As cat parents, we want to do everything we can to keep our furry friends happy and healthy. But sometimes cats need a little bit of help when they are feeling under the weather.
Cats are known for being independent animals, but when they need a veterinarian’s attention, it is important to take them in as soon as possible. There are many cat medical emergencies that require veterinary care and if you don’t act fast enough, your kitty may not make it.
As a general rule, if you find yourself asking “should I take my cat to the vet?”, it is time to take your cat to the vet. After all, you know your cat best. And if you think they are acting out of the ordinary, they probably are.
To give you some guidance, we list the top 20 cat medical emergencies that require an immediate visit to the veterinary clinic. Read on for more information about these conditions and when to take your cat to the vet should you notice any symptoms.
Cat Medical Emergencies
Before we go into our top 20 reasons to take your cat to the vet, it is important to consider how likely it is that you are going to encounter one, or more, of these situations. Aside from the routine check ups, how often can you expect to be taking your cat to the vet?
Of course, this differs from cat to cat. But it is safe to say that any cat will need veterinary care at least once in their lifetime. Even cats that are generally in good health can get injured or fall ill suddenly and unexpectedly.
The costs of healing your sick cat are equally difficult to predict.
If your cat’s ailment is easily diagnosed and can be cured solely through the use of medication or a change in diet, you are in luck. But if your cat needs more specialized care or suffers from a chronic condition, the bills can start to stack up quickly. Many pet owners forget to anticipate these unexpected costs when they first get their pets.
Luckily, we live in modern times where you can get insurance on pretty much anything. Your pet’s health being one of them. And after my own experience of having a cat that needed a very pricey CT-scan and monthly check ups, I definitely recommend that you look into that.
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1. Difficulty Breathing
Difficulty breathing is the most serious cat medical emergency there is, because it can lead to sudden death. Your cat needs medical attention immediately if they are gasping for air, panting or wheezing.
Also be sure to check the color of their paws and tongue. If they are turning blue, this means your cat is in acute heart failure. Take your cat to the vet or contact the emergency services immediately!
Another common cause of breathing difficulties in cats are respiratory tract infections. This type of infection can be caused by allergies, viruses and bacterial infections. Depending on the cause, they either develop slowly, or present themselves quite acutely.
In either case, as soon as you notice your cat has difficulty breathing, it is time to take your cat to the vet and find out the exact cause. The sooner you know, the sooner you can help your cat back on its feet.
2. Open Wounds
Cats are natural hunters and territorial to boot, so it’s not uncommon for them to get into it with other cats or animals and come home looking like a battle veteran. Open wounds from bites or claws may become infected if not properly cared for. So it’s important to take your cat to see their vet as soon as possible to prevent this.
Depending on the location and depth of the wound, your vet may decide to simply clean the wound and put a topical medication on it, or they might recommend that you take your cat home with an antibiotic.
If the wounds are very deep in nature, your cat may have to stay at the clinic for surgery and further treatment.
3. Growths & Abscesses
Cats are prone to getting abscesses, which is when pus and other tissue build up in a localized area. It feels like a warm, soft lump to the touch. These wounds can be very painful for your cat and they need immediate medical attention before the infection spreads or becomes more serious.
Abscesses usually occur when a cat bites or scratches themselves and bacteria enter through the wound. They are also more likely to occur in cats that have a weakened immune system due to underlying health problems, such as diabetes, kidney disease, or heart failure.
Abscesses can form anywhere on the body, though the most common places are the face, neck and back legs. If an abscess forms on the abdomen, it can be difficult to detect because it can nestle itself between the organs.
An untreated abscess will either burst outward, leaving a gaping wound. Or it can burst inward, flooding your cat’s system with toxins. That is why it is very important to take your cat to the vet as soon as you spot an abscess, or any abnormal growth, on your cat’s body.
If the growth turns out not to be an abscess, your vet will take a biopsy to determine whether it is benign or malignant.
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If your cat has been in an accident, like a fall or being hit by a car, she may appear to be alright afterwards. Still, you should always take your cat to the vet for a check up after such a tragic event.
Cat’s are prone to hiding any physical pain, because they don’t want to appear weak in the eyes of possible predators. A traumatic situation like an accident or a fall only heightens that response.
