Common Dog and Cat Health Problems

Owning a cat or a dog has many benefits, but in certain circumstances there can be unexpected costs as well. If they go untreated early on, your pet’s health problems can become very expensive, although in some instances, pet insurance can help.

Since they can’t speak to us, it can be hard for us to know if our furry friends are experiencing any health problems. This is why it’s important to know what signs to look for, and to identify any pet health problems as early as possible.

Thankfully, many common animal health problems are treatable if spotted early. The following are some of the top illnesses and upsets in cats and dogs, and how to recognise them.

Common dog illnesses

There are many dog diseases that are more common in certain breeds. Apart from that, common dog diseases include the following:


Heartworms are far more serious for dogs than they are for cats. They are parasites that infect a dogs heart and arteries, and dogs are exposed to the larvae through mosquito bites.

Noticeable symptoms of heartworm in dogs are lethargy (tiredness without exercise), collapsing, depression (not willing to “fetch” or play), and coughing.

Heartworm infestations can lead to heart failure and death. Treatment options to kill the parasites are usually medications, but sometimes surgery is required.

Heartworm can be difficult to treat once a dog or cat has been infected so we recommend that owners visit their local vet for the most appropriate treatment to prevent heartworm,” said Australian Veterinary Association President Dr Julia Nicholls. “Prevention can be as easy as a once a year injection, spot-ons or monthly tablets.”


Vomiting and diarrhea

The most common cause of vomiting and diarrhea in dogs is an infection known as parvovirus, which attacks rapidly dividing cells in a dogs body, severely affecting the intestinal tract.

Other causes of vomiting and diarrhea are eating inappropriate foods or swallowing inappropriate objects, like food wrappings or chocolate.

The most obvious symptom is regular vomiting or defecating indoors. It’s not your dog’s fault they’ve made a mess – their body is ordering them to get rid of what’s wrong, and quick!

Other symptoms to watch out for are blood in their vomit or poo, lethargy, weight loss, fever, or a change in appetite.


Pets are the same as people when it comes to obesity, as being obese has negative health effects on dogs and humans alike. Obese dogs have a higher risk of joint pain, liver diseases and diabetes.

The symptom for obesity is fairly obvious. For a dog to be considered a healthy size, you should be able to feel their ribs without pressing. If you can’t, see your vet in order to construct an appropriate diet and exercise plan for your pooch.

Infectious diseases

The two most common infectious diseases in dogs are canine parvovirus and distemper. Both of these infections can be prevented through early vaccinations when they are puppies.

Parvovirus is both contagious and deadly, and can be caught by your dog coming into contact with the faeces of an already infected dog. This happens a lot, as we all know how much dogs like to smell each other’s poo. Noticeable symptoms include bloody diarrhea, vomiting, lethargy (tiredness without exercise), and a loss of appetite.

Canine distemper is a virus transmitted through direct contact with an infected dog’s urine, saliva, or blood. Distemper affects the respiratory system, the gastro-intestinal system, and the central nervous system. Symptoms include sneezing and coughing, difficulty breathing, fever, possible seizures, and a discharge of mucous from the eyes.

Kennel Cough

Kennel Cough is a highly contagious form of bronchitis, causing inflammation in a dog’s windpipe. They may make sounds as if they’re choking, which can sound terrible, but is usually not a serious problem and will pass over time. The most common cause is exposure to infected dogs.

Lower Urinary Tract Problems (LUTP)

Less serious in dogs than in cats, LUTP can be caused by bacterial infections, bladder stones and cancer. Noticeable symptoms are frequent urination, producing small amounts of urine, blood in their urine, pained noises when trying to urinate, and weight loss. Treatments include antibiotics, changes in diet, and surgery in extreme cases.

Common health conditions in cats

There are many cat health conditions that are age- and breed-specific, but there are some that are common in all cats. Pet health problems for cats include the following:

Lower Urinary Tract disease

Feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD) can be fatal to cats, and covers a number of conditions that affects a cat’s bladder. The most common signs of FLUTD are not using the litter box (or urinating inside), straining without producing any urine, and in extreme cases, blood in their urine.

If you do see any of these symptoms, be sure to seek veterinary help immediately. FLUTD can be caused by bladder stones, infections and even cancers.

Infectious diseases

Some of the most common infections in cats are respiratory, and some can be fatal. Symptoms of respiratory infections include a runny nose or teary eyes, sneezing and coughing, fevers and sores in the mouth. However, these infections can be easily detected by vets during routine check-ups.

Another common disease is feline pan leukopenia, which is a highly contagious viral illness that causes fever, a loss of appetite, lethargy and dehydration. This can be deadly to kittens under 8 weeks old, so vaccination is crucial to preventing it.


The two most common types of cancers are lymphosarcoma (a cancer of the intestine or chest) or squamous cell carcinoma (abnormal growths on the skin).

Cancer in cats can be detected by lumps, swelling & sores, lethargy, weight loss, difficulty breathing, vomiting and a difficult urinating and defecating.

Sadly, the cancer is not always treatable, but if it is in a treatable area, you can speak to a vet oncology specialist to discuss chemotherapy, surgery, radiation and immunotherapy.

Heartworm disease

Heartworm is a parasite that’s passed from animal to animal by the bite of a mosquito. There is no effective treatment for heartworm in cats once they have it – but fortunately, many cats can fight it off on their own. The giveaway symptoms for heartworm are regular coughing, respiratory problems and vomiting. Heartworm can be avoided altogether by having regular vet check-ups and giving heartworm medication to your cat.

The signs of heartworm include:

  • Lethargy
  • Tiring easily with exercise
  • Coughing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Enlarged or swollen abdomen.


Fleas are blood-sucking parasites, and are a very common external problem for cats. Signs that your cat has fleas include constant scratching or licking, hair loss, skin infections and flea dirt on the skin. Fleas are visible to the naked eye however, and you should be able to see them on your cat’s skin.

Fleas can live for more than a year, and if they go untreated it can cause anaemia, which is a deficiency of red blood cells in circulation that can prove fatal. Your vet can provide a range of different treatments for fleas, like oral medication or powders.

Kidney disease

Kidney problems reduce a cat’s ability to excrete waste, which causes a build-up of dangerous toxins in the bloodstream. It can be caused by a number of factors, such as high blood pressure, infections, kidney stones, cancer and even old age.

Symptoms include a decreased appetite, weight loss, vomiting, diarrhoea and lethargy. In extreme cases, dialysis treatments or kidney transplants may be required.

Getting it checked at the vet

If this article has taught you anything about your pets, it’s that it is very important to check on them regularly to see if they are experiencing any difficulties. Remember, they can’t communicate with you to tell you that they’re having a problem, so it’s up to you to ensure that their health is checked on a regular basis.

The simplest (although not the cheapest) way to do this is to have more frequent vet appointments, as veterinarians are more likely to pick up any signs of distress than you are.

Pet insurance can help with the cost of seeing a vet. You can compare pet insurance policies for price and coverage on our website. Remember that there are different types of policies, and you will need Accident and Illness, or Comprehensive coverage to cover illnesses as well as injuries.

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