Emergency Care for Cats
In almost every emergency situation, your goal is to first move the cat to a safe location, then immediately contact your veterinarian. To save precious time, you can begin transport and call your veterinarian while you are on your way (be sure to obey your state’s mobile phone laws). Pet owners frequently do more harm than good by attempting to treat their cat’s emergency situation themselves. If your cat is not breathing or if he is bleeding excessively, describe the emergency incident and the injury, and your veterinarian will be able to give you specific instructions about what to do next.
Emergency situations can include (but are not limited to):
Inability to Urinate: If your cat repeatedly tries to urinate, urinates small amounts outside of the litter box, yowls when he tries to urinate, or has blood in his urine, he may have a urinary blockage and needs to see a veterinarian as soon as possible. If he has progressed to the point where he is hunched up and lethargic, consider his condition an emergency, and have him examined by a veterinarian immediately.
Hyperthermia (heat stroke): Early signs of heat stroke include rapid, loud breathing, abundant thick saliva, bright red mucous membranes, and high rectal temperature. Later signs include unsteadiness, diarrhea, and coma. Resist the temptation to plunge the cat in ice water; the resulting constriction of peripheral blood vessels can make the situation worse.
Even after the cat seems fully recovered, do not allow him to exert himself for at least three days following the incident. Hyperthermia can cause lasting effects that can be fatal unless the cat is fully recovered.
Hypothermia: An excessively chilled cat will shiver and act sluggish. With continued chilling the body temperature may fall below 95 degrees F, the pulse and breathing rates slow, and the cat may become comatose.
Bleeding: Consider wounds to be an emergency if they bleed profusely, are extremely deep or large, or if they open to the chest cavity, abdominal cavity, or head. Do not remove impaled objects – doing so can cause more damage or blood loss.
Limb Fractures: Lameness associated with extreme pain, swelling or deformation of the affected leg, or grinding or popping sounds, could indicate a break or another serious problem. Attempts to immobilize fractures with splints tend to do more harm than good, so it’s best to simply keep the cat still and cushion the limb from further trauma, and head to your veterinarian right away.
Snakebite: Poisonous snakebites are characterized by swelling, discoloration, pain, fang marks, restlessness, nausea, and weakness. Most bites are to the head, and are difficult to treat with first aid. The best first-aid is to keep the cat quiet and take it to the veterinarian immediately. Many bites from venomous snakes can be treated with antivenin if they are attended to promptly.
Insect stings and allergic reactions: Insects often sting cats on the face or feet. Do not pull out embedded stingers - grasping a stinger often injects more venom into the cat. Insect stings are the most common cause of extreme allergic reactions in cats. Swelling around the nose and throat can block the airway. Other possible reactions include restlessness, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, and collapse. If any of these symptoms occur, immediate veterinary attention will be necessary.
First-Aid Kit: Should your veterinarian advise immediate on-site treatment (which he will talk you through on the phone), it can be helpful to have a first-aid kit at the ready. Assemble a first-aid kit with the following:
- rectal thermometer
- sterile gauze dressings
- self-adhesive bandage (such as Vet-Wrap)
- instant cold compress
- anti-diarrhea medication (ask your veterinarian for a suggestion)
- ophthalmic ointment (ask your veterinarian for a suggestion)
- antiseptic skin ointment
- hydrogen peroxide
- clean sponge
- pen light
- first aid instructions
- veterinarian and emergency clinic numbers