for fleas straight away for several reasons:

    1. Some pets are allergic to fleas and can contract flea allergy dermatitis – a painful condition that can cause hairless, itchy ‘hot spots’.
    2. Fleas can live for up to a year, and if left untreated, can cause anaemia in pets that have suffered from heavy infestations.
    3. Fleas can also infect your cat with a tapeworm larvae infestation.5


Regular grooming is the best way to check whether your cat has fleas. However, your cat may also exhibit some common symptoms including:

    • Itching and scratching;
    • Redness of skin;
    • Scabs;
    • Hair loss;
    • Visible fleas; and
    • Flea dirt.5

Tabby kitten being held in one hand by a vet

4. Dental disease

Eight out of ten cats begin experiencing gum and teeth problems once they reach three years of age because of the build-up of plaque and bacteria accumulated from eating food.6 Plaque and bacteria can eventually harden into tartar, which can cause gingivitis and eventually periodontitis if left untreated.7

Periodontitis can escalate further and destroy the bone and supporting teeth around the affected area, leading to tooth loss.8 Gingivitis and periodontitis are also commonly called gum disease.


If your cat begins exhibiting the following symptoms, seek medical advice from your local veterinarian:

    • bad breath
    • mouth soreness
    • difficulty eating
    • reduced appetite
    • loss of teeth
    • red or bleeding gums
    • pawing at gums
    • tartar build-up
    • excessive drooling.8

5. Ringworm

Ringworm is a fungal disease that can be passed on between animals and humans,9 which makes it particularly difficult to deal with.

Ringworm infection occurs when a minor break in the skin that’s exposed to the fungus.10 The fungus lives in soil, animals and humans, which means that if your cat has ringworm, you’re at risk of getting it too.


Common symptoms include:

    • hair loss;
    • dry, scaled skin;
    • red ‘ring’ lesion on hairless areas; and
    • scratching and itching.

6. Heatstroke

Cats aren’t able to cool down the same way humans do and can only rely on panting and the few sweat glands in their paws and nose to release heat. Being trapped in a hot environment, inadequate amounts of drinking water or shade, dehydration and excessive exercise can contribute to heat stroke.11

Heatstroke in cats can be fatal, as it could cause organ failure.11


Common symptoms of dehydration include:

    • dizziness;
    • vomiting;
    • little to no urination;
    • rapid panting or breathing distress;
    • bright red tongue;
    • diarrhoea;
    • lethargy;
    • muscle tremors;
    • seizures;
    • nose bleeds;
    • anxiety (pacing, agitation, restlessness); and
    • collapsing.10

7. Abscesses

Abscesses are painful build-ups of pus underneath the skin, organs or between organs that are caused by bacterial infections.11 This common condition is normally acquired from cat fight-related injuries.12 The healing time for an abscess can vary from cat to cat, but it usually heals quickly.


Common symptoms include:

    • swelling in the affected area;
    • swollen glands (lymph nodes);
    • fever;
    • pain; and
    • skin rupture.

A cat being held by a student veterinarian while another veterinarian bandages its paw

8. Obesity

Obesity in cats is becoming an increasingly big problem with more and more owners keeping their cats indoors while overfeeding them. Obesity can increase the risk of other common cat diseases and significantly shorten your cat’s lifespan,13 which is why it’s important to keep your cat active with toys and to follow your vet’s feeding guidelines.


Common symptoms include:

    • weight gain;
    • excess body fat; and
    • inability to walk or exercise.

Protect your friend

Thankfully, there’s a way to protect your cat for life without breaking the bank. Pet insurance can help to cover the potentially costly medical bills that may come with unexpected, health-related issues. Remember to read the Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) before purchasing to know exactly what you are and aren’t covered for.

Choosing a great value policy for your pet is made easy with our free online comparison tool. It can help you compare features, exclusions and costs for pet insurance policies in a convenient side-by-side view.

Start comparing pet insurance policies today!



1 RSPCA Knowledge Base. (2019). What are Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and Feline Leukaemia (FeLV) and how do I protect my cat from them? Accessed 14 April 2020.
2 RSPCA NSW. (2019). Everything you need to know about Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV). Accessed 14 April 2020.
3 RSPCA Knowledge Base. (2019). What is cat flu and how is it managed? Accessed 15 April 2020.
4 Better Health. (2018). Fleas. Accessed 15 April 2020.
5 RSPCA Victoria. Flea and tick prevention. Accessed 15 April 2020.
6 Elliot, Rosemary. A guide to cat dental care. Accessed 15 April 2020.
7 RSPCA Knowledge Base. (2019). How should I take care of my cat’s or dog’s teeth? Accessed 15 April 2020.
8 RSPCA QLD. Have you checked your pet’s teeth lately? Watch our video about what goes on during a veterinary dental checkup. Accessed 15 April 2020.
9 RSPCA Knowledge Base. (2019). My vet has diagnosed my cat with ringworm, what should I do? Accessed 16 April 2020.
10 RSPCA. (2017). Warm weather worries – protect pets from heatstroke. Accessed 16 April 2020.
11 Health Direct. (2018). Abscesses. Accessed 16 April 2020.
12 RSPCA Knowledge Base. (2019). Is it okay to keep my cat home all of the time? Accessed 16 April 2020.
13 RSPCA. Cat care handbook. Accessed 21 May 2020.

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