Cat Emergency Care - Cat Emergencies: When And How To Act

How do I know if I need to take my cat in for emergency care?

Some of the signs that you might see with your cat include abnormal breathing. Normally, cats don't pant, so panting or open-mouth breathing would be a concern. If they are obviously bleeding, swelling, or vomiting continuously, it would be a typical emergency. There are a lot of different things. We have a little list here that we'll go through.

Dr. Nichola Gaither
Animal Hospital of Statesville

Anaphylaxis. What is it, and why is it an emergency?

That would be an acute allergic reaction to something, which could be life-threatening to a patient if they aren't seen immediately. It could be because of something they were exposed to or something that perhaps stung them. Hives and breathing issues could cause them to go into shock, so they could have respiratory or circulation issues that could be life-threatening.

Bleeding. How much is too much?

Obviously, a little cut is probably not a big deal. Apply pressure and take care of it. But how much bleeding is too much? If you can't get the bleeding to stop, that would be an immediate reason to come in. With cats, we don't see it quite as often, but if they tear a nail, cut an ear, or maybe even cut the tongue, those are highly vascular areas that may bleed a lot, and we know that a little bit of spilled liquid or blood looks like more than it actually is if you were to measure it, but I would always apply pressure and seek help if they're bleeding.

Difficulty breathing:

You normally don't see cats breathe all that heavily, but if you see them really struggling or open-mouth breathing, that would be a concern. Their normal resting respiration rate is less than 40 breaths per minute, so if you see that chest expanding multiple times and you can actually count that in a minute, that would be a concern.


The occasional diarrhea may not be an emergency, but if a cat continues to have that, then they can get dehydrated, and that is an issue that you wouldn't want to go on for days.

Convulsions. What's the difference between convulsions and seizures?

The difference depends on what triggers it. We think about seizures being a brain issue, a misfiring of the brain signals that could be due to toxic exposure or something genetically going on with the patient. But if they continue to have seizures or are convulsing and shaking, that would be something you would want to seek attention for. If it did stop, you would still want to seek attention. It's not necessarily a life-threatening emergency, but still worth checking out to find the underlying issue.


It's kind of vague, but an injury could be a broken bone and getting hit by a car. Oftentimes in injuries with our cats, if you don't see external wounds, the internal damage can be more severe, and they hide pain well. So if they're not showing you they're hurt, it doesn't mean they feel okay. If you have any doubts or you know something happened, but they're not showing signs, it's best to bring them in to make sure.


It depends on the type of poisoning. If it was ingested, you might see vomiting and excessive drooling without vomit. That would indicate that it was something like a detergent or something that affected their tongue.

Heat stroke:

That could happen if your cat was enclosed in an area, either a car or even an area of the home that didn't have ventilation or got too hot. Oftentimes, they would be open-mouth breathing or rapid breathing. That would probably be the signs you would see unless it is super severe. Then they may be unresponsive or even go into a seizure.

Allergic reactions:

Anaphylaxis is a very acute, potentially life-threatening response, whereas an allergy could be mild or severe.


If they're unconscious, there's something wrong. No explanation is needed.

My cat is showing one or more of these symptoms, but I think he'll be okay. Why should I take him to the veterinarian?

He might not be okay. Cats hide their hurts. Their survival instinct is not to show when they're in pain, so any of these situations can be very serious, and the biggest reason is that the sooner we find out what's going on, the more likely we are to help the patient. If it's a month down the road and you come to us because this has been going on for several weeks, then the prognosis may not be as good.

Why is early detection and diagnosis of a cat in distress really important?

We may be able to provide treatment in the early stages of a problem where that may not be an option later, or it may still be an option but not carry the best prognosis if it's treated later. As you said, they hide their symptoms and their distress, so by the time they're really showing it, it's probably pretty severe.

Often, they may lose weight and body conditions or lose that ability to fight off a problem that's going on or respond to treatment. If they are very thin or have not eaten for several days or something like that, then they don't have the strength and the stamina to overcome it.

What are the signs of shock in a cat?

If you were to look at their gums or feel their gums, they might feel what we call very tacky or sticky, which would indicate dehydration and shock. They may also have an irregular heart rate or rhythm if you were able to feel that on their chest. They may also just not be responsive if they were in a severe shock state.

Where do I take my cat if an emergency happens after hours?

