Common Emergencies for Kittens

By Lorie Huston, DVM on Mar. 5, 2014
Common Emergencies for Kittens

By Lorie Huston, DVM

It can be quite frightening to see your kitten suffering, especially if you are unsure whether the situation should be considered an emergency. When in doubt, always contact your veterinarian or the nearest animal hospital. But to hopefully better prepare you, here are some of the most common kitten emergencies found in emergency veterinary hospitals around the country.

Difficulty Breathing

If your kitten is having difficulty breathing, you should seek veterinary care immediately. Typically, this means that the lungs or airways are compromised. Many things can cause a kitten to have trouble breathing. Infectious disease is a possibility. Some of these diseases can result in pneumonia. Foreign objects stuck in the throat or trachea are a possibility as well. Damage to the lungs caused by trauma is another potential cause. Allergic reactions, congenital heart failure, and toxins are additional potential causes of respiratory distress.

Any difficulty breathing should be considered a serious problem, requiring immediate evaluation by a veterinarian. Often radiographs are necessary to evaluate the lungs and airways.

Coughing and Choking

Choking can be a serious problem, even if the symptoms resolve within seconds. Lack of proper oxygenation or the build-up of fluid within the lungs can be a dangerous consequence of choking.

Coughing is a vague symptom of several possibilities, including viruses, bacteria, fungal pneumonia, allergic bronchitis, or even congenital heart disease. Upper respiratory infections (URIs) are one of the most common causes of coughing in kittens. Often, a kitten with an URI will also exhibit signs such as sneezing, runny eyes, and a runny nose.  Any compromise in your pet’s respiratory ability should be evaluated by a veterinarian as soon as possible.

Vomiting and Diarrhea

Vomiting and/or diarrhea can be caused by many different things, including a sudden change in diet parasites, dietary indiscretion, infectious diseases, toxins, and more. Some cases of vomiting or diarrhea may be mild and self-limiting. But persistent or severe vomiting and diarrhea can be problematic. Your kitten can rapidly become dehydrated with these symptoms. Depending on the underlying cause, symptoms can drastically worsen in a matter of hours.


Trauma may the result of a being hit by a car, being attacked by another animal, falling from an elevated height, or any other type of accident. Trauma may result in shock, broken bones, lacerations and other external wounds, internal bleeding, internal injuries, and pain. It may become life-threatening for your kitten. If your kitten experiences any type of trauma, he should be examined by your veterinarian, even if he seems unharmed initially. Complications from trauma are not uncommon and early intervention will give your kitten the best chance of a successful recovery.


If your kitten is bleeding, seek veterinary care. Blood loss can lead to shock and can become life-threatening. Of course, if the bleeding is minor and explainable, such as bleeding from a toenail that was cut too short during a nail trim, there is little danger.

Toxin Ingestion

There are many substances that can be toxic to kittens. Among the most dangerous are the plants known as true lilies. Antifreeze is another potential toxin that can be deadly. Cleaning chemicals, medications (both prescription and over-the-counter), garden products (fertilizers, plants, bulbs), chocolate, rodenticides, and insecticides are other potential toxins. If in doubt about whether a substance is toxic, contact your veterinarian for advice.

Foreign Body Ingestion

Kittens are curious by nature, and playful. Any foreign body that is ingested can become problematic, either causing gastrointestinal problems such as intestinal obstructions or perforations, or getting stuck in the throat or trachea, causing choking and possibly suffocation. However, linear foreign bodies are a particularly common problem in cats. These may include string, rope, ribbon, fishing wire, and other similar items.

Allergic Reactions

Kittens can develop allergic reactions. Causes of these reactions range from vaccine sensitivity to insect bites. An anaphylactic reaction is the most serious form of allergic reaction. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, difficulty breathing, and collapse. Kittens may also suffer allergic reactions that include facial swelling, hives and itchiness. Care is necessary if you suspect an allergic reaction in your pet.

High Body Temperature

Your kitten’s body temperature may rise for various reasons, including infection and heat stroke. Temperatures above 104 degrees are dangerous for your kitten and require veterinary care.


Pain can occur in pets for several reasons and can be displayed in a variety of ways. Pacing, agitation, restlessness, panting, rapid heart rate, or even aggression are all symptoms of possible pain. Injury due to trauma is probably the most common cause of pain in kittens but there are other causes as well. If you believe your kitten is in pain, seek veterinary help.


Lorie Huston, DVM


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