Rushing your beloved cat to an emergency animal hospital is something no one wants to face. Luckily, with proper veterinary and home care, many cat emergencies are preventable. Here is advice on how to prevent the most common cat emergencies seen at BluePearl Veterinary Partners hospitals, with input from Dr. Sonja Olson, a senior emergency veterinarian, and Dr. Adam Lancaster, who is board-certified in emergency and critical care.
First, remember that cats instinctively hide their pain. Dogs and humans are highly social creatures, so they will typically reveal signs of pain to their loved ones or “pack.” Cats, however, are much more solitary and private animals, so they will likely avoid showing when they are hurt. They hide from you when they are not feeling well. Cat owners should pay extra close attention to their cats’ behavior to avoid veterinary emergencies.
One of the most common emergencies is urethral obstruction, which is caused by any complication in the urinary tract that prevents complete urination. Signs of urethral obstruction include inability to urinate, vocalizing when urinating, going in and out of the litter box frequently, blood in urine, vomiting, hiding or even walking strangely. Urethral obstruction occurs most commonly in male cats because of their unique anatomy, but it is may occur in female cats as well.
Many factors may contribute to the development of urethral obstruction. Some, such as genetics, are out of your control. However, it may surprise you to learn that one of the main causes is stress in the home. Veterinarians aren’t exactly sure why, but environmental stress is linked to urethral obstructions in cats. Stress is more common in multi-cat households, so make sure each of your cats has his or her own litter box, food and water dishes and rest area. Providing multiple water sources can increase hydration and therefore prevent urinary complications. To learn more about lowering stress in the home, read our article on cat enrichment.
Another common cat emergency is a linear foreign body causing an intestinal obstruction – in other words, swallowing anything string-like. Thin, long, linear objects appeal to cats, but they can cause serious intestinal issues when swallowed. Treatment for string obstruction is usually surgery, which is not pleasant for your kitty. Keep your cat away from string-like objects such as pieces of yarn, Christmas tinsel, Easter grass, dental floss and toys with streamers.
Many cats who enter the ER are victims of trauma. The most common forms of trauma are cat fights, dog bites and getting hit by cars. Trauma can cause bone injuries, damage to teeth and jaws or even intestinal bruising. To avoid this emergency, keep your cats away from dangerous animals and make sure they stay away from roads and driveways.
Improper grooming also can cause emergencies for cats. Some cats maintain their claws by scratching, but other cats need their claws trimmed. If your cat’s claws grow too long, they can curve into their paws and cause immense pain.
For long-haired cats, it is important to keep the fur clean and brushed. If the fur gets matted, remember NOT to clip the fur with scissors, as the mat is often much closer to the skin than anticipated. Scissors can cause lacerations in the skin which would likely require emergency veterinary attention. If your cat’s fur is matted, it is best to have a veterinarian or professional groomer shave the fur.
Our emergency veterinarians also see many cases of heart failure. As we mentioned, cats tend to avoid showing signs of illness, so heart problems may not be easy to detect. If you notice shortness of breath, your pet may be suffering from heart failure or a respiratory condition, such as asthma. Sudden weakness or blood-tinged, foamy vomit are also indicators of heart failure and the need for immediate veterinary attention. The best way to prevent this emergency is by keeping up with your cat’s annual veterinary visits. At these exams, your primary veterinarian will listen to your cat’s heart to check for abnormalities or signs of problems. Be mindful that cats over the age of seven are at a higher risk for heart failure and some breeds of cats are genetically prone to heart conditions.
“It is important to keep in mind that clinical signs can be subtle,” says Dr. Lancaster, “Remember hiding, lack of appetite and breathing changes are common indicators that something is medically wrong with your cat.”
“Annual vet visits are essential for preventing cat emergencies,” says Dr. Olson, “Regular blood and urine tests can help determine if your cat may have any medical concerns. It is also important to help prepare your cat for veterinary visits or consider a mobile vet so annual maintenance is easier for you and your cat.”
Our veterinarians recommend visiting the BluePearl medical articles library or the American Association of Feline Practitioners website for more information on cat emergencies.
If your cat experiences a medical emergency, contact your local emergency veterinarian immediately.