Undiagnosed Illness

Kelly Roper
Veterinary team

An undiagnosed illness can be frustrating for any cat lover. This is especially so when it strikes more than one pet, and the vets can't isolate the cause. One visitor is searching for any ideas that might lead to a diagnosis.

Undiagnosed Illness in Cats

Depression in Cats

I have a kitten about six-months-old. I have three other cats. Two of the other cats are two-years-old and other is a year-old. Prue, the kitten, has always played well with two of the cats, the other doesn't pay attention to her. Last weekend, Prue started to hide and wouldn't come out. The other cats are not too friendly to her right now. I took her to the vet and her health is good. They said she is depressed. Do cats get depressed? If so, how can I help her? She used to play with her toys and the other cat, now she sleeps and we have to keep the other cats from her.~~Prue

Expert Reply

Dear Prue,

You did the right thing taking her to the vet. At least you've ruled out any major health issues. Some cats are more sensitive than others. A small change can really upset the household. The reasons for depression is similar to reasons humans have-death of another pet or human companion, kids moving out of the house or going off to college, divorce, moving to a new place or some cats are even sensitive to small changes like a new brand of cat food.

While we try to refrain from recommending specific food brands, Purina Cat Chow has a great article that offers some ideas for bringing your cat out of her depression. Here are a few other things you may want to try:

  1. Dangle a string in front of Prue's nose and see if you can get her to bat at it. Boredom can sometimes cause depression in cats.
  2. Ask your veterinarian about short-term anti-depressants for your cat.
  3. Make sure you greet your cat as soon as you arrive home and spend some time petting her.
  4. Talk to your cat as you would another person. This will engage Prue and even if she doesn't understand the words, she will understand your loving tone.
  5. Purchase some new cat toys and fresh catnip to entertain her.

Your vet may have additional suggestions as well. Good luck!~~Lori

Concerned About Older Cat

I have a 15-year-old tomcat. A few months ago, I noticed a small lump on one side of his stomach. I took him to the vet and they said that he would need to have a biopsy done and, at his age, the anesthetic could kill him. I was told to go home and keep an eye on it to see if it got any bigger. It's now a few months later, and it has definitely gotten bigger. I would say that the lump is at least as big as a two pence piece. When I touch it, he doesn't cry, so I don't think its causing him pain. I don't know what to do. If I take him to the vet, and they do a biopsy, it could kill him. Also, I know this sounds awful, but my husband and I cannot afford to pay huge vet bills as he is the only one who works. We cannot afford hundreds of pounds to have Frankie treated. He's such a special old cat. The only thing he's ever had wrong in fifteen years is a gum infection. I feel that this is something bad, and if untreated will kill him, but if he needs treatment we probably won't be able to afford it. I have noticed that he's been retching more lately, like he's bringing up a fur ball. Please can you tell me what I should do, as I'm feeling very sad about the outcome of this problem? I love him dearly. He's my old bagpuss and I would deeply miss him should he pass away.I await your reply,

~~Lisa

Expert Reply

Hi, Lisa,

I'm so sorry that Frankie has this problem. I can tell you love him very much and that he has been a good companion for many years. It's hard to know how to treat older cats sometimes. Where do you draw the line between giving the cat a few more years of life and bankrupting your family, for example? I've had this problem before myself and it is absolutely heartbreaking, so I'm just sending you some cyber-hugs.

The lump could possibly just be a fatty tumor but the truth is that it is impossible to tell without looking at the cells under a microscope as there are several types of tumors, some cancerous and some non-cancerous. You're really just making a guess. You may want to see if there is a way to use a needle biopsy for a sample of the cells and not actually put the cat under anesthesia. To perform a needle biopsy, the vet will insert a needle into the lump and pull back on the plunger to suck out some of the cells and prepare a slide for the microscope. This procedure should also be less expensive than an actual biopsy. If your current veterinarian does not offer a needle biopsy, you may want to speak to other veterinarians in the area.

As for how far you should go with treatment or how much to spend, that is a personal decision. When my childhood dog grew ill and could no longer stand on his own, I took him to my favorite country vet. The vet told me all the treatment options, many of which were very expensive and then reminded me that he was a very old dog and I could easily spend all that money and he still wouldn't recover and even if he did it would probably be for a limited amount of time. My question to him was: "What would you do if it were your pet?" While the vet can't tell you what to do, if he will answer that question for you, it may help give you peace in your decision on treatment options. It doesn't sound like Frankie is in any real pain, so he may be able to live with the condition for the rest of his natural life.

