In an emergency, first aid is not a substitute for veterinary treatment. However, if you are unable to get your cat to a veterinarian, knowing basic first aid could save your cat’s life. Remember that a sick or injured cat may be frightened or in pain, and, therefore, may bite or scratch without warning. Carefully restrain the cat in a thick towel before trying to move the cat or administer aid. Always seek veterinary care following first aid attempts.
Clean the wound with large amounts of water. Small puncture wounds are potentially worse than large cuts because bacteria may be trapped under the skin. You can clean a wound one time with hydrogen peroxide, but do not use this repeatedly as it kills surface cells. Large open wounds should be wrapped to keep them clean. Apply pressure to profusely bleeding wounds. Bite wounds often become infected and need professional care.
Apply firm direct pressure over the bleeding area until the bleeding stops. Avoid bandages or tourniquets that might cut off circulation.
Breathing (cat stops breathing)
Check to see if the cat is choking on a foreign object (see Choking). If there is no object in the cat’s throat, place the cat on its right side. Close the cat’s mouth and exhale directly into the nose, not the mouth, until the chest expands. Exhale 12 to 15 times per minute. At the same time, apply heart massage with the other hand. The heart is located in the lower half of the chest behind the elbow of the left front leg. Place the hand over the heart and compress the chest one inch. Apply heart massage 70 – 90 times per minute. Stop heart massage if you can feel the heart beating.
Breathing (rapid, open-mouthed breathing)
Cats will rarely pant unless they are severely overheated or they are having difficulty getting air into the lungs. Cats that pant for more than a few minutes may be having an asthmatic attack, or they may have fluid in or around their lungs. These cats need veterinary care right away.
Burns (chemical, electrical and heat)
Symptoms include singed hair, blistering, swelling or redness of skin. Flush the burn area immediately with large amounts of cool water. Burns are often more severe than they first appear. So, a veterinarian should be consulted.
Symptoms include difficulty breathing, excessive pawing at the mouth, blue lips and tongue. Look into the mouth to see if a foreign object in the throat is visible. Clear the airway by removing the object with pliers or tweezers, being careful not to push it further down the throat. If the object remains lodged, or if no object is visible, place your hands on both sides of the cat’s rib cage and apply firm, quick pressure. Alternatively, place the cat on its side and strike the rib cage firmly with the palm of your hand 3 or 4 times. Repeat this procedure until the object is dislodged. (see Breathing)
Withhold food for 12 – 24 hours. A very watery diarrhea can quickly dehydrate a kitten or an old cat. Liquid diarrheas or those that persist beyond 48 hours should be treated by a veterinarian.
Symptoms include pain, swelling and/or inability to use a leg. Control bleeding, watch for any sign of shock. Do not try to reset a fracture. Transport the cat to the veterinarian immediately using a carrier or a covered box.
Symptoms include rapid or difficult breathing, vomiting, high body temperature (over 102.5 F) or collapse. Place the cat in a tub of cold water, gently soak with a garden hose, or wrap in a cold, wet towel. Watch for any sign of shock.
Symptoms include sudden onset of swelling, itching and pain within one hour of bite. Remove the stinger if present. Apply cold packs to site of sting. If isolated from veterinary care, a topical cortisone or an anti-inflammatory ointment can be rubbed on the area of the bite.
Symptoms include vomiting, convulsions, diarrhea, salivation, weakness, depression and pain. Write down what the cat ingested and how much. Immediately call the veterinarian or poison control center. Do not induce vomiting or attempt treatment without direction from the doctor. In the case of poisoning on the fur or skin from oils, paints or chemicals, wash the cat with mild soap and rinse well. The toll-free number for the Animal Poison Control Center is 800-213-6680. A consultation fee is charged, but it’s well worth it, considering the prompt and knowledgeable attention the center provides. They are open 7 days a week and 24 hours a day.
Symptoms include salivation, loss of control of urine or stool, violent muscle twitching or loss of consciousness. Move the cat away from objects or ledges that could be harmful. Use a blanket for padding and protection. Do not put yourself at risk by trying to restrain the cat during a seizure. The cat will not choke on its tongue. Time the seizure; it will rarely last more than 1 – 2 minutes. Afterwards, keep the cat calm, quiet and cool. Call a veterinarian immediately, as an examination and blood work as close to the time of seizure as possible are most diagnostic.
Symptoms include irregular breathing, dilated pupils, weakness and low body temperature. Shock may occur with serious injury or fright as well as with infection or toxins. Keep the cat gently restrained, quiet and warm. Immediate veterinary care is needed.
Snakebite (poisonous and nonpoisonous)
Symptoms include rapid swelling, skin puncture, pain, weakness and shock. Stop all exercise to prevent spread of venom. Clean the skin area, as many poisons damage nerves or body tissue on contact.
Withhold food for 12-24 hours. Give small amounts of water or ice cubes every hour. After 6 hours without vomiting, start giving small amounts of food every hour. If vomiting persists for more than 24 hours, a veterinarian should be seen. Kittens and old cats can dehydrate rapidly with repeated vomiting.