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Cat First Aid

cat_illnessTry as you might to keep your cat healthy and safe, but the unthinkable can still happen. Your feline could suddenly fall ill or get hurt. If this were to occur, would you know what to do?

First Aid is the care provided to a sick or injured pet until professional help is at hand. First Aid does not take the place of proper veterinary treatment. But when used appropriately, it could make all the difference for you and your cat.

It’s important to be prepared for an emergency before one arises. Know these First Aid instructions, have a first aid kit ready, and keep important phone numbers handy. Learn how your veterinarian handles urgent care, particularly after hours. Some veterinarians are available to meet you at the hospital if you call after closing; others refer directly to a local emergency hospital. It’s always smart to know the name and location of the local 24-hour emergency hospital wherever you are (see box). Always call ahead before your rush to the vet hospital with your sick or injured pet. This way the staff can prepare or further instruct you as necessary. With a good plan in place, you and your cat can get the help you need…when you need it.

For a listing of 24-hour emergency veterinary clinics worldwide, visit the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society (VECCS) online directory.

The following are common feline emergencies and instructions for first aid:

Bee Sting

Any bee sting or insect bite has the potential to cause problems ranging from a minor local reaction (pain, swelling or itching) to a more serious one (hives, facial swelling, vomiting, trouble breathing, and in rare cases, collapse). If you suspect your cat has been stung or bitten by an insect:

What to do:

  • If the stinger can be located, scrape the corner of a credit card or a fingernail along the entry site to flick it out. Note: if you are allergic to bees, have someone else remove the stinger.
  • Apply ice or a cool compress to the wound for 2-3 minutes if possible.
  • A paste made of water and baking soda is non-toxic and may neutralize the sting.
  • Monitor your pet for facial swelling, hives, difficult breathing, or collapse. If these occur, seek veterinary care immediately.

What not to do:

  • Do not use tweezers to grasp and pull the stinger, as this can discharge more venom into the wound.
  • Do not administer human medications such as pain killers or anti-inflammatories. Most are poisonous to cats.

Bleeding

Bleeding is often associated with injury, and so recognizing and controlling blood loss is an important part of first aid. Bleeding can be external (exuding from a cut or wound on the surface of the body) or internal (concealed inside the chest or abdomen). Severe or ongoing blood loss can lead to shock, collapse, and even death if not treated promptly.

What to do for external bleeding:

  • Approach the injured cat carefully to avoid getting hurt yourself.
  • First, apply direct pressure to the wound using a wad of gauze, tissue, or clean cloth as a compress. If nothing else is available, your bare hand or finger will have to do.
  • Apply pressure to the wound for a full 10 minutes (or as long as your cat will allow).
  • Do not lift the gauze to check for if the bleeding stopped. You may dislodge the clot.
  • If the compress soaks through, layer more fresh padding on top of it.
  • If the wound is on an extremity, it may be possible to bind the compress in place using a gauze or cloth wrap.
  • Keep your cat as calm and still as possible.
  • Lying your cat on her side and elevating a bleeding limb may help slow the flow of blood.
  • For persistent or severe hemorrhage, seek veterinary care immediately.

Internal bleeding is a life-threatening emergency. But it’s not always apparent, since you may not see any blood. Internal bleeding can occur with blunt trauma, such as a serious fall, or being hit by a car.

Don't get hurt!

Even the gentlest cat will lash out when injured and in pain. Approach an injured cat with extreme caution to avoid getting hurt yourself.

Signs of internal bleeding may include:

  • Pale gums
  • Cool extremities
  • Rapid breathing
  • Coughing up blood
  • Distended belly
  • Extreme lethargy
  • Collapse

What to do for internal bleeding:

  • Keep your cat calm.
  • Keep her as warm and comfortable as possible.
  • Seek veterinary care immediately.

