Your Guide to Cat Emergencies
Your Guide to Feline Emergencies
Emergencies happen every day. Being prepared can greatly increase the likelihood of a successful outcome. To help you learn what you can do when faced with a crisis, we have compiled a list of important and informative articles. This is only meant as a guide. If your cat is injured or ill, please seek consultation with your veterinarian.
How to Perform CPR – Hopefully you will not need these skills but learning how to perform basic cardiopulmonary resuscitation can save your cat’s life.
What to Do If Your Pet is Choking – Since your pet cannot talk to you, learning the signs of choking and what to do for your cat can greatly help.
How to Apply a Bandage – Learning how to apply a bandage to your cat takes some practice. Too loose or too tight can result in even more damage.
How to Take Your Cat’s Temperature – Taking your pet’s temperature is certainly not a favorite task but is extremely helpful in determining the extent of your pet’s illness.
How to do a Mini Physical Examination at Home – Learn how to examine your cat to determine if a true emergency is occurring.
How to Give Medication – Many injured or ill pets will need medication. Learn how to give medication quickly and easily to your cat.
Some common emergencies can be initially treated at home. On the following pages, we have listed some emergencies that you may encounter.
Abrasion. An abrasion is an injury to the superficial layers of skin and is often called a scrape. If the scrape appears to be small and close to the skin surface, clip the hair and clean the injury with warm water, hydrogen peroxide or Betadine®.
Abscess. An abscess is a sac or lump that contains pus. Sometimes, the abscess will rupture and pus will begin to drain. If this happens and the rupture site is small, clean the area with peroxide or Betadine®. Often the wound is left open to drain during the healing process. During healing, make sure your pet does not lick at the abscess. If necessary, use an Elizabethan collar.
If the abscess is not open your veterinarian may recommend application of warm compresses for about 5-10 minutes 3- 4 times per day to help increase the flow of blood to the area. The best thing to do for an abscess is to take your pet to your local veterinarian where the hair can be clipped and the area examined. Your veterinarian will probably lance the abscess and drain and flush the pus. Your pet may need to be sedated to allow thorough cleaning and drainage of the area. Antibiotics are often prescribed. If your pet is acting lethargic, acts painful or is not eating – please see your veterinarian.
Allergic Reactions. 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. Allergic reactions can occur while your pet is on medication, after vaccination or even from a bee or wasp sting. Most often, allergic reactions result in facial swelling and hives, but some pets may develop more severe symptoms. Check for signs of shock such as pale gums, weakness or difficulty breathing. 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®).
Animal Attack or Bite Wounds. Gentle clipping of the hair and cleaning of the wound with hydrogen peroxide, povidone iodine or chlorhexidine can help reduce infection. Extreme care must be used since bite 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. Despite initial home care, all bite wounds should be examined and treated by a veterinarian. Extensive damage and/or illness can occur even if it appears as though there is only a small, minor puncture wound on the skin.
Bleeding. Pressure, pressure, pressure. If you notice that your pet is bleeding, depending on the location of the injury, gentle pressure with a clean towel is generally helpful to stop the flow of blood. Elevating the area can also help decrease blood flow. Wrap the area with a towel and tape and seek veterinary care immediately. If you notice even small amounts of bleeding when there has been no trauma or injury to provoke it, or bruising in the absence of injury, seek veterinary care as soon as possible.
Blood in the Stool. Blood in the stool is a common symptom in pets. Usually, small amounts of bleeding are not a true emergency if the pet is otherwise acting normal. Do a physical exam of your pet. Check your pet’s gums for color (they should be pink) and assess for other abnormalities. Has your pet been eating? Vomiting? Are there other signs of bleeding? Obtain a sample of the bloody bowel movement and proceed to your veterinarian.
Blood in the Urine. If you observe blood in the urine, take your pet to your veterinarian for evaluation. Observe closely for any associated clinical signs such as pain or straining when urinating. If possible, obtain a voided (free-catch) urine sample from your pet and take it with you when you visit your veterinarian. Evaluate your pet’s environment for possible exposure to toxins (specifically, anti-coagulant rat poison).
