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Your Guide to Cat Emergencies

By: Dr. Debra Primovic

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Can't Walk or Get Up. If your pet is not alert and seems disoriented or lethargic, read the paragraph below entitled "Collapse." Observe your cat carefully, and call your veterinarian and explain what has happened. If your cat cannot rise, prepare to transport the animal immediately after speaking with the veterinary hospital personnel. USE CAUTION. Extreme care must be used since your pet may be in pain or confused and may bite the person caring for him/her out of fear. You may have to muzzle your pet.

Car Sickness. Even cats can develop motion sickness. For some, medication such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl®), meclizine (Bonine®) and dimenhydrinate (Dramamine®), may help reduce the nausea. These medications are available without a prescription but should never be used unless specifically recommended by a veterinarian. Proper dosage and use are crucial to treating and diminishing the signs of motion sickness. The typical dosage of diphenhydramine recommended by many veterinarians is 1 mg/pound of body weight. This can be repeated every 8 to 12 hours.

Carbon Monoxide. Carbon monoxide is a colorless odorless gas that can result in serious, even fatal, injury. Carbon monoxide binds with hemoglobin in the blood, not allowing normal oxygen transport. Without adequate oxygen, the body's organs, especially the brain and heart, begin to suffer. The best treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning is to remove your pet and yourself from the environment into an area with fresh clean air. Watch for signs of respiratory difficulty and provide CPR if necessary. See your veterinarian immediately.

Cat Fight. Some cats just don't get along. Fights can occur and serious injury may result. If your cat is involved in a fight, examine the wounds to determine the extent of the damage. Stop any excessive bleeding by using direct pressure. Do not use a tourniquet. Initial cleaning of small wounds with hydrogen peroxide, povidone iodine or chlorhexidine can help reduce the severity of infection. All cat fight victims should be examined by a veterinarian. A minor skin wound can hide severe underlying damage.

Chest Trauma. The chest contains vital organs. The ribs are meant to protect the heart and lungs, but severe trauma can cause significant injury to these very important parts of the body. If your pet has sustained chest trauma, check for the ABC's of breathing. Perform CPR if necessary. If your pet is breathing, keep him calm and transport him to your veterinarian immediately. If there are wounds over the chest, especially if air is escaping from the wound, cover with a clean cloth or plastic wrap. Apply gentle pressure to any bleeding.

Collapse. Do not panic. Observe your cat carefully. Generally, it is best to transport your pet to the nearest veterinarian immediately, rather than spend time on "life-saving" measures. Inappropriate cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), for example, may be ineffective and can also cause internal organ damage if done improperly. Notice if there has been a loss of consciousness. Remember what – if anything – precipitated the collapse, how long your pet was collapsed, and how he acted immediately afterwards. If your cat is unconscious, see if you can feel the heartbeat on the left side of the chest. If he seems dazed or aggressive, be very careful not to be bitten. Call your veterinarian and explain what has happened. If your cat cannot rise, prepare to transport the collapsed animal immediately after speaking with the veterinary hospital personnel.

USE CAUTION. Animals that collapse may be disoriented, confused or aggressive during the collapse and during recovery. Consequently, they may bite aimlessly and can injure even the people most familiar to them. Some cats that have collapsed often act normally within a few minutes. In such cases, a veterinary examination is still warranted to find the cause and try to determine if future collapse is likely. If your pet appears completely recovered, try to make some notes. Remember the events surrounding the collapse. Was there an obvious cause (e.g. choking on a toy)? Did it happen during normal activity or during vigorous play? How long did the collapse last? Was there a loss of consciousness? How did your pet behave afterward? These pieces of information can help the veterinarian tremendously.

Coma. In the event of alterations of consciousness in your pet, lay him flat and protect him from injury. If trauma is suspected, be very careful in moving the animal. If possible, lay the animal on a board or use a tightly wrapped blanket to move your pet. Be careful not to tighten the blanket over the chest. Try to keep your pet's head, neck and spine as still as possible to prevent injury. If a poisoning is suspected, try to bring in the toxic substance container.

Constipation. If your pet is passing stool that appears very firm and dry, and is eating, drinking and acting normal, you may try treating your pet by adding fiber to the diet. Fiber can be beneficial and can be added by supplementing a small amount of canned pumpkin or bran to the food. Promote frequent exercise and provide plenty of fresh clean water. Some cats may benefit from a commercially available laxative type product. Some pets may also benefit from a small amount of vegetable oil added to their diet. If a pet is severely impacted and/or dehydrated, not eating, acting lethargic or straining to defecate, see your veterinarian. Your pet may need to be hospitalized for fluid therapy, enemas and possible manual removal of feces, which often necessitates general anesthesia. Do not use over the counter enemas unless directed by your veterinarian. Some may be toxic to your pet.

Coughing. Minimize exercise and stress until the cause of the problem is determined. Allow your pet to rest in a well-ventilated area and proceed to your veterinarian. DO NOT administer human, over-the-counter medicines such as Robitussin, aspirin, Tylenol or ibuprofen, which can be extremely toxic (even in small doses) to cats. Talk to your veterinarian first before trying any of these remedies. Give medications prescribed by your veterinarian as directed.

Covered in Paint, Glue or Oil. Methods to remove topical substances include washing with mild dish soap, as some paints can be removed with soap and water before they dry. Dawn® dish soap works well to remove greasy substances. Vegetable oil or peanut butter has been effective in removing tar and grease. After the oil bath, give your pet a bath with mild dish soap to also help rid tar or grease. Goop® or Goo Gone® are some over-the-counter products that may help to remove some of these substances. If all else fails, take your pet to a groomer or veterinarian and have the hair shaved. Prevent your pet from licking or ingesting the paint, oil or glue. Curious kittens commonly chew on cyanoacrylate, or Super Glue®, tubes , but thankfully, cyanoacrylate is inactivated by saliva and does not stick within the mouth. Unfortunately, this does not mean that the hair around the lips will not be stuck together. Also, once dried, saliva does nothing to break down this glue.

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