Meanwhile, your cat could have a fracture or be bleeding internally. Fractured bones that aren’t reset properly could end up causing more internal damage, or limit your cat’s mobility in the long term.
In the event that your cat is bleeding internally, she will need surgery and may not survive it if you wait too long.
5. Difficulty Urinating
Another reason to take your cat to the vet’s office immediately is if you catch them straining while urinating. Difficulty urinating could indicate a serious problem, like a urinary tract infection or bladder stones.
If your cat is straining to pee and it’s taking them more than a minute or two to go, they need medical attention as soon as possible. Their urethra could be blocked, which is a life-threatening condition for cats.
Treatments for urinary tract disease range from fluid therapy to dietary changes, and will likely require your cat to stay at the clinic for a few days. Remember to shower them with love when they get home, because it’s quite an ordeal for them.
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6. Elevated Heart Rate
A normal resting heart rate for a cat is between 140 and 180 beats per minute. When they are active it can go up to 220 beats per minute. Some variation in a cat’s heart rate is normal, but sudden and drastic changes are not. If you notice your cat has an elevated heart rate for more than 24 hours, take your cat to the vet immediately as this may be a sign of acute cardiac failure.
You can take your cat’s pulse by placing your fingers on their neck, close to their collarbone. Do it when they are calmly laying down, unstressed. Count the beats for 15 seconds, then multiply that number by four.
What you have now is a cat’s resting heart rate in beats per minute. If it has an elevated heart rate or rapid breathing, take them straight to the vet.
If your cat’s heart rate is extremely high, it could mean she is in pain, stress or shock. A faster heart rate is usually accompanied by faster breathing. Any of these signs will require veterinary attention to make sure that there are no underlying medical problems.
Diseases that commonly cause an elevated heart rate in cats are heart disease, respiratory illness, diabetes, and hyperthyroidism. More acute causes that can speed up the heart rate are trauma and poisoning.
Depending on the cause, your cat’s elevated heart rate might be accompanied by other symptoms, such as vomiting or diarrhea, increased appetite and weight loss.
7. Loss Of Movement In One Or More Limbs
If your cat has stopped using a limb for any reason, it needs to be looked at immediately. Cats are often very good at hiding it when they are sick or in pain, but this is one symptom that cannot wait.
Arthritis is a common cause of mobility problems in cats, especially when they are older. This condition will develop over the course of years, so the loss of mobility will gradually get worse. For the most part it can be managed with medication.
Sudden loss of movement can be an indication of more severe injuries like broken bones or an infarction from a blood clot. A clot that cuts off circulation needs to be removed as soon as possible.
In this case, your cat may need surgery. The sooner an emergency vet can attend to this problem, the better chance they’ll have of saving limbs and lives.
If your cat has had a stroke, or is experiencing lameness caused by an infection, you can help your cat regain its ability to move around normally again by exercising their muscles through play and massage.
8. Crying Out In Pain
In general, cats prefer to hide it when they are in pain. So, if your cat is actually letting you know that she’s in pain or discomfort by meowing, whimpering or crying, then you know it’s bad!
If your cat cries out when you pick her up or touch her, it could mean that she has a damaged or broken bone, or that she is experiencing some internal discomfort like an irritated bowel. It could also indicate an external injury that has been overlooked.
If your cat is wheezing or whimpering when resting, and not purring loudly, this can be a sign she is having trouble with her heart or lungs.
In any case, it is important to take your cat to the vet as soon as you can to determine the cause of her pain. The sooner you know what you’re dealing with, the sooner you can help your cat back on the way to being healthy.
A normal body temperature for cats is 100.5-102.5 degrees Fahrenheit (38°C-39°C). Your cat has a fever if her temperature rises above this. You can take your cat’s temperature using a rectal thermometer.
Fever in cats can be caused by many things:
- infectious diseases like the flu, feline viral rhinotracheitis or rabies;
- medical conditions such as digestive disease, heartworms, cancer, hyperthyroidism or kidney disease;
- environmental causes such as extreme heat.
If your cat has any other symptoms that might point to an underlying cause of the fever, make sure to mention these to your vet.
A veterinarian will perform tests and examine your cat to identify what’s wrong with her, so they can start treating the cause of the fever.