Blood Sugar Problems. Observe your cat’s general activity level, appetite and attitude. Low blood glucose can result in disorientation, weakness or seizures (convulsions). If you notice any of these symptoms in an otherwise responsive pet, offer food immediately. If you have reason to suspect hypoglycemia, you should rub Karo® syrup on your pet’s gums and call your veterinarian immediately. See your veterinarian to identify, treat and monitor the underlying cause. Pets being treated for diabetes can develop hypoglycemia, especially when on insulin.
Bruises. Minor bruises caused by trauma can be treated by applying a cool compress to the area for 5 to 10 minutes every 6 to 8 hours. If there are bruises and you are not sure how they arrived, protect your pet from injury or falls and see your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Burns from Chemicals. If you witness a chemical ingestion, immediately flush the mouth with large amounts of water. This can help reduce the amount of chemical in the mouth and may reduce the damage. Do not induce vomiting. Call your veterinarian to determine if further treatment is necessary. You may also read the bottle/package for toxicity information. Often there is a toll free number that will give advise in cases of ingestion. Mild cases can often be treated topically with Glyoxide® three times daily to clean the mouth. This is a human medication most often used to treat canker sores, and it may be sufficient for healing. Make sure your pet continues to eat and drink normally. In more severe cases, there is no home care – please see your veterinarian immediately. Always take the toxin container or package to the veterinarian with you.
Burns from Heat. For very small, superficial, partial thickness burns, carefully apply cool water to stop additional burning. Topical antibiotic creams can help healing. For all other burns, immediate gentle cooling with cool water followed by examination and treatment by a veterinarian is recommended. Do not use ice or ice packs. Do not apply butter or any product to the burn. Do not place clothing or covering of any kind on the burn other than cool water.
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.
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.
Facial Swelling. Facial swelling is most often associated with allergic reactions. These reactions can occur in response to vaccination, medication or even bee or wasp stings. In cats, facial swelling is sometimes associated with acetaminophen toxicity. If you notice facial swelling, check your pet for signs of shock. If he is having difficulty breathing, do the ABC’s of CPR. Remove any stinger if the reaction if from an insect bite. If your pet is swollen and itching, call your veterinarian for advice regarding administering diphenhydramine (Benadryl®). If your cat was exposed to acetaminophen, contact your veterinarian immediately.
Fan Belt Injuries. Especially in the winter time, a car engine can be a nice warm refuge for a cat. Unfortunately, you may not realize there is a cat snoozing in your engine before it is too late. If you suspect that a cat is in your engine, turn off the motor immediately. Attempt to remove the cat from the engine and keep him calm. The most common injuries associated with engines are lacerations and trauma from the fan belt. Extreme care must be when handling these cats since wounds are often painful and the pet may bite or scratch out of fear or pain. Check for signs of shock. If your pet is having difficulty breathing, do the ABC’s of CPR. Cover wounds with a clean cloth and transport to your veterinarian immediately.
Fever. Normal temperatures range form 100.5-102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Feeling your pet’s body, forehead or nose is not an accurate way to determine if he actually has a fever. Take your pet’s temperature. For fevers less than 104.5 degrees F, monitoring your pet at home may result in spontaneous recovery. Make sure he continues to eat and drink and take his temperature one to two times daily. If the temperature rises above 104.5 degrees F, this should prompt you to contact your veterinarian. Also, look for any areas of infection such as abscesses, skin lumps, blood in urine or straining to urinate, sneezing or breathing difficulty. If any of these are noted, contact your veterinarian. In addition, lack of appetite or lethargy should prompt an examination and treatment by your veterinarian.
Fires/Smoke Inhalation. House fires can be detrimental for people as well as pets. Smoke inhalation and burns, as well as carbon monoxide poisoning, can occur. If your pet is in a fire, try to remove him from the burning building. Do not risk your life trying to save your pet. If you were unable to remove your pet, inform the firefighters and let them attempt the rescue. Once your pet is removed from the burning building have firefighters or medical personnel at the site of the fire administer oxygen for 10-15 minutes prior to transport. Administering oxygen as soon as possible reduces the amount of carbon monoxide poisoning and may stabilize pets that are at a risk of dying prior to reaching the hospital. After a brief time under an oxygen mask, transport your pet to a veterinary hospital as quickly as possible.
