There may be some minor medical situations with your cat that you are comfortable treating at home, however there’s also going to be some where you should call your veterinarian as soon as possible. The following emergencies should always be treated by a vet, and you should get your cat to the clinic as quickly as you possibly can.
Emergencies Not To Treat At Home
Breathing difficulties are possibly the most urgent medical emergency for any individual, animal or human. Cats with problems breathing should be taken straight to the nearest vet. For a cat, three minutes without breathing can result in death. Signs of breathing problems include coughing, wheezing, heaving at the sides, ‘breathing funny’, and abnormal respiratory noises. You should also watch for your cat extending his neck, putting his elbows out to the side, and trying to use his abdomen to help him breathe. It might look a little like he’s trying to cough up a hairball, but a bit more extreme. You should also watch for him panting like a dog. Panting is not normal for a cat, and can be a sign that there’s something very wrong.
You should call your vet as soon as you can. If you’re transporting the cat to the clinic, you should take care to do this as low stress as it possibly can me. Handle him gently, and swiftly get him into the car.
Abnormal urination, or an inability to urinate can be a symptom of urinary obstruction. Urinary obstruction can be extremely serious, but is fatal if left untreated. It’s much more common in male cats, though there has been small number of female cats with the condition. It is an excruciatingly painful condition, which progresses quickly to kidney failure, bladder rupture, and high levels of potassium in the blood leading to cardiac arrest.
The first symptoms of urinary obstruction may be subtle, especially as cats are very skilled at hiding their pain. You may notice that he urinates outside his litter box. He may strain, but pass very little urine. There may be blood in the urine. He may groom his genital region excessively. He may yowl, or vocalize while trying to pass urine. Any male cat with these symptoms, or any other irregularity with his urinary habits should be seen by a vet immediately. Female cats with urinary problems should also be seen by their vet, however, because of the anatomical differences, it is less likely to be fatal, but will be painful and uncomfortable.
Paralysis Of The Hind End
Sudden paralysis of the hind end, or any sudden loss of mobility needs to be examined by a vet immediately. It can be a sign of a very painful condition known as aortic thrombo-embolism, or ATE. ATE is a known complication of heart disease. A blood clot forms in the heart, and a piece can break off and move through the blood vessels. It can lodge in the vessels, blocking off the blood supply to the area. It usually affects the hind legs. You may notice that the pads on the hind paws are cooler to the touch, and may even be a blue/gray color. The cat will show signs of pain and distress, such as panting, vocalizing, agitation, and signs of shock.
ATE is more common in male cats. Male cats are also more at risk of Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, or HCM, which is the most common type of heart disease seen in cats. It seems to be more common in cats between four and seven years old. Certain breeds seem to be more prone to it than others, for example, Ragdoll, Abyssinian, Birman, and Tonkinese. While some cats have had their heart condition diagnosed, most arrive at the vet with the paralysis as the first sign that something is wrong.
Prolonged Vomiting And/Or Diarrhoea
Pretty much all cats have or will vomit at some point. Pretty much all cats will have soft, loose stool at some point. However, if the vomiting is extreme, and prolonged, such as several times in one day, then it may be a symptom of something more serious, such as ingesting a foreign body. This can require surgery, so it’s very important that veterinary advice is sought as quickly as possible.
Also, cats with repeated vomiting, diarrhoea, or bloody stool can become dehydrated very quickly. It’s imperative that they see a vet quickly, because the conditions can progress rapidly, becoming more and more serious.
Ingestion Of Toxins
If a cat has ingested something poisonous, then immediate medical attention is incredibly important. Quick action can mean the difference between life and death. There are a number of items that are commonly found in the home that are toxic to cats, such as:
- Human medicines – anti-depressants, cold medicines, diet pills, cancer medicines, vitamins, supplements, ibuprofen, aspirin, and other pain killers
- Human foods – coffee, soda, tea, chives, chocolates, garlic, grapes, alcohol, onions, raisins, yeast, and xylitol which is an additive in many foods.
- Indoor and outdoor plants – lilies, aloe vera, azalea, chrysanthemum, mistletoe, tulip, rhododendron, poinsettia and marijuana.
- Insecticides and chemicals – Antifreeze, detergents, de-icer, fertilizer, herbicide, insect bait, rodent bait, dog medications, and bleach.
If your cat has ingested something toxic, you need to call your vet immediately. You should also collect samples from any vomit, stool, and the poisonous item to take with you. Note any symptoms such as breathing problems, confusion, diarrhea, dilated pupils, excessive salivating, seizures, shivering, tremors and vomiting.
A single seizure is probably not a life threatening event, however, you do need to know that seizures often come in clusters. They can get progressively worse over several hours. Seizures are often a symptom of something more severe, such as epilepsy, brain trauma, or exposure to poison. If your cat has a seizure you need to take him to the vet as soon as possible.
