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11 Cat Emergencies That Need Immediate Vet Attention

Some cat emergencies come on suddenly and are overt, but others start off vague. Here’s how to recognize an emergency situation and when to bring your cat to the vet ASAP.

In my role as an emergency veterinarian, I treat some very sick cats. And I also meet some cat owners who feel very guilty. They wonder whether their cats might not have gotten so sick if they had recognized earlier that a problem was developing.

Although some cat emergencies come on suddenly and are anything but subtle, it is true that many other cat emergencies start with vague symptoms.

It is certainly true that the early recognition of subtle cat emergencies will improve the chances of a good outcome. But owners should not feel guilty if they fail to recognize these subtleties — cats don’t come with warning labels, and a person who doesn’t know the symptoms can’t be expected to recognize them (and, by definition, subtle symptoms are hard to recognize).

For instance, I owned cats — including males — for 25 years before I knew that any urinary irregularity whatsoever in a male cat could be an emergency.

Some helpful hints for determining cat emergencies that need your vet’s attention ASAP
Cat with mouth open — trilling, meowing or making another kitty sound.
One way to determine if it’s a medical emergency or not? Examine your cat’s gums. Photography by annadarzy/Thinkstock.

The following list is designed to help you recognize cat emergencies that always warrant an immediate trip to the vet.

However, it is not exhaustive, and you may find yourself in an ambiguous situation not covered on the list. If you are wondering whether you need to get out of your pajamas and head to the emergency cat vet in such a situation, there are some guidelines you can follow.

One useful indicator of cat health is the color of the gums. Lift your cat’s lip and look at his gums now. They should be pink and moist. Check them regularly, and you’ll get a sense of what they look like normally.

If you suspect your cat is sick and the gums are pale, grey, blue or bright red, then your cat most likely is in trouble (although you should be aware that your cat might still be in trouble even if the gums are their normal pink color).

Remember as well that you are always free to call your cat vet or your local emergency clinic to talk about any ambiguous situation. The staff should be able to offer guidance.

Finally, remember that when in doubt it is always safest to have a vet evaluate your cat. A physical exam that reveals nothing wrong causes no harm; doing nothing about a critical situation can lead to a fatal outcome.

Now let’s list some of the most common and serious cat emergencies:

1. Difficulty breathing

Photography by Valery Kudryavtsev/Thinkstock

This is the most urgent emergency any individual — cat, dog or human— can face. Death occurs after three minutes without breathing, so cats with breathing difficulties are on the edge of disaster.

Breathing problems in cats can be hard to recognize at first. Symptoms to watch out for are heaving sides, breathing with the mouth open, coughing, wheezing, abnormal respiratory noises, and the catch-all appearance of “breathing funny.”

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