Fish Hook Injuries. If your pet has ingested a fish hook, transport him to your veterinarian immediately. Removing fishhooks can be risky, especially if stuck in the intestinal tract. DO NOT pull the fishing line in an attempt to pull the hook out of the throat. Just as in a fish, the hook will grab onto a piece of the stomach or esophagus and becoming imbedded, making surgery the only option for treatment. If the hook is embedded in the skin outside the body (and not in the mouth), some pets may allow you to remove it at home. Try the following: Push the hook forward through the exit wound until the barb is visible, and remove the barb with a wire cutter. Then pull the hook out backwards, the same way it went in. Place a clean dressing on the wound and take your pet to your veterinarian for follow-up care.
Fleas. Fleas are rarely an emergency but severe infestations can lead to illness. Flea bite allegy, parasite and disease transfer as well as flea anemia can occur. If your pet has a serious flea infestation, consult your veterinarian for advise. Flea control is time consuming, expensive and difficult. In addition to eliminating the fleas, if the fleas have caused illness, your pet may require additional medication or even blood transfusions.
**Flea Product Toxicity.**Topical flea products are very popular and quite effective. If you are not careful, medication meant for your dog may inadvertently end up on your cat, resulting is serious toxicity. Canine flea products contain permethrin or high doses of pyrethrin, insecticides that are not tolerated well by your feline companion. Signs of toxicity occur quickly after exposure and include drooling and severe muscle tremors, or even seizures. If your cat exhibits signs of permethrin or pyrethrin toxicity, bathe him in a mild dishwashing detergent to remove the flea product from your pet’s skin, thereby reducing the amount absorbed. Do not use flea shampoo and do not use hot water since that will dilate blood vessels in the skin and increase the absorption of the flea product. Then call your veterinarian; additional treatment is probably required. Your veterinarian will probably recommend hospitalization with continuous intravenous fluids and injectable muscle relaxants.
Foreign Bodies. A foreign body is any non-food object that is ingested. In some pets, these items can become lodged in the intestinal tracts, causing serious illness. Cats that have ingested a foreign object usually show signs of gastrointestinal upset. If you just saw your pet ingest something, call your veterinarian immediately to determine if it is safe to induce vomiting. If your cat refuses to eat, begins vomiting, drooling or has abnormal bowel movements, contact your veterinarian. In some instances, you may notice a foreign object, such as a string, protruding from the rectum. Do not try to pull the object out. Consult your veterinarian.
Fractures. Breaking bones is usually associated with some type of trauma. Automobile damage, falls and even dog bites can break even the strongest bones. If you suspect that your pet has a fractured bone, keep him calm and quiet and restrict activity. If there is an open wound involved, cover the wound with a clean cloth. Extreme care must be used since fractures 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. Try to transport him in a box or crate to your veterinarian as soon as possible. Splints are difficult to place at home and if placed improperly, can do more harm than good.
Frostbite. In cold weather, even pets are susceptible to frostbite. If you suspect your pet has frostbite, remove him from the freezing environment. Re-warm the affected tissues in warm water (about 104 degrees Fahrenheit) for at least 20 minutes, but do not rub or massage the affected areas. This can cause significant damage to frostbitten tissues. Do not use hot water; instead use warm or tepid water. After initial treatment, call your veterinarian for treatment for prompt evaluation.
Gunshot Wounds. Unfortunately, pets can sometimes be the victims of gunshot injury. If you suspect that your pet has been shot, keep him calm and quiet. Observe your pet for difficulty breathing, bleeding and other injuries. Cover open wounds with a clean cloth and control bleeding by applying gentle pressure with a clean cloth. Extreme care must be used since wounds are painful and the pet may bite the person caring for him/her out of fear or pain. Immediate examination and treatment by a veterinarian is strongly recommended.
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.
Maggots. Maggots are fly larva that often infest infected wounds. If caught early, the skin can be shaved and the maggots removed. Frequently, pet owners are unaware of the maggots due to the hair coat covering the affected area. Most maggot infestations should be examined and treated by a veterinarian. Keeping your pet groomed and healthy usually prevents maggot infestations since maggots prefer unhealthy skin.
