The #1 Cat Emergency Seen in Emergency Rooms

What is the most common cat condition seen in veterinary emergency rooms? Can you guess?

Most people guess that most emergency situations arise from trauma such as being hit by a car, a gunshot wound, cat bite wounds, falling out of a tree, and other urgent problems. That’s what most people think … but they’re wrong.

The number one reason cats are brought to veterinary emergency rooms is for vomiting.

How to Recognize a Cat Emergency

Symptoms of problems in cats include drooling, lip licking, and vomiting. Some cats will not eat when they are nauseated.

Vomiting can be a symptom of many different problems. Vomiting can be caused by something minor like a viral bug, food change, or something serious such as diabetes, cancer, or kidney disease.

Bloodwork, radiographs (x-rays) and ultrasound tests may be required to help determine the underlying cause. Minor problems can often be treated with medications to stop vomiting and fluids to improve hydration. More serious problems can require additional testing as well as hospitalization for various treatments and even surgery.

Learn more from our medical library article about vomiting in cats. Another very good article that covers what you can do at home is Home Care of the Vomiting Cat.

What You Can Do to Prepare for a Cat Emergency

  1. Make sure you know where your local emergency room is or how your vet deals with emergencies. Keep this information (phone number, hours, address and directions) handy. Some cat owners wonder when to call. Learn more with this article – When Should You Call the Emergency Vet Hotline? This article outlines reasons to worry such as a list of toxins that are a concern and dangerous symptoms such as straining to urinate that should prompt you to go to the veterinarian immediately.
  2. Know your cat’s history and about their current problem. Make sure you know your cat’s medical history and any medications that he is taking. The emergency vet will want to know when the vomiting started, how many times your cat vomited, what the vomit looked like, the last time your cat vomited and if there are any accompanying symptoms, such as lethargy, weakness or diarrhea. Observe your cat closely. If possible, take a sample of any diarrhea with you. This information can really assist the emergency veterinarian to better help you. For more information about how an emergency veterinary clinic works – go to What is an Emergency Vet?
  3. Call your veterinarian or emergency clinic to determine what they want you to do. Their staff will talk to you about your cat’s condition and recommend whether or not you should bring him in to be examined. If your cat has only vomited once, is now acting normal and has no diarrhea, they may give you the recommendation to wait a few hours and see if your cat vomits again. On the other hand, if your cat has been vomiting and is lethargic they may recommend you bring him in immediately.

Trained veterinary personal help you with common questions. Learn more about a Day in the Life of an Emergency Veterinarian.

To prevent problems, prevent your cat’s exposure to trash, table scraps, and other foreign objects. Buy only safe toys and ensure your cat does not chew on any objects around that house that he could swallow and be unable to digest or pass through his system. Cats are especially fond of string, yarn, ribbon, hair ties, and other linear-type foreign bodies. Make any food changes gradually over a period of several days.

What Will It Cost to Go to the ER with a Vomiting Cat?

Vomiting can be expensive to treat, depending on the underlying cause. It is not uncommon for basic treatment to run $175.00 to $300.00. More extensive care requiring tests, such as bloodwork, radiographs (x-rays), and hospitalization can run anywhere from $685.00 to $2,000.00. That’s a lot of money. That’s why I always tell my readers to consider pet insurance.

Is Pet Insurance Right For You?

Pet insurance can pay up to 90 percent of your veterinary bill. This is something you should consider BEFORE your cat has a problem. Take a minute and get a quote now and find out if pet insurance is right for you.

As one of the first pet insurance providers in the U.S., PetPartners has been offering affordable, comprehensive pet health insurance to dogs and cats in all 50 states since 2002. Trusted as the exclusive pet insurance provider for the American Kennel Club and the Cat Fanciers’ Association, PetPartners highly customizable options allow pet owners to create a plan that fits their individual needs and budget — so you’re not paying for added coverage you don’t necessarily need or want.

The #2 Reason Cats Go To The Emergency Room – Do You Know What It Is?

The number one reason cat owners take their cats to the animal emergency room is for vomiting.

Can you guess what the second reason is?

It’s when a cat is not eating. The “not eating”, also known by the medical term “anorexia”, is often accompanied by other symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea and/or lethargy. A cat who won’t eat is a common symptom and can be caused by many different diseases. For example, refusing to eat can be caused by a viral infection, various toxins, cancer, heart disease, kidney failure, liver problems and just about anything else.

Because not eating is so common, it is likely that it will affect your cat at one time or another. This article will cover tips on how to plan for, treat, and prevent this problem in your cat.

