Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: June 28, 2023 by Crystal Uys

Cat owner man talking to veterinarian

Few things are more upsetting to cat parents than the thought of a beloved cat having to spend the night, or even several days, in the hospital. Not only do we worry about their health, we worry about how they’ll cope with being in a strange, scary place, away from human loved ones and fellow animal companions. Knowing ahead of time what to expect can help ease the stress of a hospitalization for you and your cat.

Make sure that your veterinary clinic has 24-hour in hospital staffing

Most general practices are not open 24 hours, and yet, many will hospitalize sick pets. Practices are required by law to disclose if they don’t have staff on the premises 24 hours, but make sure you ask! Some practices may have a trained technician monitor pets who stay overnight, with a veterinarian on call for emergencies, but some will hospitalize pets even without any staff presence. I believe this is a bad practice. Cats on IV fluids should not be left unattended overnight. Fluid lines can easily get kinks that cut off fluid flow, get twisted around a limb and cut off circulation, or worse, get tangled around the neck. Some clinics will keep cats who are recovering from even simple surgeries such as spays overnight, and while this practice is, thankfully, not as common as it used to be, it still happens. The bottom line: if a cat is well enough to not need monitoring, in most cases, she will be better off at home.

You have the right to frequent updates about your cat’s status

Veterinary staff know that you’re anxious, and they want to keep you informed how your cat is doing. Ask how frequently you can call for updates, and ask about the best times to call.

Veterinarian explaining to woman cat medical condition
Image Credit: Nestor Rizhniak, Shutterstock

Visiting your hospitalized cat

Hospital policies vary widely when it comes to visiting hospitalized pets. While you may not be able to visit your cat all day long, you should not be denied visitation. It is understandable that clinics can’t have guardians visit while they are performing procedures on other hospitalized pets in the vicinity of your cat’s cage, but don’t let a clinic tell you you can’t visit your hospitalized cat at all.

While some cats may be more stressed by having a distressed guardian visit, most will thrive with periodic visits. However, you need to be sure that YOU can handle visiting your hospitalized cat. If you are likely to fall apart seeing your cat in a hospital setting, possibly on intravenous fluids, with bandages, or unconscious or groggy from anesthesia drugs, your distress will transfer to your cat, and visiting may not be in your cat’s best interest.

Ensure that you can be there, should your hospitalized cat pass away

Losing a cat is always hard, but it’s especially devastating if a cat dies in a hospital. Inevitably, cat parents will be haunted by the thought that their beloved cat died all alone, or surrounded by strangers in a strange environment. While it is, of course, impossible to predict when or whether a pet will die, there are things you can do to ensure that you can be with your pet if this is important to you.

Nancy Kay, DVM, Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, and author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet, recently addressed this difficult topic on her blog. “Wherever I’ve worked, with one exception, I’ve had the ability to ensure that my clients were allowed cage-side access pretty much 24/7 with their very sick pets (and I didn’t last very long at the job where this wasn’t an option). I wanted my clients there, particularly if I felt that these might be their beloved pets’ final days, hours, or minutes,” writes Dr. Kay.

Dr. Kay offers suggestions ranging from choosing the right veterinary hospital to how to make sure that the staff knows your wishes. Click here to read Dr. Kay’s post.

Image Credit: Stock-Asso, Shutterstock

My personal experience with hospitalized cats

I’ve been very fortunate that with the exception of Amber, none of my cats have required hospitalization. Amber was in intensive care at the Hope Advanced Veterinary Center in Vienna, VA for three days. Even though the ICU was busy, I received multiple updates a day via phone, and was able to visit twice a day. Sadly, Amber’s prognosis was so poor that I took her home after three days to spend a few more hours with her before my vet came to my house to euthanize her. Part of the reason for my decision to not continue treatment, in addition to the poor prognosis, was that I did not want Amber to die in a hospital. It was more important to me that her final moments took place in her familiar environment, with me, than to continue grasping at straws with ever more aggressive treatments. She died lying on my chest, looking peacefully into my eyes, until the very last moment.

Featured Image Credit: silverblackstock, Shutterstock

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16 Comments on What You Need to Know If Your Cat Is Hospitalized

  1. Great information! Once, our vet recommended keeping Bear Cat overnight and the vet didn’t understand why I’d rather take him to the emergency vet and pay more – because the vet had no staffing after hours. The whole point was for him to be monitored and there would be no one there! He’d be safer at home with me watching him! It really upset me … thankfully the emergency vet took good care of him 🙂

    • I had the same experience. The one time our cat needed overnight care, we brought him to the emergency vet instead. We knew they were staffed 24/7. Our regular vet, while great, does not have anyone on the premises overnight. I felt Casper needed continuous monitoring even though he was out of the immediate crisis (diabetic hypoglycemic shock) and was happy to pay extra for that care.

  2. Sensible post – I think we all wish to be with our cats at the very last – for our own sakes as well as theirs, but not always possible of course. Hospitalisation must be stressful for animals and owners alike, never had to have that yet and hope never to, but your article reassured ME on many points. Thank you. Our animal hospital IS staffed 24 hours which I think is an added comfort.

  3. Hi, for cats undergoing radioactive iodine therapy, for hyperthyroidism, they are in the hospital for up to 5 days with no visits allowed. This is due to the radioactive treatment and only staff in protective gear are around to monitor and care for the cats. So, here’s one case where their humans can’t visit.

  4. Really informative article, but such a sad ending. I think I’d make the same decision as you, though.

  5. I honestly don’t know if there is someone at my vet after hours. I guess this is something I need to look into before an emergency comes up. I have had two of my cats hospitalized over the years but they were at a clinic that I used to go to and one time at a 24 hours emergency clinic.

  6. Hi, thank you for all your advises and newsletter in general, I learned a lot!! Wanted to ask if you have any advise on how to teach a cat to clean his toes often and after he comes out from the toilet. He was taken away from mom too early, so she didnt teach him properly..

    • I’m not sure you can teach a cat to do that! Cats are naturally clean and my guess is that eventually, he’ll figure it out.

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