After hours, if you were to call our clinic, you would get the emergency clinic numbers. They're located around us in the surrounding areas, but we are open seven days a week, so it may not be considered a typical after-hours since we are open on Sundays and Saturdays as well.

That information is also located on our website under emergencies. We are not a 24-hour emergency clinic, but if you scroll down to the bottom, we have all those area emergency clinics listed below, and you want to call them because everybody's having some staffing issues, one thing or another. You want to make sure that where you're going is going to be able to handle your emergency. So it's really important to call first, no matter where you go. That also gives them the heads up that you're coming in, what the type of emergency is, or at least the patient pet you have so that they can prepare and be ready for you.

Should I call my veterinarian in an emergency situation with my cat?

Yes. Call us, and if we're not there, call the emergency clinic, and we'll give you the best advice on what to do.

What is the difference between an urgent pet situation and a true emergency?

An emergency would be more life-threatening, and urgent would be a situation in which the pet needs to be seen now, but not necessarily for something life-threatening.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at 704-802-1280, or you can email us at [email protected]. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can. Don't forget to follow us on social media Facebook, Instagram

Cat Emergency Care - FAQs

Dr. Nichola Gaither
Animal Hospital of Statesville

How do I know if my cat needs first aid?

There are some signs you may notice, like excessive drooling, vomiting, a hurt leg or visible bleeding. Your cat might also have trouble breathing. Any of these symptoms could indicate a need for first aid.

What first aid can I do at home with my cat?

If your cat is hurt or bleeding, you could apply pressure. However, avoid giving any medications to cats at home. Cats are very sensitive and some human medicines can be toxic to them. Always have your vet's number at hand and call them immediately. They will instruct you on what steps to take.

How do I know if my cat needs CPR?

Cats typically don't breathe with their mouths open. If you notice this or can't feel a pulse or heartbeat, your cat might need CPR.

How do you give a cat CPR?

To help a cat's heart beat, you'd compress the chest from side to side. If you're providing air, keep their mouth shut, put your mouth over their nose and gently blow in. Cats are more fragile than humans, so be careful not to apply too much pressure.

How can I find out quickly if my cat has ingested something poisonous?

If you see that a product is missing or open, or there are open liquids in the area your cat was in, your cat may have ingested something poisonous. Symptoms of poisoning can include excessive drooling or vomiting.

Who can I contact regarding possible cat poisoning?

You can call Poison Control, though they do charge a fee. Alternatively, you can call your vet. Make sure to provide as much information about the product your cat may have ingested to help the vet determine the best course of action. The most commonly used Poison Control number will be posted in the video. Remember, in any health emergency with your cat, it's important to seek help from a professional, such as an emergency animal hospital.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at 704-802-1280, or you can email us at [email protected]. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can. Don't forget to follow us on social media Facebook, Instagram

Cat Emergency Care - FAQs 2

Dr. Nichola Gaither
Animal Hospital of Statesville

What happens when my cat arrives at the hospital during an emergency?

Initially, if we don't know you as a regular patient or client we might get some basic information about the age of your pet and whether they are on any medications or have any prior health concerns. Then we will get a history of the immediate emergency, what your concerns are, what may have happened, and what you think could have happened before assessing the pet and providing whatever emergency care might be needed based on their symptoms.

How will I know if my cat can be seen right away during an emergency?

That depends on the hospital. It's best to call, and you can call when you're on the way in a true emergency. That way the clinic can let you know if they have the staff available to best care for your pet. Sometimes we have five emergencies at one time, and while we'd like to be able to help everyone, it may be best for your pet to go elsewhere to get care because we just can't handle that many at one time. So if we do send you somewhere, there is a reason for doing that.

What should I bring to the hospital with me if my cat has an emergency?

Important information depends on if your pet has been exposed to something, if there's anything toxic that they've been exposed to or any medications they're currently on. If you don't already have a list of that, it would be good just to have it on hand. Just like you would for a person, bring information about any prior medical problems and any medications they're on as well as any medical pertinent information that we may not have. With toxins like rat poisoning or whatever, there are different ingredients, and knowing those ingredients can help us treat the pet, so bring the box if you have it or anything that relates to the ingredients.

What will treatment be like for my cat once we get to the hospital?

