Siberian cats health problems – a complete guide
Siberian cats health
In Russia, a phrase Siberian health is associated with vitality, longevity, and ability to stay healthy despite the frigid climate of the Siberian region. This saying is very true when it comes to Siberian cats. Siberians tend to be sturdy, healthy and, while being purebred cats, do not present the owner with too many health issues.
However, there are some health problems typical for cats in general, and for Siberians in particular. If you own a Siberian cat or kitten or are only planning to adopt one, it’s best to know ahead what types of health issues you may encounter, and how to help your cat overcome them.
In this article, I will talk about some health issues common for Siberian cats, signs, and symptoms, what to pay attention to, and what your plan of action should be if you notice something wrong with your kitten.
Signs that your Siberian cat might be sick
Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM)
Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD) in Siberian Cats
Hereditary Cancer in Siberian cats
Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) in Siberian cats
Signs that your Siberian cat might be sick
Just like people, cats act and look different when they are sick. You may notice that your cat suddenly looks tired and sleepy, doesn’t want to leave its bed, or keeps hiding in dark corners. Maybe it sleeps for most of the day, even more than the usual 16 hours! Or maybe, on the contrary, your cat is overly excited and can’t seem to sleep at all, being unusually overactive. Changes in sleep and activity rhythm can point to the fact that your kitty might be sick.
Another tell-tale sign is if your Siberian stops eating the food that it has always loved. Lower appetite is often a sign of a disease or distress. It becomes even more obvious if your cat vomits (more than usual) or has diarrhoea.
If you see your usually gracious and coordinated cat limping around, unable to walk a straight line or jump on your chair, it’s a red flag. Cats are generally very space-aware and coordinated, but when they are sick, their coordination may suffer and they can become clumsy.
That could also sometimes happen with age, but unless your cat is a senior, such change is definitely neither natural nor harmless. You absolutely have to pay attention to that and try to investigate the cause.
Some obvious signs that your cat is sick are excessive discharge from its ears, eyes or nose. Anything that looks unusual should trigger your attention. Another sign of the potential disease is high temperature. Cats’ natural temperature is around 99.5-102.5 Fahrenheit. If your cat’s warmer than 103 Fahrenheit, that is a sign of fever and should be looked at. Not that you are going to chase your cat with a thermometer, but if you see other signs of distress or illness, your vet will definitely want to check your kitty’s temperature.
Common Siberian cats health problems and diseases
Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM)
One particularly bad disease that’s also particularly common for Siberian cats is Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM). It’s a heart muscle disease that causes heart wall to thicken and eventually leads to heart failure in cats. It can also lead to fluid in the lungs or death from blood clots.
HCM is a hereditary, genetic disease that runs in a very large number of Siberian cat lines (almost all of them, according to some sources). Genetic pedigree analysis has shown that originally cats with HCM entered the breeding pool in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Germany and the United States.
Currently, it is widespread in Siberian cats throughout the world. Just one bad gene is enough to predispose the cat to this disease at some point in its life.
Cats most often display the signs of the disease in the middle/senior age, when they are around 10 years old, but sometimes as young as five or three years old or earlier! If one or both of the kitten’s parents had HCM, unfortunately, it is almost guaranteed that the kitten will also develop it.
Genetic HCM diagnosis is somewhat complicated as there are several different gene mutations that can cause it. A vet may find a test negative for one of the mutations. However, that doesn’t guarantee that another gene mutation will not cause the disease.
Siberian cats are a relatively young breed, and HCM in Siberians is still actively researched, which means there are great chances that more clarity and better diagnosis plan will be developed.
HCM is particularly prevalent in lines with increased inbreeding. (When members of the same family are bred to each other). A good breeder will always be aware of risks associated with inbreeding (not just HCM, but many other genetic diseases and conditions!) and will keep it to a reasonable minimum.
It’s extremely important to request papers from the breeder that prove that HCM is not present in their cats’ lines. A reputable cattery that cares about the health of their cats will thoroughly screen their breeding cats for this disease and exclude the cats that have it from breeding. That is true of any reputable breeder in North America and partially Europe.
