Cat glossary

A glossary of cat terms, feline behaviour, diseases and much, much more!

Begin your search by clicking on your chosen letter from the alphabet below. Use the 'Back to top' link to return here.

Please note: If you have any concerns about your cat’s health or behaviour always contact your veterinary surgeon. This glossary is designed to give you basic information and should not be seen as a replacement for veterinary advice.

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J-K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W-X-Y-Z

A

  • Abscess
    An infected swelling, often seen on the tail, head or back of a cat. Usually caused by a cat bite. Affected animals feel ill, go off their food and have high temperatures, so veterinary attention is usually required. The abscess may rupture and pus will leak out.
  • Acne
    A skin problem affecting cats at any age. Spots, blackheads and crusting occur on the cat's chin. The condition may require antibiotics but mild cases may resolve without treatment.
  • Aggression
    Cats that are aggressive can be very dangerous and veterinary advice should be sought if a cat is persistently aggressive towards people. There are many different causes of aggressive behaviour ranging from fear, to over-exuberant play.
  • Allergy
    An 'over- reaction' to a normally harmless substance by the body. Individual animals may develop an allergy to a single 'allergen' or several different allergens. A variety of things are known to cause allergic signs in cats including foods, pollens or the saliva of a flea bite. Affected cats may develop skin problems, or experience digestive upsets. For a true allergy to develop the cat will have had previous contact with the allergen, during which 'sensitisation' occurs. Sensitisation can occur at any time, so a cat can become allergic to a food it has been eating happily for some years. The allergic reaction will occur when the cat next meets the allergen after sensitisation.
  • Alopecia
    Hair loss due to any cause. One of the most common causes of hair loss in cats is due to an allergy to flea bites.
  • Anaemia
    Anaemia occurs when there is a decreased amount of red blood cells, or the amount of haemoglobin in the cells, in the circulatory system. There are many different causes of anaemia in cats including blood loss due to haemorrhage, the presence of blood parasites, or viruses such as feline leukaemia.
  • Anorexia
    Lack or loss of appetite for food due to any cause. Sensitive cats may lose their appetite when first re-homed, or due to any emotional upset. Loss of appetite can also be one of the first signs of illness.
  • Antioxidants
    There are natural antioxidants, such as enzymes, vitamins and minerals, within the cat's body. These are designed to protect the body from damage caused by substances called free radicals that are produced during day-to day metabolism. Unless 'mopped up' by the body free radicals can damage cells. As a cat gets older it may get less efficient at mopping up free radicals and this has been implicated as a factor in the ageing process. It has been suggested that providing more natural antioxidants in the food may keep a cat healthier for a longer time.

    Some antioxidants that are present in dry food have been added to extend the shelf life of the food. Canned foods are preserved by heat sterilisation and sealing and do not require the addition of antioxidants.
  • Antifreeze
    Antifreeze, screen-wash and some de-icers may contain ethylene glycol, which is toxic to cats. It is sweet tasting and attractive to animals but even small quantities can be life threatening so ensure they are stored out of reach and clean up any spillages straight away. If antifreeze must be used in water features, be sure that animals can’t get close enough to use it as a drinking source. Signs of poisoning may include depression, lethargy and vomiting. If you think there is a chance your cat may have ingested ethylene glycol, veterinary attention should be immediately sought.
  • Anxiety
    Anxiety is an emotional state in the cat, as it is in people. Anxiety occurs when a cat is in an environment or situation where he or she feels insecure and cannot predict what will happen. It is a problem for a cat's welfare if it feels anxious for more than short periods of time. Cats can respond to anxiety in different ways. Some cats can become very inactive, quiet and still. Other cats display more active responses, including behaviours that owners find unacceptable, such as urine spraying or vocalizing. Punishing cats for these behaviours is likely to make them more anxious and may make the situation worse. Help is available from veterinary surgeons, or by referral from your vet to a behaviourist who specialises in dealing with the behavioural problems of cats and other pets.
  • Arthritis
    A condition involving inflammation of the joints. Cats most often suffer from osteoarthritis associated with old age, or previous injury to the joint. Other types of arthritis can also affect cats and these include arthritis due to diseases of the immune system and infectious causes. Signs of arthritis include reduced movement within the joint, joint swelling and pain, lameness, and inability to jump up, or easily move around.
  • Ash
    This is the term found on pet-food labels to describe the amount of minerals in the food.
  • Aspirin
    This medicine is potentially poisonous to cats because they cannot clear it from their bodies. It is dangerous for cat owners to give this medicine to their cats without appropriate veterinary advice.
  • Asthma
    This is a condition that mainly affects young and middle aged cats. Affected animals will cough or wheeze. Treatment commonly involves the use of steroid medicines. Exposure to dusty, clay type cat litter may make the condition worse.