What to Do if Your Cat is Not Eating

  1. This is basic but important. Make sure you know where your local emergency room is or how your vet deals with an emergency. Keep this information (phone number, hours, address and directions) handy.
  2. Next, make sure you know your cat’s medical history and any medications he is on. If possible, have copies of any important information.
  3. Observe your cat for all abnormalities, food changes, toxins, and more. Make sure you carefully observe your cat when he is not eating. If you have to take your cat to your vet or to an after-hours or emergency clinic, they will want to know when the last time your cat ate, and if his lack of appetite is associated with any other symptom such as vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, weakness, collapse, trouble breathing…or anything else. Monitor the litter box and make sure he is urinating okay and observe the bowel movements for abnormalities such as diarrhea, evidence of blood, or worms. Check the trash to ensure that he has not been exposed to any toxins or other objects. Note if there has been any change in your cat’s diet or new treats. If your cat is on medication, has his medication changed recently? If your cat goes outdoors, keep him where you can keep an eye on him.
  4. Encourage your cat to eat. You can offer fresh food and fresh water. Some cats respond to “fresh food” from the bag or a new bag. Canned foods, especially fish flavors, pouched food, new and different dry foods, chicken baby food, and/or canned tuna will stimulate some cats to eat. If the problem is minor — a cat may eat well and quickly be back to normal. If the cat doesn’t’ eat or still acts lethargic, the problem may be more serious. If you are worried, the best recommendation is to have the cat evaluated by a veterinarian.
  5. Talk to your vet. If you call a veterinary clinic, you may hear some advice. If your cat is acting sick or you are concerned, the recommendation is always to bring the cat in for evaluation.
  6. There is no good way to “prevent” the lack of appetite unless you can prevent the underlying cause. To keep your cat safest, prevent exposure of your cat to trash, table scraps, and other foreign objects that they may be inclined to chew on. Buy only safe toys and ensure your cat does not ingest on any objects around that house which he could swallow (such as thread, yarn, ribbon, or strings) that he would be unable to digest causing a possible obstruction. Make any food changes gradually and over several days.

What Does it Cost to Take a Cat That is Not Eating to the Vet?

How much will it cost to see the vet if your cat is not eating? Because there are so many possible causes, most veterinarians will recommend some basic blood work and possibly a urinalysis to help determine the possible underlying cause. Additionally, radiographs (X-rays) may also be recommended.

The prices at different clinics around the country vary but without treatment, the emergency fee, blood work, and X-rays can range from $425.00 to about $800.00. Again, this does not include any treatment. Depending on what the tests reveal and the underlying cause for the not eating, various treatments may be recommended. Fluid therapy may be recommended for dehydration, and other treatments may be recommended to treat additional symptoms.

Unfortunately, cats can be expensive and this can be a substantial expense for some cat owners. If you don’t have pet insurance – how often can you afford to do this? How many times could you afford to cover cat emergencies out of pocket like this? How about even more costly emergencies? Have you looked into pet insurance yet? If you have not done so, take a minute and find out how pet insurance can save you money.

Stroke in Cats

A “stroke” is a term commonly applied to people who have suffered a cerebrovascular accident, commonly abbreviated as CVA, caused by cerebrovascular disease.  It was once thought to be very uncommon in cats and dogs but is now known to occur.

A stroke is caused by the disruption of blood supply to the brain that results in failure of nerve impulses to be transmitted from the brain to the rest of the body.

Neurologic symptoms develop that can be temporary or permanent.  If the symptoms persist for over 24 hours, the condition is categorized as a stroke. If the symptoms persist for fewer 24 hours, the event is categorized as a transient ischemic attack or “TIA”.

There are two types of strokes. They include:

  1. Hemorrhagic stroke – This type of stroke results from hemorrhage (bleeding) into or around the brain. This can be caused by bleeding from toxins such as rat poison, vascular abnormalities, and secondary to brain tumors, high blood pressure (hypertension), inflammatory disease of the blood vessels (vasculitis).
  2. Ischemic stroke – Ischemia is a term that means there is an inadequate blood supply to a part of the body or organ. Therefore an ischemic stroke results from a blockage of blood flow to the brain. This can be caused by parasite migration (Cuterebra), migration of cancer cells to the brain, high blood pressure (hypertension) secondary to hyperthyroidism, heart disease, or chronic kidney disease.

Signs of a Stroke in Cats

Whatever type of stroke a cat has, the symptoms that develop are determined by how much brain tissue is affected, how severely it is affected, and where in the brain it is located. Possible signs of a stroke in cats include:

  • Altered mental status e.g. disorientation
  • Circling in one direction
  • Falling over to one side
  • Head pressing
  • Head tilt to one side or another
  • Stumbling or drunken walking
  • Weakness
  • Incoordination
  • Not using the legs normally (sometimes on one side of the body)
  • Rolling
  • Unequal pupil sizes and/or abnormal eye reflexes
  • Lethargy
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Death

Diagnosis of Stroke in Cats

Stroke in cats can affect an animal very suddenly. A very important point is that many owners may mistake a stroke for a different condition called Vestibular Disease. Learn more about Vestibular Disease in Cats.

Other disorders that result in signs similar to strokes include inner ear infections, thiamine deficiency, head trauma, middle ear polyps, middle ear cancer, brain tumors, and/or metronidazole (antibiotic) toxicity.

Diagnostic tests are needed to determine the presence of an underlying disease or cause for the stroke and to differentiate between other disorders that may be affecting the balance system of the body.

Tests may include:

  • Your veterinarian will take a complete medical history and perform a thorough physical examination including a complete neurologic examination and complete examination of the ear canal.
  • Laboratory tests may be recommended to determine your pet’s general health and the presence of an underlying disease that may be causing the vestibular disease. Recommended tests may include:
  • Blood tests may include a complete blood count (CBC or hemogram), serum biochemistry tests to evaluate blood glucose, liver and kidney function and electrolytes, and thyroid test to evaluate for hyperthyroidism.
  • Urinalysis to help evaluate kidney function.
  • Blood clotting times (PT and PTT) may be recommended if there is suspicion of toxin exposure such as to rat poison. Read more at Anti-coagulant rodenticide.
  • Blood pressure to evaluate for hypertension.
  • Radiographs (x-rays) of the chest and abdomen may be recommended to evaluate for major diseases affecting the heart, lungs or abdominal organs.
  • Cardiac evaluation:  In cases where the heart is suspected to be the problem on the basis of the physical examination and initial evaluations, a cardiac evaluation including an echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart) and an electrocardiogram (ECG) may be recommended.
  • Other diagnostic tests may be recommended based on the results of the history, physical examination and initial laboratory tests such as spinal tap, CT, MRI or skull x-rays.

