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Your Guide to Cat Emergencies

By: Dr. Debra Primovic

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Sunburn. Yes, even pets can be affected by the sun's rays, especially white haired cats. Examine the skin if you suspect sunburn and apply a cool wet compress to the area. If skin is painful or you notice open wounds or blisters, veterinary care is recommended. Although pets do not burn as easily as people, more damage may have occurred to the skin than you may be able to initially see. Daily treatment with wound cleaning and topical medication may be necessary.

Swelling/Allergic Reaction. Allergic reactions can vary from mild to severe and you may not realize your cat is developing an allergic reaction until it is far beyond home care. Check for signs of shock. If your pet is having difficulty breathing, do the ABC's of CPR. Remove any stinger if the reaction is from an insect bite. If your pet is swollen and itching, call your veterinarian for advice regarding administering diphenhydramine (Benadryl®).

Ticks. Though rarely an emergency, ticks are repulsive and should be removed. Do not touch the tick since it can transmit diseases. In fact, consider wearing gloves when removing a tick. The best recommendation to remove a tick is to use a tweezers or commercially available tick removal device and pull the tick off by grabbing the tick as close to the head as possible. With steady, gentle pressure, pull it out of the skin. Frequently, pieces of skin may come off with the tick. If the head of the tick remains in the skin, try to grab it and remove as much as possible, but if you are unable to remove the entire head, don't fret. This is not life threatening. Your pet's immune system will try to dislodge the head by creating a site of infection or even a small abscess. Usually no additional therapy is needed, but if you are concerned, contact your family veterinarian. There are surgical instruments that can be used to remove the remaining part of the tick.

Toad Venom Toxicity. Toads are a common presence in the backyard or garden. For some reason, pets seem very attracted to these creatures and often try to taste them. Fortunately, most toads are simply bitter and cause some drooling. There are,however, a few species of toad that are toxic. If your pet is seen in direct contact with one of these toxic toads, separate them immediately and flush your cat's mouth with water. See your veterinarian to determine if additional treatments are necessary.

Tooth Problem. There is no appropriate home care for a fractured tooth. See your veterinarian for treatment recommendations. If a tooth is completely dislodged from the jaw, place the tooth in whole milk – do not scrub or wash the tooth – and seek veterinary assistance immediately. Once your veterinarian treats the problem, avoid giving your cat hard objects to chew. For other tooth problems, have your pet's mouth evaluated by a veterinarian.

Torn or Bleeding Nails. If you try to treat your cat at home, remember: A torn nail is painful for your cat and you should take care to avoid getting bit. The following steps are important: Initially, you will have to stop the bleeding. You can use silver nitrate or styptic pencils. If you don't have either of these, try cornstarch or flour. When placed on a bleeding nail, these generally stop the bleeding.

Removing the section of damaged nail is the most difficult part of caring for the torn nail. Usually, you can remove the partially attached piece of nail with a quick yank. If this does not work, you may need to use a pet nail trimmer to trim the nail at the level of the break. If the nail is broken close to the base of the nail, do not attempt to use nail trimmers. The tip of the last bone of the toe is located near the base of the nail. Without experience, you may cause more damage. In this situation, or if you are unable to remove the nail, contact your veterinarian.

If you are able to remove the nail, gently wash the area with warm water to remove any debris lodged between the nail and the toe or leg. Then apply a temporary bandage if necessary for bleeding. Take care not to wrap the bandage too tight so circulation will not be damaged. Leave it in place for 12 to 24 hours. If you do not feel comfortable taking care of a torn nail, call your veterinarian. Leaving a torn nail to heal on its own (which will not happen) or allowing the nail to grow out is not a recommended option. This causes persistent irritation and possible repeat breaks.

Trouble Breathing. Difficulty 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 YOUR MEDICATIONS with you to show your veterinarian.

Trouble Urinating. Urinating is an important part of keeping the body healthy. Urine is made of various substances that are filtered by the kidney and eliminated from the body. Having difficulty urinating can lead to serious illness. Observe your pet's urination patterns. Make sure urine is being passed in adequate amounts. Observe your pet's general activity level, appetite and attitude. If your pet is having trouble urinating or is not urinating at all, see your veterinarian to determine underlying cause. Make sure your pet has plenty of water and frequent opportunities to urinate.

Undesired Mating. There is no home care for undesired matings and this is not an emergency situation. Douching after breeding is not effective. There are several medications that have been used to terminate unwanted pregnancies, but no one drug has been found to work in all cases. Your pet may receive medication to terminate a pregnancy and still deliver a litter. Even though many cats have successfully received these drugs and have had no complications, there is the potential for significant side effects.

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