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B

  • Bite
    Cats bitten by other cats will commonly develop abscesses. If a cat bites a person and the skin is punctured, the wound will invariably become infected and it is wise to seek medical advice immediately after being bitten by a cat.
  • Blood sample
    A useful way to diagnose many kinds of illness in cats. Blood samples may be taken from a leg vein, or from the jugular vein in the neck.
  • Booster
    Top up vaccinations, given to cats at approximately yearly intervals, or as advised by your veterinary surgeon.
  • Bordetella bronchiseptica
    A bacteria that was commonly associated with Kennel Cough in dogs and can cause respiratory disease in some cats. A vaccination is now available for cats assessed as being at risk.

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C

  • Calculus
    Another term for tartar that accumulates on teeth. Calculus is made up of plaque that has become mineralised; is hard and yellow-brown in colour.
  • Calla Lily
    A very poisonous plant if the flower head is chewed or eaten by cats. Signs include diarrhoea, vomiting, and progression to coma.
  • Carbohydrate
    It is not essential that cats have any carbohydrate in their diets but they can use it as a source of energy. Dry foods contain carbohydrates and some canned foods are completely free of carbohydrate.
  • Cardiomyopathy
    A disease of the heart muscle that can result in heart failure. Two types exist: dilated or hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Dilated cardiomyopathy is associated with insufficient taurine in the diet. Petfood manufacturers add taurine to pet-food sold for cats.
  • Carrier
    A cat carrier may be used to safely contain and transport a cat. Strong cardboard and plastic cat carriers are available but if the carrier is to be used frequently a stronger plastic or wire carrier can be purchased from a pet shop or vet's surgery.
  • Carrier
    Cats can become carriers of some viruses once infected. Depending on the virus it may become 'latent' (inactive) and reactivate when the cat is stressed. If the virus is 'shed' (excreted from the body) it can then infect other cats. Shedding can occur continuously, or intermittently (usually after stress). Cats that are carriers of viruses may not show any outward signs that they are infected: these are called asymptomatic carriers.
  • Castrate/ Castration
    The operation to neuter a male cat. This involves removal of the testicles under general anaesthetic.
  • Catnip
    A herb that some cats respond to and some cats ignore. The ability to respond to catnip may be due to a cat's genetic make up. Cats that do respond often have a very positive response and scattering catnip around a scratching post can be a good way to get the cat to use it.
  • Cattery
    A building where cats are kept. This could include a rescue cattery, a breeding cattery or boarding cattery. It is common to have special precautions taken against the spread of disease in a cattery- this includes the use of suitable disinfectants and the construction of pens with gaps between them so that cats cannot go nose-to-nose. Good catteries will only accept cats with a full vaccination history.
  • Cheyletiella
    A mite that can cause skin problems in cats. It may cause itching but not always. It is usual to see lots of dandruff or scaling in affected cats. The mite sometimes affects people.
  • Chiggers
    Harvest mites. These are small orange-red mites that cause intense itching, particularly on the feet, at harvest time.
  • Chlamydophila (previously known as Chlamydia)
    This is a special kind of bacteria that can cause eye infections in cats. Affected cats may also suffer from mild flu like illness. Several weeks worth of antibiotics are required to treat this infection. A vaccine is also available against chlamydophila.
  • Collars
    Although many cat owners like their cats to wear collars for identification purposes, they are not without risk. Even quick release collars can get snagged on branches and injuries can occur if a paw or limb becomes trapped in the collar. Some cats also experience allergic reactions to the materials that collars are made from. A microchip is a preferable form of identification.
  • Colostrum
    The first milk produced by a queen contains important antibodies that help protect kittens from infections.
  • Colourpoint
    A breed of cat that resulted from longhaired cats with Siamese colouring that has become established as a recognised breed.
  • Constipation
    An inability to pass faeces, often characterised by straining. Fractures of the pelvis, old age and conditions where the colon does not move as it should (such as megacolon) can cause cats to become constipated.
  • Creatinine
    A substance produced by body metabolism that is normally excreted from the body by the kidney. If the kidneys are damaged the body retains the creatinine and levels in the blood will rise. The level of creatinine in the blood is commonly used as part of the diagnosis and monitoring of kidney disease.
  • Croton (Joseph's Coat)
    A houseplant that is poisonous to cats if eaten, or contact is made with the sap. If chewed the mouth and skin around the mouth blister. If the plant is consumed it is much more serious and vomiting and diarrhoea can progress to muscular tremors and death.