Treatment of Stroke in Cats

The treatment for strokes in cats is largely supportive. The first 24 hours is most difficult as the symptoms are worst, providing there is not progression.

  • Management will be recommended to treat any underlying conditions. For example:
  • Blood pressure medications to treat hypertension
  • Heart medications to treat the underlying heart disease
  • Thyroid medications to treat hyperthyroidism
  • Maintaining hydration with fluid therapy
  • Encourage adequate nutrition
  • Oxygen therapy to improve oxygen delivery
  • Nursing care as needed to keep the eyes lubricated, rotating pets that are not moving from side to side, constant cleaning urine and feces, and/or warm environment to provide optimal comfort

Some cats can recover completely from stokes and others will have permanent neurological abnormalities. Little research has been done to determine the overall prognosis for strokes in cats.  The prognosis is largely dependent on the underlying cause and the ability to adequately treat those causes.

Home Care and Prevention

Call your veterinarian promptly if your pet is showing signs of a stroke. This is a frightening experience for your cat so speak calmly and soothingly. Make sure he does not injure himself and please make sure you do not get bit. Cats that are frightened or in pain may bite.

Heartworm Symptoms in Cats

Heartworm disease is an infectious disease caused by the parasite Dirofilaria immitis that can occur in dogs and cats but is less common in cats. An infected mosquito that bites your cat can transmit Dirofilaria immitis. Below we will give you information about heartworm symptoms as well as information about the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of heartworm disease.  We will also cover other diseases that can cause similar symptoms and be confused with feline heartworm disease.

There are key differences in heartworm disease and in heartworm symptoms in cats vs. dogs. The cat is not the typical host for heartworms. It is believed that dogs get heartworm disease 10 times more commonly than cats. Many cats with heartworm disease go undiagnosed.

Heartworm disease in cats can occur in any breed and at any age. Male cats are more commonly infected and outdoor cats are at increased risk.  It is estimated that approximately one-third of cats with heartworm disease are indoors only.

The numbers of worms that develop in cats are generally much less than dogs. In fact, some cats infected with heartworms may have only one to three worms. These worms will live in pulmonary vessels and cause the symptoms we will identify below.

Heartworm Symptoms in Cats

The symptoms of heartworm disease in cats can be vague to critical. Some cats will appear normal on physical examination while others will have a history of vomiting, a cough, trouble breathing, or even sudden death.

Symptoms of heartworm disease in cats may include:

  • Coughing (dry)
  • Coughing up blood
  • Difficulty or trouble breathing – Learn more about How to Recognize Fluid in a Cat’s Lungs
  • Increased respiratory effort
  • Occasional vomiting
  • Sudden death
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Collapse or fainting
  • Decreased activity or playfulness
  • Sleeping more
  • Abnormal neurologic symptoms such as seizures, circling, blindness, trouble walking or incoordination
  • Sudden death – Learn more about Sudden Cat Death: Understanding Why it Happens

Why and How Cats Get Heartworms

The following are the steps of how a cat can get heartworm disease:

  1. Transmission of heartworms to a cat occurs when a mosquito bites an infected dog or cat and ingests heartworm larvae (baby heartworms) that live in the bloodstream. The parasite is known by the scientific name of Dirofilaria immitis.
  2. The infected mosquito then bites a normal healthy cat and when this happens some of the larvae are injected under the skin.
  3. Over the following 3 to 4 months, the larvae grow in the cat and eventually make their way into the heart where they develop into adult worms.  As little as 2 or 3 worms can be fatal to an adult cat.
  4. The process is then ready to repeat itself.

Figure 1. Graphic of a heart with heartworms in the heart and pulmonary blood vessels. The heartworms appear as light colored thin spaghetti type structures. This heart shows many heartworms. Cats with heartworms may only have one to three worms.






Other Diseases that Can Look Like Heartworm Disease in Cats

Many cat owners are concerned that their cat has heartworm disease when they see signs of difficulty breathing or labored breathing. Trouble breathing in cats can be caused by heartworm disease but it is more common for the cause to be from heart disease or feline asthma.

Causes of heart disease in cats include Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy in Cats, Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) in Cats and Chronic Valvular Heart Disease. The increased respiratory effort associated with heart disease is often caused by pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs) or pleural effusion (fluid around the lungs) that is secondary to congestive heart failure.

There are several causes of an enlarged heart in cats. Learn more about What Does an Enlarged Heart Mean for Cats?

Asthma in cats, also known as “Feline Allergic Asthma” or “Feline Allergic Bronchitis”, and is a lung condition associated with airway obstruction caused by sudden narrowing of the bronchial tubes. These symptoms are caused by the spasmodic constriction of the bronchial tubes and increased production of secretions from the bronchial tree. Some cats may have an acute onset of signs while other cats may have signs that come and go. Common symptoms in cats include coughing, difficulty breathing, increased respiratory effort, fast respiratory rates, wheezing breathing, lethargy, weight loss, weakness, withdrawing from social activities around the house, and/or an abnormal posture. As some cats struggle to breathe, they may sit with their head extended and elbows back.

Diagnosis of Heartworm Disease in Cats

Tests that can diagnose heartworm disease in cats include serum heartworm antibody test, serum heartworm antigen test, and or Microfilaria test (looking for larva in the blood).