Breathing trouble

Breathing trouble (dyspnea) is characterized by increased breathing effort, noisy rapid breathing, or trouble inhaling and exhaling. Panting, while normal in dogs, is a sign of respiratory distress in cats. If blood oxygen gets low, the gums and lips may turn blue. Dyspnea is a medical emergency, and such patients can be extremely fragile.

What to do:

  • Determine if your cat is choking (see below).
  • Determine if your cat is suffering from heat stroke (see below).
  • Keep your cat as calm as possible while rushing her straight to the vet.
  • If your cat loses consciousness and stops breathing, perform rescue breathing (see box).

How to Perform Rescue Breathing

Rescue breathing is performed on a pet that has stopped breathing and become unconscious. It is the same as “mouth-to-mouth” in people. Do not attempt rescue breathing if your cat is still conscious.

  1. Clamp your lips over your cat's mouth and nose.
  2. Exhale with enough force to expand the cat’s chest as it would during a normal breath. Be careful not to over-inflate.
  3. Give three to five breaths.
  4. Pause to see if your cat has started to breathe on her own.
  5. Repeat as necessary until you reach help.

Burns

Burns can result from exposure to heat, flames, electricity, or caustic chemicals, and can occur anywhere on the body, including inside the mouth (electric shock, chemical ingestion). Burns are extremely painful, tend to worsen before they get better, and are highly susceptible to infection. Severe burns can require intensive care and reconstructive surgery.

Here’s what to do:

  • Put out any flames.
  • Turn off or unplug any electrical source if possible.
  • Approach the injured cat with extreme caution.
  • For thermal or electrical burns, apply cool water compresses.
  • For chemical burns, flush the contaminated area copiously with tepid running water for at least 15 minutes.
  • If a caustic chemical is in the eye, flush with saline eye rinse or running water for at least 15 minutes. Contact lens saline solution can also be used although anything labeled "multipurpose" or "disinfectant" should be avoided.
  • Seek veterinary care immediately

What not to do:

  • Do not apply ice.
  • Do not use ointments or butter.
  • Do not pop blisters or remove burned fur or skin yourself.

Choking

Choking occurs when a foreign object is lodged near the opening of the trachea (windpipe), blocking the flow of air into the lungs. Luckily, choking is quite rare in cats. Choking and coughing can be hard to tell apart. The important distinction is that a coughing cat can inhale relatively normally, but a choking cat can not. A choking cat may seem frantic and the lips and tongue will start to turn blue. This may progress to unconsciousness if the blockage is not relieved.

What to do if your cat is conscious:

  • If your cat can partially breathe, it may be best to keep her calm and rush her to the veterinarian right away. Your vet can extract the foreign body safely, using special instruments and sedation.
  • It may be possible to dislodge the foreign object with your finger or with tweezers or a forcep. Do not do this if you believe your cat will bite you.

What to do if your cat is unconscious:

  • Sweep your finger along the back of your cat’s throat to push aside any foreign material.
  • If this doesn’t work, perform the kitty Heimlich maneuver by placing your hands on both sides of her rib cage. Squeeze forcibly three to four times. Repeat until the foreign body is dislodged.
  • Once the obstruction is relieved, perform Rescue Breathing (see Breathing Trouble)

Fever

If your cat is acting sick and her face and ears feel hot, it’s possible she has a fever. Take your cat’s rectal temperature using an electric fever thermometer. A cat’s normal resting temperature is from 100.5° to 102.5°F. A temperature of 103°F or above constitutes a fever. A fever of 105°F or above is a potentially life-threatening situation that requires immediate attention.

What to do:

  • For a fever of 105°F or above, institute cooling measures by moistening the cat’s hair coat with cool water and placing her by a fan.
  • Seek veterinary care immediately.
What not to do:
  • Do not use cold water or ice. Cool tap water is better.
  • Do not overtreat. Cats have small bodies and can lose heat quickly. Once your pet’s temperature comes down to 103°F, discontinue cooling measures.
  • Do not give human fever remedies such as aspirin, Tylenol®, or ibuprofen. They are poisonous to cats.