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D

  • Deadly Nightshade
    Cats are very sensitive to the poisonous effects of this plant. The berries of the plant contain toxins that are very concentrated. The signs are an intense thirst, nausea, dizziness and progression to coma.
  • Deafness
    Although deafness is relatively rare in cats in general, white cats can frequently be deaf, especially blue-eyed white cats. As they won't be able to hear vocal signs from you, you may need to use more visual signs when communicating with them. Cats with diseases in their ears, such as polyps, may have reduced ability to hear.
  • Dehydration
    Loss of body fluid can result in dehydration if the cat is not given the opportunity to replace the fluid by drinking, or if the loss of fluid exceeds the cat's ability to replace the fluid (for instance due to repeated vomiting). If dehydration is uncorrected the cat can go into shock. Young kittens dehydrate more quickly than adult cats. Signs of dehydration include weakness, dry, tacky mouth and gums and loss of skin elasticity.
  • Diabetes
    Different types of diabetes exist in cats and the condition may be seen in overweight cats. Also cats can experience significant weight loss as a result of the condition. Depending on the type of diabetes present, insulin is not always given as part of the treatment. Excessive thirst, urination and increased appetite may be seen.
  • Diarrhoea
    Can have a huge variety of causes from viruses to bacteria, parasites or disease in other organs. If left untreated severe diarrhoea can cause dehydration but many mild cases of diarrhoea resolve without treatment.
  • Dieffenbachia (Leopard Lily, Dumbcane)
    This plant is poisonous to cats if chewed. The sap is also an eye irritant. If eaten breathing difficulties and blindness can occur.
  • Dilated cardiomyopathy
    A heart condition that can result in heart failure. A cause of this disease is insufficient taurine in the diet. Manufactured pet-foods now contain added taurine and this condition is rarely seen now.
  • Dipylidium
    A type of tapeworm.
  • Distemper
    Cat distemper is the name some people give to feline panleukopaenia infection, or as it is also known, feline infectious enteritis.
  • Dog Food
    Dog food is not a suitable food for cats as dogs have different nutritional requirements and the food will be deficient in some nutrients if fed to cats.
  • Drop-on
    Some parasite treatments are now available in a drop-on form where a small amount of liquid is placed on the skin on the back of the cat's neck to give residual protection for some weeks. Infestation of fleas and other parasites can be treated in this way.
  • Dyspnoea
    Difficulty breathing. Any cat suffering from dyspnoea should receive immediate veterinary attention.

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E

  • Ear mites
    Mites that live in the cat's ear canal and cause irritation and the build up of dark brown wax. Cats and other dogs that are in contact with an affected cat may also require treatment.
  • Elizabethan collar
    A specially designed cone made of plastic or card that may be slipped over the head and attached to a cat's collar. The aim of the Elizabethan collar is to prevent a cat from licking or biting at a wound, or skin lesion on the body, allowing healing to take place.
  • Enteritis
    Inflammation of the intestine, generally resulting in diarrhoea. No indication of the cause is given by the use of this term.
  • Eosinophilic granuloma complex
    Term used to describe three distinct syndromes: eosinophilic plaque, eosinophilic granuloma, and rodent or indolent ulcer. They're grouped together because they look very similar, often occur at the same time and usually respond to steroid treatment.
  • Evening Primrose oil
    A supplement that is sometimes suggested as being useful in improving a cat's skin condition.

