In these tough economic times, pet owners are looking for ways to save money on their pets. Unfortunately, this also leads people to delay seeking medical care because they’re uncertain if a visit to the vet is absolutely necessary. Most people know if a pet has collapsed, had a seizure, is bleeding, bloated, unable to walk, or has been injured they should see their veterinarian quickly. But what about other, more subtle symptoms? When should you absolutely, positively take your cat to the veterinarian? Here are examples of some common clinical signs that you should never ignore in your cat.
1. Difficulty Breathing
Any changes in your cat’s breathing needs to be addressed immediately. Because cats have small respiratory tracts, even seemingly minor breathing issues can quickly lead to life-threatening situations. If your cat is coughing, panting more than normal, fatigues easily, or suddenly has loud or noisy breathing, he or she should be examined by your veterinarian immediately. Heart and lung disease, infections, obstructions, and more can cause sudden breathing problems.
Diarrhea that persists for more than a day should always be addressed. Because cats are smaller than humans, they can become dehydrated more quickly than we do. Additionally, no one likes to clean soiled carpets and bedding! If your cat has loose stools that last longer than a day, do your cat (and yourself) a favor and have he or she checked out. Most pets can receive simple treatments that will leave them feeling better in no time.
Vomiting once after eating garbage is expected. Vomiting three or more times in a day is concerning and vomiting three or more times in an hour may be an emergency. Generally speaking, if your cat vomits more than three times in day, he or she should be seen by your veterinarian. There are numerous causes of vomiting in cats; fortunately, most of them are non-life-threatening. Don’t take a chance that your cat is suffering from an intestinal obstruction, infection, pancreatitis, liver or kidney disease, hormonal imbalance, or worse. The sooner your cat is diagnosed and treated, the better (and less costly) the treatment.
4. Sudden increase in water consumption or urination
Changes in thirst and urination can be challenging to identify in cats. If you suddenly observe your cat constantly at their water bowl, using the litter box more frequently, take your cat to the vet. These clinical signs may be associated with diabetes, kidney or liver disease, kidney or bladder infections, poisoning, hormonal diseases, and more.
5. Not eating for 48 hours
A pet’s appetite is preserved unless there is something seriously wrong. When a cat doesn’t eat for two consecutive days, you should be worried. By delaying treatment, your pet experiences further nutritional deficiencies that may prolong or complicate their recovery. Cats, especially those who are overweight and don’t eat may also develop acute life-threatening liver failure. Take your cat’s lack of appetite very seriously and seek medical attention as soon as possible.
6. Dark or bloody stools
Dark, black, or tar-like stools are often associated with digested blood in the feces. Bright red blood often accompanies colitis or anal gland conditions. Either way, you should have your cat checked out when you see changes in their feces. Bleeding ulcers, intestinal parasites, foreign objects, and more can cause dark or bloody stools and should be treated as quickly as possible.
7. Unable to defecate or urinate
A pet who is straining or unable to urinate or defecate is in immediate danger. Besides the risk of bladder or urethral rupture, kidney failure, blood poisoning, seizures, and even worse conditions is great, your cat should have medical attention immediately. Many cats start out straining to go to the bathroom only to suddenly develop complete blockage. Male cats are at particular risk for urethral or urinary obstructions.
While this is not a complete list of symptoms that require immediate medical condition, it is a “wish-list” many veterinarians wish their clients would heed. Too many pets suffer needlessly or must endure more involved treatments due to delayed treatment. Use these seven symptoms as a guideline and always err on the side of caution when dealing with your pet. They can’t tell us what’s wrong or how they feel. It’s up to us to be their guardians and pay close attention to the subtle signs they give us.
Ernest E. Ward, Jr., DVM is the owner and chief-of-staff of Seaside Animal Care, a nationally recognized award-winning small animal practice. Dr. Ward is the current veterinarian for the Rachael Ray Show and is a spokesperson for Rachael’s Rescue. He has been featured on NBC Nightly News, Animal Planet, CNN, Animal Radio and numerous television and radio talk-shows around the country.
Read more about Dr. Ernie Ward in our expert center.