It is sensible to take your cat to the vet in a box or carrier. This helps it to feel secure and removes the risk of the cat escaping from your arms when frightened by a dog in the waiting room, or the sound of a passing car on the street.
The information given below is for guidance only, and is not intended to replace veterinary advice. If faced with an emergency, remember that the principles of first aid for cats are similar to those for humans.
A basic first-aid kit
ο Rolls of 2.5 cm (1 in) and 5 cm (2 in) bandage
ο Self-adhesive bandages
ο A 2.5 cm (1 in) crepe bandage
ο Roll of 5 cm (2 in) by 7 cm (3 in) adhesive plaster
ο Non-stick gauze pads
ο Cotton wool
ο Curved, blunt-ended scissors
ο Straight scissors`
ο Nail clippers
ο Antiseptic and disinfectant liquids
ο Tube of antiseptic cream
ο Hydrogen peroxide (3 per cent) for flushing wounds
ο Medicinal paraffin for treatment of constipation
ο Small nuggets of washing soda to induce vomiting
ο Ear and eye drops as recommended by your veterinarian
ο Roll of absorbent paper towel
Administering tablets to a cat
Place the thumb and fingers of one hand on each side of your cat’s mouth. Press in gently and tilt the cat’s head back – its mouth should open.
Use your other hand to pull down on the lower jaw, then place the tablet as far back on the tongue as possible.
Hold the cat’s mouth closed and head back until the tablet is swallowed.
Restraining a nervous cat
When you need to take a nervous or distressed cat to the veterinary clinic, it may be best to restrain it in a blanket. Your vet will then be able to unwrap the calmed cat to examine it.
Administering a liquid to a cat
Tip the cat’s head back. Pull out the corner of the lip to make a pocket, then pour the liquid into it. Hold the cat’s mouth closed until the liquid is swallowed – you’ll find this difficult to achieve, though, and may need to adjust the dosage accordingly, to take spillage into account (be careful not to overdose).
A cat’s natural instinct is to lick and clean up any wounds it suffers. A wound exposed to the air will usually dry up and heal more quickly.
Where minor wounds are involved you can usually clip off the surrounding hair, then check for and remove thorns, glass or other embedded objects. Flush the wound with saline or three per cent hydrogen peroxide, then leave the cat to look after itself.
Do keep an eye on any minor wound, though, because if the licking becomes excessive the cat may cause skin changes and introduce infection – if this happens, ask your veterinarian for advice.
It is often difficult for an owner to bandage an affected area, and in many cases a cat will remove a bandage soon after it has been applied. Adhesive tape can be applied over a bandage to reduce this risk, but this should be done by a veterinary nurse or a veterinarian. Your vet may recommend an Elizabethan collar as a last resort to prevent a cat from licking at a wound.
If the wound is on an area that the cat cannot reach, clip off the hair and flush the wound with saline solution (two tablespoons salt in two cups water), three per cent hydrogen peroxide or an antiseptic solution recommended by your vet.
Bite wounds and puncture wounds
Some of these may appear minor, but by their nature they have the potential to cause problems. The opening will heal over very quickly, and any infection that has been introduced (which is often the case) will be trapped inside and may form an abscess.
The cat may lick the puncture wound and keep it open, or you can do the same by frequent bathing with saline. If you are in any doubt about what to do, or if the wound appears infected, get veterinary advice, because antibiotic treatment is usually necessary.
Elizabethan collars may be used to prevent cats from licking a wound or lesion on the body, or damaging surgical sites on the ears or eyes. Cats should not be allowed to go outside while wearing these collars.
Bleeding from a vein
If your cat is bleeding from a vein, the blood will be seeping out and dark in colour. Try to flush the wound with saline or three per cent strength of hydrogen peroxide.
If the wound is on a limb, try to apply a pressure bandage as follows:
ο Cover the wound with a non-stick gauze pad.
ο Place a thick pad of damp cotton wool over the top.
ο Bandage firmly (but not tightly). Use good-quality bandages and keep the tightness even.
ο Check at regular intervals to make sure that there is no swelling below the wound (a sign that the bandage is too tight).
ο You could bandage the limb all the way to the foot and envelop the foot, to prevent this type of swelling.
ο Arrange for a veterinary check.
If the wound is on an area that you cannot bandage, apply the non-stick pad and cotton wool, then use your thumb or fingers to apply gentle pressure for up to five minutes at a time. If bleeding continues, get help as soon as you can.
