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Acute Collapse in Cats

By: Dr. Etienne Cote

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Acute collapse is a sudden loss of strength causing your cat to fall and be unable to rise. In acute collapse, your pet falls to the ground either into a sitting position (hind limb collapse) or a lying position (complete collapse). Some cats that suddenly collapse will actually lose consciousness. This is called fainting or syncope. Some cats recover very quickly and look essentially normal just seconds to minutes after collapsing, whereas others stay in the collapsed state until helped.

Acute collapse is usually caused by a disorder of one of the following:

  • The nervous system (brain, spinal cord, nerves)
  • The musculoskeletal system (bones, joints, muscles)
  • The circulation (heart, blood vessels, and blood)
  • The respiratory system (mouth, nose, throat, lungs)

    What To Watch For

    If your cat suffers an acute collapse, he will sit down suddenly or lie down and won't be able to get back up. Call or take your pet to your veterinarian immediately.

    Veterinary Care

    Veterinary care should include diagnostic tests to determine the cause of acute collapse so that subsequent treatment recommendations are specific and most likely to be successful.

    There are dozens of diseases that can cause acute collapse. In order to pinpoint which is responsible, your veterinarian may perform one or more of the following evaluations.

    Diagnosis

  • A complete physical examination and history

  • Routine blood tests (complete blood count and serum biochemical profile)

  • Specialized blood tests that measure endocrine (hormone) function or identify antibodies against muscle cells

  • Measurement of arterial blood pressure

  • X-rays of the thorax and the abdomen (the chest and belly)

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG) or ambulatory electrocardiogram (Holter ECG or event monitor)

  • Ultrasound of the abdomen or heart

    Treatment

    Treatment of acute collapse is dependent upon the underlying cause. Initially, emergency treatments may be necessary if the blood pressure is too low or if bleeding has occurred. The following are possible treatment options that your veterinarian may choose to implement.

  • Reversal of the problem if the cause of collapse is known. Examples include removing an object that is obstructing airflow in the throat, giving an antidote if poisoning has occurred, or administering glucose (sugar solution) in cases of low blood sugar.

  • Intravenous fluids (an "IV"). These fluids can rehydrate and support the blood pressure.

  • Surgery if the underlying problem is operable, such as a bleeding abdominal tumor.

  • Intravenous drugs. The exact drug selection depends on the underlying or suspected problem.

  • Blood transfusion or blood substitute if anemia or hemorrhage contributed to the collapse.

    Home Care

  • When acute collapse occurs, do not panic. Observe your cat carefully. Notice if there has been a loss of consciousness. Remember what – if anything – precipitated the collapse, how long your pet was collapsed, and how he acted immediately afterwards. If your cat is unconscious, see if you can feel the heartbeat on the left side of the chest. If your pet seems dazed or aggressive, be very careful not to be bitten. Call your veterinarian and explain what has happened.

  • If your cat cannot rise, prepare to transport the collapsed animal immediately after speaking with the veterinary hospital personnel. USE CAUTION. Animals that collapse may be disoriented, confused, or aggressive during the collapse and during recovery. Consequently, they may bite aimlessly and can injure even the people most familiar to them.

  • Cats that have collapsed often act normally within a few minutes. In such cases, a veterinary examination is still warranted to find the cause and try to determine if future collapse is likely.

  • If your pet appears completely recovered, try to make some notes. Remember the events surrounding the collapse. Was there an obvious cause (e.g. choking on a ball or toy)? Did it happen during normal activity or during vigorous exercise? How long did the collapse last? Was there a loss of consciousness? How did your pet behave afterward? These pieces of information can help the veterinarian tremendously.

  • When a collapse persists, generally, it is best to go immediately to the nearest veterinarian rather than spend time on "life-saving" measures. Inappropriate cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), for example, may be ineffective and can also cause internal organ damage if done improperly.

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