Would you know a cat emergency if you saw one? I discussed feline first aid for cats and kittens (what to do in a cat emergency), but now I want to point out signs that should cause the pet owner to say, "This is a cat emergency! I need to get my cat to the veterinarian immediately."
It’s amazing the variations that I’ve seen amongst my clients in terms of how often they bring their cat to the veterinarian. I have some clients who bring their cat in if they hear one sneeze, or find one puddle of vomit. I’ve had others who hold off on bringing their kitty to the clinic until the cat is on death’s doorstep. (Fortunately, my current clients never wait that long. However, years ago when I used to practice on cats and dogs, it was a different story.)
I personally believe that cats should be examined by a veterinarian a minimum of twice a year. In adult cats, six months is the equivalent of about two years in human years. A lot can happen to a cat in six months. If not every six months, then certainly at least once a year.
There are scenarios, however, when a cat should be seen RIGHT AWAY. I’m sure there are some people who would perhaps add a few other signs to my list, however, I tried to narrow the list down to a realistic number of signs without getting too carried away. Here are the top 8 signs that you need to take your cat to the veterinarian immediately.
urinary tract infection, bladder stone, or bladder inflammation (cystitis), however, and this also can be very uncomfortable for the cat, but it’s not life threatening. In a male cat, however, it’s a different story. When a male cat is straining to urinate, he too can be afflicted with a urinary tract infection, a bladder stone, or just an inflamed bladder (cystitis). Male cats, however, can become OBSTRUCTED. This almost never happens in females. In males, this is a life-threatening condition. A male cat with an inflamed bladder may go in and out of the box, and every time he goes, he deposits just a drop or two of urine. The few drops of urine get absorbed into the cat litter, where it’s undetectable. A male cat with a urinary obstruction will go into the litter box and strain to urinate, and no urine is produced. It can be difficult or impossible for a cat owner to tell if the cat is completely obstructed and isn’t producing any urine at all, or if he’s got an inflamed bladder and is depositing little drops of urine onto the litter the moment they accumulate in his bladder. You need to err on the cautious side and BRING HIM TO THE VET IMMEDIATELY. Failure to promptly relieve the obstruction can result in kidney damage, severe metabolic derangements, and ultimately death unless the obstruction is relieved.
|cutest vomit ever!|
5. Bleeding – Every now and then, a cat owner will notice some blood in their cat’s urine, or in the stool, or will discover little spots of blood on the furniture or the bedspread, indicating that their kitty might be ill. This kind of bleeding is not an emergency, however, it should be investigated by your vet as soon as practical. Blood in the urine can be a sign of a painful bladder stone. Significant bleeding from a visible wound, especially if the blood is pulsating from any part of the body, warrants IMMEDIATE veterinary attention. Cats can get dangerously anemic from blood loss and can go into shock. This is so obvious that maybe I should have left this off the list, but I’m including it anyway.
6. Staggering or stumbling – There are many possible reasons for a cat to stagger or stumble. Weakness from anemia, or from a metabolic problem (excessively low potassium, too low blood sugar), or a neuromuscular problem, or a vestibular problem (infection or inflammation involving the vestibular system, which is the part of the nervous system that control balance). This list just scratches the surface. Some of the causes are relatively benign. Some of the causes, however, can be very serious. There’s no way for a cat owner to know. You have to err on the cautious side and bring the cat to the vet IMMEDIATELY.
7. Non weight-bearing lameness – Every now and then, cats will pull a muscle or sprain a joint. Usually, this manifests as a mild limp. In an older cat, arthritis is certainly a common cause for stiffness and occasional limping. If you see your cat limping, ideally, the cat should be evaluated by your vet reasonably promptly. However, waiting for a day or two and observing to see whether it is getting progressively better is a reasonable thing to do. If the limp persists after another day or two, obviously the cat should be seen. Non weight bearing lameness, however, should not wait. A cat that cannot bear weight on a limb and is walking on three legs should not be observed for a few days to see if it improves. Non-weight bearing lameness is often a sign of a fracture, dislocation, or torn ligament. These are painful injuries that need to be addressed right away. With fractures, the sooner they are repaired, the better the chance that proper healing and restoration of normal function will occur.
8. Any symptom that persists for 48 hours or longer, or gets noticeably worse quickly – I guess this is a catch-all selection, but it holds true. A cat is allowed to cough a few times during the day, with the owner observing to see if it’s a brief episode that disappears as quickly as it came on. If, however, the cat coughs all day, and the next day it does the same, then the cat needs to be examined right away. Two or three episodes of vomiting in one day may require careful observation by the owner. If the next day, the cat is eating and the vomiting has stopped, or the cat has only vomited once, it’s okay to watch for one more day and see if the vomiting has resolved. But if the cat vomits a few times on day 1, and on day 2 the vomiting persists or gets worse, the cat should be seen. The same goes for diarrhea, poor appetite, sneezing, limping, runny eyes, snotty nose… any symptom that persists for a second day, or dramatically gets worse later that day or the next day, should be evaluated by a veterinarian promptly, i.e. the next available appointment at the vet’s office.
Hopefully this list will help pet owners realize that while cats seem pretty self-sufficient (indeed, many of their issues seem to resolve on their own without much intervention on our part), there are some issues require more than just benign observation.