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F

  • Fading kittens
    Kittens that are born apparently healthy but die early in life, normally before around two weeks of age, are usually considered to be due to fading kitten syndrome. The cause may be infection, poor nutrition, or congenital abnormalities.
  • Fats
    A source of energy in the cat's diet. Certain fatty acids found in fats are essential to cats and have to be included within diet for a cat to remain healthy.
  • Fear
    Fear is an emotional state in the cat. It is normal for cats to experience fear when they come across a situation that they have not encountered before. Cats that are not socialised to people as kittens, for example, will feel fear when approached by people. Cats will also feel fear if in situations that they have learnt mean something bad. Cats most often respond to fear by running away, hiding or climbing up high. If cornered, however, cats that are fearful will often show aggression.
  • Feral
    Cats that have not been socialised by people and live in a wild state.
  • Feline calicivirus (FCV)
    A virus that can cause 'flu like signs such as sneezing, runny eyes and nose and occasionally pneumonia. Often ulceration of the nostrils or inside the mouth occurs. Around half of the cats infected with this virus subsequently become carriers and they shed the virus continuously for long periods of time. There are many different strains of this virus so it can be difficult to control even if cats are vaccinated.
  • Feline dysautonomia/Keye Gaskell Syndrome
    A condition seen sporadically in cats. Associated with problems of the oesophagus and colon. The cause is, as yet, unknown.
  • Feline herpesvirus (FHV)
    Another virus that causes 'flu like signs. Affected cats may go off their food and run a high temperature in addition to experiencing sneezing, runny eyes and nose. Around 80 per cent of cats infected with this virus become carriers but they will only shed the virus intermittently (for around two weeks) about one week after experiencing stress of any kind.
  • Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV)
    This virus is mainly transmitted through cats biting each other or a mother may pass the infection to her kittens. Affected cats have a poorly functioning immune system and are vulnerable to developing a variety of secondary infections such as mouth infections, chest infections and gut problems. Weight loss and loss of appetite may also be seen. Mild disease that comes and goes may be seen in the early stages but this becomes more persistent and severe over time.
  • Feline infectious enteritis/feline panleukopaenia (FIE)
    This is a disease caused by a virus. Signs include vomiting, diarrhoea and fever. Affected cats become very ill and prompt treatment is necessary if a cat is to survive. The virus can live for many years in the environment. There are good vaccines available against FIE.
  • Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP).
    This disease is thought to be caused by mutation of a virus that is quite widespread so sporadic cases of FIP are seen from time to time. The disease is seen most commonly in multi-cat households, affects young cats and is usually fatal. More than one form of the disease exist so the signs can be quite variable. They include progressive eye and neurological problems in the 'dry' form and fluid accumulation in the abdomen and chest in the 'wet' form, although both types can appear together.
  • Feline leukaemia virus (FeLV)
    This virus is mainly spread through saliva exchanged between cats during mutual grooming, from bites, or from an infected mother to her kittens. After being infected cats may show no signs for months or even years. Signs that develop include anaemia and other blood disorders, diseases of the immune system and secondary infections. Most cats will die within three years. A vaccine is available against FeLV but may not always offer complete protection.
  • Feline lower urinary tract disease/feline urological syndrome (FLUTD/ FUS)
    This is a blanket term that refers to urinary tract disease caused by a variety of things. Signs include straining to pass urine, blood in the urine, passing small amounts and crying out when urine is passed. Stones (or calculi) may have formed from crystals and be causing an obstruction but sometimes there are no stones or obstructions and the disease can be due to bacterial infection, or to a form called 'Idiopathic' where no one knows the real cause. Some cats appear to be prone to developing this condition and it may be exacerbated by stress.
  • Ficus
    Plants of this species include the rubber plant, weeping and variegated figs. Chewing or eating the leaves gives cats diarrhoea with mild vomiting, which normally settles after a few days.
  • Fish
    Fish is a good source of protein and is enjoyed by many cats. Some types of fish have an enzyme that destroys the vitamin thiamin and cats fed a diet high in raw fish have been known to develop a thiamin deficiency. Thiamin deficiency causes severe neurological problems progressing to seizures. Commercial cat foods contain added thiamin.
  • Fits
    Epilepsy occurs in cats but is not very common. Seizures can also occur due to poisoning, brain tumours and viruses such as FIP.
  • Fleas
    These small parasites commonly affect cats and can be eliminated by using some of the very effective flea treatments that are available. Fleas lay eggs that hatch out as larvae and these can be present in the cat's bed and throughout the home so it may be necessary to also treat the environment. Fleas used to be a seasonal problem but in centrally heated homes and mild climates can be present all year round.
  • Food allergy
    Cats can become allergic to foods they have previously eaten without any problems. The most common allergens are milk, fish, and beef. Itchy skin around the face and neck or digestive upsets may be an indication that an allergy has developed.
  • Food intolerance
    The signs of food intolerance can be very similar to food allergy. A common food intolerance in cats is to milk. The ability to digest milk sugar, lactose, can be lost after weaning and if milk is fed diarrhoea may develop. This can be related to the quantity of milk offered.

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G

  • Gingivitis
    Inflammation of the gums, may be associated with dental disease.

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H

  • Hairballs/furballs
    A mass of hair, swallowed during grooming, that lodges in the gut and may be vomited up. Various pastes and some foods aim to ease the passage of hairballs through the gut.
  • Hepatic lipidosis
    This condition can result in the accumulation of fats in the liver, causing weakness, jaundice and progression to liver failure. Restricting food too strictly can also induce hepatic lipidosis.
  • Hyperthyroidism
    A very common condition of older cats. Characterised by weight loss, an insatiable appetite, rough unkempt coat and in some cases behavioural changes (such as aggression or hyperactivity). Can be treated by surgical removal of the thyroid gland, with radiation therapy or with medication.
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
    A form of heart disease that mainly affects middle-aged cats. Respiratory distress can appear quite suddenly or cats may seem lethargic or start fainting. Sudden collapse is a possibility.

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I

  • Infrared lamp
    Used as a heat source to keep newborn kittens and sick cats warm. Lamps should be suspended high enough to avoid burning (usually around one metre).
  • Intramuscular
    Into the muscle: This term is usually used with reference to injections that are given into the cat's muscle.
  • Intravenous
    Into the vein: Mainly used with reference to injections given into the vein. Substances injected in this way include some anaesthetic agents.