Bleeding from an artery
Arterial blood is bright red and spurts vigorously.
ο If the blood vessel or artery involved is not too large, apply a pressure bandage as above and check every 10 minutes to make sure that bleeding has stopped.
ο For larger blood vessels and arteries, use your fingers to apply firm pressure over the affected area, but slightly closer to the heart. Release pressure after five minutes, then re-apply if necessary.
ο As soon as possible, take the cat to a vet.
Care should be taken when applying bandages. If they are too tight, they may restrict the blood flow. Cats can be difficult to bandage when conscious, especially if in pain – this cat is under sedation.
Bleeding from a nail
This is often associated with an accident, and in most cases the nail will have been torn completely off. The wound will usually be painful and the cat probably will not allow you to touch it.
If you are able to do so, protect the wound by placing a sterile pad over the injured area, then wrap a bandage around the whole paw. Blood clotting should occur within five minutes, but the wound will need further treatment and antibiotic cover, so contact your veterinary clinic.
You can deal with minor problems, such as dust or dirt, by flushing the eye with the eye drops kept in your first-aid kit, or an eye solution for humans.
Remember, though, that the surface of the eye (cornea) is fragile and damage to it may not become visible for several days. For this reason, keep a close watch on any eye problem and get it checked if you are in any doubt.
These may result from a cat fight, or the cat catching on an obstruction such as a twig. Surface veins on the ear are easily damaged and bleeding may occur. Unless the wound is minor, get a veterinary check.
These are usually caused by a sharp bone. Minor wounds to tongue or gums will usually heal without incident, but if in any doubt get a veterinary check-up.
To remove a fish hook caught in a cat’s lip, try to push the barb all the way through, then cut the hook through its shank. If you can’t do this yourself, get veterinary help.
Leg and paw injuries
Wounds on the lower leg can be flushed with saline or three per cent hydrogen peroxide, then dressed, bandaged and protected by an old sock. Cuts on a footpad are more difficult to treat, and unless they are minor, they are best left for a veterinarian to assess.
Wounds may be caused during fighting, so treat as described above (Leg and paw injuries).
If there is severe pain around the affected area, the tail may be fractured, so get veterinary advice. Sometimes the tail gets trapped under a vehicle tyre, and in trying to run away the cat pulls the tail violently, causing severe damage to the nerves. In many cases the tail will be paralysed – unfortunately the damage will be permanent and the only treatment is tail amputation.
This vet is using an ophthalmoscope to check a kitten’s eyes for injuries.
If a leg is fractured, restrict the cat’s movement as much as possible. You can provide support to an injured lower limb by tying a newspaper or magazine around it. If in doubt, leave well alone or you could aggravate the existing damage. Get professional help.
For first aid to fractured ribs, use any materials you can find to wrap around the whole chest. Take the cat to a vet.
Accidents and emergencies
Before you begin to administer any emergency treatment, you will need to check for the cat’s heartbeat. To do this, place two fingers over the lower centre of the chest just behind the elbow of the front leg, and press down lightly.
Remember not to move the cat unless it is in danger (for example, if it is in the road).
Artificial respiration (AR)
ο Remove the cat’s collar and wipe away any saliva, blood or vomit. Pull the tongue forward.
ο Place the cat on its side.
ο Place one hand over the cat’s mouth to keep it closed.
ο Take a deep breath and blow strongly into the cat’s nostrils for about three seconds until you feel resistance or see the chest rise.
ο Repeat this procedure 12–15 times over one minute.
ο Stop, and watch the chest to see if the cat is breathing on its own.
ο If the cat is not breathing, continue to perform the above procedure.
ο Get veterinary help as soon as possible.
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
As with AR, this can be difficult to administer because of a cat’s small size.
ο Place the cat on its right side.
ο Spread the fingers and the palm of one hand over the cat’s chest.
ο Apply smooth, rhythmical compressions that will move the chest about 2 cm (0.7 in) but not cause internal injury. Press once a second for half a minute.
ο If the affected cat is still in contact with the electrical source, SWITCH OFF THE POWER before you touch the cat.
ο Check for heartbeat and breathing.
ο If there is a heartbeat but no breathing, try AR.
ο If the heart is not beating, try to perform CPR.
ο Get the cat to a vet as soon as possible.