Felines are curious and may eat whatever they find. Some cats even seem to eat inedible materials on purpose; a condition known as Pica.
This behavior can lead to accidental poisoning if your cat ingests something toxic. Toxins in food that cats might accidentally enjoy include chocolate, xylitol (found in sugarless gum and candy), grapes, raisins, onions, eggplants and garlic. Another common source of accidentally ingested toxins are plants and leaves found around the house.
Signs of poisoning in cats include drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty breathing and sudden changes in behavior. In most cases, an animal will show signs of poisoning within a few hours of ingesting the toxin.
If you suspect that your cat has been poisoned, don’t hesitate for one second and contact your vet immediately! If you happen to live in the US, you can also call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control for guidance.
If you know what caused the poisoning, remove the substance from your cat’s reach and inform the emergency vet of your suspicions. It will help them to determine the best course of action and give your cat the best chance at a speedy recovery.
11. Refusing To Eat Or Drink
If your cat is refusing to eat or drink, she is not feeling well at all. Cats need to eat every day to stay alive and healthy. Skipping meals is not an option.
Some cat owners take a wait-and-see approach when their cat stops eating. This is the worst thing you can do!
Cats can’t go without sustenance for more than 2 to 3 days. If it has been more than 24 hours since your cat has eaten, it is time to contact the vet!
Going too long without food causes the liver to overload with toxins that ultimately flood into the bloodstream. When this happens, your cat’s other organs will also begin to break down.
This is an excruciatingly painful way to go. If this does happen to your cat, it is probably more humane to put her down than to let her die naturally.
In any case, your veterinarian can help determine what the underlying cause of this behavior is and provide supportive care for you and your cat.
12. Acute Renal Failure
Acute renal failure (ARF) is one of the most common cat emergencies that requires a veterinarian’s attention. It can be caused by a number of different factors, such as physical trauma to the kidney or bladder, an accumulation of toxins in the body due to poisoning, metabolic disorders like diabetes and liver disease, medication toxicity, and (last, but not least) chronic kidney disease (CKD).
Some of the symptoms and signs that might suggest acute renal failure include:
- lethargy, including an unwillingness to move or a decreased level of activity;
- loss of appetite (anorexia) with concurrent weight loss;
- increased water consumption and increased urination (polyuria), which can lead to dehydration;
- the presence of blood in urine (hematuria);
- cloudy or foul-smelling urine;
- increased breathing rates (tachypnea).
If you notice any symptoms that suggest your cat has acute renal loss, it is important to consult with a veterinarian as soon as possible.
13. Acute Allergic Reactions
If your cat has an acute allergic reaction, it can present in different ways. Your cat may get a rash and start scratching her head and neck as it spreads. Her hair may fall out. Or she may have trouble breathing due to swelling in the throat area.
If your cat has been eating a new food item or was exposed to an environmental irritant recently, that is most likely what caused it.
Acute reactions are typically seen within 30 minutes of the exposure and can include hives, red skin, a swollen face or mouth.
If these symptoms don’t subside within an hour, or they progressively get worse, take your cat to the vet right away for treatment.
In severe cases your cat could go into shock and even die from an allergic reaction, so haste is necessary.
Seizures are not too uncommon when it comes to cats, unfortunately. They can be caused by many things, including:
- liver disease;
- low blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia);
- brain tumors;
- kidney failure.
It’s important to keep an eye on your cat when she has a seizure, especially if it’s the first time she’s having one. It can be difficult to watch, but try to pay attention to what happens. Any information you can pass to the vet can help to save your cat’s life.
If left untreated, seizures can cause permanent brain damage, loss of movement in one or more limbs and even death.
Aside from the actual seizure, the uncontrolled body movements that come with it can cause your kitty to fling herself off of the furniture or against a wall. Even if your cat has seizures or fits often and you know what the cause is, it is still a good idea to have them checked out regularly.
If your cat vomits once or twice, it’s likely nothing to worry about. But if they vomit more than two times in an hour or several days in a row, or the vomiting is accompanied by other symptoms such as lethargy or fever, take them to see a veterinarian immediately. The vet will perform tests and give medication if needed.
