Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI) has compiled the following list of the 15 most common health problems in cats:
|1. Lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD)||6. Tooth infection requiring extraction||11. Asthma|
|2. Chronic renal failure||7. Upper respiratory infections||12.Soft tissues injuries/ sprains|
|3. Skin allergies and infections||8. Ear infection||13. Laceration and bite wounds|
|4. Hyperthyroidism||9. Eye infection||14. Benign skin growths|
|5. Diabetes||10. Constipation||15. Gastritis/ vomiting/ diarrhea|
VPI extracted this information from a database of over 60,000 insured cats. The average cost per claim for a veterinary visit for the number one problem, lower urinary tract disease, is $260.
Feline dental problems are the most costly to treat, especially when tooth extractions are necessary. The average claim for this procedure is $360.
If your kitty has any of the following symptoms, he might have a disease of the lower urinary tract:
- Straining to urinate
- Frequent or prolonged attempts to urinate
- Crying out while urinating
- Excessive licking of the genital area
- Urinating outside the litter box
- Blood in the urine
If your cat’s normally predictable elimination habits change, for example, if he’s suddenly spending a lot of time in his litter box, or he begins urinating outside the box, don’t assume he’s just behaving badly.
Unfortunately, kitties with conditions like FLUTD (Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease) too often wind up at shelters rather than at a vet’s office because pet owners mistake a medical condition for a behavioral problem.
Cats are stoic creatures and it can be difficult to tell when they aren’t feeling well. Anytime you see a sudden change in your kitty’s behavior, the first thing you should suspect and take steps to investigate is an underlying medical condition.
Most Common Cat Complaint: Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease
Also known as feline urologic syndrome (FUS), this disease actually describes a group of conditions that can affect the bladder and urethra of cats. There are several causes of FLUTD, including urinary tract infections, urinary stones, urethral plugs, cancer and other disorders that affect the lower urinary tract.
FLUTD is seen in cats of varying ages and lifestyles, but it’s most often seen in kitties that are:
- Use an indoor litter box
- Eat a dry food diet
- Perceiving stress in their environment
Many cases of FLUTD/FUS involve the formation of crystals in a cat’s urine which irritate the bladder and lining of the urethra. These crystals can form either struvite (also called MAP crystals) or calcium oxalate crystals. If crystals remain in the bladder too long they will form urinary stones.
There are many reasons why cats form crystals, from underlying urinary tract infections to urine pH issues and mineral content of the diet, as well as a variety of other factors. However, the problem can be much more serious in males than females. Male cats have longer, narrower urethras than female cats. If the urethra becomes blocked by a urinary stone or other obstruction and he’s unable to pass urine, your male kitty can become very ill.
The urethras of female cats are shorter and wider, and while the condition can be painful, it is much less likely to cause a complete blockage in females.
Whether your kitty is male or female, if you suspect he or she might have a lower urinary tract infection, it’s important to make an appointment with your veterinarian.
If your cat isn’t passing urine, this is a life-threatening medical emergency and you should seek immediate care. Once a kitty’s urethra is completely blocked, the kidneys can no longer do their job. This can lead to heart failure and death within just a day or two.
Feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC), also known as interstitial cystitis, is another condition which comes under the FLUTD umbrella and is the most common diagnosis in cats with lower urinary tract disease. Cystitis is inflammation of the bladder.
As is the case with urinary stones and urethral plugs (obstructions containing minerals, cells and mucus-like protein), the cause of cystitis is not well understood. However, stress seems to play a significant role in development of the condition in kitties.
Sources of stress for kitties generally involve change and can include:
- Change in diet, either the food itself or feeding schedule
- Change in environment, perhaps a move to a new home, travel, or a stay at a boarding facility
- Change in the number of animals in the family
Preventing FLUTD in Your Cat
While there is much debate as to the exact causes of FLUTD, I strongly encourage all my cat owner clients -- especially those whose kitties have experienced urinary tract disorders – to avoid feeding dry food (kibble).
Dry pet foods contain neither the high quality protein nor the moisture content your cat needs for optimal health. If your kitty lived in the wild, her natural diet (prey) would be about 70 percent water. Dry food is from five to 10 percent water.
Cats have a low thirst drive. Nature intended them to get most of the water their bodies need from food sources. Your kitty simply can’t make up the water deficit from a kibble diet at her water bowl.
Your cat should be eating species-appropriate canned or raw food. For cats, this means grain-free food (no corn, wheat or rice that can greatly alter urine pH). Learn how to transition your kitty to a healthy, balanced diet here. The quality of the canned food is also very important.
Other suggestions for FLUTD prevention include the following:
- Feed frequent, small, moisture-rich meals
- Provide a constant supply of clean, fresh water. If you’re concerned your cat isn’t getting enough water, you can experiment with a water fountain or water flavored with tuna water, beef or chicken broth. You can also add a tablespoon or two of fresh water to your kitty’s food.
- Make sure you have enough litter boxes for the number of cats in your household (at least one box per kitty), and that they are kept clean and are located in quiet, safe areas of your home.
- Minimize major changes in your cat’s routine
Most Costly Cat Complaint: Dental Problems
Anesthesia has a number of benefits, including:
- Immobilizing your kitty to insure her safety and cooperation during a procedure she doesn’t understand
- Pain management
- Allows for a thorough examination of all surfaces inside your pet’s mouth and the taking of x-rays
- Allows for scaling below the gum line where periodontal disease is most active
Please be aware there’s a procedure being offered now called Non-Professional Dental Scaling (NPDS), which is billed as anesthesia-free dentistry. NPDS is typically performed by animal caregivers, not licensed veterinarians.
NPDS may be less expensive than a professional exam and cleaning by a veterinarian, but this is not the way to go. I do not recommend this procedure.
A cat or any pet that is not sedated is unlikely to allow a thorough examination of his mouth. He’s also apt to move around quite a bit, making use of sharp dental instruments hazardous.
It’s also nearly impossible to clean below the gum line of a fully alert animal. The kitty won’t stand for it, and even if he did, it would be terribly painful for him.
Extractions, if necessary, are out of the question if your cat is not anesthetized.
Also, cleaning just the visible areas of your cat’s teeth is a purely cosmetic procedure. It will not address gum problems or other risks to your pet’s health that can develop from disease in his mouth.
Lastly, putting a fully alert pet through a procedure like dental scaling is tremendously stressful for the animal.
While it’s true there are always risks associated with anesthesia, in my opinion the risks of NPDS far outweigh them.
Keeping Your Kitty’s Mouth Healthy
Seventy percent of cats have significant signs of dental disease by the age of three.
Left untreated, periodontal and other oral diseases can result not only in the loss of your kitty’s teeth, but also in serious health problems including heart, lung, and kidney disease.
There are three important components to keeping your cat’s mouth healthy:
- Daily brushing at home
- Annual professional oral exams and dental cleanings as necessary
- A species-appropriate, raw food diet
I realize the prospect of learning to brush kitty’s teeth may be daunting, but with some patience and practice, it can become part of your daily routine
And if you make daily brushing a habit, your favorite feline might not ever need extensive, expensive dental work.