What is Stupor and Coma?
There’s a big difference between a deep sleep and a complete loss of consciousness. If you notice your cat losing consciousness, take him to a veterinarian right away, even if he recovers after a few minutes. The underlying health condition could be life-threatening, so it’s important to seek immediate medical attention to protect your cat.
At any time, cats are in one of five levels of consciousness, including normal, depressed, disoriented, stupor, and comatose. Although depressed states can result from minor illnesses, and disoriented states may be a sign of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, stupor and coma states are much more serious. A stupor is characterized by a temporary loss of consciousness that can be disrupted when the cat is exposed to strong stimuli, while a coma is a more long-term form of unconsciousness in which the cat does not respond to any type of stimuli. Both of these conditions indicate there is an underlying health condition that needs immediate treatment.
Symptoms of Stupor and Coma in Cats
A coma is the complete loss of consciousness, while a stupor is a decreased level of consciousness. If your cat is in a coma, he will be completely unconscious and unresponsive to sounds or touch. In a stupor, your cat may be slightly responsive to sound or touch, however, the stimulus must be strong, such as a hard pinch. Stupors are temporary, so your cat may snap out of it after a short period of time, while comas are long-lasting. Besides loss of consciousness, some other symptoms you may observe include:
- Low body temperature
- Breathing abnormalities
- Heartbeat abnormalities
- Nervous system abnormalities
- Discoloration of the skin
Causes of Stupor and Coma in Cats
Falling into a stupor or coma signals an underlying health condition that needs to be addressed by a veterinarian immediately. Some of the causes your vet may need to test for include:
- Head trauma
- Heart failure
- Kidney failure
- Reaction to drugs
- Brain infections
- Side effects of diabetes
- Brain tumors
- Low blood pressure
- Abnormal levels of sodium in the blood
Diagnosis of Stupor and Coma in Cats
You should bring your cat to a veterinarian the moment you begin to notice him losing consciousness. Tell your vet when the cat began to lose consciousness, and any other symptoms you may have observed. If your cat is fading in and out of consciousness in a stupor, try to estimate how long each incident lasts and how many times he has been unconscious. If your cat has recently started taking any new medications or using new products, mention this to the doctor so he knows whether it could be a reaction to something the cat has been exposed to. It’s also important to tell the doctor if it’s possible your cat has consumed something toxic—for example, if he had access to an open bottle of household cleaner.
The vet will first determine what state of consciousness the cat is in: normal, depressed, disoriented, stupor, or comatose. Normal means the cat is not experiencing any issues, while depressed means the cat prefers to sleep, but is still responsive. A disoriented state is characterized by excessive sleeping with abnormal responses to stimuli. Cats in a stupor only respond to strong stimuli, while cats in a coma do not respond to any form of stimuli.
Once the level of consciousness has been determined, the vet will most likely test the cat’s reflexes. The vet will look at the pupillary light reflex by shining a light into each of the cat’s eyes and observing the reaction of the pupil. Other reflexes that may be tested include the spinal reflexes and oculocephalic reflexes.
The vet may then suggest a complete blood count, urinalysis, and biochemistry profile to see the cat’s overall health. The results of these tests could show if the cat is suffering from an infection, organ failure, or sodium or blood sugar imbalance. In addition to these tests, the vet may perform a CT scan or MRI on the head to look for signs of trauma or tumors. An EKG may also be done to check the cat’s heart health.
All of these tests will help the doctor determine what is causing the stupor or coma so it can be properly treated.
Treatment of Stupor and Coma in Cats
Treatment will depend on the cause of the stupor or coma. Short-term treatment to stabilize the cat’s consciousness may include inserting an IV with fluids, monitoring the cat’s heart rate closely, and supporting the cat with a ventilator that provides a constant stream of oxygen.
After the cat has been stabilized with this short-term care, the treatment will focus on resolving the underlying health condition. If the loss of consciousness was a result of some sort of imbalance, such as low blood sugar or sodium, the vet may be able to resolve the issue with the IV fluids. Seizures will need to be treated with anticonvulsant medication, which can be given to the cat in the vet’s office, but will then need to be administered on a daily basis by the cat’s owner afterward.
If the vet believes the cat has ingested a drug or toxic substance, activated charcoal may be administered. Charcoal will enter the cat’s system and begin to absorb the chemicals before they make it into the bloodstream to do more harm. The vet may also induce vomiting to remove the toxic substance or harmful drug from the cat’s body.