Vomiting can be caused by something as simple as hairballs or too much food, which can be easily remedied at home. Other causes of vomiting include infectious agents such as toxins and parasites from other animals or plants.
It can also be caused by more severe underlying diseases, such as hyperthyroidism, irritable bowel disease, or even cancer.
If your cat vomits too much, she runs the risk of getting dehydrated. Provide her with fresh water at all times and monitor how well she’s doing.
To help prevent vomiting, give your cat smaller meals more often rather than one or two big ones each day. Limit the amount of hairballs in their fur by brushing them regularly and by giving a hairball treat or a laxative paste to help pass ingested hairs.
Also make sure your cat gets enough exercise. Physical activity stimulates the metabolism and keeps the intestines healthy.
Diarrhea is when a cat has frequent, watery stools. There may also be blood or mucus in the stool. You should see your veterinarian if diarrhea lasts for more than 48 hours, especially if it’s accompanied by other symptoms such as fever or vomiting. The vet will need to examine your pet and do tests to determine the best treatment.
Diarrhea can be caused by many different things, such as allergens, viruses, bacteria, parasites and toxins. It’s important to get your pet treated promptly with the appropriate antibiotics or other medications. Your vet may also recommend intravenous fluids if your cat isn’t able to stay hydrated enough on her own.
If your cat suffers from diarrhea regularly, you may want to speak with your vet about changing your cat’s diet. Some cats get diarrhea when they eat certain foods or treats, so a change in food might help stop the problem.
If a new diet doesn’t solve the problem, there might be something more serious going on. In those cases, your vet will likely need you to bring in a stool sample so they can run some tests on it. If there’s an underlying health issue or parasite that is causing diarrhea, this should show up on the test.
17. Irritation Of The Eyes
If your cat’s eyes are red, itchy, or tearing up for a couple of days without any other symptoms to accompany them, it is time to take your cat to the vet. The vet will be able to prescribe eye drops that reduce the irritation and help soothe the pain. More severe eye infections can usually be treated with antibiotics.
An infection this close to the brain and mouth can have devastating effects, if left untreated.
Eye infections in cats are usually caused by scratches from other animals, allergies, and the cat’s own claws.
Due to their nocturnal nature, cats tend to groom themselves when they are most active as well as during periods of stress or illness. This might be why many eye infections in cats happen at night; by the time you wake up it has already gotten a lot worse.
18. Extreme Lethargy
A cat that’s so lethargic that it can barely stand up is in serious need of medical attention. If your cat is showing signs of extreme lethargy, it’s important to get him or her to a veterinarian as soon as possible.
Lethargy can be caused by numerous things, such as poisoning, allergies, illness, dehydration, overheating, and more. The general symptoms are:
- inability to stand up for more than 30 seconds at a time;
- lack of balance when trying to stand or walk around;
- slow responses;
- lack of appetite.
If you recognize these symptoms in your cat, contact your vet immediately.
One step beyond lethargy is actually collapsing. In this case, your cat has weakened to the point that she can no longer carry her own weight.
If this is the case with your cat, there is probably a serious underlying condition that has escaped your attention. Take your cat to the vet immediately for a full check up.
Your vet will likely take some blood to examine it. They will also try to revive your cat with vitamin and mineral injections, or even feed her intravenously if necessary.
20. Insect Bites And Stings
A bite from an insect doesn’t have to be an emergency – but it can be.
For example, some cats are allergic to bees or wasps. When stung, they will start to scratch uncontrollably. In the worst case, their throat may start to close up from swelling.
This is a life-threatening situation and requires an immediate emergency response.
Depending on where you live, there might be numerous bugs and insects, spiders even, that may take a little bite out of your precious kitty. Keep an eye on her whenever you see her playing with a stingy insect so you are ready to spring into action in case of an emergency and take your cat to the vet for treatment.
In case of a medical emergency, always contact your vet before going to the clinic. Most veterinary office’s have a special phone number specifically for cases that require immediate attention.
Try to stay calm and explain the symptoms to them. Together you can decide whether you should take your cat to the vet’s office, or if you are better off calling emergency services. It may be that your vet doesn’t have the resources to deal with your specific emergency.
If you cannot reach your vet, or your vet’s office is too far away, call the emergency services directly.