It is important to have a "cat first aid kit" ready for those unexpected emergencies with your cat. You need to handle the cat emergency until you can see your vet. The First Aid suggested here is for minor injuries or simply to stabilize your cat for the frantic run to your vet. It's not always easy knowing when your pet has an injury because they still retain a survival mechanism from their days in the wild and try to hide injury or illness knowing that they become prey if they are considered weak.
So, knowing your cat and how it normally behaves is important. Watch for a poor appetite, hiding, signs of pain, limping, disinterest or any other behavior that is not typical of your cat. Take note of your cat's normal sleeping times and the times when it's usually active. Changes in routine, even subtle ones, could be flagging a health problem and cat first aid may be needed. First Aid supplies are available at many of the reliable vendors listed on the Pet Products Page.
How to approach an injured cat
For most of us, the first reaction is to pick up our cat if we see it is sick or in pain. Don't! Although you need to assist the cat quickly, you must do it in a way that is safe for both you and the cat. Remember that your cat is sick and/or in pain and may lash out scratching or biting. Get a big, soft bath towel to place over the cat. You may also want to wear gloves. Talk soothingly to your cat to reassure it.
During cat first aid if you need to treat your cat's head or neck, wrap it's body in the towel with only the neck and head exposed. If you need to examine the rest of the body and someone else is there to help you, one person could grasp the scruff and forelegs while the other person holds the hind legs, immobilizing the cat and making it easier to check for the problem. If you are alone, use adhesive tape to band the cat's forelegs together and separately secure the hind legs, then examine the cat.
At this point you should check your cat's heartbeat, breathing and responsiveness for signs of shock. Look for bleeding or burns. In many cases you will need to get to the vet quickly. If you see no outward signs of the distress, wrap your cat securely in the towel or blanket.
My vet calls my cats "Cat Burritos" when I bring them in wrapped this way and not in their carrier. If the trauma isn't severe, I slide the cat, towel and all into the carrier for transporting them safely to the vet. The towel/blanket is also keeping them warm, helping prevent shock. Remember that cat first aid is more for minor problems.
While there are some cat first aid procedures you can do at home for minor injuries and to help stabilize major injuries...such as stopping blood loss...time is critical. If your cat is critically injured be very careful when moving it. If there is a possibility that your cat has a broken back, provide support by gently placing the cat on a baking pan or other flat surface. If any limbs appear to be broken, lay the cat on its side with the injured leg up. Cat first aid is limited so your vet is needed.
Cat First Aid Kit
Cat first aid also covers bites from cat fights and they should be cleaned out with a 10 percent hydrogen peroxide solution. Your vet may prescribe antibiotics and will stitch up any lacerated wounds. Insect bites are usually noticed by a hot, swollen area where the sting occurred. Pull the stinger straight out with a pair of tweezers, apply a paste of baking soda and lukewarm water, then use calamine lotion to relieve the itching. Ice packs can help reduce swelling and ease pain. If your cat is allergic to the insect, it may suffer vomiting, diarrhea, a swollen head and throat, and possibly shock.
Cat first aid to stop bleeding...apply direct pressure with a sterile piece of gauze. Do not remove the gauze if blood soaks through, simply place a second pad on top of the first. If the wound is on a leg or the tail and bleeding continues, apply pressure to the arteries supplying blood to the area of the cut...such as inside the upper surface of the front and hind legs and the underside of the base of the tail.
A tourniquet should only be used as a last resort in cat first aid since this can result in the loss of a limb or tail due to the onset of gangrene. If a tourniquet must be applied due to rapid blood loss, wrap a one-inch gauze bandage roll around the limb or tail between the wound and the body, then tie a pencil or stick on top and twist slowly until the bleeding stops. Loosen the bandage for one minute every five to fifteen minutes to let the blood flow. If possible, switch to a pressure bandage. Seek immediate veterinary care.
If you trim your cat's nails, you may accidentally cut them too close and cut into the quick, which is the vein running through the nail. Your cat might also damage the nail on its own by catching it on something and breaking it off. Cat first aid to stop this bleeding...simply apply direct pressure and seal off the nail with a dab of styptic powder. In most cases, this is all that is needed as long as the wound does not get dirty, which can cause infection. The cat first aid that you have done should suffice and a vet visit is not needed unless the wound becomes infected.
A thermal burn may result from walking on a hot stove-top or being scalded by hot water. The cat first aid procedure...make a cold compress by soaking rags in ice water then wringing them out. Apply the compress to the wound for about 20 minutes to soothe the burned skin. Next, wash the area with bicarbonate of soda solution, following the instructions on the package.
Apply an antibiotic jelly or salve from an aloe vera plant to the burn and ask your vet to prescribe a topical antibiotic ointment. This is an instance where you may need to use a plastic cone around your cat's head to keep it from licking the ointment off. For severe burns or minor burns that get infected, see your vet because cat first aid isn't enough.
Chemical burns result from either alkalis or acids. Cat first aid to treat these...wear protective gloves and clean the wound right away. If the substance was an alkali, wash the wound with equal parts vinegar and water. If it was an acid, wash with one teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda mixed with one pint of lukewarm water.
If you don't know what kind of chemical caused the injury, rinse with plain water. Treat for shock if the cat has been severely burned. Follow instructions for antidotes printed on the chemical's container or apply an antibiotic ointment or aloe vera. Get to your vet immediately.Again, cat first aid isn't for serious issues.
Electrical burns....wires can cause severe burns and shock. If you see your pet bite a wire, turn off the power source or remove the cord with a wooden or plastic broom. Never touch a cat that is still in contact with a live power source. If you did not see the biting but suspect it, check for blisters around the mouth. Check the cat's heart rate and pulse.
If the cat is not breathing, begin CPR...see topic below. Your cat could suffer brain or nerve damage so get it to the vet immediately.
Cat first aid using CPR is made up of two components: artificial respiration and external heart massage. In cases in which your cat is unconscious and does not have a heartbeat or is not breathing, CPR must be administered within three to five minutes to save it. If your cat has a heartbeat but is not breathing, begin artificial respiration by opening the cat's mouth and removing any obstructions. Pull out the cat's tongue with your finger or a cloth and hold it to keep the air passage open.
Place the cat on its right side on a flat surface and breathe directly into its nose with short breaths until the chest expands (be cautious, as blowing too hard can cause lung damage). Wait two seconds, then repeat, continuing for up to 30 minutes or until the cat breathes on its own.
If there is no heartbeat or respiration place a thumb on the cat's chest at the point of the elbow and your fingers on the opposite side of the chest cavity. Squeeze gently but firmly at a rate of one compression per second. After five chest compressions, give one artificial breath, continuing this rhythm for up to 15 minutes.
If possible, have someone drive you to the vet while you continue the cat first aid procedure. CPR is very difficult to do on a cat and is best done by an expert but there are times when you won't have that option and must try. Also, be careful not to do CPR on an animal that is breathing as you can cause greater injury.
Minor Pad Cuts or Punctures
Outdoor cats are more likely to suffer foot pad injuries than indoor cats. However, any cat can hurt its pad by stepping on something sharp or fighting with another cat. Cat first aid for your cat that gets a cut on its pad...apply direct pressure for several minutes to stop the bleeding. If the bleeding stops quickly, inspect the foot for glass or other items, then gently wash it with disinfectant soap or hydrogen peroxide and dry it completely.
Bandage the foot to keep it clean and to prevent recurrent bleeding, changing the bandage every 2-3 days or if it gets wet. Keep the foot bandaged until it is fully healed. This may take as long as 3-4 weeks because the pad is always being walked on. Cat first aid should be adequate and veterinary help is not needed unless the wound becomes infected.
If the cut is deep, apply a pressure bandage. Place a gauze pad directly to the wound and then tape the gauze in place. If blood seeps through, do not change the gauze or you may disturb a forming blood clot; simply apply a second piece of gauze over the first one. Leave the bandage in place until you can get to a vet, changing it only if 24 hours pass before you see the vet. For deep wounds, your vet may have to use stitches. See your vet as soon as possible.