Some causes, such as head trauma, brain tumors, and heart failure may be untreatable. If the vet suspects head trauma is the cause, the cat’s head will be elevated at a 20-degree angle to prevent fluids from building up in the brain. Surgery may be able to treat these causes, but the success rate will vary, so it’s important to speak with your veterinarian to learn more before you make a decision.
Recovery of Stupor and Coma in Cats
The time it takes for your cat to recover will depend on the cause of the stupor or coma. The vet will most likely ask that you leave the cat with them so they can continue to monitor his vital signs and help him regain consciousness. While under the vet’s care, the cat will be hooked up to ventilators, IVs, and feeding tubes to ensure he is properly taken care of. The cat may regain consciousness while under the vet’s care, but that doesn’t mean he will be released to you right away. Vets will usually continue to monitor the cat’s vital signs until they are confident the cat has fully recovered.
Once your cat is back home with you, it’s important to administer medication as advised by the veterinarian. Make sure the cat is comfortable in your home while he continues to regain his strength. If you have other pets, keep them away from the cat until the vet says it’s ok for them to interact again. The vet may advise you to move the cat’s water and food bowls closer to limit the cat’s activity.
You will need to keep a close eye on your cat so you can monitor his behavior and call a veterinarian if you notice anything unusual.
Stupor and Coma Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
Hello I have a seven year old tuxedo cat adopted from a liquor store about two months ago. His eye sockets have been empty for as long as I've known him. Last n night he injestes very rusty water. I was able to get him to drink sweetened warm milk and he vomited and drank more but now he is completely unconscious. I'm keeping him warm but I've no clue what to do. I've no money for a vet.
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My 6 y.o. perfectly healthy cat died a month ago - all of a sudden he was unconscious, we couldn't hear his heart, we couldn't find pulse. we performed CPR until his mouth became pink again but his heart was beating at a rate that you almost couldn't hear it.. by the time we got to the vet he was totally unresponsive, still breathing, his pupils of different size... anyhow, they gave him oxygen and send us to another clinic for they couldn't provide any other treatment or examination.. he died on our way there, stopped breathing.. I am sorry for the bother, but I can't stop thinking of it. there was no trauma. what could it be? my actual question is - could he feel pain during all of that? I just need to know. some times I would hear sort of deep growling, he would also sort of squirm periodically as if trying to grasp air or belch (throat was clear). was his coma deep enough that he wasn't there from the start of this whole thing? I keep reading and looking for answers.. I have other cats. thank you in advance
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We adopted 2 cats from a local shelter one month ago. Two days ago, we had to put one of them down. He seemed perfectly normal and we were enjoying getting to know him as part of our family As you can imagine, we are devastated. All had been going well and Stormy seemed happy and healthy the night before he died. That morning, he did not come when I called him for breakfast, which had never happened before. I found him under the coffee table in the basement, lying on his side and meowing in distress. I called the vet and we got in at 8:30 AM, before the office opened for the day. We waited for the blood test results, which indicated Stormy's glucose level was very high (in the 400's). His x ray was normal. The vet suggested we leave him there so they could get his glucose down and raise his temperature, and to observe him. When the vet called at about 12:30, he said they had lowered his glucose and his temperature was rising, but Setormy was not as responsive mentally as he should have been. The vet said we should return at about 3:00 to see if he had improved enough to go home or if he should go to emergency care. By the time we arrived, the vet was working with other patients, so we waited for about a half hour. He came into the exam room and told us that after improving a little minutes earlier, Stormy was now in a coma and would not survive a ride to the animal ER! We were in disbelief! He said euthanasia should be a serious consideration at this point because even if he did come out of the coma, he would be gravely ill. So we had Stormy euthanized. The vet is not sure what caused all this and was doubtful that an autopsy would shed much light, since it doesn't address neurological issues. It was a horrible experience for us. We are worried about his brother, Dune, whom we also adopted. He is overweight, but otherwise appears healthy. We are bringing him to the vet next weekend for a thorough check. We know very little about the cats' histories, as is common with adoption. As the pet caretaker, I just feel so awful and have no closure. Our vet was great but is very young, and I just wanted to ask you if as a result of having more experience, you may have an idea what happened to our dear and wonderful Stormy. Thank you.
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When it says "lose consciousness", do you mean from a completely awake state? 1 of my new kittens (~5 months old) sometime sleeps SO hard almost like the stupor described above. Touches and "messing with" does not flinch. Even his brother jumping on his neck did not wake him. Had to shake him.
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