When Is It An Emergency for Your Cat?

White cat with vet wrap on paw

© Adobe Stock Images

As we all know, humans as well as animals can survive quite a while without food, but they always need water. When a cat gets sick, because they are such secretive animals, the cat does not often times show just how ill it is until much too late and many of us are unaware that there is something amiss with our pet. Hence, when we discover how sick our pet is, we all struggle with "do we need to take the cat to the emergency veterinarian or not"?


One way to answer that question is to check for dehydration. Dehydration in cats is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition as there is an excessive loss of water and electrolytes (minerals such as sodium, chloride and potassium). Dehydration can cause physiological things to happen (i.e., major organs begin to fail, body temperature drops, shock, etc.) and the cat could die. The major causes of dehydration in cats are:

vomiting and/or diarrhea;

sickness – going off its food AND water and therefore not receiving enough fluids;

Excessive urination due to a medical condition (diabetes and renal failure);

Lack of available fresh, drinking water;


Blood loss;


Signs of dehydration can include:

Sunken eyes;

Dry mouth;

Poor skin elasticity (see below to view a simple test for this);


Increased heart rate;


There are a couple of sure fire ways to check to see if your sick cat is dehydrated and necessitates a trip to the emergency vet or can wait until regular business hours at your own veterinarian.

Skin Turgor Test

As shown in the video below, pinch the skin between the front shoulder blades (near the scruff of the neck) and gently lift it up as far as it will go. Let the skin go and if the skin quickly springs back down on the spine, the cat is hydrated. If the skin stays pinched together and/or falls back to the spine slowly, the cat is dehydrated. The more severe the dehydration, the slower the skin will take to retract.

If you do not have the supplies to hydrate the cat by giving it Sub-Q fluids, then a dehydrated cat needs to be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible. If this means a trip to the emergency veterinarian hospital, so be it. NEVER, put off having a dehydrated cat seen by a veterinarian or the cat could die. In the case of a dehydrated kitten, it is imperative that it be seen by a veterinarian as quickly as possible as kittens do not have the body fat (energy stores) that adult cats have and a kitten could fade away very quickly and die.

Capillary Refill Test

This test can assist in testing the cat's blood circulation and can indicate dehydration, heart failure or shock. Lift the cat's upper lip and press the flat of your finger against the gum tissue. Remove your finger and you should see a white mark on the gum where your finger was. Using a watch with a second hand, time how long it takes for the pink color to return to the white spot. In a healthy cat, it should take about 1 -2 seconds to return to pink. If this test indicates that the pink color is slow to return, the cat needs immediate veterinarian care!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *