For many pet parents, getting your cat to the vet is a stressful experience—both for you and your kitty. But if your cat is showing signs of illness or discomfort, schedule an appointment with your vet ASAP. Cats are good at hiding when they’re not feeling well, so if something doesn’t seem right, things are likely more serious than they seem.
That said, there are a few issues you can try to address at home while you wait for your vet appointment.
8 Home Remedies for Cats
Environmental allergies are rare in cats, but if your kitty has increased sneezing or clear eye discharge seasonally, ask your veterinarian about antihistamines. There are inexpensive over-the-counter antihistamines (without decongestants) that are safe to use in cats. Benadryl® (diphenhydramine), however, can cause agitation in some cats, so it’s not commonly recommended.
2. Dry Skin
Because bathing cats is rarely easy, most home remedies for mild dry and flaky skin depend on food and additives. If your cat has dry skin, make sure you feed them a high-quality diet and that your kitty is up to date on fecal testing and deworming. Omega-3 fatty acid supplements can also help with dry skin, and most cats love fish oils—a great source of omega-3!
True hairballs (vomit containing mostly wadded-up fur) are commonly seen around shedding season (spring and fall) or times of stress. If your cat is prone to hairballs, brush them more frequently to help with the excess coat. This is particularly important in long-haired cats.
If brushing isn’t enough, some cats will benefit from over-the-counter lubricating products, such as Vetoquinol’s Laxatone®, which helps move the fur through the digestive tract.
For kittens too young or too small for commercial flea products, bathing them in diluted Dawn dish soap (original scent) can be effective for killing adult fleas. These baths must be repeated as long as adult fleas are seen, as flea eggs and larvae can survive this treatment.
For adult cats, products available through your veterinary office are safest. Never give cats a product formulated for dogs, as the compounds found in dog flea and tick products are extremely toxic to cats!
5. Mild Diarrhea
Unlike dogs, cats are rarely affected by diet- or stress-induced upset stomach. Diarrhea in cats is usually a sign of parasites, viral disease, or inflammatory bowel disease.
That said, if your cat has soft stools but a normal appetite and no vomiting, try a bland diet for a few days. Bland diets are low in fat and fiber, and they’re easily digestible. A common combination is boiled chicken, turkey, or beef and rice.
Note: Cats need the amino acid taurine in their diet to maintain heart health. This amino acid is added to well-balanced commercial cat foods and is not found in home-cooked diets in large enough quantities. Do not feed a cat a home-cooked diet for longer than a week or so. If your cat’s diarrhea is not improving within a few days, it’s time for them to see the vet.
6. Inappropriate Urination
Urinary tract infections are actually not the most common cause of cats peeing outside the litter box, especially for male cats. Cats are extremely prone to developing urinary symptoms that mimic signs of infection as a result of environmental stress.
While bloodwork and a urinalysis are important to rule out physical causes (especially in older cats), much of the treatment for inappropriate urination is environmental and litter box management.
Just like urinary symptoms, grooming until there is hair loss is often associated with environmental stress. Flea allergies can also contribute, so it’s reasonable to start treatment for fleas if this behavior is noted.
If your cat’s bald spots are not responding to flea prevention and stress reduction, visit your vet to rule out pain or primary skin infections.
8. Matted Fur
Unless you and your cat are comfortable with clippers, you may need your groomer’s help to treat matted fur. Once the large mats are gone, get your cat used to a home brushing routine to prevent painful clumps of fur from forming. Never use scissors to clip matted fur, as the risk of cutting your cat’s delicate skin is very high.
If your cat has short hair or only started getting mats as they aged, it may be worth a vet visit to look for signs of arthritis or other illnesses that could have changed your cat’s grooming habits.
Never Try Home Remedies for These Cat Health Issues
Cats can be difficult to diagnose and treat (even for vets!), so if the above issues continue despite at-home treatment, follow up with their doctor. In addition, the following issues can be difficult or even dangerous to treat at home—so always leave these to the professionals.
1. Bad Breath
The majority of cat dental disease is below the gumline. Cleaning and evaluating your cat’s oral health under anesthesia is extremely important to their overall health. In some cases, tumors such as squamous cell carcinoma—which is very common in cats—can also cause bad breath.