In Russia, however, many cat clubs and catteries will avoid disclosing information about HCM or testing for HCM and will continue breeding cats with HCM. Any future kitten owner needs to be aware of the breeder’s standing on HCM and never support a breeder that continues breeding a cat with HCM or selling kittens with HCM. It’s cruel to the cats (and to their owners!).
Symptoms of HCM in Siberian cats
The symptoms of HCM can be different depending on which gene mutations are causing HCM in a particular cat. In most cases, HCM is not diagnosed due to any visible symptoms. It is often revealed at a vet checkup when a vet finds that a cat has a heart murmur or irregular heartbeat. Not something you can find on your own.
Some visible symptoms, when they arise, may include shortness of breath, laboured breathing, loss of appetite, lethargy, tendency to hide in dark places and a general decrease of activity in your cat. Some more extreme symptoms could include loss of limb function because of obstructed blood flow (blood clots), stroke, sometimes even sudden death without any visible precursors.
Diagnosis of HCM
If you suspect that your cat may have HCM, you have to get your cat professionally assessed by a vet, including x-rays, blood pressure test, EKG and Echo-cardiogram (ultrasound examination of the heart.) Do this even if your cat or kitten is still relatively young. This disease is not picky in terms of the patient’s age. The sooner you diagnose it, the more chances you have to find the right medication and help your kitten live a longer and healthier life.
Treatment of HCM
If your cat has been confirmed to have HCM, your vet will work with you to create a medication plan to stabilise and improve your kitty’s condition. It may include medication to relax the heart wall (beta blockers or calcium channel blockers), blood thinners and possibly diuretics to prevent fluid accumulation. The types of medication and dosage depend on the severity of the condition.
Don’t despair if your cat has been diagnosed with HCM. With the right medication, you can prolong their life and keep the quality of it quite high to still enjoy the years you will spend with your kitty.
Poly-cystic Kidney Disease (PKD) in Siberian Cats
Another hereditary disease that’s fairly common for Siberian cats is Poly-cystic Kidney Disease (PKD). It is a genetic mutation that leads to the development of benign cysts in the cat’s kidneys and other organs. It has been traditionally a disease common to another breed of cats – Persian Cats. A few breeders from Russia included Persian cats in their Siberian cats breeding programs to thicken the fur and round the face of the cat. Thus the disease spread among the Siberian cats.
This disease normally rears its ugly head when a cat is around seven or ten years old, but it can occur earlier or later in life. Until it starts progressing, the disease may not have any symptoms, and even your vet won’t detect anything while manually inspecting your cat.
Although the cats that have the PKD mutation genes will have abnormal kidney structure at birth, the cysts in their kidneys are so small they can not be detected and do not cause symptoms until a certain age. However, as the disease progresses, the cysts tend to grow, eventually changing the whole structure of the kidney and replacing the normal tissues altogether. Often they spread and are found in other organs.
Presence and growth of cysts in the kidneys causes chronic kidney disease and eventually kidney failure in cats. The symptoms are those of chronic systemic toxicity, as the kidneys are unable to flush toxins from the body. Your cat may show the signs of low appetite, vomiting, suppressed urinary activity, general low activity/lethargy. However, most of these symptoms will not occur until at least 2/3 of the kidney function is not gone due to the disease.
Your vet will be able to screen your cat for PKD by ultrasound. Unfortunately, there is no way to stop the disease or cure your cat if it has the PKD gene mutations. The cysts will develop and grow and the cat will eventually die from Kidney disease or kidney failure. However, there are ways to slow the disease down and prolong the cat’s quality life by quite a few years. This includes special medication that supports supplementation of proteins and liquids and other supporting drugs.
Cancer in Siberian cats
Cancer is a disease characterised by the uncontrolled and aggressive growth of cells in the body, which can affect almost any organ and lead to devastating consequences. Just like in humans, cancer takes many cats lives annually, especially those of older cats. Cancer can and should be treated if diagnosed: provided it has been found early enough, it can be controlled and your pet can have a long life with fairly good quality.
The first symptom of cat cancer is usually a lump or a bump in the body. If you ever discover something like that in your cat, take it to the vet! You could also suspect cancer if your cat has an unusual odour, if it has sores that don’t heal, stiffness in its body, loss of appetite, chronic fatigue, weight loss, difficulty eating and eliminating, raised temperature, unusual bodily discharge.
