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Don’t panic, protect yourself from injury, and prepare in advance — those are three keys to managing any emergency with your cat.
When faced with an injured or severely ill cat, it is important that you spend a moment assessing the situation. Determine if the cat needs to be moved immediately. Decide if there is a danger of further injury to the cat or to first aid givers.
For example, great care must be used before assisting a cat injured on a busy roadway. It may be safest to call for help so that traffic can be diverted before anyone provides first aid.
You must also ensure that you won’t be injured yourself — either by the surroundings or by the injured animal.
Prepare in advance by knowing the location and numbers of emergency animal care facilities.
Here are some more tips that will ensure you’re prepared for any cat-related emergency.
Approaching an Injured Cat
If you encounter a cat who is in need or injured in some way, your first reaction may be to run to help. That’s a common reaction — most people don’t want to see an animal in pain. But, it’s important to remember that even the sweetest cat in the world may bite or scratch if he is frightened or in pain.
As you approach the cat, pay attention to his body language and any sounds he is making. Use a soft, gentle, calming voice. Avoid direct eye contact with an injured cat since some will perceive this as a confrontation or threat.
If the cat you are trying to help is aggressive and there is a risk that you may get injured, do not try to administer treatment. Call a local animal shelter, humane society, veterinary clinic, animal control officer, or police department. Try to stay nearby to watch where the cat goes and to assist when help arrives. If necessary, direct traffic away from the injured cat until further help arrives.
Always use common sense, and remember that your safety comes first. For instance, if the cat is in the middle of the road, watch for traffic before going to assist. If there is a house fire, do not enter the house until the fire department has eliminated the danger — it’s very likely firefighters will rescue the pet. Or, if the cat has fallen, make sure no items are ready to fall on the cat or yourself.
If the cat is covered in a toxic substance, do not touch her unless you are wearing protective gloves or can cover her with plastic (or some other protective material). The same goes if you notice blood on the cat. Even though there are few diseases you can get from animal blood, there is no guarantee that human blood is not mixed in from someone else. That person’s blood may have spilled onto the cat, and with the threat of HIV, hepatitis, or other illnesses, exposure to any blood is not recommended.
CPR is an emergency technique used to help someone whose heart and/or breathing has stopped. Although somewhat modified, the same techniques used for people — rescue breathing and chest compressions — can be used to help treat an animal in distress.
The first lesson to learn about CPR is that it doesn’t restart a stopped heart. The purpose of CPR, in both humans and animals, is to keep them alive until the heart begins beating on its own or a cardiac defibrillator can be used. In people, about 15 percent of those getting CPR actually survive. In animals, CPR is frequently unsuccessful, even if performed by a trained veterinarian. Even so, attempting CPR will give your pet a fighting chance.
In both humans and cats, you must follow the ABCs: airway, breathing, and circulation, in that order. If you suspect your pet is in distress, immediately look at his posture. Note the presence of blood, vomit, or feces; his breathing pattern and other bodily sounds; and any materials, such as possible poisons, around him.
It is vital to know for sure that your pet isn’t breathing or doesn’t have a pulse before beginning CPR; it is dangerous to apply CPR to an animal (or a person, for that matter) if he is breathing normally and has a pulse.
Look for the chest rising and falling or place a mirror in front of his nose and watch for condensation. When checking for a pulse, remember that animals do not have a distinct carotid (neck) pulse. To determine if the heart is still beating, place your hand on the left side of the chest.
Performing the Heimlich Maneuver
Before administering any first aid, make absolutely certain your pet is actually choking. Many people confuse difficulty breathing with choking. If you witness your pet ingesting an item and then immediately begin pawing at the face, the throat, acting frantic, trying to cough, and having difficulty breathing, only then should the Heimlich maneuver be considered. If your pet is not really choking, the Heimlich can cause serious injury.
After determining that your pet is choking, remove any item that may be constricting the neck. Examine inside the mouth and remove any foreign object you see. Do not blindly place your hand down your pet’s throat and pull any object you feel. Do not attempt to remove an object unless you can see and identify it.
If your pet is small and you cannot easily remove the object, lift and suspend him with the head pointed down. For larger animals, lift the rear legs so the head is tilted down. This can help dislodge an item stuck in the throat.
Another method is to administer a sharp blow with the palm of your hand between the shoulder blades. This can sometimes dislodge an object. If this does not work, a modified Heimlich maneuver can be attempted.
If you and your cat are far from help, and your cat hurts herself, you need to know how to stabilize her until you can reach a veterinarian. Therefore, learning how to properly apply bandages is vital.
Head Bandages. The most common reason a head wrap is applied is to stop bleeding from the ears. Use long strips of gauze or torn sections of sheet, and wrap them completely around the head, pinning the ears to the side of the head. Be very careful not to wrap too tightly, and do not cover the animal’s eyes with the head bandage. Once the bandage is in place, apply tape to the front edges of the bandage, and make sure that the fur is not included in the tape. Test the tightness of the bandage, and frequently check for facial swelling or difficulty breathing.
Leg Bandages. Leg bandages are typically applied to help temporarily stabilize a fracture or to help reduce bleeding from a wound. Begin by wrapping several layers of cotton (roll cotton) around the leg. If the bandage is being used to stabilize a fracture, the joint above and below the fracture must be included in the bandage. After several layers of cotton have been applied, place several layers of stretch gauze over the roll cotton. This should be snug and compress the cotton. Be careful not to make the bandage so tight that circulation is disrupted. Finish the bandage by applying an elastic bandage such as VetRap®, Ace® bandage, or adhesive tape.
Splints. Splints are used to add extra support to fractures of the bones below the elbow. Be very careful if you apply a splint to the rear leg. Due to the natural position of the rear legs, bandaging these bones in a straight alignment can be detrimental. Splints are best used only on the front legs. First, follow the instructions for leg bandages. After the cotton and stretch gauze have been applied, place a flat stick or straight piece of metal on either side of the leg and tape in place. Cover the bandage and splint with elastic bandage such as VetRap® or Ace® bandage, and secure the top of the bandage to the animal by applying one layer of sticky tape.
Bandages and splints do not help fractures of the humerus (upper arm bone) or femur (thigh bone). They can even cause more damage. If you suspect that your pet has a fractured upper thigh bone or upper arm bone, do not use a bandage or splint. Try to keep your cat as quiet and confined as possible and contact your veterinarian.
Resources for Feline First Aid
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