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San Bruno Pet Hospital 1111 El Camino Real
San Bruno, CA 94066
Phone: 650-779-4125
Fax: (650) 763-8620

Hospital Hours
M-F: 7:30a-6p
Sat: 8a-5p
Appointment Hours
M-F 8:30a-5:30p
Sat: 8:30a-4:30p

After Hours Emergency
Emergency Clinic


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NOTE: These are offered
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only and NOT a substitute
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veterinarian. If you feel
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problem that may require
urgent attention
call us at 650-779-4125
immediately. If after hours,
contact the emergency
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What to Do Before You Get to San Bruno Pet in 11 Cat Emergency Situations


If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call San Bruno Pet -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

Sick Cat Some health crises need immediate veterinary attention, but your help also is crucial.
Dr. Eric Barchas

The June newsletter discussed 11 of the most serious and common feline medical emergencies.  Any time you have identified one of these emergencies — or any other emergency — I recommend that your highest priority be to get your cat to the hospital.

However, there will always be a period of time before you can get to San Bruno Pet when you will be responsible for helping your cat. You will need to collect your cat, possibly get dressed, and arrange transportation to San Bruno Pet. Also, be sure to call us while you’re on your way so that we can prepare for your arrival. Once you get here, we will help you. But before you get here you unfortunately will be on your own. This article is designed to help you get through that period of time if you and your cat ever suffer the misfortune of a veterinary emergency.

There are some general rules that are applicable to all feline medical emergencies. The first and most important one is to stay calm. I realize that is easier said than done, but please try your hardest. Stress exacerbates most veterinary emergencies. If you don’t stay calm you not only will be less effective at doing the things you need to do; you also may add to your cat’s stress, potentially making the situation worse.

Finally, remember that cats that are in stress or in pain may bite or scratch anyone who touches them, even if they normally are gentle, loving, and sweet. Take great care not to be injured when handling your cat during an emergency. Try not to touch any obviously painful area. When in doubt, use a thick blanket to collect your cat gently.

Now let’s go through specific recommendations for each of the June newsletter’s 11 emergencies.
  1. Difficulty breathing
    Cats with this problem are at high risk from stress. Stress can increase oxygen demand, and if a cat can’t get that oxygen he may become even more stressed. This leads to a dangerous feedback cycle. Therefore it is crucial that you stay calm, and that you avoid doing anything that causes unnecessary stress. For instance, I’d recommend against playing loud music on the way to the vet. Heat also is a danger for cats with breathing difficulties. On the other hand cool, fresh air (such as might be provided by your car’s air conditioner) often helps the matter. Remember that stress avoidance is the most important thing of all. Blasting the air conditioner in your cat’s face will probably cause additional stress, so please try to strike an appropriate balance.

  2. Urinary obstruction
    Some vets advocate testing your cat for urinary obstruction by pressing on his abdomen to check for pain or vocalization. I do not recommend this. Unless you have palpated hundreds of cats you are not likely to be able to accurately identify a urinary obstruction. Also, pressing on the abdomen of an obstructed cat may cause pain and provoke a bite or scratch. If your cat is having urinary difficulties, try to get him into the carrier without contacting his abdomen and please call to let us know you’re on your way.

  3. Severe pain or distress
    In this situation it is crucial to stay calm, avoid increasing your cat’s stress level, and avoid being bitten or scratched. Please do not “self medicate” with any human painkillers. Most such medications are toxic to cats, and they may also interfere with drugs that may be necessary at our office.

  4. Sudden paralysis of the hind end
    Again: please try not to add to your cat’s stress level, don’t get bitten, please don’t self medicate, and please don’t delay in getting to the hospital.

  5. Stopping eating or drinking
    This is a situation where early recognition is crucial. Some people spend days trying to coax their cats to consume different foods, or syringing water into their cats’ mouths before they give up and go to the vet. I recommend instead that you seek veterinary care as soon as you recognize something’s wrong.

  6. Protracted vomiting or diarrhea
    Cats with severe gastrointestinal distress usually will not be able to hold down food or water that is offered. In fact, adding anything to an inflamed stomach can trigger vomiting and additional stomach inflammation. Dehydration is a significant concern for cats with vomiting and diarrhea, but oral fluids administered at home often make the problem worse by triggering more vomiting. The best bet is not to offer anything by mouth but instead to head in for treatment.

  7. Known ingestion of toxins
    Please call us immediately to confirm that the item consumed is in fact toxic. And beware of home recipes for inducing vomiting. Such recipes generally call for hydrogen peroxide or salt. Hydrogen peroxide can cause significant gastrointestinal ulceration and is not always effective at causing vomiting. Salt also is not always effective, and when it fails cats can suffer from salt poisoning.

  8. Profound lethargy or collapse
    Stress avoidance is crucial for collapsed cats. Also please avoid self-medicating.

  9. Seizure
    Seizures are terrifying to behold, but remember that they usually end within one to two minutes. It is best not to handle a seizing cat if possible, since the risk of injury to cat and owner is significant. I recommend that you use a pillow or thick blanket to protect your cat from injuries such as might occur from falling down a flight of stairs. Please do not put anything — especially a hand or finger — near the cat’s mouth. Cats do not swallow their tongues during seizures, but they certainly may accidentally bite a finger or anything inserted into the mouth. If something hard is inserted into the mouth, fractured teeth are likely to result. Once the seizure stops, or if the seizure does not stop within two minutes, head on in.

  10. Major trauma
    Cats who have suffered trauma will be painful. Please take care not to exacerbate the pain when handling them, and remember that painful cats may bite or scratch. If it can be done safely, apply gentle pressure with a towel to any area that is bleeding profusely.

  11. Fights with other cats
    A cat who is fresh out of a fight may be angry. This anger can be redirected at any person who attempts to handle the cat. Since fight wounds are not immediately life threatening, it may be best to wait 30 to 60 minutes for the cat to calm down before heading in for antibiotics and painkillers.
I hope that your cat never experiences a veterinary emergency. But if he or she does, I hope these pointers help you both through the situation.

by Dr. Eric Barchas, DVM
Medical Director of San Bruno Pet Hospital