Your Guide to Cat Emergencies
Dr. Debra Primovic
Head Trauma. Injury to the head can be serious and head trauma is a life-threatening emergency. If you suspect that your cat has suffered head trauma, take him to your veterinarian for evaluation as soon as possible. Even if your pet appears to act normal, an exam by a veterinarian is critical. Until reaching the veterinary hospital, keep your pet warm, hold his head elevated or level with the rest of the body and minimize pressure on his neck, head or back. Be careful when handling your cat to avoid being bitten. Your cat may not be aware of what he is doing and could inadvertently injure you.
Highrise Syndrome. Urban living has several hazards for pets. One of the more dangerous is living in an apartment or condo. Pets with access to an open window or loose screen may be able to jump out the window. If you do not live on the ground floor, your pet may fall from quite a distance and sustain significant injury. If your pet falls or jumps out the window, take care when picking him up and carrying him. If your pet is injured, he may be extremely painful and bite and scratch as a reflex. Wrap the animal in a heavy towel or blanket and place in a carrier or box when transporting to your veterinarian. Your pet should be examined by your veterinarian, even if s/he appears normal. Most pets recover from highrise injury. Cats tend to fare better and one cat even survived a fall from 32 stories. Most dogs that fall over 6 stories do not survive.
Hit by Car. If you suspect your pet has been struck by a motor vehicle or has suffered any other similar type of trauma, you should seek veterinary care immediately. Check your pet for the ABC's of breathing and 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 – cover with a clean cloth. Apply gentle pressure to control bleeding. Extreme care must be used since fractures and wounds are painful and the pet may bite the person caring for him/her out of fear or pain. You may have to muzzle your pet. If possible lay your pet 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 for transport. The lack of external wounds does not rule out substantial internal injury.
Impalement. Sharp penetrating objects can cause serious internal injury. Sticks, fencing, arrows, etc can cause impalements. If your pet is impaled, keep him calm. Do not remove the object from your pet because severe damage can result and bleeding can be exacerbated by removal of the object. If the pet is impaled on an unmovable object, you may be required to either dismantle the object, such as a fence, or risk removing the pet from the object. Cover wounds with a clean cloth and control bleeding with gentle pressure. Transport your pet and the object immediately to your veterinarian for evaluation. If possible lay your pet flat and protect him from injury. Stabilize the impaled object and do not allow it to move or sway. Do not allow your pet to lick at the area.
Intestinal Parasites. Cats are susceptible to a variety of intestinal parasites or worms. To find out if your pet has worms, obtain a sample of the bowel movement and submit it to your veterinarian for analysis so that deworming medication can be prescribed. Some microscopic eggs can live in the environment (such as the yard) for weeks to months and cause re-infection. Clean up your yard weekly and minimize roaming of pets by keeping your cat indoors. If left untreated, some intestinal parasites can cause serious illness associated with vomiting, diarrhea, weakness or even anemia.
Laceration. Lacerations are common and are most often associated with some form of trauma. If your pet is bleeding, control bleeding by applying direct pressure over the wound with a clean cloth. Attempt this only if you are confident you can do it without being bitten by your frightened pet. Pressure will allow the smaller blood vessels to clot, and, therefore, stop the bleeding. The larger vessels will not clot with pressure alone, but will at least, slow bleeding until you can get your pet to your veterinarian. You can use water from a hose or shower to gently flush large pieces of debris out of the wound. This should only be done if the wound is heavily contaminated with debris and there is a delay in getting your pet to your veterinarian. Cover the wound with another clean cloth (such as a clean towel), while transporting your pet. Do not allow your pet to lick at the wound. Most lacerations are sutured and many pets are given antibiotics depending on the nature of the wound.
Lameness/Limping. There are multiples causes of lameness ranging from minor sprains to severe fractures. The safest thing to do is to see your veterinarian for examination. If your pet is intermittently limping, keep him confined with minimal activity – no unrestricted running or jumping. If lameness persists for more than 1 day, see your veterinarian for an examination. Never give medication without consulting with your veterinarian. Several over-the-counter medications that help people are dangerous or even toxic to pets.
Lethargy. Lethargy is a condition of drowsiness or indifference. If your pet is just not acting like himself, or if he does not seem as spry and peppy as normal, contact your veterinarian. Observe your pet's general activity and appetite. Call your veterinarian if lethargy continues, or if your pet's gums are pale, you notice vomiting , diarrhea, or difficulty breathing, or your pet won't eat.
Loss of Balance and Staggering. There are many different causes of staggering ranging form inner ear problems to weakness to toxin ingestion. Keep your pet calm and free of dangers such as stairs, and sharp objects. See your veterinarian as soon as possible to determine underlying cause.
Low Body Temperature. Hypothermia is a serious problem and health risk. Sick newborns can become markedly hypothermic even in a normal environment. It is important to keep these individuals warm, and possibly even monitor their rectal temperature. If you are suspicious that your cat may be suffering from hypothermia, contact your veterinarian at once. In the interim, use blankets to start the rewarming process. Do not leave your cat outside in freezing temperature for any length of time without access to shelter and warmth. If your pet's body temperature is less than 98 degrees, an immediate veterinary exam is highly recommended.