Ask A Vet: 5 Things That Kill Cats And What You Should Do

There are certain things that affect cats that are absolutely life-threatening.  Learn what they are and what you can do.

  1. Dyspnea/Pulmonary Edema

Dyspnea (difficulty in breathing) in a cat is very serious. If you see your cat, open mouthed breathing and crouching with his elbows abducted (pulled away from his body), he is in a very serious condition. You need to carefully collect him and hold him gently, minimizing his stress as much as possible and get him to an emergency veterinary facility as soon as possible. This is not a problem that can be managed at home. It is a critical emergency.

  1. Asthma

Asthma can also cause cats to have respiratory distress. Most cats will have been previously diagnosed and you will already know the cause of the distress, but this does not minimize the need for veterinary help. If you notice your cat coughing or she seems to breathe heavily, go ahead and let your vet find out why.  They you will have rescue strategies in place to stop the issue before it becomes emergent. An acute asthma attack requires immediate intervention.

  1. Aortic Thromboembolism

Aortic thromboembolism is usually a consequence of heart disease in cats.  Some cats have hidden heart disease called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). Because the heart is not effectively moving the blood, a clot can form in the heart that passes into general circulation. Due to the anatomy of a cat, there is a narrowing of the vessels as they diverge to the rear limbs and this area is a common place for the clot to be caught. When it is trapped in this spot, it interferes with the normal blood flow to the rear legs. This is a very painful process and the prognosis from this point is not good.  It seems that HCM may be genetically linked because of its increased incidence in certain breeds (Maine Coon and Ragdoll). This is another reason you should make sure you take your cat for an examination when he is not showing signs of disease. Your vet may be able to identify HCM and begin medications to slow the disease. If your cat is screaming in pain and cannot use his rear legs, take him immediately to a vet.

  1. Feline Heartworm Disease

Heartworm disease is one of those diseases that you might not have a chance to diagnose before your cat dies from the disease. Heartworms are not designed to inhabit cats, but mosquitoes bite cats and transmit the larvae anyway (and yes, mosquitoes can bite your indoor only cat). It only takes a single worm to kill your cat and you probably will not know that your cat has been exposed. Unfortunately, many cats are found dead acutely from heartworm disease and your best course of action as a cat owner is to prevent this possibility completely by making sure your cat is on a prescription feline heartworm prevention. Ask your vet for the options that he/she recommends.

  1. Toxic Ingestion

Even indoor cats can find things to be exposed to that are not ideal. The most common toxicity in cats that I see is topical insecticide intended for dogs. Sometimes the cat is exposed through contact with the dog, but many times the owner failed to read the label and assumed it was safe for the cat too. Cats can eat human medications and toxic plants also. It is very important that all cat owners know that lily plants will kill cats and human acetaminophen is extremely toxic also. Keep all of these items far out of reach of your cat. Read all labels twice and if you drop a pill of human medication, be sure that you find it before your cat does.

Cats are pretty resilient, but they are masters at hiding disease. Make sure you are aware of what could be going on inside your cat and form a good partnership with your veterinarian to proactively address these deadly issues.


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vet thumbnailAbout The Author: Dr. Kathryn Primm is a practicing small animal veterinarian. She has consulted on articles for national magazines, done numerous radio interviews and appeared on local television. She has contributed to an article for Prevention magazine and Woman’s Day in Feb 2014 and June 2015. Her radio segment Chattanooga Pet Talk airs each week on all the local iHeart Media affiliates.

She has a social media presence on TwitterFacebook and Google+ and enjoys interaction with others about her passions, animals and communication. She is a regular contributor to Boomeon, the online community which can be found at . She has also written a book, Tennessee Tails:Pets and Their People. The book received recognition as Runner Up in the Memoirs category at a national book festival. You can read more about Dr. Primm and how to get the best value for your pet care dollar at her website,

Written by Dr. Kathryn Primm
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