Most people want to provide their cats with the very best care, but dont want to run to their veterinarians every time theres a sign of trouble. Sometimes, though, even the most conscientious person cant distinguish between a true emergency and when the problem can be resolved at home.
Better Safe than Sorry
Veterinarians generally prefer that people err on the side of caution. Its always better to be safe than sorry, says Eric Christensen, DVM, small animal veterinarian at the Cornell University Hospital for Animals and consultant with the Cornell Feline Health Center. But for the cat owner in a quandary, here are 10 signs that Christensen says should prompt an immediate call to the veterinarian – and probably a trip to the clinic.
Ataxia. The cat that suddenly starts walking as though its had too many drinks may need immediate attention, says Christensen. Possible causes include middle-ear infections, neurological disease, or poisoning.
Straining to eliminate. If a cat makes a great effort to eliminate – and especially if it vocalizes during the process – it could be experiencing severe constipation, urinary tract disease or a lower urinary tract obstruction. The latter ailment is common in males and may be fatal. But because its often difficult to differentiate between a cat struggling to defecate (not necessarily an emergency) and one thats struggling to urinate (frequently an emergency), immediate consultation with a veterinarian is critical.
Persistent vomiting. A veterinarian needs to see a cat that has vomited several times within an hour, especially if blood appears in the vomitus, or if the cat exhibits other signs such as lethargy and a refusal to eat. Possible causes include ingestion of a foreign object, liver and kidney disease, gastrointestinal problems, and poisoning.
Obvious hemorrhage. Bleeding from a body opening, the eye, or the inner ear may indicate a serious problem. Equally dangerous is blood that pulses from a cut, which indicates a wound to an artery. If five minutes of moderate pressure doesnt stop the bleeding, the wound should be bandaged and the cat taken to a veterinarian immediately. Even if the bleeding stops, the cat should be treated as soon as possible by a veterinarian.
Change in gum color. Immediate attention is needed if a cats normally pink gums rapidly become white, blue, yellow or bright red. White or pale gums may indicate anemia or systemic shock; blue gums result from breathing problems; yellow gums indicate red blood cell destruction, liver disease, or gall bladder disease; and red gums may mean septic shock or severe infection.
Obvious lameness. Any sudden onset of lameness, neck or back pain, or the inability to use one or more limbs requires veterinary attention. Possible causes include bony infection, fractures, abnormal blood clotting, or heart disease.
Breathing difficulty. If your cats breathing is labored, an immediate call to your veterinarian is critical. The cat could be suffering from asthma, lung disease, foreign body aspiration, severe upper respiratory illness, or cardiovascular disease.
Seizures. Any spasm or convulsion – including disorientation, twitching, or apparent loss of ability to recognize ones surroundings – should prompt an immediate visit to the veterinarian. Possible causes include idiopathic epilepsy, liver or kidney disease, low blood sugar, infection or inflammation of the central nervous system, or a brain tumor.
Sudden blindness. If your cat suddenly starts walking into walls or otherwise appears unable to see, immediate veterinary attention is vital. Among the possible causes: retinal detachment, liver insufficiency, or glaucoma.
Abdominal problems. A cat that paws at its abdomen, adopts a praying position, or lies on the ground with its legs tucked underneath its body may be experiencing abdominal pain. (The cat may also resent manipulation of its abdomen during this time.) Such signs could indicate abdominal bleeding, organ rupture, or inflammation of the abdominal wall lining.
Again, its important to remember how well our cats are able to hide illness. In the case of a long-term condition, it can be quite advanced by the time we notice signs in a particularly stoic cat. Thats why its important for owners – who know their cats best, after all – to consult with a veterinarian whenever their cats behavior or appearance seems unusual.