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An infectious disease is caused by the presence of organisms such as viruses, bacteria, fungi, or parasites (either animalian or protozoan). Most of these diseases can spread from cat to cat via airborne pathogens or through direct or indirect contact, while others require a vector such as a tick or mosquito. Certain infectious diseases are a concern from a public health standpoint because they are zoonoses (transmittable to humans).
Viral diseases in cats can be serious, especially in catteries and kennels. Timely vaccination can reduce the risk and severity of an infection. The most commonly recommended viruses to vaccinate cats against are:
Other viruses cats may be exposed to include:
Veterinary parasitology studies both external and internal parasites in animals. External parasites, such as fleas, mites, ticks and mosquitoes can cause skin irritation and are often carriers of other diseases or of internal parasites.
Cat skin disorders are among the most common health problems in cats. Skin disorders in cats have many causes, and many of the common skin disorders that afflict people have a counterpart in cats. The condition of a cat's skin and coat can also be an important indicator of its general health. Skin disorders of cats vary from acute, self-limiting problems to chronic or long-lasting problems requiring life-time treatment.
Researchers at the University of Cornell Feline Health Center believe that "most zoonotic diseases pose minimal threat" to humans. However some humans are particularly at risk. These are people "with immature or weakened immune systems" (infants, the elderly, people undergoing cancer therapy, and individuals with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).
Some common and preventable forms of zoonosis  are as follows:
Vaccinations are an important preventative animal health measure. The specific vaccinations recommended for cats varies depending on geographic location, environment, travel history, and the activities the animal frequently engages in. In the United States, regardless of any of these factors, it is usually highly recommended that cats be vaccinated against rabies, feline herpesvirus 1 (FHV-1), feline calicivirus (FCV), and feline panleukopenia virus (FPV). The decision on whether to vaccinate against other diseases should be made between an owner and a veterinarian, taking into account factors specific to the cat.
Feline diseases such as FeLV, FIV, and feline heartworm can be detected during a routine visit to a veterinarian. A variety of tests exist that can detect feline illnesses, and with early detection most diseases can be managed effectively.
Once-a-month topical products or ingestible pills are the most commonly used products to kill and prevent future parasite infestations.
Veterinarians commonly recommend commercial cat foods that are formulated to address the specific nutritional requirements of cats although an increasing number of owners are opting for home-prepared cooked or raw diets.
Although cats are obligate carnivores, vegetarian and vegan cat food are preferred by owners uncomfortable with feeding animal products to their pets. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration Center for Veterinary Medicine has come out against vegetarian cat and dog food for health reasons. Cats require high levels of Taurine in their diet. Taurine is an organic acid found in animal tissues. It is a major constituent of bile and can be found in the large intestine. Taurine has many biological roles such as conjugation of bile acids, antioxidation,membrane stabilization and modulation of calcium signaling. It is essential for cardiovascular function in cats, and development and function of skeletal muscle, the retina and the central nervous system. Although meat protein can be substituted with vegetable proteins, vegetable proteins don't require sufficient amino acids which are vital for a cats body to function.
Cats can be selective eaters. Although it is extremely rare for a cat to deliberately starve itself to the point of injury, in obese cats, the sudden loss of weight can cause a fatal condition called Feline Hepatic Lipidosis, a liver dysfunction which causes pathological loss of appetite and reinforces the starvation, which can lead to death within as little as 48 hours.
Pica is a condition in which animals chew or eat unusual things such as fabric, plastic or wool. In cats, this is mostly harmless as they do not digest most of it, but can be fatal or require surgical removal if a large amount of foreign material is ingested (for example, an entire sock). It tends to occur more often in Burmese, Oriental, Siamese and breeds with these in their ancestry.
