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The Cat’s Out The Bag

Updated: Nov 22, 2023

Gum and dental disease, obesity, overgrown nails and flea infestation reported by the RVC as the top disorders in cats, with risks varying by age and sex.

New research shows what the most common disorders in cats are and allow a deeper understanding of disorder associations with sex and age. It shows that some of the most common disorders are in some way preventable or at least, there are tangible actions we can take to help reduce the instance. Shockingly, new research from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) revealed that the most common disorders diagnosed by veterinary surgeons across more than one million pet cats in the UK include gum disease, obesity, overgrown nails, and flea infestation.

The new study also highlights that the risk of each condition varies significantly based on a cat’s age and sex. This information and understanding could help owners make more informed decisions when caring for their cats as well as helping vets focus on targeted preventative healthcare. Awareness of risk, in addition to continued education of feline behaviour can help to address these issues and allow more prompt treatment.

Cats hide signs of pain associated with disorders such as dental disease or osteoarthritis to avoid appearing weak to predators, making it even harder for owners to spot the signs. This typically means that by the time they present to us in practice the disease process may be quite advanced. Despite the fact that cats are popular companion animals, with approximately 10.7–12.2 million cats in the UK, with 28% of UK households estimated to own at least one cat, many owners still struggle to judge the quality of their cat’s life and how it changes over time. Many signs are attributed to 'old age' but are actually things that could be supported or alleviated with treatment.

Many health problems may be dismissed as typical ailments or expected due to old age when in fact, they can cause serious suffering.

The study, led by the RVC VetCompass programme, investigated the health patterns of a random sample of 18,249 cats from a study population of 1,255,130 cats in the UK. On average, each cat was diagnosed with one condition per year. The average count of conditions per year was higher in males than females, and higher in older cats than younger cats.

Of the specific conditions diagnosed, the most common were:

  • Gum disease (15.23%)

  • Obesity (11.58%)

  • General dental disease (9.23%)

  • Overgrown nail(s) (5.23%)

  • Flea infestation (5.07%)

  • Heart murmur (4.44%)

Females and males had different risk for almost half (14) of the 30 most common conditions. For example, female cats had higher risk than males for poor quality of life, post-operative wound complication, over-grooming, flea bite hypersensitivity, hyperthyroidism, and overgrown nail(s). Males had higher risk for periodontal disease, road traffic accidents, heart murmur, lameness, obesity, abscess wound and cat bite injuries.

Other key findings include:

  • The risk differed between younger (< 8 years) and older (≥ 8 years) cats for 27 (90.00%) conditions. For example, younger cats had higher risk for cat bite injury, flea infestation, RTA and post-operative wound complication.

  • Older cats had higher risk for lameness, abscess, cystitis, over-grooming, general dental disease, constipation, underweight, osteoarthritis, haircoat disorder, anorexia, otitis externa, vomiting, cardiac dysrhythmia, weight loss, chronic kidney disease, disorder undiagnosed, gum disease, poor quality of life, heart murmur, flea bite hypersensitivity, obesity, overgrown nail(s) and hyperthyroidism.

  • The most frequent general groups of conditions were dental disorder (21.21%), obesity (11.58%), skin disorder (9.63%), bowel problems (8.50%), parasite infestation (6.30%) and heart disease (5.99%).

  • The average age of cats recorded with each of the 30 most common grouped-level disorders varied from 1.67 years for post-operative wound complication to 15.15 years for endocrine system disorder.

These findings provide vets, vet nurses, cat breeders and owners with new evidence to better understand and predict the occurrence of these disorders. It also highlights the key features for owners to prioritise in order to give their cat the best possible life.

Dan O’Neill, Associate Professor in Companion Animal Epidemiology at the RVC and lead author of the paper, said:

“Everyone who loves cats wants to make their lives happier and healthier. This study helps owners to understand that dental, weight and parasite care are the key health issues of cats in general, so that owners can focus their care and finances better on giving their cats a better life.”

In the coming weeks we will share information on how to help prevent some of these most common disorders!

220222 Common cat disorders
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