If they are hurting or they're bleeding, it might involve some type of sedation. They'll need blood work if we feel like your pet has ingested something or is having an emergency due to internal concerns. There may also be imaging like x-rays or ultrasound. That's kind of a vague question, but normally, after the initial physical exam, we'll give you what we call a treatment plan to assess what's most important diagnostics that will give us the most information to know how to best treat your pet. That treatment plan doesn't mean that's all there is. That gets you started and may lead you in different directions.

What diagnostic tests might my cat need during an emergency?

Blood work, x-rays, and ultrasound, depending on the condition. With blood work, we may want to look at whether any of the organs are affected, if your cat is anemic, if their red cell count is low, or if they are experiencing a diabetic crisis. There are various problems we can diagnose with blood work, and imaging, such as x-rays or ultrasound help us look internally at what we can't see from the outside, whether that's a trauma that they had that may indicate they have an emergency, such as a broken bone or an issue with their breathing, where they may have something going on in their chest that needs to be addressed immediately.

How will my veterinarian determine the right course of treatment for my cat?

That's determined with the diagnostic testing, including x-rays, ultrasounds, and physical exam. We will also consider your pet's history, and the physical exam and test results gives us what we need to do.

What questions should I ask my veterinarian when my cat experiences an emergency?

I think the best questions would be to make sure you understand the information on how to take care of your pet once leaving the hospital, especially if we're sending your pet home. A lot of veterinarians will provide written instructions because we understand that you may be a little emotional or may not remember everything that we say. You can always ask for written instructions. Read your labels because almost every medication should go home with instructions. So even though you may have thought you heard to give it one way, whatever is written on that bottle should be the way that you administer it. You can also call back and clarify. You may want to ask about the activity level recommended for your cat. If your cat is outdoors or indoor-outdoor, you may want to ask when they are allowed to go back outside again. Should they be around your other pets or your non-furry kids at home? You may want to keep them isolated or secluded because they might heal faster if they're not stressed out with other animals or people.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at 704-802-1280, or you can email us at [email protected]. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can. Don't forget to follow us on social media Facebook, Instagram

Cat Emergency Care - FAQs 3

Dr. Nichola Gaither
Animal Hospital of Statesville

Will I get post-emergency instructions from my veterinarian?

Most likely. Veterinarians typically provide well-written instructions or at least labeled medications with the proper instructions. If instructions are not provided, do not hesitate to ask for them. In emergency situations, it can be hard to remember everything that was discussed due to stress or emotions. Written instructions can be very useful in these situations. Never feel bad about having to call for clarification. It's always important.

How can I keep my cat healthy and comfortable after an emergency?

Depending on what the emergency was, if they had trauma, you would want to provide a safe, comfortable area with low stress. This could be a quiet area with minimal traffic from other pets, children, or individuals in the household. Consider relocating their essentials such as a litter box, food, and water into this room to minimize their need to travel throughout the house.

When can my cat return to normal feeding and activities after an emergency?

This would depend on the type of emergency. For cats, we generally want them eating and drinking soon after most emergencies as this aids in their recovery. You should ask this question before leaving the veterinarian, or it may be included in your written instructions. Depending on the situation, your cat might have to go home on a special diet and then return to their normal diet.

What are signs of complications that I should be looking for after a cat emergency, and what would indicate that he would need to come back to the hospital?

If your cat doesn't resume eating and drinking within a specified time, especially after trauma, this could indicate that we're not managing their pain well or they're not feeling as good as we would like. If your pet had stitches, monitor the incision site. If they were exposed to a toxin, make sure the vomiting is controlled and that they are eating and drinking well. Your veterinarian should provide a timeline of what to expect and when to return for a re-examination. Even if your pet seems better, it's important to keep any scheduled follow-up exams.

Do you have any tips on preventing cat emergencies?

Cat-proofing your house as much as possible can help prevent emergencies. Store medications and cleaning products out of their reach. If your cat spends time outdoors, be aware of the increased risk of trauma. Also, be mindful of common household hazards such as knives in the sink or open dryers, which can be dangerous if a cat decides to explore. Candles can also be a risk as cats are naturally curious. Try to think like a cat and act accordingly to minimize potential dangers. Cat's are also more inclined to move vertically than dogs, so you may have certain things out of your dog or child's reach, but your cat is still exposed to it.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at 704-802-1280, or you can email us at [email protected]. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can. Don't forget to follow us on social media Facebook, Instagram