Limping is a pretty good sign of a puncture wound. If the pad has been pierced, examine it carefully under a bright light to see if any remnants remain in the foot, such as glass or a wood splinter. If you do see an object in the foot, sterilize a needle by heating the tip until it is glowing red, then letting it cool and soaking it for 10 minutes in rubbing alcohol. Use the sterilized needle to pry the object loose, then pull it out with tweezers.
Clean the wound thoroughly with hydrogen peroxide. If you remove the object and your cat stops limping, veterinary care may not be needed. If your cat keeps limping or you see signs of infection such as swelling or draining, see your vet. With any deep wound or a wound obtained in a cat fight, have your vet look at it in case antibiotics are needed.
Cats can be poisoned from numerous substances, from antifreeze to houseplants. Try to determine the type of poison your pet ingested, since the antidotes for different toxic substances vary. Call your veterinarian or the National Animal Poison Information Center to determine if you can treat the problem at home or need to get to the vet. The center provides a 24 hour toll-free number, 800-548-2423 A fee is charged for information but credit cards are accepted. A few years ago the fee was $50.
If your cat is convulsing or unconscious, do not attempt home care...wrap the cat in a blanket and rush it to your vet. In most cases, immediate vet care is needed. Try to bring a sample of the poison and a sample of any vomit or diarrhea from your cat. Your vet can administer the proper antidotes.
Cat falls from apartment ledges have become so frequent that they were given the name "high-rise syndrome". Although cats generally right themselves in the air and land on their feet, falls from great heights of several stories or more can result in injuries such as split hard palate, ruptured lung, fractured jaw and broken bones. Cats can also suffer internal injuries. Stabilize your cat as you would after a car accident and rush it to the vet. Emergency care is vital.
Shock often doesn't appear until well after an injury happens. Symptoms include lack of activity, which can progress to unconsciousness; pale gums, lowered body temp (less than 100 degrees); rapid pulse (more than 240 beats per minute); shallow, rapid breathing (more than 40 inhalations or exhilations per minute); difficulty standing; and sometimes involuntary urination or elimination. If the cat is not breathing, begin artificial respiration immediately. Wrap your pet in a towel or blanket to preserve body heat and rush it to the vet. Emergency care is vital since shock can be fatal.
Please be aware of the risks of Home Treatment
"The average person doesn't have the expertise to diagnose and care for a problem like a vet does." says Janice Trumpeter, DVM, veterinary adviser to the American Animal Hospital Association "Vets have seen most of the things you could possibly encounter and know how to handle them. Also, if you call ahead your vet will have an idea of what to prepare for and what tests to have ready."
People who have tried to treat their cats at home have often caused untimely delay," adds Mark Koeppl, DVM, chief of staff at the Emergency Clinic for Animals, in Madison, Wis. "For example, they may spend time putting on a splint and put it on incorrectly. I know people who have consulted the Internet or home care books when their cat is sick and have received reasonably good advice, but have wasted time when they could have been taking the cat to a vet".
He does say that cleaning and treating minor wounds at home and then watching them for signs of infection is okay. However, if there is any evidence that your cat has been traumatized, a wait and see approach could be fatal. First Aid products are available at most of the reliable vendors listed on the Pet Products Page
"Poisoning by classic antifreeze is another example," he continues, "If you treat a cat that has ingested antifreeze within a couple of hours, you can save virtually 100 percent of them. If you wait for the first symptoms, which include stumbling and acting drunk, you can save some of them. But if you wait a while longer the cat will appear to be back to normal but actually will suffer kidney failure at this point. We can save zero percent of those." Trumpeter agrees that poisoning is one of the examples where home remedies can be dangerous. "Sometimes you need to make a cat throw up, but sometimes the substance will burn coming back up and make things worse."
So, in conclusion, try to make a realistic choice when trying to help your injured cat. They depend on you.