Shock (Acute Circulatory Failure) in Cats: Everything You Need to Know

The medical condition shock means that the heart and blood vessels are not able to maintain a sufficiently good blood circulation in the body. The condition is life-threatening and affected cats need to be cared for quickly.

Medical shock is not to be confused with mental shock or emotional trauma that many associate the word with. In case of medical shock, the body for some reason no longer has a normal blood circulation, which leads to a lack of oxygen in organs and tissues.

When the circulation fails, the body reacts by hitting various “emergency systems” to try to mitigate the effects. Among other things, blood flow is redirected so that the most vital organs receive blood supply at the expense of less vital organs and peripheral tissues.


There are several different causes of acute circulatory failure:

  • Hypovolemic shock – shock caused by a small blood volume. This can occur in the event of major bleeding (internal or external) or severe dehydration.
  • Cardiogenic shock – heart-triggered shock, occurs when the heart’s function for some reason fails, usually due to heart disease or as a result of a sudden arrhythmia caused by another disease or – in rare cases – without a definite cause.
  • Septic shock – in severe bacterial infection with blood poisoning, the blood vessels and blood properties can be affected so the blood flow in the body becomes insufficient.
  • Neurogenic shock – in the case of severe damage to the central nervous system, the signals from the brain to the heart and the rest of the body can be absent, which leads to the distribution of blood in the body and the heart’s beat volume being incorrect.
  • Anaphylactic shock – shock caused by a severe hypersensitivity reaction.


A cat in shock has pale mucous membranes (most easily checked in the mouth, provided that the mucous membrane there is unpigmented) and is lazy and weak. The heart rate can be faster and the blood pressure drops. Skin, paws, earlobes and tail tip become cold if it is not a matter of septic shock, as the cat may have a high fever and feel hot in the early stages. Gradually, the mucous membranes become white or grayish in color and the heart rhythm slows down. If the shock cannot be lifted quickly, the condition leads to unconsciousness and death.


During the clinical examination, the cat’s circulation and general condition are checked. The veterinarian assesses mucosal color, blood flow and pulse as well as the degree of dehydration. Heart and lungs are examined with a stethoscope. In case of signs of acute circulatory failure, treatment is usually started immediately, and further investigations are made in parallel.

In addition to a thorough clinical examination, where the veterinarian looks for clues to what may have triggered the shock, several other examinations are usually performed, such as X-ray, ultrasound examination, ECG, blood sample tests, etc., both to find the cause and to determine the prognosis and appropriate treatment.


A patient in shock is given an intravenous drip to restore blood circulation to normal. Painkillers and other medicines are also often given, depending on what caused the shock. The cat is helped to keep warm with a heating pad or in other ways. Depending on the cat’s condition and what the underlying cause is, other treatments are also given, such as blood transfusions and oxygen supply.


The prognosis depends largely on how quickly the cat comes under treatment, but also on what the underlying cause of the shock is. The longer the shock condition persists, the greater the damage to internal organs due to the lack of oxygen, which worsens the prognosis.

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