Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
I would never put money in front of my animal’s health, but I don’t want to overreact and rush to the ER just because I’ve never had this happen to a cat before.
My kitten is 3 months old. He jumped up onto the couch and was acting very strange. I ran my hand down his back and when I got about an inch down his tail he started to whine and back away. I then picked him up and placed him on the counter to examine him. I very carefully went down his spine palpating [Note from Mama: “Palpating” means exerting gentle pressure, for those of you who don’t speak medical-ese] to see if there was anything out of alignment and I did not feel anything but he cried and pulled away, like I said, an inch down his tail. He is sleeping but cannot seem to get comfortable and when he walked past the table and his tail brushed against the leg, he screamed and ran away.
How long should I wait to take him to the vet? No one knows what he did, he was only out of our sight for five minutes. This happened three hours ago and tomorrow is Saturday. It will be expensive to take him to a vet tomorrow; can it wait until Monday or is it urgent? If it can wait, what signs should I be looking for that would indicate his condition worsening?
Siouxsie: We think you should call the vet right away. You’ll probably be told to bring your kitty in for a checkup today.
Thomas: Your kitten is in a great deal of discomfort and/or pain if he’s actually showing that he’s hurting. We cats have a survival instinct that prevents us from looking like we’re sick or hurt unless we’re in so much pain that we can’t help it.
Dahlia: A lot of things can happen in just five minutes out of sight. It’s possible that your baby landed wrong and broke or sprained his tail. He might also have hurt his hips and he could be feeling “referred pain” in his tail. My best guess is that he’s got a broken, dislocated or sprained tail.
Siouxsie: Kittens can get into a lot of mischief, and they’re not quite as graceful and dexterous as us adult cats.
Thomas: While a broken tail is probably not life-threatening, is is very painful. If you’ve ever broken a bone or had a severe sprain, you know how much it hurts.
Dahlia: Your baby is clearly in a lot of pain since he can’t sleep comfortably and screams when he accidentally bumps his tail against something.
Siouxsie: As the injury develops, you may notice that the affected area begins to swell. This is the body’s response to severe injury. However, the swelling puts pressure on the injured bone or ligament and can, in fact, increase the pain.
Thomas: So, Katie, this is definitely a case that merits a call to the vet right away.
Dahlia: While we’re talking about when to call the vet, let us give you a list of symptoms that mean you need to get in touch with (and probably go to) your vet immediately:
- Limping and other expressions of pain.
- Difficulty urinating, going back and forth to the litterbox frequently, crying out when urinating (this could mean a urinary tract infection, which can be life-threatening).
- Seizures or convulsions.
- Odd behavior such as staggering or acting “drunk.” This generally indicates poisoning or drug ingestion. Immediate veterinary attention is required in order to save the cat’s life or end his suffering humanely.
- If you know or suspect your cat has ingested street drugs or prescription medications, even if the cat is not currently showing symptoms. And you must tell the truth about what the cat got into! Your honesty is crucial so that your vet can give the appropriate treatment. He or she is going to be too busy saving your cat’s life to pass judgment on you or call the cops. Seriously.
- If you know or suspect your cat has ingested aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen sodium, or other human non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. These products are toxic to cats and can cause potentially fatal kidney and liver damage.
- Burns, either from fire or from chemicals. If you see burn marks around the lips, it’s possible that the cat has ingested a caustic poison. Do not induce vomiting if you see burns around the lips or your cat’s breath smells funny. Immediate veterinary attention is required in order to save the cat’s life or end his suffering humanely.
- Eye injuries, either an obvious cut or wound on the eyeball or expressions of discomfort such as excess tearing, squinting, or rubbing the affected eye.
- Large, open wounds. Large wounds need to be cleaned and sutured, and possibly debrided if the wound has become infected.
- If you know or suspect your cat has been hit by a car or has fallen more than about four feet. Although the resulting injuries may not be obvious, your cat could be bleeding internally or have a ruptured intestine, bladder or other organ, all of which are life-threatening if not treated immediately.
- Trouble breathing (gasping for breath, coughing fits, wheezing, or sitting in a strained position).
- Vomit containing blood or black, tarry stools. Black, tarry stools indicate bleeding somewhere in the intestinal tract, and blood in vomit could indicate bleeding in the stomach or esophagus.
- For cats giving birth: Laboring with no results for more than half an hour, especially if the mama cat is starting to look tired or drained. It’s possible that two kittens might have been coming out at the same time and got stuck, or that a kitten is too big or turned the wrong way. Veterinary attention is required to save the lives of mother and kittens.
- Heatstroke. Symptoms include rapid breathing, rapid pulse, very high body temperature, flushed tint on the gums, a semiconscious state, and possibly seizures. Immediate treatment may prevent brain damage or organ failure.
- Hypothermia. Symptoms include low body temperature, shivering, cold ears and paws, and perhaps a semiconscious state in extreme cases. Hypothermia is often fatal if not treated right away.
Siouxsie: This is a pretty common-sense list, I think.
Thomas: Mama’s basic rule of operation is, if the problem in question would cause a person to seek urgent medical attention, the same should hold true for cats.
Dahlia: So, Katie, we hope this helps. And we hope you’ll let us know what your kitten’s problem turned out to be. Purrs to you all and wishes for the little guy’s speedy recovery.