Fracture

Symptoms of a fracture (broken bone) include pain, inability to use a limb, or a limb that is bent at an odd angle. An open fracture is one that is associated with an open and bleeding flesh wound. With a closed fracture, the surface skin remains intact.

What to do:

  • Approach the injured cat carefully.
  • Control bleeding if present, and if this can be done without causing worse injury (see Bleeding).
  • Cover an open fracture with a sterile gauze dressing or other clean cloth if possible.
  • Keep your cat calm and still if possible.
  • Transport your cat directly to the veterinarian, supporting the injured body part as well as possible. A plastic carrier with the top removed or a rigid cardboard box (lined with towels) are good ways to transport a seriously injured cat.

What not to do:

  • Never try to splint, bandage or set a fracture yourself. You are likely to get bitten and make the cat’s injury worse.
  • Do not attempt to clean the wound unless instructed to do so by your veterinarian.
  • Never give human pain medications to your cat.

Heat Stroke

Heat stroke is a condition in which a cat’s body overheats. Cats usually are smart about hot weather, and know to lounge in the shade. But a cat left in a poorly ventilated space such as a car or attic, even for a short time, can be exposed to dangerously high temperatures.

Signs of heat stroke include heavy breathing, drooling, and agitation, which progress to weakness, confusion, and collapse.

What to do:

  • Remove your cat from the heat.
  • If possible, take your cat’s rectal temperature (see Fever, above).
  • Institute cooling measures as for fever.
  • Seek veterinary care immediately, even if your cat seems to recover with treatment. The adverse effects of overheating can develop hours later.

What not to do:

  • Like when treating a fever, do not use cold water or ice.
  • Never leave your cat unattended in a poorly ventilated space on a hot day.

Paralysis

Paralysis is the loss of ability to move parts of the body, for example the legs or tail. This may occur due to a traumatic injury (such as a serious fall or being hit by a car) or a certain serious heart problem that causes blood clots to lodge in the extremities.

What to do:

  • Approach the injured cat carefully. The fact she can’t move doesn’t mean she’s not in pain.
  • Keep the cat as calm and still as possible
  • Transport your cat as for Fracture, above.
  • Seek veterinary care immediately. This is an emergency.

Poisoning

The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center

(888) 426-4435

This is a trusted resource in any animal poison-related emergency, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It is staffed by a dedicated team of veterinary specialists. A consultation fee will be charged to your credit card for using this service.

Poisoning can result from ingestion, inhalation, or contact with a toxic substance. Examples include household chemicals or cleansers, prescription medications, antifreeze, toxic plants, or even toxic foods.

What to do:

  • Contact either your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (see box).
  • If you are unable to reach one of these for some reason, local human poison control centers may be of some help as well.
  • Retain any product labels and containers.
  • Do your best to quantify how much of the toxin your pet ingested/inhaled/contacted and at what time.
  • Do not try to induce your cat to vomit unless instructed by your vet. Traditional home remedies can be very hazardous to cats.

Seizures

A seizure is a burst of uncontrollable body movements caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain. It can be as dramatic as violent whole-body tremors (a grand mal seizure), or as subtle as a repetitive facial twitch or a brief period of disorientation (a partial seizure). There are many causes of seizures, some benign, some serious.

What to do:

  • Protect your cat from injuring herself while the seizure runs its course. Make sure she can’t fall and particularly, keep her away from water.
  • Be careful not to get bitten.
  • If possible, record the start and end time of the seizure.
  • If your pet has just one seizure lasting under 3 minutes, this is usually not an emergency. Contact your veterinarian for further instructions.
  • If a seizure lasts more than 3-5 minutes, or if your cat has two or more seizures in a day, seek veterinary care immediately.
  • If your cat is diabetic, administer sugar syrup to the gums (if you can safely do so) and then seek veterinary care immediately.

