A Cat Clinic

Can my cat wait? When is it an emergency? Part II

Posted on October 20, 2017 by Dr. Dale Rubenstein.

As cat owners, we all ask ourselves: is this a true emergency or can my cat wait until tomorrow? Last time we discussed some things to consider when trying to decide, “Is my cat sick?” Today we’ll give you ten general guidelines to help you decide whether your cat’s problem requires an immediate trip to the veterinarian, or if you can see how things are going in the morning. While it’s impossible to know in all situations, here are some situations that probably shouldn’t wait.

  1. Kittens or elderly cats

    Very young and geriatric cats have less reserves than generally healthy adult cats, and they can become dehydrated quickly. So if your kitten or elderly cat isn’t eating, that is potentially a life-threatening emergency.

  2. Breathing difficulties

    After playing vigorously, you may see your cat’s chest going in and out rapidly as you would yourself after strenuous exercise. But cats normally don’t breath through their mouths for very long unless there’s a problem.  So if your cat is open-mouth breathing for more than a few seconds, or if you notice your cat’s respiration seems labored at rest, you should seek emergency care right away. Asthma, congestive heart failure and cancer can all be causes of severe respiratory difficulty.

  3. Bleeding

    Cats can catch a nail on something; if holding cornstarch on it helps control the bleeding and your cat is otherwise fine, this is something you can manage at home. But, any prolonged bleeding from a torn nail or wound can lead to hemorrhagic shock from blood loss, so this is not a time to delay treatment.

  4. Straining

    Straining to urinate can be caused by a urinary obstruction, which can be fatal. Even when not fatal, urinary tract infections or inflammation that cause straining and sometimes bleeding are very painful. Straining can also indicate constipation, which is painful and can cause dehydration and electrolyte changes that can also have serious consequences.  Immediate care is critical to decrease the decrease the likelihood of more severe problems.

  5. Behavior changes

    When you know that your cat just isn’t right, often with lethargy and decreased appetite, this may signify a serious illness. This is subjective and vague, but you know your cat better than anyone.  If your cat is not acting normally, this needs to be checked right away. Some causes are not life-threatening, but some are, so we urge you to err on the side of caution and not wait.

  6. Repeated vomiting

    Particularly if your cat is lethargic and not eating, your cat can quickly become dehydrated from vomiting repeatedly. The causes are many, from kidney disease to cancer to an obstruction, so please have your cat seen right away.

  7. Acute lameness and pain

    Cats with heart disease can get a blood clot in their legs, which can lead to dragging a front leg or both hind legs. This causes severe pain and should prompt an emergency visit immediately.

  8. Seizures

    Even if your cat appears to have recovered, if your cat has had a seizure, it is important to have your cat seen.

  9. Trauma

    While our indoor cats are generally protected from being hit by cars, they can still fall down stairs or from a deck, or can be stepped on. Internal injuries aren’t always readily apparent so your cat should be checked. If your cat does go outside and shows evidence of trauma, again internal injuries may not be noticed until later but could be life-threatening, so you should not wait.

  10. Poisoning

    Again, outdoor cats are at risk of antifreeze poisoning (one teaspoonful can be fatal to a cat). But even indoor cats are at risk. Do you have paint in your basement that your cat might lick off its paws? Spilled human or pet medicine, especially if flavored, and flowers such as lilies are deadly to cats. Also, never give your cat “NSAID”s (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). One Tylenol or Advil is highly toxic to cats and should never be administered. So if your cat accidentally ingests (or may have gotten into) one of these medications, whether or not your cat is showing behavior changes, your cat should be seen.

Fortunately, true emergencies are less common for cats than dogs.  Dogs just seem to get into trouble more easily.  But when your cat has a problem, it can be very serious.  So while it’s hard to know in every situation, prompt exam and treatment may save your cat’s life.