Routine vs Urgent vs Emergency Care for Cats

Most cat owners will have to decide if their cat needs urgent or critical care, but its not always easy to determine when a cat should see a veterinarian soon immediately vs the next day or so.

Veterinary care can be loosely divided into primary care, urgent care and emergency care. There are also specialist veterinarians who focus on specific areas of veterinary medicine such as a veterinary oncologist, surgeon, radiologist. This article focuses on primary care, urgent care and emergency care.

Obviously, if you are unsure, call the veterinary practice, emergency veterinary hospital or pet poison helpline who will be able to advise if the situation is an emergency or can wait.

Primary care

The primary care veterinarian is the cat’s regular veterinarian who performs annual veterinary exams, health advice, runs bloodwork, checks for parasites, advise on nutrition and parasite control. Cats should see their primary care veterinarian at least once a year for a wellness check, bi-annual veterinary visits are recommended for cats over seven years.

Most veterinarians recommend routine bloodwork during wellness checks. This gives the veterinarian a picture of the overall health of the cat and can be a baseline for future visits. Bloodwork can pick up many diseases even before symptoms develop. With early intervention, diseases can be cured or managed to slow down the disease progress.

  • Annual health checks
  • Spay and neuter surgery
  • Parasite prevention and diagnosis
  • Vaccinations
  • Diagnosis and management of chronic diseases
  • Nutrition advice
  • Non-urgent surgery (hernia repair, benign lump removal)
  • Dental clean, tooth extractions
  • End of life care

Urgent care

Non-life threatening but important enough to seek treatment within the next 24-48 hours and can usually wait until the primary care veterinarian is open.

  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Cuts and abrasions
  • Changes in appetite (increase or decrease)
  • Discharge (mouth, nose, eyes, vagina)
  • Ulcers (mouth, eyes, nipples, anus)
  • Sneezing
  • Lumps and bumps
  • Skin conditions
  • Sprains
  • Changes in behaviour
  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Lameness
  • Overgrooming
  • Ear infection
  • Intermittent vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Blood in urine or feces
  • Sudden weight loss or gain
  • Oral pain
  • Overgrown claws/claw trauma
  • Lethargy
  • Euthanasia (scheduled)

Emergency care

Life-threatening care is critical and must be sought immediately, no matter what time of day or night. If your primary care veterinarian isn’t open, seek the services of an emergency 24/7 veterinary hospital.

We recommend keeping the phone number and of an emergency care veterinary hospital close at hand as medical emergencies can be extremely stressful to both the cat and his or her caregivers. Always call ahead to let the emergency hospital know you are on the way and what has happened.

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Trauma (dog attack, hit by a car, fall from height)
  • Near drowning
  • Anaphylaxis
  • Snake bite
  • Toxin exposure (dermal, inhalation, ingestion)
  • Paralysis
  • Heatstroke
  • Uncontrolled bleeding
  • Collapse
  • Head injuries
  • Difficulty giving birth
  • Severe vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Fractures


  • Julia Wilson, 'Cat World' Founder

    Julia Wilson is the founder of Cat-World, and has researched and written over 1,000 articles about cats. She is a cat expert with over 20 years of experience writing about a wide range of cat topics, with a special interest in cat health, welfare and preventative care. Julia lives in Sydney with her family, four cats and two dogs. Full author bio