How to recognise when your pet needs urgent treatment

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Cats: Symptoms symptoms requiring immediate veterinary care

If your cat is showing any of the symptoms listed here you should seek immediate veterinary advice.
You should not attempt to treat a cat showing these potentially serious symptoms yourself — contact a vet.

Open wounds and trauma

The most obvious symptoms that require visits to the animal hospital are open wounds, serious burns, and broken bones. If your cat has been hit by a car or in a fight with another animal, or been involved in any other kind of accident or trauma, unless the wounds are clearly minor you should seek emergency veterinary treatment as quickly as possible.

For minor wounds you may be able to provide some basic first aid yourself.

When your cat is non-responsive

If your cat does not respond to being touched something is wrong. Non-responsive behaviour is often the first obvious sign of loss of consciousness. It may be because of a foreign object, or a bone, stuck in the airway and impeding breathing, or the result of ingesting something toxic. Other signs of a change in consciousness are stumbling or staggering, confused behaviour and/or listlessness.

Gasping for breath

If your cat is struggling to breathe, gasping for air or his breathing becomes laboured it’s a sign of possible obstructions in the airway or of fluid in the lungs, and can lead to respiratory failure or cardiac arrest. Call the hospital immediately.

If your cat’s gums change colour

If your cat’s gums become white, pale, or have a blue or yellow tinge it’s a sign of serious health issues. Whitish or pale gums may suggest serious iron deficiency. Blue-tinged gums can indicate respiratory or cardiac problems. Yellow gums point to a severe liver disorder, or issues with the red blood cells. Any change from the normal colour of your cat’s gums is a sign she needs emergency treatment.

Screeching or hiding indicates distress

If your cat begins to make a lot of unusual and incessant noise, particularly loud yowling, he is probably in acute pain or severe distress. Loud complaints may also be accompanied by a tendency to hide. This kind of unusual behaviour can indicate a life threatening bladder obstruction, amongst other things. if a cat sounds like he is in pain or distress, he probably is. Treat unusual levels of noise as an emergency.

Continual vomiting is not normal

Cats vomit occasionally. It’s normal, for the most part. However, continual vomiting on a daily basis, even when you know the cat’s stomach is empty, indicates illness and can be a sign of serious intestinal obstruction or of ingestion of poison. If your cat is unable to keep even water down something is wrong, and he is at serious risk of rapid dehydration.

May be signs of poisoning

Excessive drooling is not normal and can indicate anything from ingesting things like household cleansers or eating poisonous plants to a burn on the mouth or tongue. It can also be a sign of systemic illness or a mouth tumour, which may not be visible.

Persistent diarrhoea can be serious

Diarrhoea is not necessarily an emergency but diarrhoea that continues for more than a few hours or at most a day or so, especially in kittens, can be a sign of a serious underlying condition, or poison ingestion. Constant diarrhoea can cause rapid physical deterioration and dehydration.


E&OE. The information provided in the articles on this site is intended as a guide to assist readers to become better informed about health issues that may affect their pets and livestock. They are not a substitute for appropriate veterinary advice and treatment. They should not be used for diagnosis or treatment of any individual animal and no person should place reliance on information derived from them, where such reliance may result in loss, damage or injury. Always consult a qualified veterinarian to obtain advice.

Although Alpine Animal Doctors make every effort to ensure that the information contained in our articles is accurate and up-to-date we can accept no responsibility for errors or omissions that may occur.