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K

  • Kidney disease
    It is very common for older cats to suffer from kidney disease due to degeneration of this organ with age. Signs include increased thirst, increased urination, loss of appetite, weight loss, dull coat and vomiting.
  • Kitten
    A young cat. It can take 6-12 months for a kitten to reach adult size and it is normally recommended that kitten foods should be fed until the cat is 12 months old.

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L

  • Lactose
    A milk sugar that many cats find difficult to digest. Giving cats cow's milk, especially in large quantities, may cause diarrhoea because of this
  • Lice
    The cat louse is a biting louse and tends to stay on a cat rather than transfer to other species. Signs include itching or a greasy coat, although sometimes no signs are seen at all. Lice and their eggs can normally be seen by the naked eye.
  • Lilies
    Lilies are extremely poisonous to cats if eaten, or if the pollen is ingested. Signs of poisoning can include continued vomiting, blindness, paralysis, renal failure, coma and death. Seek veterinary assistance immediately if you suspect lily poisoning.
  • Lily of the Valley
    This plant can be poisonous to cats if eaten, although cats rarely seem to choose to eat it.
  • Litter
    Material placed in a litter tray to absorb liquids and reduce odours. Many different types are available and some cats have distinct preferences over the type of litter they will use. Litter trays should generally be cleaned out once a day.
  • Liver
    Raw liver is eagerly accepted as a food by cats and small amounts can be useful to stimulate the appetite in a cat that is off its food. However liver can be addictive leading the cat to reject all other foods. Too much liver can provide excessive amounts of vitamin A and this can result in severe bone problems.

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M

  • Maggots
    Flies lay eggs that hatch out as maggots. These can be seen in canned food that is left out on a hot day. Maggots may also infest wounds that have been neglected.
  • Mat
    A knot of hair that results if a longhaired cat is not combed regularly and can be a sign of ill health. It can be difficult to remove a mat as the hair can knot right down to the skin. Some cats have to be sedated before the offending mat can be shaved off.
  • Microchipping
    A way to 'tag' cats so that if lost they can be reunited with their owners. The process involves injecting a microchip under the skin, usually between the shoulder blades. The cat's owner and their contact details are then registered with a centrally held database along with details of the code. Rescue Centres and vets usually keep the scanners that allow the microchip details to be read: the device is simply passed over the cat and the code appears on screen. The advantage of microchipping is that it is a permanent form of identification, unlike collars and tags that may be lost or result in injury to the animal.
  • Milk
    Some cats cannot drink milk as it can cause a digestive upset.
  • Milk substitute
    The milk produced by a female cat for her kittens is of a very different composition to cow's milk. Orphaned kittens have to be raised on a special milk substitute formulated specifically for cats.

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N

  • Neck lesion
    Holes that appear in a cat's teeth along the gum line are referred to as neck lesions. These differ from dental cavities in people and the cause of them is unknown. They are very painful and may result in tooth loss, sometimes with the tooth roots being retained.
  • Neoplasia
    The formation of neoplasm (or cancer). This is a tumour or any new or abnormal growth, especially one in which cell multiplication is uncontrolled and progressive. (Neoplasm can be benign or malignant).
  • Neutering
    The operation in a male or female cat where the reproductive organs are removed. This is often carried out between five and six months of age but can be done when the kitten is even younger (cats can reach sexually maturity at four months).

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O

  • Obesity
    An increasing number of cats in the UK are overweight. Overfeeding and lack of exercise are the principle causes. Encouraging the cat to play, feeding portion controlled meals and cutting out food treats (including milk) will help most cats lose weight. Weight loss should be gradual and very overweight cats will benefit from veterinary supervision of their weight loss programme.
  • Oestrus
    A cat's reproductive cycle or 'heat'. The oestrus cycle in the cat is triggered by changes in daylight.
  • Oocysts
    The resistant stage of the life cycle of coccidial parasites (present in a cat's intestinal tract, also found in the liver and other organs).
  • Oxalate
    Cats can suffer from bladder problems as a result of oxalate crystals or calculi (bladder stones) developing. Special diets and surgery may be required as treatment.

