Hesitation Can Kill: Feline Medical Emergencies That Require Urgent Care

While some symptoms and conditions can wait until your veterinarian's next available appointment to be addressed, others require immediate emergency care. Familiarizing yourself with the symptoms of feline medical emergencies that call for urgent attention can make the difference between life and death for your furry friend. If you are a cat owner, you should know about these common kitty emergencies.

Urinary Obstruction

The urethra of a male cat is narrow in diameter. This places male cats at risk for urinary obstructions as a result of bladder stones, crystals or mucous plugs becoming lodged in the urethra. Signs that your cat may have a urinary obstruction include the following:

  • Crying at the litter box
  • Straining to urinate, but passing little to no urine
  • Restlessness as cat repeatedly goes to the litter box
  • Straining to urinate in locations away from the litter box
  • Persistent licking of the penis

Once the cat is unable to urinate, toxins back up and accumulate in the bloodstream, which makes urinary obstruction a life-threatening condition. If you observe any of the aforementioned symptoms, it is imperative to bring your cat to your veterinarian or to a veterinary emergency care facility at once.

Respiratory Distress

Respiratory distress, also known as dyspnea, occurs when a cat cannot breathe normally. This can be the result of a feline asthma attack, feline heartworm disease, heart failure, fluid accumulation in the lungs and a number of other conditions. Signs of respiratory distress in cats include any of the following:

  • Open mouth breathing or panting
  • Rapid respiratory rate, which is a rate that exceeds the normal range of 20 to 30 breaths per minute
  • Extending the neck forward, holding the head low and spreading the elbows outward
  • Coughing

If your cat is experiencing respiratory distress, he is not receiving adequate oxygen to supply his tissues and vital organs. A sign of inadequate oxygenation is cyanosis, or a bluish color to the gums and tongue. Once deprived of oxygen, brain and heart function are severely compromised, and death will result if immediate intervention is not sought at the first sign of respiratory distress.

Feline Aortic Thromboembolism

Your cat's aorta is the main artery that runs from the heart to the lower back, where it branches into the arteries that run down the hind legs. When a blood clot travels down the aorta and becomes lodged at the point where it branches, which is called the saddle, then the blood supply to the hind legs is cut off. This condition is called feline aortic thromboembolism, and it is usually the result of heart disease. Signs of a feline aortic thromboembolism include the following:

  • One or both hind legs become limp and paralyzed.
  • The affected leg(s) feel cold to the touch.
  • The cat will be crying out in pain.

The aforementioned symptoms present suddenly, and the condition is extremely painful. Bring your cat to a veterinary emergency care facility without delay so that pain relief can be implemented, an assessment of his heart can be made and his prognosis can be addressed.


Cats are curious creatures, and they do not always discriminate in their exploration. From nibbling the wrong plant to sampling poisonous household substances, cats are at risk for falling victim to toxicity. If you suspect that your cat has ingested or been exposed to a toxic substance, bring him and the substance to an veterinary emergency care facility right away. However, you are more likely to be unaware that your cat has dabbled with such a substance. In such instances, you may be made aware when your cat exhibits signs of toxicity, which may include any of the following:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Neurological deficits, such as stumbling, diminished balance or tremors
  • Excessive salivation
  • Jaundice, or yellow coloring, of the gums, skin or white portions of the eyes
  • Excessive thirst and urination
  • Pale gums
  • Coughing up blood
  • Bleeding from any orifice in the body
  • Collapse

The sooner you pursue emergency medical attention for a cat who is exhibiting signs of toxicity, the greater the chances are for treatment to be effective. For a list of common toxins, you can consult with the Pet Poison Helpline.

Other Emergencies

Not all emergencies present obvious symptoms right away. For instance, if your cat has just been struck by a moving vehicle, but seems none the worse for wear, it may be tempting to take on a wait and see approach. But your cat may have sustained an internal injury that has not yet manifested into noticeable symptoms. If you know that your cat has sustained any type of physical trauma, have him evaluated as soon as possible by a veterinarian so that any problems can be addressed early on, if necessary.

Additional situations that must be addressed immediately by a veterinarian include the following:

  • Heat stroke
  • Bite wounds sustained in fights with other animals
  • Seizures
  • Lethargy or fainting
  • Repeated bouts of diarrhea or vomiting
  • Inability to pass stool
  • Refusal to eat for more than 24 hours

You know your feline friend, and you know when he is not himself. If you have any concerns about potential signs of illness or changes in his behavior, never hesitate to contact your veterinarian. For more information, contact professionals like Honolulu Pet Clinic LLC The.