What Does an Enlarged Heart Mean for Cats?

An enlarged heart in cats is a common sign of heart disease.  There are several types of heart disease that can occur in cats and the different diseases can cause special structural changes in the heart. Below we will review the signs of an enlarged heart in cats, causes of an enlarged heart, tips for diagnosis of the underlying heart disease, and what you can do at home.

Signs of an Enlarged Heart in Cats

Signs of heart disease can vary depending on the severity of the disease. In early stages of heart disease, cats can appear normal. Some cats will have very subtle symptoms that may progress over time. Signs of heart disease in cats may include:

  • Noisy, difficult, open-mouthed breathing
  • Increased respiratory rate and/or increased respiratory effort (using abdominal muscles to breath)
  • Posture of help breathing such as squatting or lying with chest down, head extended and elbows pointed outward and back
  • Anorexia or lack of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy
  • Sleeping more
  • Decreased social interactions with the family or other cats
  • Sudden inability to use one or more limbs and crying
  • Coughing (rare in cats, common in dogs)
  • Fainting
  • Your vet may auscultate a murmur- learn more about Murmurs in Cats. This is a very good article written by a veterinary cardiologist.

Some pet owners may attribute the subtle changes associated with heart disease in cats to changes to age in older cat or maturity in younger cats. As the heart disease progresses, there may be progressive weight loss, trouble breathing which can cause an increased breathing (respiratory) rate or increased effort. If you believe your cat has an enlarged heart or is having any difficulty breathing or is in pain, please see your veterinarian immediately.

Heart disease can be a cause of sudden and unexpected death.   Learn more about Sudden Cat Death: Understanding Why it Happens.

Causes of Enlarged Hearts in Cats

There are several causes of an enlarged heart in cats. They may include:

  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is common heart condition in cats characterized by a thickening of the main pumping chamber of the heart (the left ventricle) and not attributed to other medical conditions (such as high blood pressure). It can, in severe cases, cause heart failure when fluid accumulates in the lungs. Blood clots can form in the heart and travel to distant blood vessels obstructing blood flow to one or more limbs (especially the back legs). This is called a thromboembolism and can cause severe pain while having the inability or difficulty using one or more legs. HCM can be mild to life-threatening. Learn more about Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) in Cats.
  • Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in cats is a heart disease characterized by dilation or enlargement of the heart chambers and markedly reduced contraction. The heart muscle is often very thin and the ability of the heart to pump is diminished. An analogy of a normal functioning ventricle would be opening and closing your fist/hand completely. Using this analogy, the ventricle of a cat with dilated cardiomyopathy will only have a fraction of that full movement such as only the fingers moving slightly toward your palm but no full squeeze.  Some cats will have only one part of the heart involved or advanced case can cause all four heart chambers to be abnormally affected. Learn more about Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) in Cats.
  • Another heart disease that may affect cats is Chronic Valvular Heart Disease.  Valvular heart disease (VHD) is a condition characterized by degeneration and thickening of the heart valves. Valvular heart disease is more common in dogs but can also occur in cats. The abnormal values can cause an enlarged cat heart and can eventually lead to heart failure. Accumulation of fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema) or the abdomen (ascites) may occur.
  • Feline heartworm disease is caused by a parasite, Dirofilaria immitis, that is transmitted by mosquitoes.  Heartworm disease is less common in cats than dogs but can occur. Heartworm disease can cause an enlarged heart in cats. It can be diagnosed by blood tests and advanced testing such as an echocardiogram (Echo). Learn more about Heartworm Symptoms in Cats. This article has information about feline heartworm disease.
  • Congenital heart disease is a term used to describe abnormalities in the heart that develops before birth. There are many different types of defects that can affect different parts of the heart. These diseases can cause an enlarged heart in cats. The best way to diagnose congenital heart disease in cats is with an Echocardiogram performed by a board-certified veterinary cardiologist.

How Enlarged Hearts in Cats are Diagnosed

An enlarged heart in cats can be diagnosed by the following methods:

  • Chest X-rays – Also known as thoracic radiographs or X-rays of the chest, a chest X-ray can identify heart enlargement and fluid accumulations in or around the lungs. Chest X-rays can also be useful in excluding a number of other diseases.
  • Echocardiogram – Also known as an ultrasound examination of the heart or an “echo”, is the most sensitive diagnostic test that can determine not only if the heart is enlarged but also which part of the heart is abnormal and the severity of the disease. The echocardiogram can also determine if the underlying cause of the enlargement is from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, alveolar heart disease, dilated cardiomyopathy and heart deformities (congenital heart disease).  In summary, the echocardiogram can establish the diagnosis of the enlarged heart and provide useful information about and heart muscle function. This test often requires referral to a specialist such as a veterinary cardiologist. The experience of a specialist can be vital to determining the underlying cause for the enlargement to provide the best information to guide treatment and understand the prognosis.

Homecare: What You Need to Do at Home

Please see your veterinarian for all routine physical examinations and follow-up testing.  If your cat is diagnosed with an enlarged heart, it is critical to follow your veterinarian’s recommendations for additional testing such as the ones listed above. Chest x-rays and an echocardiogram can be important to determine the underlying cause for the enlarged heart which will help determine the best treatment options and help you understand the prognosis.  Referral to a board-certified veterinary cardiologist is often the best option to optimize your cats care.