Mammary Gland Swelling. Depending on the cause of the mammary gland (breast) swelling, treatment may not be necessary and the swelling may resolve on its own. In nursing mothers, kittens may need to be weaned. Limit stress and activity. Warm water or cold water compresses applied to swellings can be helpful in some situations. You may need to consult with your veterinarian to determine the underlying cause. Treatment with antibiotics, pain medication or surgical excision of one or more glands may be recommended.
Open Wound. Any open wound has the potential to become an emergency situation. Prompt care can prevent a catastrophe. Use a clean towel and gentle pressure to control bleeding. If the area appears to be small and close to the skin surface, clip hair and clean with warm water. For larger wounds, wrap the area with a towel and tape and seek veterinary care. Despite initial home care, all wounds should be examined and treated by your veterinarian. Extensive damage can occur even if it appears as though there is only a small, minor puncture wound on the skin.
Oral Foreign Body. Pets with something stuck in their throat or mouth typically show significant signs of distress. They may paw at their mouth, rub their face on the floor and may even have difficulty breathing. If you suspect that your cat may have ingested something that may not pass from his mouth into the esophagus, contact your veterinarian. For pets with an object stuck in the throat blocking the airway, removal of that item immediately is crucial for your pet’s survival. Some pets may begin choking. In this situation, the Heimlich maneuver may be necessary: place your arms around the animal’s waist; close your hands together to make a fist and place the fist just behind the last rib; compress the abdomen by pushing up with this fist five times in rapid succession.
Pad Injuries. For minor pad injuries, soaking and cleaning with povidone iodine or chlorhexidine should be sufficient. Do not allow your pet to lick at the wound as this could result in infection. For more extensive wounds, you should call your veterinarian.
Poisons. If you suspect your pet may have ingested a poisonous substance, read the bottle for ingredients and first aid directions for accidental ingestion. Many packages and bottles contain a toll free number. Also, consult your veterinarian or veterinary emergency facility if you suspect your pet has been poisoned. Your veterinarian may recommend that you induce vomiting before bringing your pet in for examination and treatment. However, vomiting should never be induced unless specifically directed by a veterinarian. Some toxic substances are harmful because of the corrosive nature of the substance and risk of aspiration.
If vomiting is recommended, three percent hydrogen peroxide is effective in making cats vomit. Despite the label indicating that hydrogen peroxide is toxic, it is safe to give to cats. It is considered toxic since it induces vomiting. The appropriate dose of hydrogen peroxide is one teaspoon per 10 pounds of body weight. If you have an oral syringe, one teaspoon equals 5 cc or 5 ml. Once given, gently shake the stomach area to mix the peroxide with the stomach contents. Vomiting should occur within 15 to 20 minutes. If no vomiting occurs, you can safely repeat the three percent hydrogen peroxide once. If it is still not effective, your cat may need to be seen by a veterinarian for stronger vomiting medication.
For topical exposures, bathing in lukewarm water with a mild dish soap can reduce further toxin absorption before your pet is examined and treated by a veterinarian.
Porcupine Quills. Even though your cat might enjoy it, playing with a porcupine is not a good idea. The quills can easily become embedded in your pet’s face or paw or elsewhere. The end of the quill has several small barbs, making removal difficult. If a quill is stuck in the skin, examine the area. Using a pair of tweezers with steady gentle pressure, attempt to pull the quill out of the skin. Clean the area with a mild soap and water. Check area for redness, swelling or discharge. If your pet is unfortunate enough to have multiple quills embedded and you are unable to remove them, consult your veterinarian. Sometimes, sedation may be required.
Post Surgery Problems. Most surgeries are uncomplicated and pets heal quickly. In some instances, complications can occur. Usually, these complications are associated with the site of incision and not the actual surgery itself.
- Licking, chewing or scratching at the sutures is the most common problem associated with sutures and incisions. A common recommendation is either to cover the wound with a bandage or to use an Elizabethan collar, which is a flexible plastic lampshade type devise that attaches to your pet’s collar. The device allows your pet to eat and drink but does not allow him access to parts of his body below the collar. E-collars are available at most pet stores and veterinary hospitals. You might try covering abdominal and chest/body wall incisions with a t-shirt. This covers the wound and allows your pet to be comfortable.
- Incisional Swelling. Some mild swelling is expected, because, as the body begins to heal the incision, fluid and cells accumulate. In cases of excessive swelling, see your veterinarian to determine the cause.
- Incision Discharge. For the first few days following surgery, there may be a small amount of clear or slightly blood tinged fluid. This may show up if a dry paper towel or tissue is applied to the incision. However, you should not see fluid dripping from the incision. After the first few days, there should be no discharge at all and any discharge should be reported to your veterinarian. If you notice any bleeding, try to place a temporary bandage on the incision. Some incisions are in areas not easily bandaged; in that case, apply pressure to the incision and contact your veterinarian immediately. Any drainage that is cloudy or foul smelling may indicate an infection and should be seen by your veterinarian .
- Missing Sutures. Missing skin sutures are not a problem as long as there is no redness, swelling or discharge, and the skin is still connected. If the edges of the skin are no longer together, the suture may need to be replaced to prevent infection or additional sutures from coming out.
- Tissue Protruding from Incision. If any tissue is found protruding from the incision, cover the incision immediately with a clean towel and contact your veterinarian or veterinary emergency facility. Emergency treatment is crucial.
Prolapses. A prolapse is the displacement of an organ through the skin. Usually, the term prolapse is associated with the uterus, vagina or rectum. If you notice tissue protruding from an opening in the body, moisten it with sterile water using a clean towel moistened with water, and transport your pet to your veterinarian. Do not allow your pet to lick or chew at that area. Do not try to push it back inside the pet.
Puncture. If you notice that your pet is bleeding, depending on the location of the injury, gentle pressure is often necessary to stop the flow of blood. Elevate the area to decrease blood flow to that area and wrap the area with a clean towel and tape and seek veterinary care immediately.
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.
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.
Vaginal Discharge. Treatment of vaginal discharge depends on the underlying cause. If you notice discharge from your pet’s vagina, such as blood or pus, see your veterinarian. If your pet is spayed and is bleeding, consult your veterinarian to determine the underlying cause.
Vomiting. Symptomatic therapy of an episode of vomiting includes withholding food and water for three to four hours. If your pet has not vomited by the end of this time, offer small amounts of water (a few tablespoons at a time). Continue to offer small amounts of water ever 20 minutes or so until your pet is hydrated. After your pet is hydrated, gradually offer small frequent feedings of a bland digestible diet such as: Hill’s prescription diet i/d, Iams Recovery Diet, Provision EN or Waltham Low Fat. Homemade diets can be made of boiled rice or potatoes (as the carbohydrate source) and cooked lean hamburger or skinless chicken or low-fat cottage cheese (as the protein source). Meat flavored baby food can also be used. Return to regular cat food should be gradual over one to two days. If vomiting continues at any time or the onset of other symptoms are noted, call your veterinarian promptly.
If you notice the presence of lethargy, diarrhea, continued vomiting or other physical abnormalities, call your veterinarian. Your pet needs your help and the professional care your veterinarian can provide.
Vomiting & Diarrhea. Therapy of vomiting and diarrhea is dependent on the underlying cause. Remove any known causes such as exposure to trash, table food, etc. Symptomatic therapy of an episode of vomiting includes withholding food and water for three to four hours. If your pet has not vomited by the end of this time, offer small amounts of water (a few tablespoons at a time). Continue to offer small amounts of water ever 20 minutes or so until your pet is hydrated. After he is hydrated, gradually offer a bland diet. Oral electrolyte solutions such as Pediolyte® (available in many drug stores) may also be beneficial to provide hydration and replace electrolytes.
Limit the diet to one food that is normally well tolerated, or speak to your veterinarian about an alternative or prescription-type-diet. Homemade bland diets can be made of boiled rice or potatoes (as the carbohydrate source) and cooked lean hamburger or skinless chicken, or low-fat cottage cheese (as the protein source). Return to regular cat food should be gradual over one to two days. 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 continued vomiting. Contact your veterinarian if you have any of these symptoms or other questions or concerns.