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Is My Cat Sick? 6 Symptoms For Cat Emergency Vet Care

Dr Amelia Bunker, Resident Veterinarian - Knose Pet Insurance

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Dr. Amelia Bunker

Dr. Amelia Bunker (BVSc), our resident veterinarian at Knose, blends her passion for animal care with her expertise in veterinary science. Her journey from mixed practice clinics to insurance expert motivates her dedication to animal welfare, both in her professional role and as a pet owner.

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Having a cat is like having that warm, constant presence in your home. We love them to bits! That’s why when it comes to their wellbeing, we, as pet owners, want to be sure they are healthy. Wouldn’t it be great if that’s always the case? 

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Paying attention to your cat and their needs will help you with the next steps.

Signs your cat needs emergency vet care:

But getting sick is inevitable. Sometimes, they might even need immediate medical attention. So how do you know when you need to take your cat to see the vet straight away? We’ve collected the most common cat emergency vet care situations that you should know about.

1. Laboured Breathing

When your cat has difficulty breathing, this can be because of a heart or lung condition, or bronchoconstriction, causing low oxygen levels. Below is a checklist you can use anytime you feel that your cat has breathing troubles.

  • Is he breathing with an open mouth? 
  • Is he standing or crouching with its elbows bent away from its chest? 
  • Is his head and neck stretched out? 
  • Is his breath short and uneven? Is he rapidly breathing?
  • Is he wheezing, coughing or vomiting?
  • Does his belly and chest move while breathing? 

If you answered yes to these questions, you need to take your cat to the vet straight away. In doing so, don’t forget to put him in a cat carrier; carrying him in your arms might worsen his condition.

2. Lethargy

Cats have fine motor skills — they’re graceful beings. So when you see your cat moving in a weird way, being lethargic, or hiding in a room for a long period of time, it could be a sign that something is wrong. 

Another warning sign you need to watch out for is when your pet doesn’t react to stimuli the way he normally does. A healthy cat who’s just sleepy will react to your touch; he’d open his eyes and maybe move a little bit before falling asleep again. A lethargic cat, on the other hand, doesn’t react to your touch or to any stimuli. He won’t stir when you open a bag of cat food.

Lethargy in itself is not a condition, but it can be a sign of poisoning, tick paralysis, infection, and heart or liver disease, among others. When you see your cat behave this way, check for other symptoms like —

  • Abnormal sleepiness
  • Low energy
  • Lack of response to surroundings
  • Pale gums
  • Appetite loss

3. Trauma 

Physical trauma in cats can be external or internal. If your cat has an open wound or hemorrhage because he was hit by a speeding car or attacked by dogs, you obviously need to take him to the vet for immediate treatment. You also need to be wary about the internal trauma. Incidents, like jumping from tall buildings or having something heavy fall on you, can cause internal injuries. It’s best to get a vet to check whether a bone is broken or there’s internal bleeding. Often, a sign a cat has suffered some type of trauma, will be damage to their nails. This comes about from their strong flight reflex and moving quickly away from danger. 

Because cats are territorial animals, they will often get into fights during the night as they defend what they believe is theirs. If your cat has suffered from battle wounds, this may not need an emergency visit but some bite wounds can become abscessed quite quickly and may require a surgery under anaesthetic. If treated sooner rather than later, they can easily be treated with antibiotics.

4. Poisoning

Some symptoms of poisoning include vomiting, diarrhoea, drooling, collapse, or seizures. When your cat has been poisoned, never induce vomiting unless your vet has instructed you to do so. 

Take your pet to the vet, and if you know what has poisoned him, bring a sample of the suspected poison with you. 

So what can poison cats? Oftentimes, it’s something they ingested. Here are some of the “foods” that are dangerous for cats:

  • Poisoned mice 
  • Slug or snail bait
  • Lilies
  • Household products like antifreeze and cleaning fluids
  • Commonly used chemicals such as weed killer
  • Rat poison
  • Insecticides 
  • Products containing benzalkonium chloride
  • Drugs like antidepressants, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, and paracetamol
  • Some beauty products such as nail polish and remover, hair dyes and suncream. 

5. Abnormal Urination

When your cat is unable to urinate, this is caused by a blockage in the urethra, and this is a serious cat emergency. If not treated right away, this could be life-threatening. Here are some signs:

  • Straining to urinate
  • Only producing small drops 
  • Licking of the area or the base of the tail
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Not eating

6. Persistent Vomiting or Diarrhoea

When your cat is vomiting or pooping repeatedly, this could be a warning sign of poisoning, gastrointestinal obstruction, or gastrointestinal infection. Constant vomiting and diarrhoea can lead to dehydration. Don’t force him to eat or drink as this might make things worse for him. 

If this persists for more than six to 12 hours or if your cat becomes weak, contact your vet right away. 

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What to Do in a Cat Emergency

The thing about emergencies is that it can happen anytime, anywhere. If your cat is experiencing any one of these emergencies, the last thing you do is panic. 

Stay calm and assess the situation. Make sure that your cat stays warm and that he doesn’t move too much, especially if you suspect broken bones or other kinds of physical trauma. Inform your vet right away and get advice on first aid. 

The key is to know the signs so you, as a pet parent, can know how to properly react. If you sense there’s something wrong with your cat or you’re unsure of how severe its condition is, it’s always best to be on the side of caution: contact your vet right away.   

Manage cat emergencies effectively

If you’re looking for a way to better manage your pet’s vet care bills, did you know that Knose offers a cost-effective way to make vet expenses more affordable? We’ve tackled this discussion separately on how to deal with vet costs in Australia.

Definitely, Cat Insurance is your go-to and is there for those times when the unexpected happens. Cat emergencies are the least we think of and can happen at any moment. It’s best to be prepared physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially.

We also provide individualised pet wellness plans to mitigate certain cat emergencies. They are tailored by your vet for your pet’s needs and give you some peace of mind.  Ask your vet about Knose Wellness Plans today! 

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