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Home > Cats > 5 Common Causes of Sudden Death in Cats: Vet-Approved Reasons

5 Common Causes of Sudden Death in Cats: Vet-Approved Reasons

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Dr. Lauren Demos

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When you adopt a cat, you’re preparing for them to be part of your family for a decade or more. But sometimes, seemingly healthy cats die unexpectedly at any age. Having a pet die suddenly can be painful, especially if you don’t know the cause of death. There are several different reasons a pet might die without any visible symptoms leading up to the death.

Here are five of the more common causes of death that can happen to cats of all ages without warning.


The 5 Common Causes of Sudden Death in Cats

1. Trauma

Death via trauma is unfortunately common, especially in outdoor cats. Some types of trauma-related deaths can include vehicle accidents, animal attacks, falls, and other accidents. The rate of death by trauma is much lower for indoor-only cats, but it’s not impossible. Chances of an injury that leads to death can be lowered by limiting your cat’s ability to roam and minimizing possible sources of injury in your home and yard. Ensuring your cat is spayed or neutered can further help limit their desire to wander.

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Image Credit: Mantikorra, Shutterstock

2. Heart Disease

Many vets cite heart disease as the most common unexplained death in cats. Although some types of heart disease can have a variety of symptoms, other heart diseases have few symptoms, very subtle symptoms, or no symptoms prior to a cat’s death.

Examples of feline heart disease can include hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, dilated cardiomyopathy, and restrictive cardiomyopathy, with the first being the most common in cats. Often these diseases often cause secondary changes that lead to blood clots- which can also cause sudden death in affected cats.

Unlike dogs, heartworm doesn’t tend to be as common in cats and is more commonly a respiratory issue rather than a true heart disease. However, because heartworm can be preventable with a monthly preventative, and it can still cause sudden death in cats, it is a good idea to speak with your veterinarian about prevention options.

3. Stroke

Cats can die suddenly from strokes, which are an interruption of blood flow to the brain. They can be caused by blood clots or by ruptured blood vessels in the brain. Strokes can have a variety of symptoms, including weakness, inability to walk, seizures, sudden blindness, and sudden death. One cause of strokes in cats is high blood pressure, and is very preventable and treatable. Once your cat becomes a senior (generally 9 years of age or older), they should have their blood pressure checked at least once a year, to catch any early signs of this disease.

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Image Credit: Alice Rodnova, Shutterstock

4. Toxins

Another common cause of sudden death in cats is toxin exposure. Poisoning can occur when your cat ingests or comes into contact with a toxic substance. Even small amounts of some toxins can cause death. Poisoning can lead to a range of symptoms, including vomiting, diarrhea, drooling, fever, shallow breathing, and lethargy..

The most common deadly cat poisons include medications, fertilizers, antifreeze, insecticides, and rodent poisons. Keeping dangerous substances out of reach of cats will lower the risk of toxin poisoning.

5. Septic Shock

Septic shock in a rapid failure of the body due to widespread infection. Although septic shock is often the end stage in infections with clear causes or signs, such as an injury or long-term symptoms of infection, it can sometimes occur suddenly, with only mild symptoms or no symptoms beforehand. Signs of septic shock include refusal to eat, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, fever, a distended abdomen, and difficulty breathing.


Last Thoughts

It’s not pleasant to think about the ways our beloved pets can die without warning. But in the event of a tragedy, searching for answers and explanations can help us process our grief. Learning about common causes of death can also help us prepare and prevent some conditions—especially death via trauma or poisoning.

That being said, many of the dangers on this list aren’t preventable. It’s natural to look back after a death and wonder if you could have done something differently, but accepting that an unexpected death was natural and not preventable can help bring you healing and peace as well.

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Featured Image Credit: Iryna Mylinska, Shutterstock

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