9 Most Common Causes of Death in Cats

Cats are the beloved animals of many people. Owning a cat that you have bonded with is a unique experience full of love. As a pet owner, you want to do everything in your power to ensure that your pet gets to live life to the fullest, so it is vital to know the common causes of death and what you can do to prevent them.

Many different things can cause your cat to die, but listed below are the 9 most common causes.

1. Euthanasia

This has to be the most heart-wrenching answer because, as an animal lover, this answer both surprised and saddened me. Unfortunately, euthanasia has become the number one leading cause of death for both cats and dogs, and this statistic applies to cats and dogs of all age groups. In the U.S. in 2012, one small city alone documented that 487 of 634 (78%) cats and kittens brought into their animal shelters were killed.

These statistics and rank are also supported by a study that the Royal Veterinary College conducted. They found euthanasia to be the number one cause of death in cats accounting for a whopping 85.7% of deaths. This study was done using veterinary documentation, so these cats were usually elderly or sick as opposed to being strays.

Fortunately, there is a lot that can be done to help decrease the number of cats being killed by euthanasia. In the city of Spartanburg, South Carolina, the head of the animal control department reached out to and teamed up with their city’s main good quality and low-cost spay and neuter clinic.

Together, they collaborated with community members and veterinarians and studied the widely used trap, neuter, return (TNR) techniques. They also talked to feral colony caretakers, which are individual people who have taken on the responsibility of caring for and providing for a colony of feral cats through TNR strategies.

These caretakers will feed and water the cats, provide shelter for them, and find ways to humanely trap the cats so that they can be taken to the vet for vaccinations and neutering. This is exactly what Spartanburg’s animal control department implemented. Most adult animals who are strays have been feral their whole life and are not very adaptable to indoor pet life, so they can’t be adopted.

Spartanburg acknowledged this and decided that a solid compromise for both the residents and stray cats was to catch, treat, and then release the cats. They can no longer reproduce or spread disease, but they get to continue to live their life freely.

This technique yielded amazing results with a drastic reduction of feline euthanasias and a dramatic decrease in people’s complaints about stray cats (from 810 calls a week down to 2-3 weekly). (Source)

2. Trauma

The Royal Veterinary College’s study analyzed over 100,000 feline records from over 90 veterinary practices in England to gather data on the most common causes of cat deaths. Trauma was found to be the second-highest cause of death, accounting for 12.2% of fatalities across all age groups.

In another study traffic accidents were the number one cause of fatal traumas, specifically 411 out of 582 deaths. This comes out to be over 70% of traumatic deaths, while other reasons accounted for 153 deaths (26%). (Source)

However, when the data was broken down into age categories, it can be observed that trauma is actually the number 1 reason for death in felines that are under 5 years old. This statistic and rank drop down to number 6 for cats older than 5 years of age.

This suggests that there is a higher quantity of outdoor cats in the age group of 0-5 years of age than there are over 5 years old. For these cats under 5 years old, trauma made up 47% of their fatalities, half of which were due to vehicles colliding with them. (Source)

If you would like to prevent your cat from dying because of trauma, keep them indoors. If they escape, bring them back inside quickly. Bribe them with treats or food if you have to, as many cats are extremely stubborn and won’t want to go back inside once they get outside until they realize it’s not as fantastic as they once thought it would be.

3. Kidney Disease

Although the study from the Royal Veterinary College did not include that statistic on Kidney disease, it was found that it is the number one cause of death for cats over 5 years old. It accounts for 13.6% of their deaths.

In cats younger than 4 years old, the prevalence of this disease is 13%, for ages 4-10 years old it increases to 24%, for cats 10-15 years old it is 31%, and for cats over 15 years old the prevalence is 32%. All of these statistics are scarily high, especially considering how young the onset of this disease can be. Preventative care is key for this disease. (Source)

Chronic kidney disease is the most common and long-lasting kidney disease in cats. It is the buildup of waste that compounds into the bloodstream instead of the kidneys regulating it. This causes them to lose weight, seem lethargic, increase their blood pressure, and build acid in their blood.

These things can also potentially cause them to lose control of their urine, which can increase their water intake, and can also give the cat anemia. In a Swedish study, they observed that kidney diseases are the number one urinary disease that is fatal, as 78.6% of the cats that were diagnosed with a urinary disease had kidney disease.

It is important to note that the Persian cat breed has the highest occurrence of kidney issues and they have a predisposition to polycystic kidney disease.

4. Renal Disorders

From over 3 studies, renal disorders were found to be one of the top causes of death in cats. Two of these studies were done in Sweden and Taiwan, so renal disorders often kill cats across the world.

The study done in England found that renal disorders were the root of 12.1% of their documented deaths. A common cause of this is renal tumors, which fall under the neoplasia (cancer) category.