~~Lori

Kitten Growing Weak from Diarrhea

Hello,

I need clarification as to why my kitten is having problems. She is around five-months-old. She consistently eats (a lot) and she has diarrhea. Sometimes her stools are watery. A vet gave me an antibiotic to kill parasites. She said it could be due to a parasite infection in her stomach. After giving her a ten day treatment, she doesn't seem to have recovered. She is now very weak. She has a very big belly because she can't stop eating. She is hungry all the time. Before the treatment, she was very thin. Her condition did improve while she was on the antibiotic but now she is getting weaker.

Thank you!

~~Shifa

Expert Reply

Hi, Shifa,

Your poor kitty. It sounds like she's really had a time of it. I would take her back to the vet ASAP, particularly if she is growing weak and seems to have trouble standing. Just like humans, cats can get dehydrated quickly when they have diarrhea and it's important to make sure she gets hydrated to protect her health. The vet also may decide to give her a stronger antibiotic or to give her a shot instead of pill form of the medication.

There can be many different causes of severe diarrhea, from worms, to distemper, to a myriad of minor ailments. The veterinarian may also want to rule out diseases such as feline leukemia. With feline leukemia, the cat typically has persistent diarrhea and pale gums. Please keep us posted on how she is doing. I hope she gets better soon.

~~Lori

Kitten with Diarrhea

I have an eight-week-old kitten. It was the runt of the litter and an outdoor cat. I found it weak and near death, so I brought it inside the house, warmed it and started it on Hartz milk replacement until it could use the litter box. Then, I switched it to Whiskas poultry. Now, its stool is rather thin and smells real bad. It messes itself in the litter box. Its butt is poking out a bit and it seems to hurt when washed.

~~Jay

Expert Reply

Hi, Jay,

When a kitten develops diarrhea, it is best to get advice from a veterinarian. Your kitten's rectum has begun to protrude because she is straining from the diarrhea. You can make her a bit more comfortable by applying a little Vaseline to moisturize the area and provide a barrier against the runny stools.

There are many reasons a cat might have diarrhea, including distemper and sudden dietary changes. I suspect your kitten's problem may stem from the latter. When you switched her to kitten food did you completely eliminate the formula? If so, her system might not have been able to handle the drastic change. Kitten food is very rich, and this could result in the diarrhea as well as the new foul odor to her stools.

Of course, if the kitten is not showing other signs of the illness, do not grow overly worried until you speak to your veterinarian. An infected anal gland can cause some of the symptoms you're describing, but it is also possible that the area is simply irritated because of the diarrhea. At any rate, your kitten can quickly become dehydrated, so it's important you take him or her to the vet as soon as possible. Please come back and let us know if she/he is okay after your visit.

Thanks for your question

~~ Lori

Unexplained Fevers and High White Cell Counts

I have 11 cats, three of which I foster. They are kept in outdoor open air kennels with concrete and sod, but also have indoor access.

Three different cats aged four months to 13 years old became sick at least one month apart from each other. They each had fevers up to 105.5, but no diarrhea, no vomiting or upper respiratory symptoms. They did have elevated white blood counts and responded to antibiotics.

The vets are stumped. The cats were tested for feline leukemia, feline immunodeficiency virus, urinary infections and also received fecal examinations. All testing came back negative.

I try to clean kennel daily since they do potty in the sod even though they have cat boxes. They are fed the best diets of high quality dry and canned food, including cooked meats. They have all been vaccinated.

Again, there is no sign of intestinal or upper respiratory, no obvious infections. I am from eastern Washington, having moved here to California last September, and I have never seen anything like this. Any ideas?

~~ Heather

Expert Reply

Hi Heather,

You know that is a bit curious just having fever as a symptom. Usually there will be other symptoms involved to help point you in the right direction. You're lucky you even noticed it. Cats are naturally warm to our touch because of their higher body temperature.

A high white cell count is usually a sign of an infection that the immune system is busy fighting off. Since your vet has already ruled out the obvious illnesses, let's concentrate on other causes for fever, and you can run these suggestions by your vet to see if any are worth pursuing.

Fever can also be caused by:

  • Gum infections
  • Undetected skin wounds from bites
  • Ticks- Your vet can perform a blood serology to detect diseases transmitted by ticks
  • Allergic reactions
  • Your cats' immune systems could have been fighting off one of the diseases they were vaccinated against.

I'm sorry I don't have something more definite for you, but thank goodness you were so vigilant about your cats' health. Who knows what might have happened if you hadn't noticed the fevers.

Thanks for your question~~ Kelly

Undiagnosed Illness