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Key takeaways

Collapse is the inability to maintain a normal, standing posture, and is a rare symptom in cats.

  • Cat owners may see sudden collapse as a singular event, repeated episodes of sudden collapse, or intentionally lying down for a long period, with an inability to walk
  • Any form of collapse may be caused by serious medical conditions, and requires prompt veterinary attention
  • Collapse may be due to fainting, inadequate blood flow to the brain, or a condition affecting the function of the brain, nerves, or muscles
  • A combination of physical examination, blood work, diagnostic imaging and specialized tests is useful for determining the type of collapse
  • Identification of the specific underlying condition is crucial for developing a treatment plan and understanding the prognosis
  • Some types of seizures can be confused with collapse; diagnostic testing can help distinguish which symptom is occurring
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A closer look: Collapse in Cats

There are three presentations of collapse that an owner may identify:

  • Sudden collapse as a singular event
  • Repeated episodes of sudden collapse
  • Intentionally lying down for a long period, with an inability to walk

In general, collapse results from severe conditions and requires immediate medical attention.

Possible causes

Collapse can be an indicator of many different conditions, affecting many different organs and body systems.

Essentially any injury or illness can lead to collapse if it is serious enough.

Risk factors

Collapse is rare in cats, but when it happens it indicates a potential emergency. A cat who collapses needs emergency medical care. Sudden collapse can be a sign of shock, which is a serious medical emergency.

In addition, there may be significant locomotion changes such as walking into walls, inability to lift the head, partial paralysis (paresis), or inability to use the back legs. Cats displaying these symptoms require immediate medical attention.

Testing and diagnosis

Diagnosing the cause of collapse in cats is often challenging since there are many potential conditions that could lead to it. Veterinarians often start with a thorough history and a complete physical examination to identify additional symptoms.

Diagnostic tests that might be recommended include:

  • Blood work: routine blood work indicates overall organ and immune-system function as well as markers of specific types of conditions like infection
  • Urinalysis: changes in the urine may be associated with certain conditions
  • Diagnostic imaging: ultrasound or x-rays can help identify traumatic injuries, respiratory conditions, or heart conditions. Advanced diagnostic imaging like MRI, CT, or myelography may be required.
  • Electrocardiogram: this test examines the electrical activity of the heart, and can help diagnose heart conditions. In some cases, portable electrocardiogram machines can be sent home with the patient if episodes of collapse occur infrequently.

Treatment protocols vary widely, depending on which underlying condition is diagnosed.

Similar symptoms

In general, collapse is easily recognized and described by owners. In some cases, seizures can present similarly to collapse.

Features of seizures that can help distinguish them from collapse include:

  • Convulsions
  • Excessive salivation and chomping
  • Urinating or defecating during the episode
  • Lethargy or dullness for minutes to hours after the episode

Associated symptoms

Collapse can be associated with many other symptoms, depending on the underlying condition leading to the collapse episode.


Kyle Braund BVSc MVSc PhD FRCVS DipACVIM; Kate Murphy BVSc(Hons) DSAM DipECVIM-CA FRCVS PGCert(HE) - Writing for Vetlexicon
Kate Murphy and Angie Hibbert - Writing for Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery
Jon Wray - Writing for InPractice

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