Food allergy is a non-seasonal disease with skin and/or gastrointestinal disorders. The main complaint is pruritus, which is usually resistant to treatment by steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. The exact prevalence of food allergy in cats remains unknown. There is no breed, sex or age predilection, although some breeds are commonly affected. Before the onset of clinical signs, the animals have been fed the offending food components for at least two years, although some animals are less than a year old. In 20 to 30% of the cases, cats have concurrent allergic diseases (atopy / flea-allergic dermatitis). A reliable diagnosis can only be made with dietary elimination-challenge trials. Provocation testing is necessary for the identification of the causative food component(s). Therapy consists of avoiding the offending food component(s). Cats with food allergies constantly itch their red, hairless, and scabby skin. Hair loss usually occurs on the face and/or anus. The most popular prescription diets for cats with food allergies include Hills Science Diet d/d or z/d. It may take, depending on the severity of the reaction, two weeks to three months for a cat to recover if the offending allergen is removed. Immediate results may not be seen.
Malnutrition has been seen in cats fed home-made or vegetarian/vegan diets produced by owners with good intentions, and most published recipes have been only crudely balanced (by computer) using nutrient averages. Because the palatability, digestibility, and safety of these recipes have not been adequately or scientifically tested, it is difficult to characterize all of these homemade diets. Generally, most formulations contain excessive protein and phosphorus and are deficient in calcium, vitamin E, and microminerals such as copper, zinc, and potassium. Also, the energy density of these diets may be unbalanced relative to the other nutrients. Commonly used meat and carbohydrate ingredients contain more phosphorus than calcium. Homemade feline diets that are not actually deficient in fat or energy usually contain a vegetable oil that cats do not find palatable; therefore, less food is eaten causing a calorie deficiency. Rarely are homemade diets balanced for microminerals or vitamins. Owner neglect is also a frequent contributing factor in malnutrition.
Neutering and overfeeding have contributed to increased obesity in domestic cats, especially in developed countries. Obesity in cats has similar effects as in humans, and will increase the risk of heart disease, etc. thereby shortening the cat's lifespan.
Some houseplants are harmful to cats. For example, the leaves of the Easter Lily can cause permanent and life-threatening kidney damage to cats, and Philodendron are also poisonous to cats. The Cat Fanciers' Association has a full list of plants harmful to cats.
Paracetamol or acetaminophen (trade name Panadol and Tylenol) is extremely toxic to cats, and should not be given to them under any circumstances. Cats lack the necessary glucuronyl transferase enzymes to safely break paracetamol down and minute portions of a normal tablet for humans may prove fatal. Initial symptoms include vomiting, salivation and discolouration of the tongue and gums. After around two days, liver damage is evident, typically giving rise to jaundice. Unlike an overdose in humans, it is rarely liver damage that is the cause of death, instead methaemoglobin formation and the production of Heinz bodies in red blood cells inhibit oxygen transport by the blood, causing asphyxiation. Effective treatment is occasionally possible for small doses, but must be extremely rapid.
Even aspirin, which is sometimes used to treat arthritis in cats, is much more toxic to them than to humans and must be administered cautiously. Similarly, application of minoxidil (Rogaine) to the skin of cats, either accidental or by well-meaning owners attempting to counter loss of fur, has sometimes proved fatal.
In addition to such obvious dangers as insecticides and weed killers, other common household substances that should be used with caution in areas where cats may be exposed to them include mothballs and other naphthalene products, as well as phenol based products often used for cleaning and disinfecting near cats' feeding areas or litter boxes, such as Pine-Sol, Dettol (Lysol), hexachlorophene, etc. which, although they are widely used without problem, have been sometimes seen to be fatal. Ethylene glycol, often used as an automotive antifreeze, is particularly appealing to cats, and as little as a teaspoonful can be fatal. Essential oils are toxic to cats and there have been reported cases of serious illnesses caused by tea tree oil, and tea tree oil-based flea treatments and shampoos.
Many human foods are somewhat toxic to cats; theobromine in chocolate can cause theobromine poisoning, for instance, although few cats will eat chocolate. Toxicity in cats ingesting relatively large amounts of onions or garlic has also been reported.