ο If you can, hold the cat upside down by its back legs and swing it from side to side for 15–20 seconds to help water to drain out of its lungs.
ο Lay the cat on its side, sloping with its head down.
ο Check for a heartbeat and breathing.
ο If there is a heartbeat but no breathing, try to perform artificial respiration (see p115).
ο If there is no heartbeat, try to perform CPR (see p115).
ο Get the cat to a vet as soon as possible.
Carbon monoxide, smoke or other vapour inhalation
ο Carry the cat into fresh air.
ο If the cat is conscious, flush out the eyes with clean water.
ο If the cat is unconscious, check its heartbeat and whether it is still breathing.
ο If the heart is beating but there is no breathing, try to perform artificial respiration (see p115).
ο If the cat has no heartbeat, try to carry out CPR (see p115).
ο Get the cat to a vet as soon as possible.
ο If possible, get help to restrain the cat.
ο Use the fingers and thumb of one hand to press the upper lips over the teeth in the upper jaw. Further firm pressure will force the mouth open.
ο If you can see the object that is causing choking, try to remove it, but be careful that you don’t get bitten.
ο If removal this way is not possible and the cat is quite small, hold it by its hind legs, head down, and shake it vigorously.
ο Get the cat to a vet as soon as possible.
Convulsions or fits
These usually last for only a few minutes, and are rarely fatal. Your objectives are to prevent the cat from injuring itself while convulsing, and avoid injury yourself.
ο Keep your fingers away from the cat’s mouth.
ο Move it to a clear area away from furniture.
ο Wrap the cat in a blanket to help restrain its leg and body movements.
ο Contact your veterinarian for advice.
Burns may be caused by heat, or by chemicals such as petroleum products or strong acids or alkalis.
Burns caused by heat
ο Get the cat to a veterinarian as soon as possible.
ο While doing so, apply cold water or an ice pack (for example, a pack of frozen vegetables such as peas or corn kernels) to the affected area.
ο Try to prevent the cat from licking at the area.
ο If the burns are extensive, cover the affected area with a sterile, non-stick dressing.
Burns caused by chemicals
ο Thoroughly wash the area affected by the burn with soap (preferably use a soap that is mild, unscented and uncoloured) and water.
ο Try to determine the cause.
ο Get veterinary advice.
Signs include rapid, irregular breathing, panting, vomiting and collapse.
ο Get the cat into a cool environment.
ο If the cat is unconscious, apply artificial respiration and/or CPR as necessary (see p115).
ο Use a garden hose or a bath of cold water to cool the cat for up to half an hour. It is also a good idea to place an ice pack (see above) on top of the cat’s head.
ο Get veterinary help.
ο Warm the cat using an electric blanket or similar heating pad, turning the cat every few minutes.
ο Otherwise use a warm (37°C; 100°F) water bottle covered in a cloth.
ο Get veterinary help.
The areas most commonly affected on a cat are those with little hair or a minimal blood supply, such as the tips of the ears and the nose.
ο Apply a towel or similar material soaked in warm water (24°C; 75°F)
ο Check the skin colour. If it appears dark, get veterinary help immediately.
Insect stings and spider bites
A great variety of insects (such as bees, wasps and hornets) and spiders are poisonous. All stings or bites may produce an allergic reaction.
ο If the sting is from a bee, use a blunt knife or similar object to scrape off the stinger embedded in the skin. Do not simply try to pull it out.
ο Apply ice to the affected area.
ο Get veterinary help as soon as possible.
Poisonous toads and lizards
In the United States the Blue-tailed Lizard and at least nine species of toad are capable of poisoning cats. If a cat licks or bites a toad, a toxin (carried in the wart-like lumps on the toad’s skin) enters the cat’s mouth and (often) its eyes. If it eats the tail of a Blue-tailed Lizard, it ingests the poison contained in it. Clinical signs appear soon after the event, and include salivation, vomiting, shaking or trembling, lack of coordination, convulsions and coma.
ο If possible, immediately flush out the cat’s mouth and eyes with water.
ο If it is unconscious, wrap it in a blanket to keep it warm.
ο In all cases take it to your vet for emergency treatment.
Bites may occur from venomous or non-venomous snakes. Venomous snakes leave a distinctly different imprint to that left by a non-venomous species, but these are difficult to see under a cat’s fur. Because cats can be difficult to handle, you should always get veterinary help as soon as possible.
If you can handle the cat, try to carry out some or all of the following procedures.
ο If you are sure the bite is from a non-venomous snake, clip the hair from the affected area and flush it with three per cent hydrogen peroxide poured onto the bite.
ο If you are not sure about the bite’s origin, treat it as if it were poisonous.
ο For poisonous bites on a limb, make a tourniquet from a belt or a piece of cloth folded to about 2.5 cm (1 in) wide. Place this between the bite and the heart, about 2.5–5 cm (1–2 in) away. Put a small stick or similar object over the tourniquet, tie it with a single knot and twist it just tightly enough to cut off the circulation to the bite area. Wrap a piece of cloth around the stick and limb to keep it in place.
ο Wherever the bite area is located, clip the hair from it and use a knife to make a single cut over each fang mark until it bleeds.
ο Suck the venom from the area. DO NOT DO THIS IF YOU HAVE ANY OPEN SORES OR CUTS IN OR AROUND YOUR MOUTH.
ο Spit out the blood that you suck in. DO NOT SWALLOW IT.
ο Flush the wounds with three per cent hydrogen peroxide.
ο Apply ice to the affected area.
ο Take the cat to your veterinarian.
ο If travelling to the clinic takes some time, then every 15 minutes loosen the tourniquet for 10 seconds, then tighten it again.
An encounter with a skunk
In the United States, skunks are one of the major carriers of rabies and should not be handled with bare hands. Follow these procedures if your cat has encountered a skunk and been sprayed over the face or body.
ο Restrain the cat.
ο Flush its eyes with clean water.
ο Wash its body thoroughly with soap and water.
ο To neutralize the odour, use a skunk odour neutralizer or liberally apply plain tomato juice.
ο If the skunk has died, DO NOT HANDLE IT WITH YOUR BARE HANDS. Take the carcass to a veterinarian for a rabies examination.
ο Ensure that your cat is vaccinated against rabies.
Cats wandering through overgrown garden areas may risk snakebite or encounters with other poisonous creatures.
Poisonous substances in and around the home
Safety around the home is just as important for pets as it is for small children.
A liquid or powder that has leaked or been spilt from a container can get onto a cat’s fur or paw pads, and in cleaning this off the cat is likely to ingest the toxic substance. You may find that your cat develops a real liking for the taste of bleach (the scented bleaches are more likely to appeal) and will lick it off wiped surfaces.
All potentially poisonous substances should therefore be locked away, or stored safely out of a cat’s reach and where a cat or other animal cannot knock them off. Substances that can give off harmful vapours should be used and stored where there is adequate ventilation.
Symptoms of poisoning
Symptoms will vary, depending on what toxic substance is involved, and can be similar to those of many other medical conditions. However, you should consider the possibility of poisoning if your cat is:
ο panting very heavily
ο suddenly vomiting and/or has severe diarrhoea (more than two or three times within an hour)
ο drooling or foaming at the mouth
ο suffering intense abdominal pain
ο showing signs of shock
ο trembling, uncoordinated, staggering or having convulsions
ο collapsed or in a coma
ο showing signs of an allergic reaction, such as swelling around the face or a red rash (hives) on the belly.
What to do
ο Time is critical.
ο Try to identify the poison.
ο Carry out the recommended emergency treatment described on p120.
ο Contact your veterinarian immediately and take your cat to the clinic.
ο If you have found the cat with a poisonous or unidentified substance, take the container or packet with you. The label should contain information about the antidote and treatment for that particular type of poisoning.
ο If your cat has vomited, collect a specimen of the vomit in a clean container and take that with you.
If the poison is CORROSIVE (strong acid or alkali) or petroleum-based, or if you are not sure what caused the problem:
ο DO NOT INDUCE VOMITING.
ο If the cat is conscious, flush the mouth and muzzle with large quantities of water, then try to give one teaspoon of egg white or olive oil.
ο Take the cat to your vet.
If the substance is NOT CORROSIVE (is not strong acid or alkali) or petroleum-based:
ο If the cat has not already vomited, induce vomiting.
ο Put the vomit material into a clean container.
ο Take the cat and vomit material to the veterinarian.
To induce vomiting
Give ONE of the following:
ο one large crystal of washing soda straight down the throat
ο one heaped teaspoon of table salt in a little warm water
ο one tablespoon of mustard powder in a cup of warm water.
Repeat every 10 minutes until the cat vomits. Save the vomit for veterinary examination.
• Absorbents (absorb toxic substances): activated charcoal, up to six 300 mg tablets, or two to three tablespoons of powder mixed in a cup of warm water
• Protectants (help to cover the stomach lining): one tablespoon of egg white or olive oil
• Against acids: one teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
• Against alkalis: several teaspoons of vinegar or lemon juice
Some potential sources of poison
Many of the plants in our gardens, and the substances that we commonly use in the house, garden, garage or shed, can be poisonous to cats and other pets (as well as small children, of course). Kittens are particularly at risk.
Inside your home
ο dry-cleaning solution
ο detergents in concentrated form, such as those for use in dishwashers or automatic washing machines, dry-powder carpet cleaners
ο household bleaches (hypochlorites, chlorox)
ο disinfectants in concentrated form
ο corn and callous remover
ο medicines (human or animal). Symptoms include vomiting, panting, acetone odour to breath, general weakness or collapse
ο some indoor house plants may be poisonous if eaten, such as poinsettia leaves, mistletoe
ο cleaning agents and dry shampoos containing carbon tetrachloride
ο chocolate. Contains theobromine, a compound with a similar action to caffeine. It is a stimulant and irritant, and affects every organ of the body. The darker the chocolate, the more theobromine it contains. The amount of theobromine in chocolate intended for human consumption is safe for a human, but can harm a pet animal. Symptoms include digestive upset (diarrhoea and vomiting), increased heartbeat and blood pressure, increased urine production causing excessive thirst, muscle twitching and convulsions. There is no known antidote. Note: Pet chocolate drops are safe because the theobromine has been removed.
ο from cleaning agents or solvents such as acetone, benzene, or carbon tetrachloride
ο carbon monoxide from leaking gas appliances, or improperly ventilated oil or solid fuel stoves. It is odourless, colourless and tasteless
ο smoke (from cigarettes, cigars or open fires)
In the garage or shed
ο solvents and paint removers
ο engine oil
ο battery acid
ο grease remover
ο strong alkalis such as lye and other drain cleaners
ο creosote and tar
ο plant and garden sprays and weed killers (fungicides and herbicides)
ο insecticides, especially pyrophosphates such as malathion. Potentially lethal. Absorption can occur through the skin
ο metaldehyde. Commonly used in slug and snail baits. Although many of these products contain a repellent to reduce the risk to cats, cases of cumulative poisoning do occur. A cat may ingest only a few baits at a time, but over a period enough metaldehyde will accumulate inside its body to cause poisoning. Metaldehyde may also be present in the compressed tablets used to fuel small heaters
ο rat and mouse poisons. There are many different products. Active ingredients include arsenic, thallium and warfarin
ο antifreeze (ethylene glycol). Some cats, especially kittens, like the taste of antifreeze and will lap it if they discover it. It is extremely toxic and causes kidney damage. A tiny amount can be fatal. Symptoms usually begin an hour or two after ingestion.
ο fumes from wood preserver, or acetone-based paint removers and solvents
ο certain vegetables: rhubarb leaves (raw or cooked), tomato vines
In the car
ο carbon monoxide from a faulty exhaust
In the neighbourhood
Poisonous substances may also be found in public areas away from your home.
ο rat poisons, laid by rodent eradicators
ο other poisons, such as bird or rabbit carcasses baited with poison to eliminate vermin in woodlands or forests
ο food contaminated with Salmonella or Clostridium botulinum bacteria. Cats are usually very fussy about what they eat, but salmonellosis (food poisoning) can be fatal in young animals. Botulism affects the nervous system and causes partial or complete paralysis.
A PROTOCOL FOR ASSESSING AND TREATING VOMITING
In cats, vomiting is a natural way of eliminating material from the stomach, and just because a cat vomits does not necessarily indicate a problem: it may simply be getting rid of indigestible material such as the remains of a prey victim. If your cat vomits once or twice, and otherwise appears bright, monitor its progress for a few hours. If no more vomiting occurs, offer it small amounts of food over the next 24 hours, and if all is well, re-introduce its normal diet.
Consult your vet if you are in any doubt, or
ο the cat appears depressed
ο there is blood in the vomit
ο the cat is vomiting intermittently (e.g. every three to four hours) for more than eight hours
ο the cat is vomiting continuously
ο the cat has had access to potentially poisonous substances.