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8 of the Most Common Medical Emergencies for Cats

Cats can find themselves in all kinds of trouble, but these are the most common reasons why people bring their cats to the emergency vet.

 |  Jul 8th 2014  |   9 Contributions


I’ve lived with cats all my life, and I’ve pretty much seen it all when it comes to cat veterinary issues. I also know not just from my own life experience but from my daily work at a pet insurance company that health problems always seem to crop up on weekends, in the middle of the night, or when you’ve just moved to a new home and don’t have a regular vet yet.

A Siamese kitten waits for his upcoming vet appointment. Photo CC-BY Robert Couse-Baker

Here are some of the most common reasons I've seen and experienced for emergency trips to the vet.

1. Urinary tract infections or blockages

If your cat is having trouble using the litter box -- running back and forth and trying to urinate but very little comes out, furiously licking genitals, or showing signs of discomfort like a crouched posture -- there’s no time to waste. Particularly in male cats, urinary infections can become life-threatening in a matter of hours.

Your cat should try to get used to her carrier. Photo CC-BY Rochelle Hartman

2. Chronic illness-related crisis

Diabetic cats whose blood sugar gets too high or too low can suffer from seizures, blackouts, and other symptoms that need emergency treatment. Cats with kidney disease can become severely dehydrated and very ill from toxins building up in the body if their renal failure reaches a certain point.

3. Respiratory distress

If your cat is breathing with an open mouth, if she's coughing or wheezing, or if her whole body seems to be heaving when she breathes, she needs to go to the vet immediately! Think about it: How would you feel if you were suffocating but your roommate decided to wait until your doctor’s office was open to get help for you instead of taking you to the ER?

4. Trauma

Whether a cat is hit by a car, suffers an accident, or is deliberately abused, many felines find themselves at the emergency vet with broken bones or internal injuries.

5. Poisoning

Cats can get into all sorts of things, even if they only live indoors. I personally know a cat who ate ibuprofen, and if his person hadn’t rushed him to the emergency clinic, he’d be dead now. Cats can also eat lilies, marijuana-laced edibles (I’ve taken a couple of calls at the pet insurance company from people whose pets ate pot brownies or other "medibles"), and other things that can be potentially fatal.

6. Upper respiratory infection

Particularly in kittens, URIs can be life-threatening. Cats’ appetite is generated in large part by their sense of smell, and a cat with a blocked-up nose can’t smell his food. Not only that, but fever produces lethargy and dehydration.

7. Sudden paralysis

Cats with heart murmurs or conditions like hypertrophic cardiomyopathy can be prone to developing blood clots in the heart. If one of these clots breaks loose, it can block the major blood vessels leading to the hind legs. This is extremely painful and if the condition isn’t resolved quickly it can result in permanent damage and even death.

8. Foreign body ingestion

Some cats just seem to have a knack for eating things they shouldn’t. Whether it’s a toy or a string that just got stuck in their mouth, there’s no time to waste when this happens. Strings, rubber bands or hair elastics can cause the intestines to telescope up on themselves, causing death of the tissue. They can even perforate the intestine. Obviously, this can be fatal.

Are there other issues you’d add to this list? What are they? If you work at a clinic, does my list match up with your experience? Have you had to take your cats to the vet for emergency treatment? If so, what for? Share your thoughts and stories (and Cone of Shame photos!) in the comments.

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About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.

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