What to Do If Your Cat Is Sick

When a cat is sick, there are many steps you can take besides running to the vet. First of all, it's important to assess whether or not it's a life threatening emergency. Then decide how comfortable you feel with home treatment in the event that it's not an emergency.

Assessing the Urgency of the Situation

Some symptoms indicate that your cat is in immediate danger. If your cat doesn't awaken or respond or has difficulty breathing, call the vet immediately. You'll know your cat is having difficulty breathing if you hear him gasping for air. The breathing may be labored or sound raspy.

Other emergency symptoms include vomiting that won't stop, even if the stomach is empty, or excessive drooling. Changes in gum color and yowling or uncharacteristic hiding are also cause for immediate concern. Incessant diarrhea also needs to be addressed immediately. The above symptoms can indicate poisoning, choking, or a heart, kidney or liver problem. The yowling and uncharacteristic hiding can indicate an obstructed bladder or urinary tract, which is also an emergency.

Symptoms that Don't Require Immediate Care

Many symptoms are concerning but do not indicate an emergency. If a cat hacks up a hairball, it's normal. If a cat is coughing repeatedly, he may have a respiratory illness. Most coughs will abate after 3 days. Cats might also sneeze for a few days if they catch a cold. A more serious cold includes discharge from the eyes and nose but if it starts to lessen after 2 or 3 days, your cat is healing on his own. A cat may also strain at the litter box and have some foul smelling urine. He probably has a urinary tract infection, but sometimes this will pass on its own in 2 to 3 days.

With many illnesses, a healthy cat's immune system will be strong enough to conquer them in about 3 days. You'll notice if the above symptoms are getting worse when you see discharge increasing or thickening, or if the color changes to green or yellow. A urinary tract infection needs veterinary care when you see blood, when it won't go away or when it becomes an emergency.

Home Treatments for Non-Emergencies

There are many treatments you can do at home that some cat owners are completely comfortable with. Steam can help a cough. If you're noticing urinary problems, increase the amount of wet food and encourage an increase in water in whatever way possible. If you're on a purely kibble diet, you can try adding water to the kibble and introducing a bit of wet food. You can also try putting water in a dropper bottle and giving it to your cat.

If your cat is fairly sick already and you want to try home care, designate a clean area away from other animals and household noise and activity. You might need to feed your cat by hand, by placing wet food on his tongue. Avoid putting your finger near the cat's mouth. Put the food on a favorite toy or a spoon or pop-sickle stick.

If you feel comfortable and have seen a demonstration, you can provide the following care at home.

  • You should take your cat's temperature and check his pulse if he is sick.
  • A cat's temperature should be between 101 and 102 degrees.
  • His pulse should be between 110 and 130 beats per minute.
  • You can also change your cat's bandages or wound dressings. It's helpful to have an Elizabethan collar to do this.