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P

  • Pain
    It can be difficult to identify pain in cats. Yowling and meowing are not necessarily the best ways to assess pain, because, in fact, most cats experiencing pain go off their food, may be quieter or more aggressive than usual, may have disrupted sleep patterns or spend more time away from the owner. Cats are very good at masking signs of illness and pain and it can be harder to treat an illness if it is more advanced by the time it is recognised.
  • Paracetamol
    Extremely toxic to cats and should never be given by cat owners.
  • Pasturella
    A bacteria that is commonly found in cats' mouths. This can infect people who are bitten by cats, resulting in infected wounds. Also cats can suffer abscesses because of pasturella passed on through bite wounds.
  • Pelvis
    The bony structure at the end of the spine that supports the back legs. May be fractured in cats involved in road traffic accidents. In the majority of cases rest will allow adequate healing, although more complicated fractures could require surgery.
  • Periodontal disease
    Disease in the tissues supporting the tooth that can result in loosening of the tooth and the introduction of bacterial infections into the blood stream. Brushing is a good way to avoid this condition but not all cats accept tooth brushing well.
  • PETS Scheme
    A scheme allowing pets to travel abroad to certain countries without having to go into quarantine on their return to the UK. The pet must travel by a certain route to approved countries only. The pet must also have been microchipped for identification purposes and have received a Rabies Vaccination. Certain other conditions apply. Well in advance of travelling contact DEFRA, or your veterinary surgeon, for full information about the scheme.
  • Phenols
    Disinfectants that contain phenols are poisonous to cats if consumed. They result in damage to the lips and mouth, colic and progression to fits that may result in death.
  • Philodendron
    A popular houseplant with large glossy leaves, poisonous to cats. Effects can occur through contact or if the plant is eaten. Signs include vomiting, diarrhoea and progression to fits, potentially resulting in death.
  • Pica
    Eating of non-food items such as wool and fabrics. This is believed to be an inherited condition, mainly affecting Siamese and Siamese crosses, as well as other breeds.
  • Pinnae
    Ear flaps
  • Plants
    Many common house and garden plants are poisonous to cats. Care should be taken to avoid allowing access to such plants. It is normal for cats to eat grass and this can be encouraged in indoor cats by providing trays of grass.
  • Plaque
    Soft material that accumulates on tooth surfaces. Plaque is mainly made up of bacteria and can cause gum disease. Plaque can be removed from cats' teeth by brushing, providing toys that can be chewed on and by feeding some dry cat foods.
  • Poinsetta
    A houseplant with bright red bracts, commonly sold at Christmas time that is poisonous to cats. Contact with sap can cause irritation, or if the plant is eaten vomiting, diarrhoea and tremors may be seen. Most cats will recover.
  • Polycystic kidney disease (PKD)
    A disease where cysts (fluid-filled sacs) have formed in the kidney. These enlarge through life eventually resulting in kidney failure. Persians are very prone to PKD and the condition is inherited in this breed and some related breeds.
  • Polydactyl
    Extra toes. Quite common in cats, especially on the front feet.
  • Polydipsia
    Excessive thirst. Can be a sign of kidney disease, diabetes or a number of other conditions.
  • Polyps
    A growth or mass protruding from a mucous membrane. They occur wherever there is a mucous membrane: in the nose, ears, mouth, lungs, heart, stomach, intestines, urinary bladder, uterus and cervix. When occurring in the ears, the cat may have reduced hearing ability.
  • Polyuria
    Excessive urination. Can be a sign of kidney disease, diabetes or a number of other conditions.
  • Protein
    A nutrient that is essential to the cat's health. Cats cannot survive on vegetable proteins alone and must have meat in their diet. Cats require higher levels of protein than dogs and it is not suitable to feed a cat on dog food.
  • Psychogenic alopecia
    Cats will often groom their coat in response to upsetting situations. This may escalate to the point where hair loss and skin damage can occur due to excessive grooming.
  • Puberty (the age of sexual maturity)
    Usually occurs around five to eight months in cats, although it can occur as early as four months depending on the breed of cat. Males reach puberty later than female cats.

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Q

  • Quarantine
    Cats may have to be kept in quarantine for six months on entry to the UK. If the cat has traveled to certain countries on the PETS scheme and all the conditions have been met, no quarantine will be necessary.
  • Queen
    Female, non-neutered adult cat.

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R

  • Rabies
    This virus infection is not present in the UK but if a cat is to travel abroad it will be required to have a vaccination against rabies.
  • Radiograph
    X ray. Cats often need to be sedated to allow a radiograph to be taken safely.
  • Renal
    To do with the kidneys. Renal disease is common in older cats.
  • Rhododendron
    Flowering plant in gardens that is poisonous to cats. Eating the leaves causes vomiting, diarrhoea and can potentially result in death.
  • Ringworm
    A fungus that can cause hair loss in cats. The hair loss may be patchy in appearance, or the hair may just look thinner all over. Longhaired cats are often particularly badly affected. Can also cause hair loss and skin disease in people in contact with the affected cat so good hygiene measures are essential. Veterinary treatment is required.
  • Rodent or indolent ulcer
    An ulcer that appears on the upper lip. Usually responds to treatment with steroids.
  • Roundworm
    A worm that lives in the cat's intestine. Looks long, thin and spaghetti like. Young cats are mainly affected and signs include a pot belly, poor coat and diarrhoea. Kittens should be treated regularly to eliminate worms.