High Blood Sugar in Cats

There are three common ways that pet owners can identify high blood sugar in cats. Methods may include recognizing clinical signs of hyperglycemia (which we will describe below), measuring the blood glucose, and/or evaluating the urine glucose level.

  1. Clinical signs of high blood sugar. Cats with hyperglycemia secondary to diabetes generally have a history of obesity, lack of appetite (anorexia), vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, weakness, increased thirst and increased urination.  The classic signs are drinking more and urinating more. Some cat owners don’t notice the “urinating more” but will notice that there are more piles of urine in the box or that the litter box is heavier when changing it out. They may also notice their cat at the water bowl more often or that they are filling up the water bowl more frequently. Some pet owners don’t notice these changes, especially if there are multiple caregivers in the house doing similar tasks such as filling water bowls or cleaning the litter boxes.
  2. Blood glucose test. The best way to identify a high blood glucose is to have your veterinarian perform blood work. A routine biochemical profile (also called blood chemistry panel) will provide a blood glucose measurement as well as kidney values, protein levels, liver values, and electrolytes. It may be ideal to determine the kidney function because kidney disease can cause symptoms that are similar to diabetes in cats. You can also obtain a single blood glucose level with a glucometer at the vet clinic or at home.  Although not easy to do at home in most cats, some pet owners are able to check their cat’s blood glucose at home. Here are some tips of how to do this at home – go to Home Monitoring of the Diabetic Cat with a Glucometer.
  3. Urine test. When the blood glucose concentration exceeds the kidney’s ability to handle it, glucose can be present in the urine. In cats, the blood glucose concentration that allows for urine glucose is 260 to 310 mg/dL. It can be difficult to catch a urine sample at home but some cat owners empty the litter box except for shredded paper and are able to catch the liquid and perform a urine glucose dipstick. There are some litters or confetti-type flakes that go on the litter that can help detect urine glucose.  Learn more about Urine Glucose Testing.

Diabetes in Cats

Diabetes mellitus (DM) is the most common cause of persistent high blood sugar in cats. It is a chronic condition in which a deficiency of the hormone insulin. This impairs the body’s ability to metabolize sugar.

There are two types of diabetes mellitus.

  • Type I DM occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin. This can be the result of destruction of the cells in the pancreas that normally produce insulin. This form is identified in approximately 50 to 70 % of cats diagnosed with diabetes mellitus. This form does not produce enough insulin and requires insulin injections to control the disease.
  • Type II DM occurs when enough insulin is produced but something interferes with its ability to be utilized by the body. This form is identified in approximately 30% of cats with diabetes mellitus. This type of diabetes is treated with dietary management, weight control, and oral drugs.


Learn more about Diabetes in Cats and insulin injection in cats. Diabetes can get out of control causing a severe syndrome of life-threatening symptoms called Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA). Dietary therapy is very important. Learn more about Diets for Diabetic Cats.

If you believe your cat has a high blood glucose, is not eating, vomiting, lethargic, or you have any other concerns, please see your veterinarian. We hope this article helps you know more about high blood sugars in cats.

Additional Articles of Interest Relating to Sick Cats and Diabetes in Cats:

How to Recognize Fluid in a Cat’s Lungs

Cats can have various medical problems that can cause difficulty breathing. Cat owners commonly want to know how to recognize if there is fluid in a cat’s lung. The medical term for the accumulation of fluid in the lungs is pulmonary edema. Fluid in a cat’s lung can be caused by congestive heart failure, trauma, or potentially by an infection such as pneumonia. In this article, we will review signs of trouble breathing in cats and possible causes for fluid in cats lungs and other signs of trouble breathing.

Difficulty breathing, or “shortness of breath”, is commonly referred to by the medical term “dyspnea”. This can manifest in cats as an increased respiratory rate, increased respiratory effort (working harder to take breaths), open mouth breathing, and/or an abnormal posture to breath. Cats that have fluid in their lungs or have difficulty breathing may sit with their head and neck extended with the elbows back (see figure 1).

Cat dyspneaFigure 1. Cat with slight trouble breathing from fluid in lungs. This cats elbows are back and neck slightly extended. Some cats may have their next extended more as the difficulty progresses. 

Difficulty breathing can occur at any time during a cat’s breathing process, during inspiration (breathing in) or expiration (breathing out).

Figure 2. This cat is having severe trouble breathing due to fluid in lungs. This cat’s neck is slightly extended and he is very weak. He is also open mouth breathing. This cat has congestive heart failure from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.




There are many different reasons a cat can have difficulty breathing. When a cat has trouble breathing, he may not be able to get an adequate supply of oxygen to tissues. For example, there can be airway problems from asthma, a foreign body in the airway causing an obstruction, an infection, or accumulation of fluid (edema) in the lungs, bruising of the lungs (pulmonary contusions), or an abnormal accumulation of fluid in the chest cavity (Pleural Effusion in Cats).

Why Cat’s Lungs Fill With Fluid

Fluid in a cat’s lung can be caused by several different diseases. The problems are often categorized by those caused by underlying heart problems (cardiogenic) and those not caused by a heart problem (non-cardiogenic).

Cardiogenic Causes

  • Congestive heart failure (CHF) is a condition resulting from the heart’s inability to sufficiently pump blood to adequately to meet the body’s needs. This failure leads to an increased respiratory effort caused by fluid in or around cat’s lungs. Two common heart diseases that cause congestive heart failure are Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy in Cats and the other is Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Cats. These diseases can cause lethargy, weakness, lack of appetite, and decreased exercise capacity. Most cats won’t eat when they can’t breathe well.

