Possible Causes of Sudden Feline Death

James Glover
by James Glover
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QuestionBoBo our beloved 4 1/2 years old cat died on Sunday 31st August and I can't figure out what could have happened. I hope some kind of answer may help with closure. We were playing in the front yard with our cat and 2 small dogs. We took the dogs inside and BoBo hopped in to my big palm tree planter next to the door. About 20 minutes later we found BoBo in the back yard - he had a pool of blood near his nose and mouth and his tongue was hanging out. My beautiful BoBo was gone, not even a mark or speck of dirt on his silky white fur. (Lori Chido - New York)

Answer

Firstly, I'd like to extend my deepest sympathies - losing a pet is never easy and is especially difficult in such circumstances. There are a few possible reasons for inexplicable sudden death in cats, including obvious causes such as cardiomyopathy (heart disease) and heartworm infection. Both of these can result in instant death with no previously apparent symptoms. Sometimes other serious illnesses have symptoms so subtle that they are missed by both veterinarians and their owners, such as feline leukemia virus, liver failure and kidney failure. However, it is highly unlikely that any of these would result in the blood that you describe. A brain hemorrhage (for which there is likely to be other underlying causes) could result in sudden death and could result in bleeding from the facial orifices, but this is highly unusual.

This leaves two other possibilities: poisoning or trauma. Two toxins that can cause sudden death and are relatively common are Zinc Phosphide (a common component of rat poison) and Permethrin (found in flea control products for dogs only). Permethrin poisoning does not usually result in bleeding from the mouth but it is possible that the blood was contained in vomit from the stomach. Zinc Phosphide however does not normally induce bleeding or vomiting- the most obvious signs are twitching, walking abnormally, muscle tremors and seizures. I suppose it is also possible that your cat came into contact with a poisonous toad and the bleeding could be an indication that your cat was over-scratching his irritated mouth in response to the stinging feeling.

Bleeding from the mouth and/or nose preceding sudden death normally indicates internal injury, possibly caused by extreme trauma. Is it possible that your cat could have been hit by a car before moving to the back of your house and then being unable to continue? Without being able to examine your cat, this seems the most likely explanation to me.

Disclaimer: This service is meant to provide advice only and is not meant to replace an appointment with a registered veterinarian. Users should always seek a second opinion. Unfortunately we are only able to answer several questions per week so not everyone gets a published answer. And, unfortunately we can't answer by email.
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Minnesota
Aqua09Rose
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Added on March 30th, 2011
My condolences go out to both of you.
   
My baby girl Spaz passed away on me last Friday and I've been having troubles dealing with it because it was so sudden. She was only about 7 months old and doing great. Both my cats are outdoor kitties and that night I was trying to round them both up because I hate having them outside at night due to where I live. Spaz never went far because she was deaf and didn't really explore 20 yards from the garage. I had just seen her and heard her but didn't know exactly where she was because unless I heard her bell, it could be quite difficult finding her. I thought she had possibly decided to explore that night so I shut the garage door and left the lights on for her because we do kind of have a porch with a couch on it so I figured if she came home she would be alright just curling up on that for the night. After about 12:30 am I decided to go to bed.
   
The next day I got up right away and there was still no sign of her. I told my husband and we looked around for a bit outside with no luck. I was just hoping maybe she would come back that night. Turns out that my husband actually found her in the garage curled up in a ball with blood coming out of her mouth like she had passed away in her sleep. I don't have anything out there that could really harm her and I honestly don't think she got into any poison.
   
I just wonder if she had some underlying condition that we didn't know about. She was white with a green and blue eye. Cats being white with a blue or both blue eyes usually are deaf. But it also seemed like she was partially blind in that blue eye. Her stomach ever since she was a kitten was super bloated. She always had bad gas. Treated her for giardia. Is there any connection there for why she passed? Still really wounded by this...
   
Oklahoma
Catreena
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Added on Jan 1st, 2011
My sincerest condolences to your loss.
   
I feel that same loss just two days before this past Christmas, I lost my cat as well. He was fine the evening before. No apparent problems. That night before his death, he had been eating, drinking, playing as usual, even sat with me and demanded attention as always. The following morning he appeared that he was sleeping in his chair, when it was discovered that he was, in fact, deceased. He looked as though he had passed in his sleep with perhaps a little distress on his face, but other than that, no indication whatsoever as to what could have been the reason for this 'sudden death'. He was only 7-1/2 years old. No indication of trauma (he was a strictly inside cat) i.e. no blood, no scratches, no problems. There are no poisons whatsoever kept in my home.
   
I could not afford a necropsy. This saddened me so much, with not knowing how or why, because I have 6 other inside cats who have no apparent problems, and I just can't go through this grief again anytime soon. This was enough for now.
   
It is my personal conclusion that it was probably a heart attack or stroke, maybe? But that is why I am here. Trying to find closure. Something, besides a necropsy, that can help understand how this could happen without warning.
   
Thank you.