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S

  • Sarcoma
    A type of tumour. Very aggressive in nature and can be difficult to remove in such a way as to avoid recurrence. There has been discussion of this type of tumour appearing in association with certain vaccines the prevalence of this type of tumour still remains very low in the UK cat population.
  • Scratching
    A natural cat behaviour. Indoor cats should be given opportunities to scratch through the provision of a scratching post or suitable branches.
  • Sealpoint
    The darker seal brown colouration found on Siamese cats on the face, ears and legs. Numerous colour variations have now been bred including Lilac Point, Blue Point, Chocolate Point and so on.
  • Senior
    An older cat, usually cats are termed senior when eight years old and over.
  • Shedding
    Infected cats may be able to shed certain viruses in secretions for variable periods after infection. This presents a possible source of infection to other cats.
  • Slug bait (metaldehyde)
    Although some brands contain cat repellents, slug bait containing metaldehyde can cause seizures or death within a few hours of being eaten by a cat.
  • Snufflers
    Cats that have had 'flu infections in the past sometimes have damage to their nasal cavities and may always appear to have a runny, 'snuffly' nose and nasal congestion.
  • Socialisation
    The 'socialisation period' occurs in the kitten between approximately two and eight weeks of age. During this period, the kitten learns to accept everything it comes across as 'normal'. After eight weeks of age kittens will tend to be fearful of new things that they come across. This means that it is important for kittens to be exposed to the sights, sounds, smells and textures of as many aspects of the domestic environment as possible during the first eight weeks of their lives. This ensures that the kitten becomes a well-adjusted adult cat that is able to cope with exposure to and interaction with a variety of things.
  • Spay
    The operation to remove a female cat's uterus and ovaries so that she no longer comes into season and cannot have kittens.
  • Spraying
    This is the characteristic urine marking behaviour shown by cats. Most people choose to have their tomcat neutered because of concerns over spraying. However, neutered male cats and female cats also spray. This is a form of territory marking so can occur outdoors. If a cat starts to spray indoors it may be because of a perceived threat such as a new arrival in the home, redecoration or a change in the room layout.
  • Sprays
    Coat conditioners or anti-flea products may be presented as a spray. Many cats will panic or lash out if confronted with a spray, probably because the sound of the spray sounds like another cat hissing. Low noise and non-aerosol sprays may be better accepted.
  • Stress
    Stress describes the internal changes that occur in a cat's physiology when something changes in its environment. The stress response is a very adaptive change that enables the cat to be able to show an appropriate behavioural response in changing circumstances. Once the cat has shown a behavioural response, the stress response declines. Stress responses occur in response to both 'good' and 'bad' changes in the cat's environment. Stress becomes a problem if it lasts over a prolonged period of time, as it can lead to the development of abnormal patterns of behaviour and to certain types of disease in cats.
  • Struvite
    A type of crystal found in the urine of normal cats. High quantities of crystals can cause signs of bladder disease accompanied by problems with urination. Stones, or calculi, can form if the concentration of crystals is high enough and this can lead to blockage of the urinary tract, requiring surgical intervention.
  • Subcutaneous
    Under the skin: Normally used with reference to injections given under the cat's skin.
  • Swiss cheese plant (Monstera)
    A large houseplant that is poisonous to cats. Chewing of the leaves results in irritation of the lips and mouth. Most cats recover well.

