As a veterinarian specializing in cats, one of the most common questions I get is if a cat’s symptoms warrant a vet visit. In general, cats are masters of disguise, excellent at hiding the fact that they feel unwell. Often, by the time they show they are feeling poorly, they have been unwell for a while. This is a good reason to take your cat to the vet if you are worried about them. Furthermore, illness in the early stages is often easier and less expensive to treat, so there may be an unexpected cost in waiting to bring your cat to the vet.

A good example of this is a cat bite. Bites from other cats often become infected and cats can develop large abscesses at the site of the bite. If treated early with antibiotics, the abscess does not develop, and the cat is back to themselves after a few days of antibiotics. If left untreated, an abscess can develop, resulting in a large, open wound that may require surgery and will certainly require weeks of care. I see this on a regular basis at my job at the Oxford Cat Clinic, where clients bring their cats in with large wounds that could have been prevented, but the owner wanted to wait and see how the bite would be in a few days. In these cases, a small cost in the beginning can save a lot of money and headache in the long run.

There is also the welfare impact of waiting to consider. Cats who receive early treatment for illness and disease often suffer less and require less intervention than cats who are treated late.

With all of this in mind, I have outlined 11 scenarios below where cat owners should urgently take their cat to the vet. This is not an exhaustive list, so you should always listen to your gut. If you are worried that something is wrong with your cat, you are probably right and should see your vet as soon as possible.

Cat lying on a bed.

Photo: Annanelidova/

#1 Difficulty breathing:

If your cat is struggling to breathe or panting excessively, it’s a medical emergency. This could be due to an asthma attack, pain, an allergic reaction, or fluid buildup in the lungs. Immediate veterinary attention is crucial.

#2 Severe injuries:

If your cat has been hit by a car, attacked by another animal, or fallen from a height, they could have internal injuries, broken bones, or be in considerable pain. Seek veterinary care as soon as possible.

#3 Ingesting toxic substances:

Cats are curious creatures and can ingest substances that are toxic to them, such as medications, cleaning products, or even plants, including the Lily plant, which is incredibly toxic to cats. Symptoms of poisoning can include vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, and tremors. Contact your vet immediately if you suspect your cat has ingested something toxic.

#4 Difficulty urinating:

If your cat is straining to urinate, vocalizing while trying to urinate, or not producing any urine, they may have a urinary blockage. This is a medical emergency and can be life-threatening or life-limiting if left untreated. This is particularly important in male cats where blockages of the urethra are common and can lead to irreversible kidney damage if not treated immediately. Any urinary irregularity in male cats should be treated as a medical emergency.

#5 Lethargy:

If your usually active and playful cat suddenly becomes lethargic and uninterested in their surroundings, it could be a sign of a more severe health issue. A vet should examine them to determine the cause of their behaviour.

#6 Loss of appetite:

Cats can be finicky eaters, but if your cat suddenly stops eating or drinking, it could indicate an underlying health issue. Loss of appetite can be a symptom of a variety of conditions, including kidney disease, digestive issues, pain, infection, or dental problems.

Illustration of a cat who doesn't want to eat.

Photo: ssstocker/

#7 Persistent vomiting or diarrhea:

Occasional vomiting or diarrhea can be normal for cats, but if it persists for more than a day, it’s time to see the vet. Chronic vomiting or diarrhea can lead to dehydration and nutrient deficiencies, and it can be an indication of another underlying illness.

#8 Changes in behaviour:

If your cat suddenly starts hiding, avoiding interaction, or displaying aggression, it could indicate a medical issue. Changes in behaviour could also be due to stress or anxiety, so it’s essential to get a veterinary evaluation to rule out any underlying health problems.

#9 Unexplained weight loss:

If your cat is losing weight despite having a healthy appetite, it could be a sign of an underlying health issue. Weight loss can be a symptom of many conditions, including hyperthyroidism, diabetes, cancer, or intestinal parasites.

#10 Seizures:

If your cat experiences a seizure, seek veterinary care immediately. Seizures can be caused by a variety of underlying conditions including toxoplasmosis, epilepsy, brain tumors, or toxins.

#11  Sudden paralysis of the hind leg(s): 

If your cat suddenly becomes unable to use one or both of their hind legs, it could be a sign of a serious medical condition such as a blood clot, a spinal cord injury, or nerve damage. This is a medical emergency and immediate veterinary attention is necessary. Ignoring this symptom or delaying treatment can lead to unnecessary pain and suffering for your cat or permanent damage to the affected limb(s).

As a responsible cat owner, it’s crucial to be aware of the signs and symptoms that indicate a medical emergency in your feline friend. If you notice any of the above scenarios, don’t hesitate to take your cat to the vet. Remember that early intervention can often make the difference in the outcome.

This article originally appeared in the award-winning Modern Cat magazine. Subscribe today!

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