If a cat has a bloated abdomen, they may simply be getting fat from too many calories. Or it can be a sign of fluid buildup from heart disease or cancer. A physical exam by your vet can help steer you to the right diagnosis.
3. Blood in the Stool
4. Blood in the Urine
Urinary tract infections, bladder tumors, and bladder stones can all lead to blood in the urine. Due to their anatomy, male cats are particularly prone to life-threatening illness from blood clots or stones in the bladder. Blood noted in the litter box should be evaluated promptly to avoid these outcomes.
5. Heat Cycle
Intact female cats will start going into heat in the spring, with cycles repeating every two to three weeks. Cats in heat are particularly obnoxious, and can easily escape and become pregnant. Spaying your cat is the only way to prevent heat cycles, pregnancy, and uterine infection (pyometra). Spayed cats also have a reduced risk of breast cancer as they age.
6. Conjunctivitis, Eye Infections, and Eye Discharge
Though cats are prone to viral eye infections that may improve without treatment, these are difficult to distinguish from other issues without an exam. Diseases of the eye can quickly result in blindness, so eye inflammation should be evaluated as soon as possible.
Coughing can be difficult to differentiate from vomiting in cats. Your vet will likely recommend X-rays to help determine if the cough is infectious (pneumonia), inflammatory (asthma), or heart-related. These diseases can progress rapidly in cats and even result in death.
8. Ear Infections, Discharge, and Mites
Ear mites and yeast infections of the ear can be difficult to tell apart without a microscope. Cats are also prone to masses and polyps that grow in the ear canal and cause inflammation. A physical exam and ear cytology are important to make sure the appropriate issue is being treated.
Cats generally run hotter than we do. A temperature up to 102.5 F is considered normal! Cats with a fever of over 104 F may need fluid therapy and medications to bring the fever down. Untreated fevers can have serious consequences such as decreased appetite and hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease).
It can be difficult to discern lethargy in cats, as they normally sleep for many hours a day. Hiding and sleeping far away from you can indicate your cat isn’t feeling well. This may be the first and only sign of something more serious, so if these behavior changes are noted, take a trip to the vet.
11. Mouth Sores or Swollen Lips
Cats are prone to cancers of the face, lips, and mouth. Your vet should evaluate mouth sores and swelling that don’t improve within a week or get worse. Vets can help determine if a biopsy or treatment with anti-inflammatories are needed.
12. Skin Infection/Mange
Severe skin infections may require oral antibiotics to control them. Some antibiotics are unsafe for cats, so it’s important for your vet to prescribe one. Mite infections (mange) and fungal infections also occur in cats and can be hard to distinguish or diagnose without a microscope. These infections require very different treatments, so a confirmed diagnosis is key.
13. Sneezing/Runny Nose/Nasal Congestion
Your cat’s appetite is heavily associated with smell. Cats with severe nasal congestion are at risk for decreased appetite and further complications. Though some nasal congestion can be relieved with a short course of antibiotics, some nasal diseases in cats require advanced diagnostics such as a CT scan. They may also need prolonged therapy to clear.
14. Straining in the Litter Box
Cats posture very similarly to urinate and to defecate, so if your cat is spending too much time in the litter box, it can be difficult to tell if they are constipated or having a urinary issue.
Though both constipation and urinary blockage are important to treat, urinary blockage (which usually occurs in male cats) can become life-threatening in under 24 hours. If you see any straining (especially if decreased appetite or vomiting is noticed), it may well be worth a trip to the ER.
Contrary to popular belief, vomiting is not actually normal in cats. The occasional hairball (one per month or fewer) can be expected, but more frequent episodes, vomiting fluid or food, or vomiting paired with decreased appetite should be evaluated by your veterinarian.
Dewormers for your cat may be readily available, but your vet can run tests to determine exactly what parasites are present. This will help make sure the appropriate schedule is followed to eliminate the parasite. Some dewormers do not treat all worms, and others will only kill worms in a certain stage. Your vet can help navigate the therapy for faster resolution.
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