Regardless of what breed your cat is, it’s very likely that at some point you’re going to have to rush them to the vet for some type of emergency. Sometimes it will end up being a false alarm, but there are other times when your cat has an emergency and needs to be treated by a veterinarian immediately.
While our feline friends are the greatest of company, the one thing that they’re very good at is getting into trouble by doing things they shouldn’t. Whether it be eating something they shouldn’t have, fighting a random animal in the backyard, having an allergic reaction, or something else, when they need medical care it’s up to you to help them.
Just like human beings, some injuries that cats have will be obvious, but there are other times there will only be subtle signs of distress that can be extremely harmful if left untreated.
The focus of this post is to help you understand the 15 scenarios in which it’s absolutely crucial to bring your cat for a trip to the vet.
This content has been reviewed and approved by our in-house Veterinarian for accuracy
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- Coughing/Choking/Difficulty Breathing
If you notice that your cat seems to be choking or having difficulty breathing, it’s very important that you bring them to the veterinarian immediately. While this can just be something as simple as a hairball, if your cat is in distress for more than a few minutes, this is something that should be taken very seriously and immediately taken care of as it means that there isn’t enough oxygen getting to the lungs.
Lack of oxygen for a prolonged period of time could lead to your cat passing out, unwilling to move, or even suffocation and death. While coughing isn’t all that common in cats, it could be a small symptom of much more serious issues such as pneumonia, bacterial infection, bronchitis, viruses, or even heart disease.
When you bring a cat to the vet for this issue, you can expect them to first try to stabilize your cats breathing pattern by whatever means possible. This may be as simple as administering oxygen, but it could also mean undergoing a chest tap if there is significant fluid in the lungs. Once stable, the vet will run a number of tests to help them understand exactly what the cause is and then provide proper treatment for the breathing condition. Usually this will mean some type of medication, surgery, or sometimes it could just be a simple change to their diet.
- Vomiting and Diarrhea
Sometimes cats, just like humans, end up getting stricken with a bout of vomiting or diarrhea. While this may not last very long and could just be something that they ate, there’s also many more serious possibilities. These sorts of symptoms can be caused by many different ailments including diseases, toxins, parasites, over eating, and a host of other issues.
If you’ve noticed that your cat has vomited or had diarrhea and is acting lethargic or continues to have symptoms after a few hours, bring them to the vet immediately. For all you know, your cat got into something that’s extremely toxic to their system and they could end up passing away if quick action isn’t taken. The way we see it, it’s better to be safe instead of waiting it out to see if conditions worsen.
Once you arrive at the vet, they’ll ask you questions regarding the cat’s diet to better understand if any drastic changes have occurred. Beyond that, they’ll examine your cat for signs of poisoning and also consider whether or not additional tests like an abdominal radiograph are required to determine the cause. From there, they’ll administer the appropriate medicine(s) and also instruct you on how to care for your cat moving forward.
- Physical Trauma
If your cat has experienced any type of physical trauma, a trip to the vet is necessary. For instance, a cat that falls from a great height may be limping on their paw and while that may seem like the most significant injury, it’s very possible that the cat is also dealing with trauma on the inside of their bodies that you can’t see.
The problem with cats is that they’re not able to tell us directly what these issues are and when you bring them to a vet, they can run the proper tests and scans to correctly diagnose the issues.
Once you arrive at the vet, they’re going to want to understand what the cause of the trauma was and will do whatever necessary to help your cat. Because they’re likely in pain, it’s common for a vet to first give your cat a sedative or a medication to reduce the pain that they’re feeling. From there, they’ll run scans or x-rays to determine the extent of injuries and determine what the required treatment is. This could be rest, a cast, surgery, or any other option that will stop the pain that your cat is currently feeling. Your vet’s guidance is crucial here and will determine the best course of action.
- Ingestion of Foreign Objects
How many times have you had to pull something out of your cat’s mouth that shouldn’t have been there in the first place? Unfortunately, cats chew on things or play with things that they never should and often swallow foreign objects that can do great harm.
If you ever suspect that your cat has ingested anything that they shouldn’t, immediately take them to the veterinarian. Even if they ingested a foreign object and puked it back up, it’s a good idea to go there to see if there is any residual material.
Upon arriving at the vet, they’ll ask you more about what the cat ingested and how they’ve been behaving since then. From there, they’ll scan/x-ray your cat to see where the object is and determine the best way to remove it from the cat’s body. Often, objects will pass through the system naturally, but sometimes surgery is required if the object is creating any type of blockage in the body. This is why it’s so important to visit the veterinarian in these cases. They do this for a living and have seen cats ingest some strange things, let them tell you the best course of action.
