What is it?
First aid is defined as ‘help given to a sick or injured individual until medical help is available’. Recognising the signs of illness or injury in your cat and when to seek urgent veterinary advice can be the key to a successful outcome.
Why is it important?
First aid such as stopping bleeding can be the difference between life and death for the cat. It does not replace veterinary treatment, but can buy time to get your cat to the vets’.
What is the risk?
Improperly administered first aid can risk making the cat’s condition worse. It is therefore important to know what you’re doing!
It is also vital to make sure you do not put yourself in danger - you can’t help the cat if you become a casualty as well.
When to call the vet urgently:
If any of the following conditions occur, you should call your vet immediately. Do so as well if there are any problems not on this list but if you are worried.
Cats who are breathing through their mouths are in severe respiratory distress. Keep the cat quiet and calm and arrange an urgent visit to your vet.
Straining to urinate can indicate a life threatening urinary blockage, especially in male cats, and is another veterinary emergency.
The first aid priority is to stop the bleeding.
This can result from a fall or a road traffic accident - pale white gums, rapid shallow breathing rate and/or an enlarged abdomen can all be signs of internal bleeding. These cats need emergency attention by your vet as soon as possible.
Check that the cat’s airway is clear, then get your cat to your vet.
Severe pain for no clear reason
This may be caused by a blood clot (e.g. a “saddle thrombus”) which causes painful, paralysed hind legs. There is no first aid that is effective - contact your vet immediately.
For example lilies, paracetamol, antifreeze, rat poison. DO NOT attempt to make the cat sick yourself - seek urgent veterinary help. If known, take product labels with you.
If your cat’s ears/face feel hot - do not attempt to cool the patient - seek veterinary help. DO NOT give any human remedies such as ibuprofen or paracetamol as both are toxic to cats. Normal temperature is 37.9-39.2 degrees celsius.
Approach the cat with care, and handle gently - there may be other injuries, and they may be in severe pain and therefore likely to lash out without meaning to. If the fracture is open (the bone has pierced the skin) cover it with clean gauze or a clean cloth. DO NOT attempt to splint the fracture yourself as you may worsen the injury, or make the cat’s pain worse.
Breathing fast and heavily, weakness, drooling. Try to cool your cat with fans and cool water, and get them to a vet as fast as possible to minimise the risk of organ damage.
Do not attempt to handle or calm your cat as a seizure can make them aggressive. Remove any objects around the cat which may cause injury, turn the lights off and reduce noise.
If the seizure lasts more than 2 minutes, or the cat goes straight into another seizure this is an emergency and your vet should be contacted immediately for further advice.
These can lead to dehydration and, if severe, may be signs of a blockage of the intestines.
Swollen, protruding or closed eye
These must be seen urgently, as eyes are really delicate!
Run cold water over the area for 5 minutes. Do not apply any creams. Keep the patient warm as they can go into shock. If necessary, cover the area with cling film for transport to the vet, to keep it clean.
Contamination with tar or paint
DO NOT apply any paint remover to the cat - place a Buster collar to prevent licking and transport the cat to the vet for decontamination. Sometimes sedation is necessary to reduce stress to the patient.
Wasp or bee sting
If on the face or in the mouth the cat must be monitored carefully as swelling can restrict breathing. Otherwise, these are uncomfortable but not usually life-or-death emergencies. If concerned, call your vet for advice.
Cat bite abscess
Often very painful swelling which will burst out with foul smelling pus, common sites are the head and the tail base. Wounds can be cleaned at home with cooled boiled water and a pinch of salt. A visit to your vet for a thorough flush of the abscess is usually needed, and occasionally some cats may require antibiotics to ensure the infection is cleared up.
How does the vet know what is going on?
The vet will ask you what has happened, and what first aid has been given. They will examine your cat assess the extent of their injuries. X-rays (radiographs) are required to assess fractures, breathing difficulties, and vomiting patients for obstruction. Blood tests and ultrasound scanning may also be used.
What can be done?
An injured cat must be handled with care. Keep yourself safe - painful, distressed cats will often bite, even if their temperament is usually placid.
Be aware that cats with breathing difficulties are very fragile, and stress can cause them to collapse and die.
When picking up an injured cat, do so by supporting both the front and back end, support the body with towels and transport in a secure carrier.
Keep the cat as calm and quiet as possible.
Phone your vet ahead of time, be prepared to take the cat into the clinic as treatment at home is very limited.
How can I protect my pet?
Have a first aid kit close to hand:
Be able to recognise the signs of an emergency situation. Delayed treatment for conditions such as urinary blockage in a male cat, road traffic accidents causing internal bleeding, and breathing difficulties can be rapidly fatal.