5. Urological Disorders

In this Swedish study, 907 of the 4,591 deceased cats with a diagnosis died because of a urinary disorder. Kidney disease is included in this statistic and accounts for 713 of these deaths, which is over 78% of these fatal urinary diseases. Lower urinary issues accounted for 194 fatal urinary disorders. These disorders drastically increase in likelihood in cats over 10 years old.

It is important to note that when this study broke its statistics down, the breed of Ragdolls was found to be at the highest risk for urinary disorders by a lot in comparison to other breeds. European Shorthair and Persian cats also are at high risk of developing urinary disorders, so keep an eye out for symptoms if you have one of these cats.

6. Infectious Diseases

This is a very blanket term, but the most common infectious diseases in cats include Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) and Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). From studies done in Germany, Sweden, and France, infectious diseases were found to be one of the most common causes of death in cats.

They found that this was mainly caused by Feline Panleukopenia Virus, which is a highly contagious virus that derives from feline parvovirus which most harshly affects kittens. In general, it was found that in cats that had this virus when they died, 437 were caused by infection, and 407 of them were viral (93%).

Multiple sources have cited Feline Leukemia Virus as the number one infectious disease in cats, this disease weakens the cat’s immune system and makes them very susceptible to other illnesses and infections. It is incredibly contagious and has been found in approximately 2.3% of cats and is even higher in outdoor or stray cats.

It can be spread from cats grooming each other, contact with a wound, or even sharing the same food and water source. It is highly important to vaccinate your cat for these reasons and because symptoms don’t always show.

Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is like the cat version of HIV, it drastically weakens the cat’s immune system and is most commonly spread through cat fights. In a study done, over 2.5% of cats were FIV positive, and this does not account for stray cats. Symptoms are also not always apparent for this disease, so it is important that you take preventative care because a cat doesn’t have to look sick to be highly contagious.

Infectious diseases, in general, are the most dangerous and fatal to cats under the age of 1 year old. After cats are more than 1 year old, the chances of them contracting and dying from an infectious disease drastically decrease from about 90% to about 40%.

7. Neoplasia

Neoplasia is a broad term for abnormal growths caused by uncontrolled neoplastic cell division. Basically, it is a tumor that can be either benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). This is a very vague term for cancer, there can be many different types of cancer but the blanket term used for the data and studies was neoplasia. England’s data determined that this is the cause of 10.8% of cat deaths. This cause of death is hard to hear because there really isn’t anything you can do to prevent it in your cat. (Source)

Most forms of cancerous neoplasia will result in your cat losing weight and appetite, so this is definitely something to look out for. Another thing to look out for is that depending on where the tumor is there will be a specific set of symptoms. For example, if the tumor is somewhere in the nervous system, seizures are common. For gastrointestinal cancers, symptoms can include vomiting and diarrhea.

Mammary tumors were found to be the most common form of malignant neoplasia, accounting for 147 out of 528 neoplasia-related deaths (27.8%). Maine coons and Siamese cats are at the highest risk for neoplasia.

For mammary tumors specifically, Siamese cats have the highest occurrence and are predisposed to developing mammary carcinoma. Graphs showed that after about 8 years old, there is a steady and high increase of neoplasia prominence in cats, it drastically increases after 10 years. Take your cat to the vet as soon as possible if any of these symptoms are present.

8. Neurological Issues

Most neurological diseases were documented as “unspecified”, but these complications made up 138 of the Swedish cat deaths with 30% of them classified as unspecified. 27% of the overall makeup of neurological issues was caused by Neurological- peripheral nervous system problems.

Epilepsy made up 19.5% of these diseases. Neurological problems accounted for 7% of all deaths in the study done in England. The chances of having neurological complications in cats increase with age.

9. Respiratory Disorders

Viruses are the most common cause of respiratory infections and diseases. Upper Respiratory Diseases are the most typical disorder, these include feline calicivirus and feline herpesvirus. These two diseases alone make up 80-90% of respiratory diseases in cats. Both of these diseases are very common in animal shelters.

Feline calicivirus can be contracted virally or from bacteria, its usual symptoms include the following:

  • Swollen eyelids
  • Nasal congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Discharge from the eyes or nose
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Often squinting
  • Fever
  • Lack of energy
  • Loss of appetite/anorexia

It is important to note that this discharge can be clear. Cats can also develop ulcers on the tongue, lips, gums, or nose because of feline calicivirus. Some strains can also cause your cat to go lame, although this symptom mainly occurs in kittens. The death rate of this disease is 67%.

The herpes virus is more formally called feline viral rhinotracheitis, it is the most common cause of conjunctivitis (inflammation of the eyes). This disease can be spread through discharge coming from their eyes or nose and the spread of saliva. (Source)

It can even be spread through contact with anything that the infected cat has touched. Respiratory diseases made up 5.5% of the deaths in the England study. In the Swedish study Respiratory diseases made up 279 of the deaths, with lower respiratory issues causing 22% of the deaths.

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