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Cats: Symptoms needing emergency care

If your cat is showing any of the symptoms listed in this article you should seek immediate veterinary advice.

You should not attempt to treat a cat showing these potentially serious symptoms yourself — contact a vet. For treatment within the Alpine Animal Doctors emergency service area, call…

5756 2444

If your cat has been involved in an accident or a fight, or been attacked by a dog and has visible injuries it will usually be evident if these are severe enough to warrant a visit to our hospital emergency room.

The symptoms of other potentially life threatening conditions may not be so clear. Cats can show a number of different behaviours or changes from their normal condition that indicate an emergency. Watch out for the symptoms described below — all are signs that you should seek immediate veterinary assistance.

If your cat is exhibiting symptoms not listed here but you are concerned about their condition you should call the hospital for advice.

Loss of consciousness:

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.

Changes in gum 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.

Breathing difficulties:

If your cat is struggling to breathe, gasping for air or his breathing becomes labored 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.

Unusual screeching or hiding:

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.

Severe vomiting:

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.

Excessive salivation and drooling:

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 tumor, which may not be visible.


Diarrhea is not necessarily an emergency but diarrhea 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 diarrhea can cause rapid physical deterioration and dehydration.

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.

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.