What Is a True Pet Emergency for Cats?

By: Chewy EditorialUpdated:


What Is a True Pet Emergency for Cats?

A pet emergency often happens at the most inopportune times. On a Sunday when your veterinarian is closed, at 8 PM after business hours, or at 3 AM when you are trying to sleep. About 20 percent of these phone calls are true emergencies, and the other 80 percent can wait and schedule an appointment with their veterinarian. It can be very stressful when your pet is not acting like him or herself, and you are fearful that there is a medical emergency.

Learning how to detect a true pet emergency, especially for cats, can help pet parents remain calm in situations when their pets are not acting right. So, here’s how you can differentiate between emergency pet care that requires immediate medical attention and a medical issue that can wait for a scheduled trip to the veterinarian.

Emergency Pet Care and Cats

Cats are unique, adorable pets. They love their routines and do not cope well when things change (such as a new pet or a move).

Cats are a “survival species” and, by instinct, do not show illness or pain as obviously as a dog. An injured or sick cat will not show they are vulnerable. With this unique trait that cats have, it is important to note any change in your cat’s behavior, such as eating habits, activity level, sleeping location and what they do during the day and night. If your cat is acting differently, have them evaluated by your veterinarian immediately.

If your cat is experiencing a true medical emergency, she should be taken to an emergency hospital. The following are signs of cat emergencies

  • Any type of respiratory distress. If you believe your cat is having a difficult time breathing, this is an emergency. Signs that may indicate your pet is having difficulty breathing include: blue and/or pale gums and tongue, stretched necks, heavy abdominal breathing, gasping or continuous coughing. In this case, your veterinarian may prescribe a respiratory care and asthma management pet prescription for your cat.
  • Excessive vomiting. If your cat appears to be stable and not in distress, a few episodes of vomiting can generally wait for a vet visit in the morning. However, it is an emergency if your cat is uncomfortable, appears bloated, is gagging or is vomiting quite frequently.
  • Severe lethargy and/or collapse. Always have your cat evaluated immediately if they have collapsed or they are extremely lethargic.
  • More than one seizure. One seizure with a quick recovery is generally not an emergency, however if your cat has never had a seizure before, you may want to take her in for evaluation. Also, if your cat begins having multiple seizures in a row, you should bring her for a veterinarian visit immediately.
  • Severe abdominal pain. Signs that your cat may be in severe abdominal pain are pacing, excessive panting in a cool area, an arched appearance with their rear in the air and general discomfort.
  • Severe pain. Any situation when your cat appears to be in severe pain is an emergency. Signs that your pet may be in severe pain include general discomfort, hiding, crying when touched or moved, unable to walk or move, excessive panting in cooler areas and non-weight bearing on a particular limb. If your cat is in pain, you veterinarian can prescribe a pain relief management pet prescription to help with her discomfort.
  • Unable to urinate. If your cat is uncomfortable and continually posturing to urinate with no urine being produced, they must be evaluated immediately by your veterinarian.
  • Toxicities. If your cat got into rat poisonings, cleaning products, human medications or other possible toxicities, they must be seen immediately. Sick cat symptoms from toxic products include pale gums, weakness, blood in stool, urine or vomit and bruising.
  • Paralysis. Please take your cat to the emergency hospital if your pet cannot walk or is dragging any limbs.
  • Accidents/Trauma. If your cat was hit by a car, involved in a fight or experienced a traumatic event, your pet should be taken to the emergency hospital. Make sure to be careful transporting your injured cat. Wrap them carefully in a towel or blanket.
  • Squinting and excessive redness of the eye. This is an emergency and needs to be evaluated right away.
  • Heatstroke. If your pet lives in a warmer climate and shows signs of difficulty breathing, panting, excessive drooling and feels warmer than usual, please see a veterinarian immediately.


Many times, pets can act differently or have a condition that is not an emergency and can wait to be evaluated with a scheduled appointment. It is always recommended to have your pet evaluated for any conditions or behaviors that are not normal for your pet.

  • Subtle Pain. Pain that does not appear to be excessive can wait for a scheduled appointment. Some issues of subtle pain include favoring a limb, a small scratch or trauma, and slow rising and walking.
  • Ear Infections. Scratching of the ear and shaking the head can be signs of an ear infection.
  • Diarrhea. Diarrhea without vomiting is generally not an emergency and can wait for a scheduled appointment.
  • Skin Infections
  • Constipation
  • Inappetence for a short time. If your pet has skipped a meal or does not want a treat without any other clinical signs, you can wait and see if their appetite returns. If more than a day goes by and you pet is not eating, have your pet evaluated by a veterinarian.

Common Cat Emergencies

Some common cat emergencies I treat at my hospital include:

  • Trauma from a car accident
  • Respiratory distress
  • Heat stroke
  • Toxicity
  • Urinary blockage
  • Endocrine Crisis (i.e. Ketoacidosis)

These are just some general guidelines. If your cat does not have one of the conditions listed above, but you still feel something is wrong, do not hesitate to have them evaluated immediately by a veterinarian. After all, you know your pets the best.

I hope this helps with avoiding a dreaded trip to the emergency room or going to the ER when your cat can wait to be seen by your family vet.  Never hesitate to contact a veterinarian if you have any questions.

By: Dr. Alison Birken, DVM


By: Chewy EditorialUpdated: