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Accidents happen. Whilst no one thinks it will happen to their pet, the wise owner plans for the unexpected.
The aim of pet first aid is to stabilise your pet before taking her to a vet. In a true emergency your actions could save a life, but there’s also a risk (especially with cats) of doing more harm than good.
Indeed, the first rule of first aid is to recognise when to act or when to leave well alone and get straight to the vet clinic. To help here are our top tips.
Expect the Unexpected
You’ve heard the expression: “Don’t make a drama out of a crisis”?
The organised first-aider is seamlessly prepared. Instead of panicking, they know exactly which cupboard the cat carrier is in, which leaves them free to concentrate on the patient.
Prepare in advance for a worst case scenario, and then if it happens you’ll be so glad you’ll reap the benefit.
1. Register with a vet
Enter the vet’s number in your mobile phone, including their out-of-hours number (these may not be the same).
Know how to get to the clinic and where to park (including the out-of-hours location). In an emergency the last thing you want is further stress over finding the clinic in an unfamiliar neighbourhood.
2. Cat carrier
Store the cat carrier in an easily accessible place. In a crisis you want everything to run like clockwork, which includes safely transporting your cat to the vet.
3. Pet first aid kit
Create a cat-friendly first aid kit. Include sterile saline, cotton wool, and bandages.
4. Pet insurance
Emergency vet care costs big bucks, so protect yourself by considering pet insurance well in advance.
Recognise an Emergency
If you can recognise an emergency you’ll know when to get help. That said, if you’re concerned for any reason, feel free to phone your vet clinic. They should be happy to give you advice over the phone (and if they aren’t helpful, go to a vet that is.)
Tops tips that you have a feline-emergency include:
- Bleeding: Heavy bleeding should be stopped before setting off to the vet or there is a risk your cat will bleed out on the way.
- Altered mental state or consciousness: Confusion or lack of awareness is a serious sign of head trauma or a stroke.
- Urinary straining: Male cats in particular are prone to blockages in the urethra, which is a genuine emergency.
- Bones at odd angles: Can indicate a fracture, dislocation, or severe sprain.
- Pain: No animal should be left in pain and since human pain relief medications are NOT safe for cats, seek urgent veterinary help.
- Difficulty giving birth: This includes active straining for an hour without producing a kitten.
- Laboured breathing: Rapid shallow breathing or breathing with an open-mouth are signs of respiratory distress. Keep your cat calm and quiet, and transport them to the vet.
- Poor co-ordination: Can occur because of head trauma, a stroke, high blood pressure, or inner ear infection, all of which need urgent treatment.
- Lacerations: Wounds can often distract attention from internal injuries or shock, so keep your cat warm and get them to a vet for a thorough check over.
- Snake bites: There are no effective home remedies. Anti-venom is your cat’s best chance of survival so get straight to a vet.
Situations that require urgent attention at home first:
- Bite wounds: Washing a wound with sterile saline (or salt water at a push) can rinse away bacteria and potentially prevent an abscess.
- Burns: The best remedy for burns is holding the area under running water for 10 minutes – then get to a vet.
- Bleeding: Apply pressure to the wound to stop bleeding prior to transport to the vet.
Situations which are urgent but not necessarily an emergency:
- Blood in stools or urine
- Bite wounds
- Recurrent vomiting
- Faecal straining
- Lack of appetite
Explain the symptoms when you phone the vet surgery and get your cat seen the same day.
What to Do in an Emergency
In our quest to handle an emergency calmly and confidently, here’s what to do:
1. Keep your cat calm
Alarming your cat only increases their demand for oxygen and increases blood pressure which could cause further blood loss. Restrict the cat to one room, so they don’t run away and hide.
2. Treat shock
Shock can kill: Signs include a racing heart rate, rapid breathing, pale oral membranes, and distress. Keep your cat warm by wrapping them in a blanket or towel, stop blood loss, and transport to the vet.
3. Prevent blood loss
Either by applying pressure or dressing the area with a pressure bandage
4. Collect evidence
Take a photo of the snake (if you can do so safely and without delay) or collect the packaging of the poison your cat accidentally swallowed. This will help the vet identify the correct antidote.
5. Phone the vet
Let them know you’re on the way so that they can set up the appropriate equipment.
What NOT to do in an Emergency
The unique physiology of cats means that most human drugs are toxic to them. There is a real chance of making things considerably worse by giving your cat medication from your bathroom cabinet. To avoid making a bad situation worse, take the following advice.
1. Never give medication unless instructed by the vet
This includes human meds and also meds prescribed for your cat. It might be the emergency dictates the vet needs to use certain medicines to stabilise your cat, and there may be undesirable interactions between the drugs. Check with your vet (over the phone if necessary) before giving anything by mouth.
