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Should I Take My Cat to the Vet?

Persian cat with veterinarian doctor at vet clinic

All cat owners ask themselves this question at least once. It’s sometimes hard to know if what’s ailing your cat is worth a trip to the vet.

When in doubt, you should call your vet or a 24-hour emergency veterinary clinic, at least. They may be able to talk you through at-home treatments for your pet. This is also important when there’s a pet emergency after hours, and you have no way to get your cat or kitten into the vet until the following day.

To help you know what to do, here are some signs that suggest it’s absolutely necessary to take your feline to the vet, now or within the week.

Your Cat Isn’t Eating or Has Drastically Changed Eating Habits

Your cat may be a finicky eater on any normal day, but if you notice drastic changes in eating patterns or how much (or little) your cat is eating, it could be a sign of stomach distress or something else.

Older cats may stop eating when they are ready to pass on. Younger cats and older cats may stop or slow down eating because of dental or gum issues. If your cat ate something that irritated their throat, this could also affect their eating abilities.

Your cat needs to be able to eat comfortably. When you notice changes, call your vet immediately.

Your Cat Has Difficulty Breathing or Changes in Breathing

Unlike dogs, cats don’t pant to cool off when they’re overheated. If your cat is panting, that means it is in respiratory distress. This may be a sign of asthma, or it could be something worse.

If you notice your cat is taking more than 15 to 30 breaths per minute, contact your vet and make an appointment. Be sure to fill in the office worker on what is going on, and any other symptoms your cat may be having (like sneezing).

Your Cat Has Problems with Urination

With indoor cats, cleaning the litter box on a regular basis is important, as it’s one of the best ways to know if they have urinary issues. If you have multiple cats, you may need to keep a close eye on their bathroom habits. If your cat goes outdoors, that part can be a little harder. If you suspect a problem, you might try keeping them inside with a litter box for a couple of days.

Urinary tract infections and crystals in the urine can happen to both male and female cats. These bladder issues may have detrimental effects on your pet; if not just causing them pain anytime they try to urinate. Male cats are more susceptible to these issues.

Tip: Eating a diet of exclusively dry food can sometimes cause or exacerbate the problem of crystals in the urine. And even if you make water available, many cats aren’t really the best at drinking the water they need. Try mixing things up with regular wet food.

Clumping litter will give you a better visual of your cat’s urine habits. If your cat isn’t able to urinate or urinates with pain and obvious discomfort, take them to the vet immediately. There are treatments for bladder issues, and it’s likely your cat will be put on an antibiotic.

Your Cat Has Abnormal Coloring of the Gums

Vet specialist at work checking cat's mouth and teeth in vet clinic
Lucky Business/Shutterstock

If your cat is exhibiting other health issues, take a moment to look in their mouth. Not all cats are fans of having their mouths pried open, but you might catch a look when they yawn. If their gums look pale, instead of a healthy pink, it may be a sign of anemia.

Anemia is caused by a loss of blood, which can happen for various reasons:

  • Internal blood loss, often caused by trauma (like being hit by a car)
  • Illnesses like feline cancer, kidney disease, and autoimmune diseases

Other causes of pale and discolored gums include liver disease (which comes with a yellowing of the gums) and respiratory issues (often symbolized by bluish or gray gums).

Your Cat Has Had a Major Trauma

The old adage says that cats have nine lives, but without proper care after an accident, your cat may only live one of them. If your cat falls from a high place or gets hit by a car, there are likely internal injuries that may not be noticeable immediately. If someone kicks your pet, if another animal attacks them, or if they are hit by your child riding their bike, there is always a chance of injury.

Important: Even if your cat has no outward wounds and seems to be fine, you should take them into the vet for a checkup after any kind of trauma.

Sometimes, wounds on cats are hard to spot because of the fur. This is especially true of the kinds of puncture wounds they can get when fighting with other animals.

Your Cat Is Experiencing Lethargy, Weakness, or Paralysis

If your cat appears to be weaker than normal, seems to be sleeping a lot more than usual, or starts acting sluggish, this could be a sign that they are feeling ill. In this case, the best thing to do is to schedule a vet appointment.

There are some related symptoms that may mean your cat has a dire condition that needs immediate medical care and may come with a poor prognosis for your pet.

If your cat loses function of their head or their hind legs (one or both), something may be seriously wrong. Head “paralysis” is often a sign of advanced kidney disease. The inability to lift their head comes from the lack of potassium in their system, which is a symptom of untreated diabetes. Your cat may be able to recover with added potassium and treatments for diabetes.

Paralysis of the back legs that comes on suddenly (without a traumatic event) may be a sign of heart disease: a specific illness called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or HCM. HCM makes the walls of the heart thicken, which causes clotting. A lodged clot is what causes this sudden leg paralysis. If this happens, your cat needs immediate emergency care in order to have any chance of survival. Blood thinners may help break up the clot.

Your cat or kitten is part of your family. Take care of them by visiting the vet for checkups on a regular basis, and making special trips when something may be wrong. Don’t be afraid to call your veterinarian to make sure it’s worth the trip if you’re not sure. It’s better to ask than to ignore something that could be serious.

Yvonne Glasgow Yvonne Glasgow
Yvonne Glasgow is a professional writer with two decades of experience. She has written and edited for nutritionists, start-ups, dating companies, SEO firms, newspapers, board game companies, and more. Yvonne is a published poet and short story writer, and she is a life coach. Read Full Bio »
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