Top 3 Reasons Why Cats End Up in the E.R.

Cat Emergency Room
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Cats — ever independent, nimble and self-possessed — can give the impression of being untouchable. Compared to dogs, accidents are less frequently the cause of health troubles for kitties, but even our favorite fluffballs can wind up in the E.R.

Vetstreet spoke to Dr. Amanda Duffy, DVM, MS, DACVECC, an emergency and critical care specialist at the VCA South Shore Animal Hospital in South Weymouth, Mass., about the three types of cases that she most often sees when it comes to felines — and what you can expect if it ever happens to your pet.

The Culprit: Urinary Obstruction

This is one of the main reasons why cats arrive at the E.R., although the cause of urinary obstruction in felines remains somewhat of a mystery.

“The most common cause is feline lower urinary tract disease, however urinary tract infections and urinary stones can also cause this problem,” says Dr. Duffy, who adds that there are ways to prevent the problem from developing, such as maximizing water intake and minimizing stress in the kitty's environment.

The Treatment: “An unblocking procedure is necessary or this can be a life-threatening disease,” warns Dr. Duffy. “Bloodwork and frequent rechecking of electrolytes are necessary, as well as a urinalysis and a urine culture. Abdominal imaging is necessary (either X-rays or an ultrasound) to rule out stones and other underlying diseases.”

Dr. Duffy and her fellow veterinarians recommend hospitalization, with a urinary catheter in place, for 48 hours. Treatments can also include IV fluids, medication for pain, medication to relax the urethra and sometimes antibiotics. In extreme cases, perineal urethrostomy surgery (most often in male cats) may be required. 

The Ballpark Cost: The charge for treatment of a urinary obstruction at a specialty referral center like Dr. Duffy's can range from $2,500 to $4,500, if surgery is performed. Of course, prices can vary significantly across the country.

The Prognosis: “Typically, prognosis is very good,” says Dr. Duffy. “However, urinary obstruction can recur.”

The Culprit: Congestive Heart Failure

For cats who have undetected and untreated heart disease — and even, sadly, for cats with heart disease that's being treated — congestive heart failure is a common E.R. scenario.

The Treatment: “Hospitalization in an oxygen cage is typically necessary, as well as diuretic therapy,” says Dr. Duffy. “Occasionally, cats with heart disease are very stressed due to difficulty breathing, and have to be lightly sedated. Fluid can accumulate around the lungs, and a thoracocentesis (a procedure to remove fluid or air) may be indicated. Chest X-rays, bloodwork and an echocardiogram are also indicated. Additional cardiac medications are typically required.”

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