- Allergic Reactions
Just like humans, cats can have allergic reactions. It could be their food, but they also may develop sensitivity to insect bites or other stimuli and in serious cases, this can even result in anaphylactic shock. If this occurs, it’s a very serious situation which can include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, difficulty breathing, or even complete collapse. Symptoms of allergic reactions may also include facial swelling, hives, or itchiness. If you notice that your cat seems to be in pain or just generally uncomfortable and is showing signs of an allergic reaction, get them a veterinarian so that they can help pinpoint the cause and find an appropriate solution.
In these situations, when you arrive at the vet they’ll first ask questions to see if they can better understand what caused the allergic reaction. From there, they’ll find a way to stop the current symptoms through medication or other means, then they’ll work with you to develop a plan of action so that your poor kitty doesn’t have to have something like this happen again.
While pain as a symptom is easy to diagnose, it can be a lot more complicated than that. Cats typically will show that they’re in pain by doing things such as pacing, being agitated, restlessness, panting, meowing, crying, rapid heart rate, or even sometimes being aggressive. Obviously, there are a number of different things that could be causing this pain including dental issues, arthritis, or other causes of trauma. If you notice that your cat seems to be in pain, bring them to a veterinarian as quickly as possible so they can diagnose the issues.
When you get there, they’ll ask you about the differences in behavior that you’ve noticed and may run tests/scans to determine what the cause is. From there, they will help you understand what options you have as the pet’s owner to help them reduce or eliminate the pain altogether.
Though these aren’t very common for cats, seizures can occur and when they do, they should be considered extremely serious. These are caused by abnormal electrical activity inside of the brain and can be triggered by things such as epilepsy, brain tumors, brain swelling, low blood sugar, disturbances in electrolytes, and other more complex cases. If you ever notice your cat showing symptoms of a seizure or have witnessed them go through seizure, immediately bring them to the veterinarian as this is a life-threatening situation.
When you’re able to talk to the veterinarian, they’ll ask questions about the seizure episode and explain what options are available to you. These are typically medications and in rare cases, surgery to help the cat.
- Difficulty Urinating
While it may not seem like a big deal, if your cat is having difficulty urinating, it can be the symptom of a much larger problem. Often misdiagnosed as a urinary tract infection, cats may strain to urinate if they have kidney stones or possibly crystals, along with inflammation, blood clots, or even cancer.
You’ll begin to notice changes in the cat’s behavior including frequently going in and out of the litter box and also urinating in unusual places that they never have before. This is usually caused by some type of obstruction which may result in the cat straining hard to only urinate a very small amount that may contain blood. If the obstruction becomes worse, your cat may cry loudly, vomit, or become very lethargic.
While it may not seem that dire of a situation, there are certain times when cats may develop kidney failure and die within 12 hours of the onset of symptoms. However, if you bring them to veterinarian quickly enough, they may simply need a urinary catheter or to be injected with intravenous fluids. Blockage is more likely to occur in male cats as female cats have a wider urinary tract.
Whether they be a wound from being bitten by another animal, or accidentally cutting themselves on an object, wounds can be a serious issue if untreated. Just like humans, wounds in cats can become infected and cats may develop a fever from these infections.
If your cut has a wound that isn’t dealt with in a timely manner, they may end up with an abscess or having significant drainage that sometimes requires surgical intervention. While a tiny cut isn’t likely to progress to this, larger wounds or bite wounds are much more likely due to the fact that they may introduce more unsanitary objects into the cat’s immune system.
Upon arriving at the vat, they’ll examine the cut and take whatever steps are necessary to clean it and eliminate any infection. It’s also likely that you’ll need to provide your cat with antibiotics to ensure that the wound doesn’t become infected in the future.
There are many different common household items that are toxic to cats and can kill them if eaten. For instance, certain houseplants are very toxic to cats, medications, garden products, pesticides, insecticides, herbicides and chocolate. But the list doesn’t stop there, there are so many different things that can be toxic to cats that they may get themselves into.
Signs that your cat may be poisoned include vomiting, diarrhea, or your cat being lethargic. If you have any doubts or aren’t sure whether a substance is toxic, contact your veterinarian immediately for advice.
