Handling an Emergency Vet Visit (and Signs You Need One)

In part three in my series on vet visits with your cat, I’m sharing some some of the signs that your cat needs a vet visit and how to handle an unexpected vet visit if you haven’t been able to prepare using the tips in part one – Making a Vet Visit Easier – and part two – Keeping the Peace When You Return Home.

Do You Need to Call the Vet?

Cats can be masters of hiding illness. Behavioral changes are often the first sign that something is wrong. Below are some of the more subtle signs that your cat needs a vet visit ASAP.

Changes in Eating or Drinking

  • Increased
  • Decreased
  • Vomiting

Changes in Litter Box Habits

  • Outside the box
  • Going in and out of box frequently
  • Straining to urinate
  • Blood in urine or stool
  • Change in consistency or smell

Changes in Behavior

  • More social/demanding
  • Less social/hiding
  • Sensitivity to handling
  • Increased meowing
  • Aggression
  • Nightime activity

Changes in Cleanliness

  • Grooming more or less
  • Excessive drooling
  • Bad breath

How Do You Get There? – Getting a Reluctant Cat in a Carrier

Ideally you’ve taken some time to get your cat comfortable with their carrier before an emergency or illness and now you can enjoy the results of that work. However, life is rarely that perfect and you may not be to the point where your cat is a calm participate in the process.

If your cat tends to disappear when the carrier comes out and expand when you try to force them in their carrier, these steps should make the process a little easier.

Top-loading carriers are very helpful. And adorable.
  • Invest in a hard-sided carrier with a door in the top. Lowering a cat straight down into a carrier is much easier than trying to shove them through the door in the front.
  • Don’t touch the carrier! Don’t even think about where the carrier is right now! Bring your cat to a small room with nothing to hide under, like a bathroom. Smile and give them a treat because there is nothing to worry about at all.
  • Close the door to the small room and now go get the carrier.
  • As you return to the room, hold the carrier down near the ground to discourage door darting.

Once in the room:

  • Place the carrier on the ground and open the top.
  • Calmly pick up your cat, holding them gently but firmly because each escape will make things harder.
  • Lower your cat down into the carrier and keep one hand on the back of their neck to gently hold them there while you close the door most of the way.
  • Pull your hand out, latch the door, and immediately cover the carrier with a towel.
  • Celebrate!

If you don’t have a top-loading carrier:

  • Everything from above still applies but you will have to slide your cat in through the front. Hold your cat so they enter face first.
  • Alternatively, tip the carrier up on its end to mimic a top-loading carrier.
  • Lower your cat in with their head facing up and move slowly so they don’t fall into the bottom.
  • Tip it right side up gently once your cat is in.
  • This method be awkward but is generally still gentler than fighting with your cat.

If your cat becomes very difficult to handle when picked up or placed in a carrier, cover them completely with a towel and wrap it around them to pick them up. This gives you protection from their teeth and claws and minimizes struggling.

Finally, there are some cats who are more likely to go into a carrier if you don’t try to pick them up at all.

  • Open the front door of the carrier and hold the carrier at ground level.
  • Slowly move the carrier toward your cat, letting them back into a corner.
  • You can use a towel to gentle block your cat from going over top of the carrier.
  • If necessary, slide the towel over your cat’s back and press lightly on their rear to move them inside.

Stay Calm and Love Your Cat

Your behavior will influence your cat during this process and during the vet visit. If you are stressed and anxious (whether about your cat’s health or just about getting them in their carrier), it can cause your cat to be more anxious.

Relaxed cat rolling over
Stay calm, it'll be okay.
  • Breathe Out Slowly: Deep breathing will help you stay calm and focused for your cat. Focusing on exhaling slows down your whole breathe.
  • Talk Normally: Try to use your normal voice and speak to your cat as you typically do.
  • Keep Petting Steady: Some nervous owners start cuddling their pets more closely or petting them more heavily than they normally would. Keep touch around your cat’s cheeks or other favorite areas and pet slowly and gently.
  • Offer Treats and Goodies: Bring your cat’s favorite treats or toys along to distract them or give them a positive moment.

Nobody likes a surprise vet visit but we will all be faced with one at some point. Take your time and stay calm and your cat will thank you.

If your cat has a behavior problem that you need help solving, consider scheduling a private behavior consultation.