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The Vet Is in: What Dog Diseases Can Cats Get?

Sometimes the only difference between a cat disease and dog disease is its name.

Dr. Marty Becker  |  Nov 29th 2016


Editor’s note: Have you seen the new Catster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting area of your vet’s office? This article appeared in our November/December 2016 issue. Click here to subscribe to Catster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home.

Can your dog make your cat sick? Can you? The answer to both of those questions is yes.

For example, did you know cats can get dog flu? The University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine recently reported that both species can become ill from a newly identified strain of canine influenza virus, H3N2.

Cats can even catch at least one bug from us: H1N1, a human influ- enza virus that has made some cats very ill and even caused death. Cats and dogs, along with humans, can also be infected with a bacterial infection by Leptospirosis. Same with rabies — it’s one virus that can infect many mammals.

Sometimes, the only relationship between a cat disease and a dog disease is the name. Canine distmper doesn’t affect house cats (sadly, the big cats are not so fortunate) and is a different virus from feline panleukopenia, com- monly called “feline distemper.”

But cats share a number of health risks with dogs and, in most of those cases, those feline maladies don’t receive the same level of attention as their canine counterparts.

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Heartworm disease

According to the American Heartworm Society, heartworm disease in cats is very different from heartworm disease in dogs.

The cat is an atypical host for heartworms, and most worms in cats do not survive to the adult stage. Cats with adult heartworms typical- ly have just one to three worms, and many cats affected by heartworms have no adult worms. This means that heartworm disease often goes undiagnosed in cats; however, even immature worms cause real damage in the form of a condition known as heartworm associated respiratory disease (HARD). Moreover, the medication used to treat heartworm infections in dogs cannot be used in cats, so prevention is the only means of protecting cats from the effects of heartworm disease.

Dental disease

Greater than half of cats older than 3 will have tooth resorption, where one or more teeth begin to dissolve. This painful syndrome can usually be diagnosed and treated by your veterinarian. Unfortunately, we don’t know the specific cause or how to prevent tooth resorption in cats.

Cats also suffer from periodontal disease because they don’t brush their own teeth (obviously). But you can help prevent gum disease by daily dipping a Q-tip into tuna juice and gently rubbing the outside of your cat’s teeth where they meet the gum line to remove plaque.

Get your cat a regular dental exam. Vet examines cat's teeth by Shutterstock

Get your cat a regular dental exam. Vet examines cat’s teeth by Shutterstock

Arthritis

Most cat owners think that arthritis is a dog-specific disease. But it’s not.

Dog owners tend to catch their pet’s condition early on if they notice the dog limping, having trouble rising to his feet, no longer climbing stairs, or no longer jumping up on furniture or into a vehicle. Cat owners, on the other hand, more often than not don’t notice anything wrong.

In the exam room, I often show cat owners their pet’s loss of muscle in a limb (yes, you can feel muscles under all of that fur), and they have a hard time believing it could be caused by arthritis. It’s easier for them to believe other signs like the cat not climbing as easily as before, not grooming herself as well, even not using the litter box because it’s difficult for a painful, arthritic cat to climb into the box (so much easier to just pee behind the potted plant or TV!). Arthritis in cats is common and demands attention, as it can limit mobility and cause severe pain.

Obesity

Fat cats may be cute or funny, but the consequences of obesity certainly are neither. Fat cat sitting by Shutterstock

Fat cats may be cute or funny, but the consequences of obesity certainly are neither. Fat cat sitting by Shutterstock

Fat cats are funny in cartoons but in real life are like tubby time bombs ticking away their health and vitality.

According to Dr. Ernie Ward and the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (petobesityprevention. org), about 58 percent of all felines are too fat.

“Even a couple of extra pounds increases your cat’s risk of developing deadly diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis, kidney disease, and cancer,” Dr. Ward said. “If your cat’s tummy has started to sag, ask your veterinarian for advice on shedding excess weight. The most important decision you make for your cat each day is what — and how much — you feed. Feed wisely.” I couldn’t agree more!

About the author: Dr. Marty Becker, “America’s Veterinarian,” has spent his life working toward better health for pets and the people who love them. The author of 24 books, Dr. Becker was the resident veterinary contributor on Good Morning America for 17 years. He is currently a member of the board of directors of the American Humane Association, as well as its chief veterinary correspondent; a founding member of Core Team Oz for The Dr. Oz Show; and a member of the Dr. Oz Medical Advisory Board. When his schedule allows, he practises at North Idaho Animal Hospital. Connect with him on Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, Twitter, and Google Plus.