Non-Cardiogenic Causes

  • Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs that usually results from a bacterial infection. The most common way a cat acquires pneumonia is by inhalation. Cats with pneumonia may suffer from a compromised immune system. Pneumonia can occur at any age but is more common in kittens or senior pets.  Learn more about Pneumonia in Cats.
  • Cancer is an uncontrolled growth of cells on or within the body. Cancer is common in cats and the risk of cancer increases with age. In fact, cancer accounts for almost half of the deaths of pets over 10 years of age. Cancer may be localized, or it may invade adjacent tissue and spread throughout the body. Cancer can develop in the lungs, spread to the lungs, or occur in tissues near the lungs that lead to fluid in the lungs or around the lungs. Intact (non-spayed) female cats are predisposed to breast cancer (metastatic mammary carcinoma).
  • Upper respiratory tract infections (URTI) are amongst the most common conditions that occur in cats and kittens.  Signs can range from sneezing, running eyes, inflamed conjunctiva, ulcers in the mouth, and/or trouble breathing. Learn more with this article – Feline Upper Respiratory Tract Infections.
  • Head trauma can occur in cats from being hit by a car, crushed in a recliner, bites from other animals, or other kinds of trauma. Some cats with head trauma can develop lung inflammation that causes fluid in the lungs.  Learn more about Head Trauma in Cats.
  • Electrocution or electric shock results in injury to nerve cells from the intense heat generated as the electricity passes through the body tissues. The most common source of electrical injury to cats is when they bite electrical cords carrying low voltage household currents. This is most common in young playful cats and kittens. Exposure to high voltage electrical current is uncommon and is usually fatal due to massive internal damage. Learn more about electric shock in cats.
  • Seizures, also known as fits or convulsions, are a sudden excessive firing of nerves in the brain. It results in a series of involuntary contractions of the voluntary muscles, abnormal sensations, abnormal behaviors, or some combination of these events. A seizure can last from seconds to minutes in cats. Seizures are symptoms of a neurological disorder but are not a disease in themselves. Some underlying causes of seizures in cats include inflammatory brain diseases, brain tumors, symptoms from toxins, or epilepsy. Learn more about Seizures in Cats.
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and acute lung injury (ALI) are severe respiratory diseases that can occur in cats. These diseases are well characterized in human medicine but less well understood in cats.  Complex changes occur that leads to cellular inflammatory changes that cause progressive trouble breathing and sometimes fluid accumulation in the lungs. This most often occurs in cats with infections or pneumonia.

Disease Commonly Confused with Fluid in Cat’s Lungs

There are other diseases that can be confused with those that cause fluid in cat lungs.  One problem that comes is Feline Asthma.

Sudden Cat Death: Understanding Why it Happens

One of the most awful things that a cat lover can experience is the sudden loss of a beloved cat. Trying to understand sudden cat death is excruciatingly painful. You want to make sense of what happens, consider what you could have done differently, and/or determine if there were signs of problems that you didn’t observe.  It is most difficult to understand sudden cat death when it is unexpected or happens to a young cat. In this article, we will discuss some of the possible causes of sudden cat death.

The life expectancy of cats can be anywhere from 16 to 22 years of age. Indoor-only cats live the longest followed by cats that are both indoors and outdoors. Cats that live only outdoors have the shortest lifespan due to exposures to toxins, trauma, animal attacks, and infectious diseases.

Possible Causes of Sudden Death in Cats

There are many causes of unexpected or sudden cat death.

As we consider illness and death in cats, one thing that is important to consider is that cats are very good at hiding their illness by their nature of survival. This fact sometimes will allow cats to be sick for a long time before we are aware. This can be especially true when we see the cat every day and don’t notice subtle changes such as weight loss, shedding, or a dull hair coat.  As our cats get older, we may believe that symptoms such as weight loss or lethargy are from them just slowing with age rather than from an illness.

Causes of sudden cat death may include:

