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Your Guide to Cat Emergencies

By: Dr. Debra Primovic

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Diarrhea. Some cats are not too particular about what they eat. For this reason, diarrhea is a common problem. If your pet develops diarrhea, provide fresh water at all times to help prevent dehydration. Oral electrolyte solutions, such as Pediolyte®, may also be beneficial to provide hydration and replace electrolytes. Remove any known causes of diarrhea such as exposure to trash or table food, etc. Limit the diet to one food that is normally well tolerated, or speak to your veterinarian about an alternative or prescription-type diet if diarrhea is persistent and recurring. Temporary use of a bland diet can help and can be prepared at home; a common recipe is a mixture of equal parts of boiled hamburger and rice. Feed small amounts at a time. Observe your cat's general activity and appetite and watch closely for the presence of blood in the stool, worsening of signs, lethargy or the onset of vomiting. Contact your veterinarian if you have any of these symptoms or other questions or concerns.

Difficulty Breathing. Difficult breathing is an emergency. Keep your pet calm in a cool environment with minimal stress. See your veterinarian immediately. When you first note that your pet is having trouble breathing, note his/her general activity, exercise capacity and interest in the family activities. Keep a record of your pet's appetite, ability to breathe comfortably (or not) and note the presence of any symptoms such as coughing or severe tiring. Bring any medications your pet is taking to show your veterinarian.

Drooling. If there is an acute episode of drooling, a quick visual inspection may reveal a foreign body, chemical ingestions, mass or other oral trauma. Take care not to place your hands in the animal's mouth to avoid being bitten. Rinse the mouth with water to help remove peculiar tastes from chemicals or plants, since bitter tasting objects tend to result in profuse drooling, especially in cats. Observe your pet's attitude and behavior for any deterioration. If there is no vomiting, you may offer water to drink. If your pet's behavior is normal and the signs resolve within a few hours, emergency care may not be needed; however report the event to your veterinarian. If your pet ate or drank something that caused the drooling, read the package and call your veterinarian for further instructions.

Drowning or Near Drowning. Cats are not natural born swimmers. Pools, lakes and rivers can be dangerous areas. If your cat is struggling in the water, remove him from the water immediately. If he is unconscious, begin the ABC's of CPR. Clear the airway of debris and water. This can be done by holding the pet upside down so water can drain from the mouth and nose. Maintain a position with the head down and place your pet on his side. Attempt resuscitation if he is not breathing or you believe his heart has stopped beating. Wrap your pet in a blanket and transport him to a veterinarian for evaluation, even if your pet appears normal after submersion.

Dystocia. Delivering kittens is a stressful event, for both you and your pet. Dystocia is the medical term used to describe difficulty in delivering the babies. If your cat is experiencing dystocia, there is often little you can do to help. Keep the mother-to-be in a quiet area with no distractions and call your veterinarian. Monitor labor carefully to detect any abnormalities. If you should find a baby stuck in the canal, apply steady gentle traction to pull the baby out. If there is any question about the progression of labor, contact your veterinarian or local veterinary emergency facility. You should call your veterinarian for assistance in the following instances:

  • Your cat has been pregnant for over 70 days or Stage 1 labor has gone on for 24 hours without producing a kitten. Stage 1 includes nesting behavior, drop in body temperature, poor appetite and possibly even vomiting.

  • Steady strong contractions have continued for over one hour without producing a kitten or the resting phase continues over four hours when there are more kittens to be delivered.

  • There is a foul smelling vaginal discharge or the mother-to-be has excessive vomiting or is extremely lethargic.

    Ear Discharge. Ears have a normal waxy discharge, but sometimes the discharge is excessive, is a different color or has a foul odor. In these situations, optimal treatment requires a combination of home and professional veterinary care. Your veterinarian may have you clean your pet's ears as a preventative or as part of therapy for an ongoing problem. It is important to avoid the use of cotton swabs in an attempt to clean deep in the ear canal as this is likely to pack debris into the ear canal and against the eardrum. A solution of one part white vinegar and 9 parts water can be used to "flush the ear." Apply this solution to the ear, while "milking" the base of the ear to disperse solution, then dry with cotton balls.

    Eye Problems or Injury. Eye problems can be particularly difficult. Painful or irritated eyes usually cause your pet to rub or scratch, making the situation worse. Any red, painful or swollen eye should be examined immediately by a veterinarian. Prevent scratching or rubbing until your pet can be examined. You can use a sterile eye wash if there is suspicion of a chemical or foreign object having gotten into the eye. If the eyeball is "popped out" of the socket – rinse it with sterile eye wash, or use a soft cloth or gauze soaked with eye solution or eye ointment, and cover the eye. Transport your pet immediately to your veterinarian.

    Electrical Shock. Curious kittens tend to explore their world with their mouths. For some reason, electric cords seem irresistible, but chewing on a cord that is plugged into the wall can have devastating results – most commonly electrocution. If this happens, attempt to unplug the cord but do not touch the cat or damaged section of the cord. If you are concerned, turn off the electric supply to the plug at the circuit breaker and then unplug the electrical unit and free your pet from the cord. Call your veterinarian for prompt treatment. Keep your pet as calm and relaxed as possible. If burns are present in the mouth, your veterinarian will clean the affected area and prescribe medications such as antibiotics. If there is fluid accumulation within the lungs, treatment with diuretics such as furosemide may be indicated, although this is not always necessary. Depending on the severity of the injuries, hospitalization with possible oxygen support may be needed. If your pet is in shock, he may need intravenous fluid support.

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