Cats often don’t show physical weakness until they are near death

Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami.
Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami.

Q: My 7-year-old cat died suddenly, gasping, a few days after she received a dose of flea medication for the first time. I had taken her to the vet because she had gotten lots of fleas and was really weak and they recommended Revolution, which I put on her as soon as I got home. I’m now sick with guilt and I’m angry at the veterinarian. She was probably too sick to receive this flea medicine. What do you think?

A: I’m so sorry for your loss. I completely understand the guilt that comes from trying your best and worrying you should have been able to prevent her death. By the time some diseases make themselves known, cats are typically sicker than they appear.

I have this mantra I use to impress my cat owners: Never expect them to let you know when they’re weak, in pain, or feeling “off” in any way, I tell them. Cats are just like that. And nowhere does this seem more true, I explain, than when it comes to conditions that lead to sudden death.

Cats are like wild animals in that they’re loath to show weakness for fear of being eaten. Their bodies will compensate impressively until they can no longer keep up the illusion of wellness.

Unfortunately, when it comes to many feline diseases, the signs tend to sneak up on you. Cardiovascular diseases, in particular, act like this. The most common signs include a gradual onset of progressive weakness, difficulty walking and breathing difficulties, which can be subtle and hard to see (especially in lazy or aging cats). Which means that by the time most people see something wrong, they’re often on their way to collapse and sudden death.

Though I can’t know for sure, in this case, I strongly suspect that severe anemia (related to blood loss from fleas) or some underlying heart condition may have had something to do with her demise. While I can’t discount the possibility that Revolution played some role, it seems likely to have been minor in light of her illness (the FDA reports fewer issues with this drug than with others in its category).

In retrospect, perhaps the administration of a flea medication was unwise. Flea infestations, however, deserve flea eradication and this drug is generally considered safe. But, of course, it’s always safest to prevent the fleas in the first place. Again, I’m very sorry for your loss.

Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is Send questions to