  • Trauma. One common cause of sudden cat death is trauma.  This is more frequent in outdoor cats but can occur to any cat.  Examples of trauma include being hit by vehicles such as cars, bites from dogs and other animals, gunshot wounds, falls, or being crushed in a recliner. To learn more – go to Trauma and Injuries in Cats.
  • Toxin. Another cause of sudden cat death is ingestion and/or exposure to toxins and medications. This is another problem that is more common in outdoor cats but can occur in indoor cats as well. Common toxins include Potpourri exposure, medications that contain acetaminophen, plant toxicity such as from Easter lilies, and ingestion of various rat poisons just to name a few. To learn more about possible toxicities, go to Toxins in Cats.
  • Heart Disease. One of the most common causes of unexpected cat death is from heart disease.  There may be little to no warning signs. Cats can appear normal, hiding their symptoms well, and quickly decompensate finally showing signs of illness. Some cats will heart disease will develop difficulty breathing or have difficulty using their back legs while crying out in pain.  Some cat owners will simply find their cat dead. Learn more about What Does an Enlarged Heart Mean for Cats? and How to Recognize Fluid in a Cat’s Lungs.  The most common cause of heart disease in cats is Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM).  Feline heartworm disease can also cause sudden death.
  • Heart Attack. It used to be believed that cats didn’t get heart attacks but they do. A “heart attack” is the term commonly applied to people who have suffered a myocardial infarction (MI), most commonly related to coronary artery disease. The myocardium is the muscular tissue of the heart that receives nutrients and oxygen from the coronary arteries. The coronary arteries are small blood vessels in the heart muscle that brings blood from the aorta, the main artery of the body. When the muscle doesn’t receive normal blood supply, a heart attack incurs. Learn more about Heart Attacks in Cats.
  • Chronic Kidney Disease. Chronic renal (kidney) failure (CRF) is another very common problem in cats. When the kidneys fail, they are no longer able to remove waste products that lead to the build-up of toxins in the blood. This produces clinical signs of kidney disease that include weight loss, decreased appetite, vomiting, and lethargy as the kidney disease progresses. Some cats will also have increased thirst and increased urination.  This is most common in older cats but can occur at any age. To learn more go to Chronic Kidney Disease in Cats.
  • Feline Urinary Obstruction.  Feline urinary obstruction (UO) is an acute obstruction of the urinary tract, and although this disease can affect any cat, it is most common in males. This is commonly referred to as a “Blocked Cat”. Typical signs are straining to urinate and crying. When untreated, most cats will die within 72 hours.  To learn more, go to Urinary Obstruction in Cats.
  • Stroke in Cats. A “stroke” is a term commonly applied to people who have suffered a cerebrovascular accident (CVA) caused by cerebrovascular disease.  It was once thought to be very uncommon in cats and dogs but is now known to occur. A stroke is caused by the disruption of blood supply to the brain that results in failure of nerve impulses to be transmitted from the brain to the rest of the body. The symptoms can come on quickly and cause sudden cat death. Signs of a stroke can include difficulty walking, falling to one side and/or seizures. Click here to learn more about Strokes in Cats.
  • Infections.  Severe infections, commonly known as sepsis, can cause a progressive group of symptoms including lethargy, anorexia, weight loss, dehydration, fever, and death.
  • Shock.  Shock is defined as a profound life-threatening syndrome that results in low blood pressure and can quickly lead to death. Shock can be caused by an allergic reaction, heart damage, severe infections (sepsis), blood, trauma, blood loss, toxins, and fluid loss or from spinal cord trauma. Cats with shock can quickly die.
  • High Blood Sugar in Cats. Severe symptoms caused by uncontrolled diabetes can lead to weakness, lethargy, vomiting, lethargy, coma, and death. Learn more about Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA) in Cats.

These are some reasons for sudden cat death. Loss of a cat can be devastating and hard to understand. I personally lost a beloved seemingly healthy 9-year-old cat. I spent years trying to understand how this happened, what I could have done differently, and what symptoms I might have missed …to still not have the answer. The only comfort I (and you) can take from this situation is knowing that you did the best you could and that you gave your cat a wonderful life.

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Symptoms and Causes of Nausea in Cats

Nausea in cats is a very common condition. It can occur on its own or just prior to the act of vomiting. In humans, nausea is also referred to as “feeling sick to your stomach” or “queasy” and is associated with a feeling of discomfort and unease in the stomach. In cats, nausea is harder to define, as animals can’t tell you they feel unwell. In many occasions, it is unclear that there is an issue until the cat vomits. The most common symptoms of nausea in cats are lack of appetite, licking, excessive chewing, hypervocalization (excessive meowing), restlessness, and drooling. Nausea can make cats feel uncomfortable and restless. Some cats will pace around while meowing while others will lie in the same spot drooling.

Overview of Feline Nausea

Nausea is a nonspecific symptom, which means there are many different possible causes. These causes can include an upset stomach, changes in diet, eating something indigestible, eating too fast, overeating, eating something that is spoiled or unpleasant, licking something with an unpleasant taste (such as cleaning chemicals or topical flea prevention products), motion sickness, and certain medications.

A number of diseases or conditions can also cause nausea in cats, especially disorders of the gastrointestinal system (stomach and/or intestines). Nausea can be secondary to a disease from a different system such as cancer, kidney failure, diabetes, or various infectious diseases. This can make the diagnosis of the cause of the nausea a challenge.

At one time or another, your cat may have a bout of vomiting before which he probably had a period of nausea. Vomiting may be a sign of a very minor problem or it may be a sign of something very serious.

An occasional, infrequent, isolated episode of nausea with or without vomiting is usually normal and not a reason for major concern.

The severity or concurrence of other signs will determine the specific diagnostic tests your vet will recommend. Important considerations include the duration and frequency of the nausea. If your cat vomits once then eats normally with no further vomiting, has a normal bowel movement, and acts playful, the problem may resolve on its own. If nausea and vomiting continue after your cat eats your cat acts lethargic or doesn’t want to eat, then medical attention is warranted.

Nausea in Cats – What to Watch For:

Signs of nausea in cats often include:

Nausea may also be associated with:

  •  Vomiting
  •  Dry heaving
  •  Dehydration due to persistent vomiting
  •  Abnormal behavior or physical abnormalities associated with prolonged vomiting including lethargy (reluctance to move), abdominal pain, diarrhea, weight loss, blood in the vomit, or other unexpected physical changes

Diagnosis of Nausea in Cats

Administering the optimal therapy for any serious or persistent medical condition depends on establishing the correct diagnosis. There are numerous potential causes of nausea and subsequent vomiting and before any treatment can be recommended, it is important to identify the underlying cause and direct the initial therapy towards resolving it.

