Idiopathic Feline Diseases: Treating the Symptoms

It is very likely that veterinarians more often treat the symptoms of a feline illness when compared to doctors treating sick people.
cat at vet

Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats
A doctor or a veterinarian’s primary objective is to cure their patient’s illness. If the illness is idiopathic, meaning without a known cause, then all the physician can do is to treat the symptoms and control the illness.

It has to be easier for a doctor to diagnose an illness in a person than it is for a veterinarian to diagnose an illness in a cat. The obvious reason is that the person can communicate with the doctor which, of course, makes diagnosis much easier. In addition, I would argue that far more research has been conducted in respect of human diseases than feline diseases and therefore doctors have more knowledge upon which to call when making a diagnosis.

Further, a doctor who is a general practitioner will frequently seek a second opinion by referring his patient to a hospital consultant.  Also, a general practitioner can call upon other specialists such as radiologists etc. to carry out more tests thereby collecting more information upon which to make an accurate diagnosis. There are probably more diagnostic tools at a human doctor’s disposal than are available for a veterinarian.

Another reason why cat illnesses can sometimes go undiagnosed and be labelled as “idiopathic” is because the cat is not a human and therefore in the eyes of many is not seen as important as a human, which may result in a lower level of commitment in diagnosing a cat’s illness. Treating symptoms is an easier route and it speeds up turnaround times in veterinary clinics.

Certain feline conditions and illnesses are more often regarded as idiopathic whereupon the symptoms are treated rather than trying to cure the illness.

Useful links
Anxiety - reduce it
FULL Maine Coon guide - lots of pages
Children and cats - important

Allergies is one such example. Feline allergies are not that uncommon. It can be extremely difficult, it seems to me, to isolate the allergen which causes an allergy in an individual cat.  Often, the cat’s skin shows signs of an allergy and itches.  My reading of many comments and articles on this website indicate that veterinarians often end up prescribing steroid treatments or anti-itching treatments but avoid investigating the exact cause of the allergy which will often be an environmental allergen (there are hundreds of possibilities all of which are “hidden” or not obvious).

This is because it is financially unviable (due to the lower ranking of the patient less money is spent on the patient) and because the outcome of investigations may not bear fruit.

Another typical idiopathic feline condition is hair loss. Sometimes the cause is obvious but oftentimes the vet scratches his head and takes a stab at a diagnoses. There is perhaps more of a “suck and see” approach for veterinarians than for doctors who simply can’t take that risk.

I am simply asking questions but I would like to see more research carried out on feline diseases and more advanced treatments devised.

Modern human medicine has advanced by leaps and bounds – in fact it is too advanced on occasion because it costs too much – but veterinary medicine seems to have lagged behind.

The lack of money in the veterinary business is an underlying cause. The lack of money is due to perceiving the cat companion as not important enough to spend too much money on.

Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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6 Responses

  1. Ahsan ul Haq says:

    Hi Michael, it is a great article and you are right saying about vets treatment behaviors.

    It is my humble request that please cat experts or keepers may write articles about feline (household cats and kittens diseases and their remedies as well. In this way PoC can become an affective site for people like me to read more about felines illness and their way of cure.

    I am really curious about the health of my feral cats and their short life span, all goes due to lack of resources, people’s (cruel) behavior and unavailability of any cats lover vet.

    I have a plan to start the vet practice on my own for the welfare but I am not equipped well in such a knowledge. Perhaps some one in PoC could refer me a PDF book or gift me Vet PDF books so that I could read tem and try on my own.

    Because without experimental approach, it is totally impossible to do something for cats here.

    thank you.

    • A excellent book is Cat Owners Home Veterinary Handbook. I highly recommend it. You can buy it on Amazon. I hope you can get Amazon where you are. If you can’t get it online I’ll send you a copy and some other stuff if you like.

      Feral cat health problems are largely the same as domestic cats. The usual illnesses. This page on the site is about cat health:

      It seems that worms, fleas, URIs, FeLV, FIP and FIV are the main problems.

  2. Linda Kearbey says:

    My cat gets black dots on its nose. I wonder what these are.

    • Hi Linda. Thanks for asking. Without seeing a photo I can pretty confidently state that these are normal areas of black or dark brown pigmentation in the skin (nose leather). No worries. If all the fur is removed from a cat the pigmentation follows the pattern in the fur which tells us the pigmentation is present in the skin too. You’ll also see it on the gums and inside the mouth.

  3. Jo Singer says:

    Hi Michael,

    Another excellent article. Thanks so much. I highly recommend Dr. Nicholas Dodman’s book, “The Cat who Cried for Help”. It is an amazing book that through case studies discusses a wide variety of feline illnesses that could be put in this category.

    There is an entire chapter on hair loss, and what may be the underlying causes of this condition. It goes into great detail about the possible underlying emotional problems that cats have that causes them to overgroom.

    I wish that all veterinarians would read his book, to help give them some excellent ideas about what may be ailing their feline patients.

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