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T

  • Tablets
    Giving cats tablets can be difficult. Your veterinary practice should be able to demonstrate a safe way to give medication. Sometimes alternative ways to medicate are available such as giving a treatment by injection, in liquid form by mouth or as a drop-on applied to the skin.
  • Taenia
    A type of tapeworm.
  • Tapeworm
    An intestinal parasite that looks flat and may appear like a small grain of rice around the anus. Caught through flea infestation, or by eating raw meat or prey. Treatment may be needed every six weeks if the source of infection cannot be eliminated. Adult cats are most commonly affected.
  • Tartar
    A material that builds up on teeth overtime. Used inter-changeably with the term calculus.
  • Taurine
    A nutrient that is required by cats and must be supplied in the diet. Other animals can make their own supply of taurine in their body but the cat cannot. Commercial pet-foods contain added taurine.
  • Tea Tree
    Tea Tree oil can be potentially toxic to cats.  Please check with your vet before using tea tree oil products on your cat.
  • Territory
    Cats are by nature very territorial. This is because they have developed from a species that needed to maintain a territory in order to catch enough food to survive. Even though we feed our modern day cats, they still see it as a very important part of life to maintain a territory. Where there are a lot of cats in an area, territory sizes can be quite small, and some more nervous cats might find it difficult to maintain a territory at all. This is a common cause of anxiety in cats. Cats living in social groups will share areas of territory. Cats that are not part of a social group coming into a territory (even if they live in the same house) will be perceived as a threat by the resident cat(s).
  • Thrombo-embolism
    A blockage of blood flow due to a blood clot forming. Signs are sudden and dramatic and depend on the area blocked. The classic manifestation is complete collapse of the back legs, cold limbs and loss of sensation. Often occurs in association with heart disease.
  • Ticks
    Small bluish-grey parasites that attach to the cat and enlarge as they fill up with blood. Can be removed with care or some flea products will also eliminate ticks. Mainly a problem in spring and autumn months.
  • Tom
    An adult male cat
  • Tooth brushing
    To prevent dental disease cats should have their teeth brushed regularly (preferably daily). Special toothbrushes are available but cats have to be trained to accept brushing. Feeding dry food, especially foods designed to keep teeth clean, or providing toys to chew on can also help clean teeth.
  • Tortoiseshell
    A colour variant that is sex linked. It is very rare to find a tortoiseshell male cat, most are female.
  • Toxacara
    A type of roundworm.
  • Toxascaris
    A type of roundworm.
  • Toxoplasmosis
    Toxoplasma is a tiny parasite that lives within cells in the body. Cats become infected by eating diseased prey or raw meat. Stray cats and those that hunt a lot are most likely to be infected. A cat may show no sign of infection but can show vague illness (tiredness, weight loss and a high temperature) if their immune system is not working well. Most cats, once infected will become immune and will shed oocysts for a short time only. Oocysts only become infective 24 hours after exposure to the air.

    There is very little risk to people of contracting toxoplasmosis from their cat. A by far more common way for people to get toxoplasmosis is by ingestion of the oocysts from contaminated fruit and vegetables and inadequately cooked meat. However pregnant women (because of possible harm to the baby) and people with compromised immune systems (such as those on anti-rejection drugs, or infected with HIV) are at greater risk. These individuals should not empty the cat litter tray and should wear gloves when gardening. The litter tray should be cleaned using boiling water.
  • Turpentine
    Paint stains should not be removed from cats using this substance. It is poisonous if consumed (by licking off the coat), inhaled or absorbed through coat or skin.

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U

  • Ultrasound
    Some veterinary practices have equipment to carry out ultrasound examinations of cats. This is a good way to look at certain internal organs.
  • Umbilicus
    Belly button. Occasionally kittens are born with hernias around the umbilicus. These may require surgical repair, depending on how large the hernia is. If the hernia suddenly enlarges and appears hard or painful immediate veterinary attention is required.
  • Urea
    A waste product of the body that is normally excreted by the kidneys into the urine. If the kidneys are working less effectively then the level of urea in the bloodstream increases. The level of urea will also increase if the cat is dehydrated. Vets commonly use measurement of urea levels in the blood as part of the diagnosis and monitoring of kidney disease in cats.

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V

  • Vaccination
    Vaccinations or immunisations are given to cats when they are kittens and thereafter boosters are given, usually annually. Flu and enteritis vaccines are the most commonly given vaccines. Cats may be vaccinated against other diseases depending on the cat's lifestyle and the level of risk.
  • Vegetarian
    Cats cannot be fed on a natural vegetarian diet, as it does not meet their requirement for certain essential nutrients.
  • Vibrissae
    Whiskers.
  • Vitamins
    There are provided in commercial diets for cats and cats need vitamins to keep them healthy. Giving additional vitamins to cats already receiving adequate amounts in their food can be harmful, depending on the type of vitamin being supplemented.

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W

  • Water
    All cats require fresh drinking water. Cats fed tinned food may appear to drink very little as they get some moisture from their food but water should always be supplied. Cats deprived of sufficient drinking water can become ill and it is especially important to provide drinking water if a cat eats only dry food.
  • Weaning onto solids
    The process of introducing solid food to very young kittens is normally carried out at around three weeks of age. The first food is often a gruel, or finely mashed or tinned kitten food. This can be smeared around the lips to encourage the kitten to take the first tastes of food.
  • Weed killer
    Many commonly used weed killers are poisonous to cats. Some preparations contain cat repellents and most are designed to be rapidly absorbed into the soil. Always follow the instructions on weed killer products carefully and do not allow cats access to the garden for the duration of the period stated on the product. Always keep garden chemicals in a safe place, away from children and pets.
  • White spirit
    Paint stains should not be removed from cats using this substance. It is poisonous if consumed (by licking off the coat), inhaled or absorbed through coat or skin.
  • Worms
    These are parasites that can live in the cat's body, normally the digestive system. The most common worms are Roundworm (Toxascaris and Toxocara) and Tapeworm (Dipylidium and Taenia species). Treatment against tapeworm may have to be repeated every six weeks due to the potential for re-infection in cats that hunt and eat their kill.