Remember however that those signs could also be symptomatic of some other conditions! If you notice anything unusual about your Siberian, your best bet is to take it to the vet!
A good veterinarian will be able to detect cancer via blood tests, physical exam, x-rays, cytology (observing your cat’s cells), ultra-sound and urine tests. Even though it is daunting to hear that your cat might have this dangerous condition, there are always ways to treat it provided you took action in time!
Your vet might recommend drugs, surgery, chemo, immunotherapy and other methods to eliminate tumours and control further cancerous cell growth in your pet.
Hereditary Cancer in Siberian cats
This genetic form of cancer is caused by the presence of an Oncogene (a gene that causes cancer) in the cat’s genotype. It is currently believed that this particular type of cancer occurs only in pure white Siberian cats, having descended from the particular pure white line of cats. The possibility of cancer development is particularly strong in a white Siberian kitten that came from two white parents. In general, this type of cancer is not very common and you can probably not worry about it too much.
Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) in Siberian cats
Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) is a virus that infects cats, including Siberians, and causes cancer. Yes, a virus can cause cancer! It is one of the most devastating and destructive viruses a cat can contract. It can be transmitted from the affected cats to the healthy ones by ways of saliva or nasal secretions. When cats live together, they often have close contact, for example, mutual grooming.
In such conditions, it is practically guaranteed that all cats involved will be infected. FeLV virus can also be spread with blood or urine. A pregnant cat will pass the virus to her litter through the placenta, or through further grooming and licking.
Once in the cat’s body, a virus can cause an uncontrolled cell growth resulting in tumours (lymphomas) or leukaemia. It can also cause the destruction of a large number of red and white blood cells which leads to various conditions including anaemia.
Finally, it can affect the cat’s immune system, putting the animal at risk of developing many other conditions and diseases, such as anaemia, cancer, chronic skin diseases, respiratory diseases, reproductive and digestive system conditions and many others.
The most common type of tumours associated with FeLV are lymphomas and lymphosarcomas. The cat usually develops such tumours in the first five years after getting infected. Depending on the tumour, various other systems in the body begin to be destroyed.
Lymphoma leads to the destruction of the bone marrow and anaemia. If the kidneys are affected, they grow in size and cause uraemic syndrome which causes weight loss, vomiting and dehydration. If the eyes are affected, glaucoma may develop. There may be multiple tumours in the cat’s intestines, leading to vomiting, bleeding and weight loss.
Some of the other symptoms of Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV) are suppressed appetite, recurring bacterial and viral conditions, infections of the skin, bad coat, bladder and respiratory infections, fatigue, lethargy, fever, hair loss, anaemia, diarrhoea, some behavioural issues like avoiding litter-box and many others.
However, if your cat has contracted the virus, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will be permanently infected, or even that it will ever get sick. A large percent of cats – almost 60%! – have a strong enough immune system to suppress and deactivate, and sometimes even fully destroy the virus.
About 30% of cats cannot fight the virus and become permanently infected. The remaining 10% will have a virus in a dormant, deactivated form in some part of their body. The virus may become activated in their body again at some point later in life if the cat gets sick, experiences stress, or under influence of some drugs.
Unfortunately, out of the chronically infected cats, 80% will die within three years. The rest will have a higher predisposition to developing multiple diseases and dying as well. Remember that if your cat has a dormant virus that never shows any symptoms, it is still a carrier and can pass a virus to another cat in which those symptoms may be more pronounced or even lethal.
Fortunately, FeLV is not transmissible to humans or other pets. (Although the virus does seem to be able to reproduce in human cells in a laboratory setting, and, theoretically, can infect children and people with a depressed immune system. This is why Kids and people with weak immune system should avoid having contact with a FeLV-positive cat).
FeLV in cats was first mentioned in 1964, and the first diagnostic test became available in 1973. That led to extensive testing and elimination of cats with the disease, which greatly reduced the number of infected cats and virus carriers. The first vaccine against FeLV became available in 1986.