Diagnostic measures and tests may include:

  • A review of your cat’s complete medical history and a physical examination, including abdominal palpation. The medical history assessment will most likely include questions regarding vaccination history, diet, appetite, general health, presence and character of vomitus (frequency, progression, presence of blood, duration of vomiting), weight loss, past medical problems, medication history and presence of other gastrointestinal signs such as vomiting and/or diarrhea.
  • Your veterinarian may recommend a variety of laboratory tests including a complete blood count (CBC), a serum biochemical panel, and a urinalysis.
  • Fecal examination (to determine the presence of parasites or blood).
  • Plain radiography (X-rays) or contrast X-rays (X-rays performed after your cat is given a contrast material such as barium or aqueous iodine), which can help determine the cause of the vomiting.
  • Ultrasonography is an imaging technique that allows visualization of abdominal structures by recording reflection (echoes) of inaudible sound waves to determine the size and shape of abdominal organs, it can also detect changes in the consistency or texture of organs.
  • Endoscopy may be useful for diagnosis or to remove foreign bodies in the stomach. Endoscopy can also be used for examination of the stomach and a portion of the intestine and to potentially obtain biopsies of abnormal areas noted during the exam.

Treatment of Nausea in Cats

Common treatments for feline nausea may include one or more of the following:

  • A primary strategy is eliminating the predisposing cause (such as a change in diet), eating plants, overeating, eating too fast, ingesting chemicals including flea prevention medications, etc.). Patients who eat too quickly or overeat can be treated by feeding small portions at a time, sometimes with the use of feeders designed to slow eating.
  • An acute episode of nausea with or without vomiting in a playful cat, in the absence of other physical abnormalities, may be treated symptomatically without hospitalization (outpatient treatment). This treatment may consist of subcutaneous fluids, injectable drugs used to control nausea and vomiting (anti-emetics), and a follow-up appointment if the symptoms are not resolved immediately. A drug commonly used to treat nausea is Maropitant (commonly known by the brand name Cerenia). This drug comes in both injectable and oral forms. Many times a cat is given an injection and sent home with the oral pills.
  • Cats that have abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, or have any other unusual symptoms or behaviors may be treated with hospitalization. This therapy may include intravenous fluid administration, 24-hour monitoring, and drug therapy. It is often combined with diagnostic testing to determine the cause of the vomiting.
  • Sick cats may require referral to an emergency or 24-hour hospital that offers around-the-clock care.

Learn more about what you can do at home for the vomiting cat.

Cats and Grass: A Love Affair

Many cat owners think, “My cat eats grass. Is that OK?” If you’ve witnessed your cat noshing on an outdoor salad, you might have also noticed that it can make your kitty throw up. However, some felines nibble on your lawn and aren’t subjected to any adverse effects at all. So, what’s the deal? Is it alright for cats to eat grass? Today, we’ll be explaining the pros and cons of letting your feline eat grass and tell you how to offer a more nourishing option for them.

Why Do Cats Eat Grass?

Experts have several theories to explain why cats like grass. Cats are predominantly meat eaters, so do they really need all of that green roughage to round out their diet? Should you be offering them kale on a regular basis? Some scientists believe that cats eat plant material to get raw nutrients into their diet. After all, humans are often told to eat their greens. But are cats supposed to do the same? (By the way, save the kale for your own salads.)

Purina Cat Chow explains that grass contains folic acid, a nutrient that felines need to survive. Folic acid helps cats develop properly and boosts blood oxygen levels. Cats that aren’t getting enough of the vitamin in their diet may nibble on grass as a supplement. Grass also contains niacin and fiber. Cats can’t make niacin in their bodies. Consequently, they must get it from an outside source. If cats are deficient in this nutrient, they can suffer from weight loss, a diminished appetite, inflamed gums, and hemorrhagic diarrhea.

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The fiber in grass can help relieve an upset tummy, too. Over the course of an average day, cats spend a lot of time grooming, and their sandpaper-like tongues pick up hair while they’re doing this. They can’t digest the fur, so hairballs can develop in their stomachs, making them feel queasy. Grass can have a laxative effect when consumed, helping the cat to eliminate sluggish stool. It can also cause the cat to vomit, spewing up any hairballs that are causing them to feel sick.

Can Eating Grass Be Dangerous?

Many people treat their lawns with fertilizers and pesticides. Unfortunately, repeated exposure to these chemicals can be hazardous to your cat’s health. Even just letting your cat walk around on a treated lawn can cause them to ingest these compounds. Some experts recommend leaving your lawn untreated if you have a pet that likes to lounge outdoors.

Moreover, cats can pick up these dangerous chemicals on their paws and coats. When they lick themselves clean, they take in the poisons. This is unlikely to make your pet sick. However, a sensitive kitty might show signs of pesticide poisoning. Symptoms of fertilizer or pesticide poisoning include excessive drooling, seizures, anemia, unsteady gait, and difficulty breathing.

The desire to eat grass can also be hazardous for indoor cats. Have you ever noticed your kitty nibbling on your houseplants? She does this for the same reason that outdoor cats eat grass. However, many potted plants are toxic to cats. According to the ASPCA, aloe, amaryllis, lilies, bird of paradise, and tulips are some of the flora that can be dangerous for cats to eat.

A Better Alternative

Even if you don’t have a green thumb, you can grow indoor cat grass that’s safe for your kitty to eat. How do you grow cat grass? The process is fairly easy. Many websites sell kits that include the pots, soil, and seeds. You can also grow a variety of different grasses for a cat-friendly indoor garden. Oats, rye, barley, and wheat grow into a type of grass that’s safe for your feline to consume.

How to Grow Cat Grass

Purchase seeds online or from a pet supply store. You’ll be planting them in shallow pots. You don’t want your cat to be able to tip the containers over easily. Some people plant cat grass in large trays in which their kitties can walk, sit, and lie down.