There’s a few signs to look out for that can indicate that your cat is having a seizure. Sometimes before the seizure the cat will show pre-ictal behavior. This is the stage before the seizure, and you may notice the cat pacing, yowling, circling, or vomiting. During the seizure, the cat collapses, stiffens, and convulses. Convulsions can make the cat look as though he’s jerking his body, snapping his jaws, and moving his paws. He may lose bowel and bladder control. Seizures usually only last for a minute or two. The next stage is the post-ictal stage, which is after the seizure. It’s likely that the cat will be disorientated. He may also be blind, vomit, have temporary paralysis, and show other out of character behaviour. It may be a few days before he seems completely back to his usual self.
Collapsed Or Extremely Lethargic
If you find your cat collapsed, you’ll need to call your veterinarian for an emergency appointment. Collapsing could be the result of any number of conditions, so it’s best to seek medical attention. You should also be aware that if you notice your cat is extremely lethargic he needs immediate veterinary attention. Signs of extreme lethargy include not moving, hiding in one area for a prolonged period of time, and not reacting to stimuli as normal.
Refusal To Eat Or Drink
Refusal to eat or drink is often a sign that there is something seriously wrong with the cat. While dogs may be able to cope with little or no food for a day or two, cats can’t. Not eating can be a possible symptom of kidney failure, intestinal obstruction, or diabetes. It can also cause a condition called hepatic lipidosis, or fatty liver disease. Fatty liver disease is a very common, but severe liver disease in cats. It can develop quickly, and can be fatal if left untreated.
Any major trauma should be seen by a veterinarian. You should be aware that cats instinctively try to hide their pain, but if you see your cat suffer an accident, you should call your vet immediately. Cats who have fallen from a height, have been attacked by dogs, or hit by a car, for example, can be suffering from internal injuries even if they appear well, and normal. You should also seek medical attention for cats who have been in a fight with another cat. Wounds from another cat should be treated with antibiotics as soon as possible. Untreated cat bites can develop into an abscess which is much more serious to treat.
Lameness And Fractures
If your cat appears lame, it can indicate a fracture in the leg. Fractures need to be treated by a vet. You shouldn’t attempt to splint a fracture at home as it can actually cause more damage. Instead keep the cat as still as possible and transport him to the veterinarian quickly.
There are other potential emergencies that aren’t listed here. You can always call your vet whenever your cat needs emergency care, or if you have any concerns about your cat.
Planning For An Emergency
You can never predict when you would find yourself in an emergency situation with your cat, so it’s best to have a plan in place. It’s easy to become very stressed when your cat is hurt, but you need to remain calm, and keep him calm. Having a clear emergency plan, knowing what to do, and keeping a prepared first aid kit can all help keep you calmer when accidents occur.
The first part of your plan should always be to call your vet. You should keep some phone numbers by the phone. Always have the number of your regular vet, the local emergency clinic, and poison control center close by.
Keep a copy of your cat’s medical record close by. Your cat may not be seen by his regular vet in an emergency situation, and the vet may not have access to his records. Bring a copy with you to the clinic, as well as a list of any medications, dosages and frequency.
When you call the vet, they may ask you to administer some emergency first aid to your cat. They will talk you through what to do, but you should have a stocked first aid kit. Make sure your kit has:
- Rectal thermometer (normal temperature for a cat is 100.5 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. You should take your cat’s temperature when he’s well for a good baseline.)
- Petroleum jelly for lubricating the thermometer
- Scissors with rounded ends
- Sterile gauze pads and rolls
- Self-adhesive bandage
- Sterile saline solution
- Instant cold compress, or ice pack
- Over-the-counter antiseptic ointment
- Disposable gloves
- Styptic powder
Transporting The Cat To The Vet
Transporting a cat to the clinic in an emergency can be very distressing for you, and for the cat. It’s extremely important that you remain as calm as possible. If you have a top opening cat carrier, you can carefully place your cat inside. If you don’t, you can improvise using a laundry basket with a board on top, or wrap the cat in a towel or blanket, similar to how you would swaddle a baby. You could also use a board or blanket to act as a stretcher.
You need to take special care if you’re transporting a seizing cat. If possible, wait for the seizure to pass before moving the cat. If the seizure lasts for longer than five minutes then you may need to transport the cat during the seizure. You shouldn’t hold, hug, or restrain a cat during a seizure, and make sure to keep your face away from his mouth and claws. Move him quickly, but gently into a carrier. You shouldn’t put extra blankets or bedding in with a seizing cat as they can have extremely high temperatures. If you do think your cat has hyperthermia, do not try to bathe him. He will have no control during a seizure, and can be very confused after it, so bathing poses a drowning risk.
Keep your cat confined until you reach the clinic, even if he seems to have recovered from the seizure. Seizures tend to come in clusters, and it’s much safer for him to remain in the carrier.