2. Do NOT make your cat vomit
It is unusual for a cat to eat something they shouldn’t, but if they do, don’t attempt to make your cat sick. Many of the home remedies that induce vomiting are dangerous for cats.
3. Think twice before applying a splint
If your cat’s leg is at an odd angle, only apply a splint if you are convinced it’s essential to do so. A badly applied splint can apply pressure to broken bones and increase their pain, plus a too tight splint can cut off the circulation and do more harm than good.
4. Don’t delay
Once you’ve recognised the emergency, don’t delay to see if your cat improves on their own. Especially for problems such as giving birth or urinary straining, this represents the loss of valuable time which can make a big difference to the outcome.
5. Snake myths
If your cat is bitten by a snake do NOT apply a tourniquet or cut the wound and attempt to suck out venom. Neither of these are effective. Your best option is to get your cat to a vet who stocks antivenin. (On a positive note, venomous snakes do not always inject their venom, but don’t take that risk, get to the vet fast.)
So in summary: Keep calm, think before giving meds, and get your vet’s advice, and you’ll handle any first aid situation like a pro.
Have you ever faced an emergency medical situation with your cat? Did you know how to apply basic first aid, or what did you do?
Sarah Anderson says
I haven’t heard of a pet first aid kit, I should definitely look into getting one of those. Are there different ones for different types of pets, like dogs, cats, rabbits, etc? Also, keeping you and your cat calm during this is essential to make sure that you are actually helping it.
These are all great tips and advice and can be applied to all animals. Thanks for the valuable info!
Carol Bryant says
We just updated our first aid kit because things expire. I am so glad to see this post.
Tenacious Little Terrier says
I have not had to go to the ER with Mr. N. *knocks on wood. I’ve taken first aid classes though and I’ve been thinking that I should take a refresher class.
I have only had to deal with one kitty emergency and it turned out to be less of an emergency than I had believed it was (thankfully). My cat Obi Wan (who came before Cinco and Manna) had gotten his claw stuck in the mechanics of our recliner and by the time we got him out he was bleeding. Of course, it happened in the middle of the night, so we had to drive out to an emergency vet. I was really scared, but it just turned out that he had broken his nail beyond the quick. It only required a cleaning and some bandages. I’m much more prepared for potential emergencies now than I was then and I haven’t had any others.
Wonderful and thorough post! I never thought about a first aid kit for Callie the Cat! I’m going to pin this post for future reference! 🙂
Sweet Purrfections says
Excellent information! I hope I never need to use any of this advice but am glad that I have it.
Talent Hounds says
Some excellent information and things to look out for. Nala started peeing on the white rug and had a little blood in her urine when she got kidney disease.
Recognizing a care issue is so important – many times we look for permission as we are afraid to escalate, but that may make the difference, so we suggest to do so (but sans ‘freak out’ mode’ more so ‘in control making good decisions mode’)!
I have found that in an emergency, somehow a lot of the information I don’t remember knowing, makes it way back to the surface. Something as simple as reading this post, can help save lives. I also appreciate the section on what is not considered an emergency. Thanks!
christycaplan (@christycaplan) says
These are fantastic and I like that you included prep tips like a cat carrier. I’ve seen cats brought into a clinic without a carrier that are clearly in pain so this is a great tip and not evident to everyone.
M. K. Clinton says
This is important information. I have a problem remaining calm, but the more I learn the more confident I feel about reacting in an emergency situation. Great post.
Fantastic post! I love the emphasis on what can make things worse in an emergency. I’d add “swollen abdomen” and “any changes in gum color (aside from bubblegum pink)” to the list of things that are emergencies for cats!
Fur Everywhere says
Carmine had to go to the emergency room on Easter one year! He was straining to urinate. Thankfully I had a friend who told me this was an emergency before this situation occurred so I knew to get him to the hospital right away. That’s when his feline lower urinary tract disease was diagnosed. He’s been eating prescription food ever since and has thankfully done really well on it.
Thank you for stressing the importance of getting male cats to the hospital when they are straining to urinate. Many people do not realize how urgent and fatal this problem can be, and some face horrible consequences as a result.
Thank you, this is a wonderful and informative post! I will be sharing as well!
Sarcastic Dog says
Great first aid tips. Being prepared can make a huge difference! I especially appreciate the inclusion of what you shouldn’t do in an emergency. We always hear about what to do but it’s good to know what not to do as well.
Great post! Knowing some first aid can be so helpful! I am going to a pet first aid class soon to brush up on my skills!
The Swiss Cats says
Great points ! When Angel Loupi was hit by a car, Claire and Momo were glad to have all the points above covered, and were able to rush him at the vet in less than 30 minutes after the accident. Purrs