If you suspect that your cat has eaten something and you’re not sure if it’s toxic, you should call the pet poison helpline at 855-213-6680 and also put a call into your vet to confirm. But, if you’ve noticed that your cat is already displaying symptoms that they’ve been poisoned, rush them to the vet immediately and bring the container/label of what they’ve ingested with you. This will help a vet to react quickly to the situation and not waste any time diagnosing the poisons involved.
Once there, the vet will take steps to better understand the situation and use whatever means necessary to get the poisons out of the system. This may include inducing vomiting, using activated charcoal to absorb the poisons, Intravenous fluids, and medications. They may run multiple tests on your cat to confirm that the threat has been eliminated prior to release.
- Increased Thirst and Urination
If you notice that your cat has begun to drink a lot more water or a lot less than it used to, or there hasn’t been urination in quite some time, it’s possible that there is an underlying disease. Most commonly this is a kidney disease or a type of diabetes.
When taking them to the veterinarian, they’ll be checking blood and urine samples to determine what could cause this change. It’s very important in these situations to get your cat to the vet as quickly as possible because it will increase their chances of recovery with proper treatment. Unfortunately, these types of symptoms are also shown when a cat is exposed to certain household toxins like antifreeze or lilies, so figuring out the root cause is very important.
- Difficulty Walking (Hind legs not working/stumbling)
Watching your cat struggle to use their hind legs is a heartbreaking sight and is typically known as a saddle thrombus or thromboembolic episode. What this really means is that your cat is experiencing blood clotting and this is preventing normal blood flow to their hind legs, rending them unusable. Aside from the lack of being able to use their legs, they’ll typically also be crying and may have breathing changes. If this occurs, an immediate trip to the vet is required to take care of the problem as quickly as possible.
When you arrive, they’ll immediately help by giving your cat oxygen support and try to manage the pain. Additionally, tests will be done to look into whether or not the cats heart is okay and if there is any fluid accumulation in their lungs. Unfortunately, in these situations, if your cat experiences this type of episode it’s very likely that they have a severe heart disease.
While this can usually be managed and your cat may recover from this episode, any type of heart disease will require lifelong treatment.
- Loss of Vision
If you notice that your cat is having difficulty with their vision and doesn’t seem to be able to see certain things, it’s likely that they’re experiencing increased blood pressure which could potentially be a result of hyperthyroidism or kidney disease. Usually, this is a situation that occurs in older cats, but it’s very important to get treated regardless of the age of the cat if it does happen.
While you’re at the veterinarian’s office, they’ll be measuring your cat’s blood pressure, take blood tests, and start medications which should lower the blood pressure and restore the cats vision unless it’s a more serious issue.
In the case that you notice a change in your cat’s vision, or even that their eyes seemed to look a little bit different, it’s best to take them to a vet to get checked on to make sure everything’s okay.
- Upper Respiratory Infection
Typically caused by bacteria or viruses, upper respiratory infections can get very serious if left untreated. The symptoms typically are sneezing, runny nose, runny eyes, lack of appetite, or a fever. In more severe cases, this can mean that ulcers will form in the mouth, on the tongue, or in the eyes. This is most likely to occur with cats that are in environments where multiple cats are present, or in small kittens that are struggling to survive.
Regardless of the cause of the issue, bringing a cat to a veterinarian for this issue is extremely important in that they can quickly diagnose and help eliminate the causes altogether through the use of antibiotics and other medications.
- Not Eating for More Than 48 Hours
If you’ve noticed that your cat isn’t eating for more than 48 hours, it’s time to become concerned. Though this could be as simple as a bad tooth or some type of stomach bug, there are also more serious circumstances that may be leading to this. One of the possible scenarios is that your cat has hepatic lipidosis, which is just the medical way of saying that your cat is experiencing inappropriate fat infiltration into the liver because they aren’t eating regularly. This happens more often in obese cats and is usually caused by a new diet, the introduction of a baby or new animal in the household, and stressful situations.
In order to diagnose this, a veterinarian will review the history of your cat and run bloodwork and may also take an ultrasound of the abdomen. If those don’t seem to give enough clues, there could also be x-rays and possibly a biopsy of the liver. In this case, let your vet do whatever tests they recommend because if they don’t see the simple signs of hepatic lipidosis, this is likely a much more serious problem such as pancreatitis, gall bladder stones, or even cancer.
There you have it, the top 15 reasons why you should immediately bring your cat to the veterinarian. While any of these cases may end up being a false alarm, it’s much better to deal with that as opposed to the untimely passing of your feline friend.
Note: If you're concerned about the costs associated with bringing your cat to the vet, an affordable pet insurance plan may be a good option for you.
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