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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
  • Seizures
  • Heart failure
  • Kidney failure
  • Reaction to drugs
  • Poisoning
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Hydrocephalus
  • 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.