As you know, a cat can not tell you what's wrong with him. And he's usually tempted to run away when frightened or injured. Often you must restrain the cat to administer aid, risking scratches and bites if you're not properly prepared.
The goals of all feline first aid are to:
Minimize aggravation of an injury or illness until a veterinarian can attend to it.
Checking for Normal Vital Signs
In an emergency situation, it's important to get the cat's vital signs as quickly as possible, including his temperature, his pulse and his breathing rate.
Normal Temperature for Cats: 100.4 to 102.5 degrees F
Pulse: 160 to 240 per minute
Respiration: 20 to 30 per minute
Since your cat's temperature is taken rectally, make sure you have a helper to immobilize the cat. You do not want to try this alone at any time, let alone when the cat is stressed from an injury or illness.
To locate your cat's pulse, press your two fingers against the inside of the upper hind leg. This is where the femoral artery is. Be sure that you count for at least 60 seconds. A very fast pulse can indicate a state of shock.
You can check your cat's respiration by watching their chest. Count the inhalations and exhalations for a minute.
What to Do In an Emergency
1. Remove the cause of injury, such as any weight resting on the cat.
2. Clear the airway so the cat can breathe. Remove the collar if there is one. Clear the nose and throat of foreign bodies or blockages. Place the animal in a position that best promotes breathing.
3. Give artificial respiration if your cat has stopped breathing.
4. Treat a cardiac arrest with CPR, administering a sharp blow on the side of the chest just behind the shoulder. Continue CPR until the cat is breathing on his own.
5. Bleeding needs to be stopped as quickly as possible. Apply pressure, bandages or tourniquets.
6. Cover wounds with dressings that are dry and clean.
7. The patient should be kept as warm as possible.
8. Do not move your cat unless absolutely necessary. They may have internal injuries that you are unaware of. Try to slip a blanket or board under the cat before moving, if you must move.
9. If your cat is unconscious, place him so his head is slightly lower than his body. Do not administer fluids, medicines or food to the injured cat.
10. Get your cat to an emergency veterinary center or your own vet as quickly as possible. If possible have someone phone ahead so the vet can be prepared.
11. Time is of the essence but do not speed. High speed or jarring movements can cause additional injuries.
Basic First Aid Kit
Following is a list of items you should have in a special first aid kit for felines in your family. The items listed are in addition to common household items, such as scissors, blankets, mineral oil, bicarbonate of soda and mineral oil. You'll also want to be sure that towels or a blanket are readily accessible to restrain your cat.
Gauze bandages, 1 "and 2" rolls (I each)
Large gauze dressing pads (8)
Adhesive medical tape (1)
Roll of cotton wool (I)
Triangular bandage (1)
Rectal thermometer (1)
Cotton balls (6)
3% hydrogen peroxide (2 oz)
Milk of Magnesia tablets (10)
Activated charcoal tablets (20)
Kaolin mixture (2 oz)
Antibacterial ointment – for eyes and skin
Restraining an Injured Cat
Even if your cat trusts you implicitly he can harm you when injured or ill. A cat's natural instinct is to flee from the pain they are feeling and they are likely to strike out at you, even if severely injured.
You will need to carefully (so you do not cause additional injury) immobilize your cat's claws by securing the two front legs together in one hand just above the feet and wrapping adhesive tape around them. Then fasten the rear legs in the same manner (unless they are obviously injured). You can now examine your cat without worrying about being clawed and scratched. To prevent biting hold the head firmly.
If your cat is choking you can clear the throat by reaching in with tweezers or your fingers and trying to remove the obstruction. If the blockage is further down, lay the cat on his side, place the heel of your hand behind the last rib and push firmly as you angle slightly upward. Four quick thrusts, then try again.
If your cat is in respiratory distress, remove the cat's collar, open his mouth and pull his tongue forward so it does not block the throat. Pull his head and neck forward, then put your hands on his ribs and push down suddenly. Release. This should get the stale air out of the lungs and replenish them with fresh air. Now, close your cat's mouth and put your mouth over his nose, blowing firmly (but not too hard – you're not trying to inflate him) for about three seconds. Rest two seconds, and then repeat. Keep this up until your cat is breathing normally or for 30 minutes.
Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)
If your cat does not have a heartbeat, do the following:
1. With one hand, place your thumb on the cat's chest at the point of the elbow and your fingers on the other side of the chest cavity.
2. Squeeze gently but firmly at the rate of one compression per second. After five compressions, follow the steps for artificial breathing above without stopping the compressions.
3. Monitor your cat for signs of life, such as spontaneous respiration or a heartbeat.
CPR can be continued for up to 15 minutes before chance of revival are slim. If possible, have someone drive you to the vet as you administer CPR.
As always, direct pressure is the most effective means of controlling bleeding. Place a sterile pad directly over the wound and apply firm, even pressure. If blood comes through the pad, do not remove it. Just place another over it because you do not want to interfere with any clotting going on. If a limb is bleeding you may be able to elevate it to slow bleeding, but only if it is not fractured.
If direct pressure does not work, try indirect pressure on the arteries that supply blood to the region. These can be found on the inside of the upper surface of the forelimb and hind limb and on the underside of the base of the tail.
A tourniquet is a last resort. Never use a tourniquet around the neck.
Once bleeding is controlled get your cat to the veterinarian or to an emergency hospital as quickly as possible.
When an accident or injury occurs, you need to be aware of the signs of shock. These can include a decrease in or loss of consciousness, pale mucous membranes (gums, rims of the eyes) a slow or rapid pulse, shallow or rapid breathing and the body feeling cold to the touch.
If you suspect your cat is in shock, do not give him any water, even if he wants it. In cases of severe shock, the digestive track will not absorb the water correctly and your cat may accidentally inhale the water rather than swallow it. The best way to treat shock is through intravenous fluids and medications administered by a skilled veterinarian. Note that shock can occur up to 10 to 12 hours after an accident or injury.
Usually, broken, fractured or dislocated bones are not life threatening. Although you do want to immobilize the injury to keep it from becoming more severely injured. Telling whether a bone is sprained, fractured or dislocated can be difficult without an X-ray, however, there may be some swelling and your cat may not be able to use his leg. If the spine is injured none of the legs may work.
If at all possible you want to apply a splint to the area. Sticks are best or use a rolled up newspaper or towel. Make sure it extends beyond the area that's injured so the joints above and below are immobilized as well. Tape it in place, but not so tight that it cuts off circulation.
Get your cat to the vet as soon as possible. You may want to have someone call ahead so the staff knows that to expect. This goes for any type of injury covered here.