Snake Bite

If your cat was bitten by a snake, it’s always safest to assume the snake was poisonous. This determination depends partly on what snakes are common in your area. Antivenin treatment may be needed.

What to do:

  • Take care to avoid being bitten yourself. Snake bites are extremely painful.
  • Try to identify the snake if possible (and only if it is safe to do so).
  • Avoid touching or manipulating the bitten area.
  • Seek veterinary care immediately.

What not to do:

  • Do not attempt to incise and drain the wound.
  • Do not apply ice or a tourniquet to the area.

Vomiting

Vomiting is a common symptom. Repeated vomiting, especially when combined with diarrhea, can rapidly lead to dehydration, especially in very young, old, or frail cats.

What to do:

  • Remove all food and water
  • If no vomiting occurs for 6 hours, offer very small amounts (1–2 teaspoons) of a bland food such as pureed chicken every 2–3 hours. If this stays down, you can start with tiny amounts of her regular food.
  • If vomiting and/or diarrhea persists, if your cat refuses food, or becomes very lethargic, take your cat to the veterinarian.
  • Vomitus or diarrhea containing large amounts of frank blood is an emergency. Seek veterinary care right away.

What not to do:

  • Do not give your pet anything to eat or drink until vomiting has ceased for at least 6 hours.
  • Do not give over the counter or prescription medications to your vomiting cat unless specifically prescribed by your veterinarian.

Wounds

Wounds come in all shapes and sizes. A deep wound fully penetrates the skin and may expose underlying muscle, fat and bone. It requires emergency treatment by a veterinarian. A superficial wound does not penetrate all the way through the skin, and home care may suffice. Bite wounds should always be treated by a veterinarian, no matter how superficial they seem. There is often more damage beneath the skin than meets the eye. Bite wounds in cats readily form into large abscesses. Rabies exposure is a serious concern if the bite came from an unvaccinated (or wild) animal.

What to do for a deep wound:

  • Protect yourself from getting bitten.
  • Stop any bleeding using direct pressure (see Bleeding).
  • Do not probe, clean or flush a deep wound, or apply anything to it.
  • If you see something protruding from a deep wound, do not try to remove it.
  • Cover the wound with gauze or a clean cloth.
  • Keep your cat calm and still if possible.
  • Seek veterinary care immediately.
  • Transport your cat with the wounded side facing up.
What to do for a superficial wound:
  • Wear gloves if the wound was caused by the bite of an unvaccinated animal (risk of rabies exposure).
  • Gently clean the wound of blood, dirt and debris with mild soap and lots of water.
  • Pat the wound dry.
  • An Elizabethan collar or bandage may be necessary to keep your cat from licking at the wound.

Minor wounds on the extremities can be bandaged (if your cat will allow it):

  • Apply a triple antibiotic ointment such as Neosporin®.
  • Apply a sterile non-stick pad such as a Telfa® pad to the wound (available online or at pharmacies).
  • Apply several layers of rolled gauze over the wound. Extend the wrap several inches above and below the wound (if space permits) to minimize slippage.
  • Apply an outer self-adhesive wrap such as Vetrap® (available online or at pet supply stores).
  • A safe bandage is snug, but not tight enough to cut off circulation. If you can’t slip 2 fingers under the bandage, it’s too tight..
  • Keep the bandage clean and dry.
  • Change it every 1 to 2 days.
  • If redness, swelling, odor or discharge develops, seek veterinary care immediately.

With luck, you’ll never need to perform First Aid on your pet. But if an emergency strikes, you’ll be prepared.

Disclaimer: This website is not intended to replace professional consultation, diagnosis, or treatment by a licensed veterinarian. If you require any veterinary related advice, contact your veterinarian promptly. Information at CatHealth.com is exclusively of a general reference nature. Do not disregard veterinary advice or delay treatment as a result of accessing information at this site.
 
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