Pet emergencies can be very distressing, but it’s important to try to remain calm. If you plan on taking your cat to the emergency vet always phone your vet before attending in order to check which surgery to go to. Have a pen and paper ready to write down any instructions or directions.

If it’s out-of-hours, such as at night, at the weekend or during a bank holiday, bear in mind you may need to attend a different clinic to the one used by your regular daytime vet.

These are some of the most common emergencies that occur in cats and some general advice on how to deal with them.  If you’re concerned about your cat contact your vet or, out of hours, your nearest Vets Now for advice.

1. Blockage of the urinary tract

If your cat starts straining to urinate frequently in his litter tray (or anywhere else) then he may be suffering from cystitis (inflammation and pain in the bladder) or bladder stones. These small stones can block the flow of urine and prevent the bladder from emptying. This becomes very painful and is life-threatening. Contact your vet immediately if these signs occur. Find out more about cystitis and Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD).

2. Breathing difficulties

Difficult or laboured breathing is known as dyspnea while rapid breathing is known as tachypnea. Breathing difficulties can affect cats of any breed or age, and the problem can quickly become life-threatening, so contact your vet as soon as possible if you notice:

  • any changes in breathing patterns or persistent breathlessness
  • open-mouthed panting lasting more than a minute.

3. Road traffic accidents and other traumatic injuries

If you think your cat has been hit by a car take him to the vet as soon as possible.  Internal bleeding can occur without showing any outward signs initially and therefore it is important that a vet sees him.

If you suspect your cat has a broken leg or head injury you should carefully slide him onto a towel or blanket. Place him in a box for transportation to the surgery. Since cats are expert escapologists please remember to use a secure box.

4. Aortic thrombo-embolism

This is a very serious condition in which a blood clot blocks a major blood vessel supplying the back legs.

Signs include

  • Sudden loss of the ability to use one or both back legs
  • Crying out and appearing to be in pain.

This condition can be easily confused with a road accident. Contact your vet immediately and prepare to take your cat to the vets. Unfortunately, for most cats, this condition is not treatable and euthanasia is the kindest option.

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5. Infected wounds and bite abscesses

These often appear as a swelling around the face or head or the base of the tail. They may burst and dirty brown or bloody fluid will drain out. You should assist drainage of these wounds by regularly cleaning the area with warm slightly salted water and cotton wool. Cats with infected wounds may require antibiotics and you should seek veterinary advice.

6. High temperature

Cats sometimes develop a very high temperature, often in response to an infection.

Affected cats may be dull or sleepy, and reluctant to eat or drink. Keep in mind that cats can have a fever without being hot to the touch. Contact your vet for further advice.

7. Poisons

Paracetamol and ibuprofen are poisonous to cats and should never be given. Aspirin should only be administered on instruction by a vet.

Some plants and flowers, and all parts of the lily, are highly poisonous to cats.

Permethrin, an insecticide commonly found in many over the counter ‘spot-on’ flea treatments for dogs is also very toxic to cats and unfortunately at Vets Now we see numerous cases of poisoning every month. Read more about common poisonings in cats.

8. Vomiting and/or diarrhoea

If your cat vomits more than once, cannot keep water down, you see blood or unusual material in the vomitus or diarrhoea, or if you have seen him eat something he shouldn’t, call your vet immediately. Find out more about vomiting and diarrhoea in cats.

image of a cat looking out a window for vets now article on common cat emergencies

9. Seizures and fits

Signs associated with a seizure (or fit) include uncontrollable shaking and tremors, loss of consciousness, paddling with the legs and possible loss of bowel or urinary control.  A common cause of seizures in cats is epilepsy. If your cat is diagnosed as epileptic not every seizure will constitute an emergency. If your cat has multiple seizures within a 24-hour period or if a seizure lasts longer than a couple minutes then your cat may need to be seen by your vet.  If this is your cat’s first seizure we recommend you phone your vet for advice and to book an appointment for a check up.

10. Eyes

Eye (ocular) problems can deteriorate quickly and if left untreated can result in blindness or loss of the eye.  Signs of ocular disease include redness of the eye, discharge, excessive tear production, swelling, squinting or a closed eye and constant pawing at the eye. Even if it is just a foreign body in the eye or a superficial scratch on the cornea prompt veterinary treatment can prevent a minor problem from becoming a serious one.

11. Stings, bites and allergic reactions

These are most commonly seen in the summer months, but can occur at any time of year.  Typical signs are swelling around the face, or hives, most easily seen on the belly.  These can be quite itchy for your cat.  Rarely, severe allergic reactions can lead to respiratory difficulty due to swelling of the airways.  Other signs of a severe reaction include extensive swelling throughout the body, diarrhoea and shock.  Severe reactions are more likely to be seen following multiple stings.  If your cat is showing signs of discomfort or distress, contact your vet.

12. Collapse

Collapse describes a loss of strength causing your pet to fall and/or be unable to rise. Possible causes of collapse include heart disease, vascular (blood vessel) disease, haemorrhage (internal or external bleeding), anaemia, respiratory (lung) disease, neurological (brain/spinal cord) disease, muscle disease, toxicity and some drugs and medications.  If your pet suffers any form of collapse seek immediate veterinary attention as there could be a life threatening cause.

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