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Your Guide to Cat Emergencies

By: Dr. Debra Primovic

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Seizure or Convulsions. Seizures can occur at any age and for many different reasons. Epilepsy, brain illness, tumors, head trauma or even toxin ingestion can cause seizure activity. Regardless of the cause, home care is the same:

  • During the seizure: Do not panic. If your pet is having a seizure, he is unconscious and he is not suffering. Your pet may seem like he is not breathing, but he is. Keep your pet from hurting himself by moving furniture away from the immediate area. Also protect him from water, stairs, and other sharp objects. If possible, place a pillow under his head to prevent head trauma. Pets do not swallow their tongues. Do not put your hand in your cats mouth – you may get bitten. Do not put spoons or any other object into your pet's mouth. Keep children and other pets away from your seizing animal. Remain by your pet's side; stroke and comfort your animal so when he comes out of the seizure you are there to calm him. Look at the clock and time the seizure. Call your veterinarian or veterinary emergency clinic immediately.

  • After the seizure: Do not allow your pet access to the stairs until he is fully recovered. Offer water if he wishes to drink. Be prepared for vocalization and stumbling after the seizure ends. You need to be strong and offer support and comfort to your pet. He will be confused and may feel as though he did something wrong. Speak softly and with a soothing voice. Contact your veterinarian. If your pet does not stop seizing within 5 minutes, you will need to transport him to a veterinary clinic while he is still seizing.

    Severe Mats. Removing hair mats is fraught with potential complications. Many mats are firmly attached to the skin, so you must be extremely careful not to cut the skin as you cut off the mat. Begin by brushing and combing as much as possible. Many small mats can be removed with a thorough brushing. If mats remain, try to make them smaller by brushing the hair near the mat. Once you are sure that the mat can only be removed by cutting the hair, then go for the scissors. If possible, take a fine tooth comb and slide it between the mat and the skin. This will help prevent the skin from getting cut. If a fine tooth comb is not working, any comb will do. Once the comb is under the mat, cut the hair between the mat and the comb. Clippers are the safest and best way to remove matted hair. Unfortunately, most people do not own clippers and must make do with scissors. Be very careful. Many times, taking your pet to the groomer may be the "easiest" route.

    Shock. Shock can occur in relation to a variety of injuries or illness but most often is associated with trauma. If your pet sustained trauma, observe him for difficulty breathing and other obvious injury. Perform CPR if necessary. Keep your pet calm and quiet while restricting activity. If there is an open wound involved, cover the wound with a clean cloth. Control bleeding by covering the area with a clean cloth and gentle pressure. Extreme care must be used as your pet may be painful and may bite the person caring for him out of fear or pain. You may have to muzzle your pet. Place a blanket over your pet to help retain heat. Try to transport your pet to your veterinarian as soon as possible in a box or crate.

    Skunked. Frequently, the face of the cat is the primary target for the skunk spray. It's important to flush your pet's eyes carefully because the spray can be very irritating. You may use sterile contact lens saline solution. If you notice redness or irritation, or if your pet rubs/paws at his eyes, you should seek prompt attention from a veterinarian.

    The real challenge, however, is removing the skunk odor from your pet. Several chemical methods remove or reduce odor, These include neutralizing the odor, bonding the odor particles and absorbing the odor. Bathing in tomato juice is a popular suggestion. Another alternative is bathing the pet in a mixture of one quart 3 percent hydrogen peroxide, 1-cup baking soda and 1 teaspoon liquid soap. After bathing, rinse with tap water. There are also several over-the-counter formulations specifically made to neutralize the odor of skunk spray, such as Skunk-Off® and these can generally be purchased either at your family veterinarian's office or a nearby pet store.

    Smoke Inhalation. Remove pets from burning buildings and transport to a veterinary hospital as quickly as possible. Do not place your own life at risk by attempting to rescue a pet from a burning building. If possible, have firefighters or medical personnel at the site of the fire administer oxygen to pets suffering from smoke inhalation injury for 10-15 minutes prior to transport. Administering oxygen as soon as possible reduces the amount of carbon monoxide poisoning and may stabilize those pets that are at risk of dying prior to reaching the hospital.

    Snake Bite In the United States, venomous snakes belong to one of two classes: Elapidae or Crotalidae. The most common is the Crotalidae, which includes rattlesnakes, water moccasins and copperheads. After a venomous snakebite, DO NOT use a tourniquet. This will significantly affect the circulation to the area and may result in serious tissue damage. Do not try to suck the venom out of the bite. Human saliva contains many bacteria and may result in severe infection. The most helpful and important thing to do is to severely limit your pet's activity after the snakebite. The quieter and calmer he is, the more slowly the venom will circulate and the less effect it will have. Seek veterinary care immediately. Be aware that snakebites are very painful and your pet may bite or scratch out of pain. Be very careful when handling your pet. Animals bitten by an Elapidae snake, such as a coral snake, should receive intensive treatment as soon as possible because irreversible effects of venom begin immediately after envenomation. Crotalidae snakebites vary in severity. Rattlesnake venom tends to be much more damaging and serious than copperhead venom. Recovery is expected if rapidly treated by a veterinarian.

    Sprains. There are multiples causes of lameness from minor sprains to severe fractures. The safest thing to do is to see your veterinarian for examination to determine the cause of the pain. If it is a sprain, keep your pet confined and allow minimal activity. Use cool compresses for 5 to 10 minutes every 6 to 8 hours for the first 24 hours. Never give medication without consulting with your veterinarian.

    Sprayed by Mace/Pepper Spray. If your pet has been sprayed with mace or pepper spray, flush his face, mouth and eyes with large amounts of water. This will help reduce some of the pain and remove excess spray. If your pet continues to squint or the eyes tear, call your veterinarian – the surface of the eyes may have been damaged.

    String or Tinsel. If you see string, yarn, rope, tinsel or any other linear object coming from your pets mouth or rectum, do NOT pull on it. Take your pet to a veterinarian immediately. This type of material is notorious for becoming lodged in the intestinal tract and usually requires surgery for removal.

    Stupor. 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 for transport. If you suspect poisoning, try to bring the toxic substance container to your veterinarian.

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