Shock in Cats – Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

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What is shock?     Symptoms      Emergency care      Treatment

Cat in shock

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Shock is a life-threatening condition defined as a lack of blood flow which results in the body not receiving enough oxygen and nutrients.   Any condition which affects the heart, vessels or blood volume can induce shock. [1] If not recognised and treated immediately it can be fatal.

There are several different types of shock including:

  • Hypovolemic – The most common type of shock, caused by decreased blood volume (such as with blood loss).
  • Cardiogenic – Caused by decreased blood circulating the system due to damage to the heart.
  • Septic – Drop in blood pressure caused by bacterial infection circulating in the blood.
  • Anaphylactic shock – Drop in blood pressure due to a severe allergic reaction.

What causes shock in cats?

Symptoms

  • Weak and rapid pulse, normal pulse rate is 160 – 240 per minute.
  • Pale skin and mucous membranes
  • Difficulty standing
  • May be unaware of their surroundings
  • Gums first turn dark pink or red, then become grey
  • Shallow but rapid breathing (greater than 40 per minute)
  • Slow capillary refill time
  • Hypothermia (decreased body temperature)
  • Panting

Signs of shock in cats

Emergency care

  • Keep yourself and your cat as calm as possible
  • Proceed with artificial breathing if your cat is not breathing on his own
  • If no heartbeat or pulse, administer CPR
  • If unconscious, check that the airway is open. Clear secretions from the mouth with your fingers
  • If bleeding, control by applying direct pressure to the wound
  • Place a towel or blanket on your cat to keep him/her warm
  • Don’t give anything to eat or drink
  • Keep your cat’s head lower than the heart to maintain blood flow to the brain
  • Proceed to the vet immediately, call ahead if possible to let them know you are on the way

Treatment

Treatment is aimed at providing supportive care and restoring and maintaining blood flow along with addressing the underlying cause.

  • Stemming blood loss
  • Oxygen therapy
  • Intravenous fluids
  • Providing external warmth (if suffering from hypothermia)

Shock is extremely serious and can quickly kill if not treated immediately. If your cat has been hit by a car but appears happy and well it is still important to take him to the veterinarian for a check-up because he may be in shock without you knowing.

References:

[1] Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook – Delbert G. Carlson.

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