Diagnosing Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) in Siberian cats
Since cats infected with Feline Leukaemia Virus have so many varied symptoms, it is a good practice to suspect the virus whenever a cat is exhibiting any of the above-mentioned conditions. Your vet might do a blood test to check the amount of white and red blood cells and detect aberrations. If the disease has progressed to the formation of lymphomas and other tumours, they can sometimes be detected visually during a manual examination. Your vet might also use ultra-sound and x-ray.
If your vet has confirmed your fears and your cat does have Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV), it doesn’t necessarily mean that your cat has no chance to live and has to be put down. If you do not own other cats and there aren’t kids and people with a suppressed immune system in your home, the cat can continue living with you.
Your vet might prescribe various drugs to slow down your cat’s cancer, as well as antibiotics, vitamins, and supplements. These will prolong your cat’s life and make it more comfortable. Unfortunately, the disease cannot be cured as there are no proven effective methods at this point in time.
Leukemia Virus (FeLV) in Siberian cats – Prevention
To prevent cats from contracting the virus and developing the disease, some catteries vaccinate their kittens against FeLV as early as eight weeks of age, while some breeders believe it’s unnecessary. Some catteries constantly screen their animals for Feline Leukaemia. Not every cattery is on board with vaccination as it could be rough or, in very rare cases, even lethal for the kitten.
The general consensus is that, for a house cat, there aren’t that many chances to contract the virus if they are the only cat in the household and don’t venture outside much. Ultimately, unless your kitten already comes vaccinated against it, it’s up to you to make that decision.
Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease in Siberian cats
Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease is a term used to describe a host of symptoms associated with the cat’s difficulty to excrete urine. The actual conditions may include bladder stones, urethral blockage, cancer, infection, inflammation of the bladder and some others.
According to recent research, Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease in Siberian cats is a hereditary disease that runs in many lines. Although the conditions associated with the disease are often painful for cats, they are usually not lethal and can be treated by the vet to improve the quality of your pet’s life.
Causes of Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease in Siberian cats
There are many factors that can cause the development of this disease. For example, the quality of water that your cat drinks. If the water is over-saturated with minerals, it can cause accumulation of calcium in the cat’s urinary tract, which leads to blockages. Too much protein in the cat’s diet can cause urolithiasis (urinary stones). Too much dairy in the diet or vegetarian diet can also cause this.
Lack of vitamin A tends to negatively affect the cat’s urinary tract health. Hormonal imbalances may lead to increased levels of calcium in urine and blood, and sometimes a cat’s anatomical characteristics may create a good environment for increased calcium deposits, all of which leads to urinary tract impermeability, pain while voiding urine and other urinary tract conditions in cats. Infections can also cause or contribute to the disease.
Male cats have a particular predisposition to this host of symptoms. Cats fed a predominantly kibble-based diet are also more predisposed. Other factors include primarily living indoors, obesity and young to middle-aged age.
You may suspect FLUTD in your cat if you notice some of the following signs:
Blood in urine. Take your cat to the vet immediately!
Straining to void urine. If you see your cat take the appropriate position and strain, but nothing is happening or it is only able to pass tiny amounts of urine, that means there is a blockage in the urinary tract. This can be very painful for the cat, so you may hear them mew and otherwise vocalize their attempts.
Sometimes you will notice your cat urinate past the litter-box, in other places of the house. This is because your cat has come to associate the litterbox with pain and wants to avoid it. Also, they might be incontinent due to pain and general discomfort in the urinary system.
Another sign is your cat’s excessive grooming, particularly in the genital area. Cats are prone to licking painful areas that cause them discomfort.
Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease in Siberian cats Treatment
Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease can be very dangerous if not treated. If you suspect that your cat might have any blockages, take them to the vet immediately. The vet will check the cat and if needed, remove the blockage to help the cat void urine.
Sometimes manual manipulations could do the trick. In other cases, a catheter might be used. If the occurrences of the blockage happen again, your cat might need a surgery.
This was an overview of some of the more grave health conditions common to cats in general and Siberian cat in particular. But don’t let this make you feel negative. The health of your cat is, to a large degree, in your hands. If you watch them closely, feed them right, give them plenty of exercise and love, your cat will stay healthy and happy for many, many years.
*Some of the research in this article was based on materials from:
An article on Feline Leukemia here (www.sib-cats.com)