Emergency First Aid for Cats
Updated: Feb 18
by Dr. Keaton Massie, DVM Massie Veterinary Services
Cats are intelligent animals and have ways of escaping dangerous situations, but they can often get caught in certain emergencies that require an immediate response. Knowing how to provide first aid to your feline companion in these situations can be critical.
Cat first aid is the initial treatment given to cats in a medical emergency before seeing a veterinarian. It involves identifying symptoms and providing care until professional help is obtained. The goal is to preserve life, alleviate pain and discomfort, and minimize the risk of permanent disability.
The most important first aid is a keen eye
Some emergencies are very obvious and your cat will let you know when they happen; others are not. It is important to constantly observe and monitor your cats for any signs of distress. Cats are known for being secretive and hiding their pain, so it can be difficult to know when they require cat first aid.
Signs to watch out for include hiding in dark places, rapid and shallow breathing, increased aggression, lack of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, obsessive licking of a specific area, limping or difficulty moving, etc.
Some of these signs such as behavior changes, vomiting, diarrhea and lack of appetite can be transient and not indicate an emergency. If these symptoms persist though, you should contact your veterinarian. Check out my comprehensive list of when to go straight to the ER to be better informed about this.
What to do in a Cat Emergency
First, we should talk about the times when you should not try any home first aid but go directly to the emergency room or contact your veterinarian if you don’t have one in your area. Cats that are open mouth breathing, exhibiting rapid/shallow breathing, and vocalizing in pain should immediately be taken to an emergency room as these could indicate life threatening conditions.
Falls and accidents
Cats are amazingly resilient when it comes to falls and most of the time if you see your cat fall you shouldn’t be alarmed. However, blunt trauma like falls or accidents can cause internal injuries not immediately visible. Signs of internal injuries to watch out for include lethargy, panting, coughing up blood, a distended belly, or pale gums. Call the vet immediately in these cases.
If your cat has a broken bone, control any serious bleeding but avoid applying a splint, as it can be painful and worsen the fracture. Instead, transport your cat to the vet in a well-padded carrier and keep them warm and contained.
Both minor and major cuts can bleed significantly causing great concern when initially seen, especially minor ones in the mouth or on the face. In cases of bleeding, except around the head, apply pressure to the wound with a bandage, gauze, or clean towel. You do not want to apply pressure around the head as this can restrict breathing. Refrain from putting tourniquets on cats unless the bleeding is severe from a limb. Keep adding another tight layer if blood is still seeping through. Do not remove the bandage to check if the blood has stopped, as this may disrupt the clot. Seek immediate veterinary attention, as many wounds require stitches to heal properly.
Burns and scalds
Most commonly these occur from hot surfaces in the kitchen. Immediately rinse the surface with cold water for at least five minutes and put sugar on the area; then call your veterinarian. Do not use any ointments or creams unless the vet asks you to as these can be hard to remove when cleaning and evaluating the area.
Cats can be affected by substances like antifreeze, rat poison, and certain plants (most commonly found in homes being Peace Lilies). If you suspect poisoning immediately contact ASPCA poison control at (888) 426-4435, and seek veterinary care immediately. Bring any packaging or plant samples with you so the vet immediately knows what to treat. Never try to induce vomiting in your cats.
Even minor eye injuries can be serious. If you suspect something is in your cat’s eye, flush the eye repeatedly with water and use an Elizabethan collar to prevent the cat from rubbing the eye with its paws. Seek veterinary care.
Heat stroke can occur when a cat is left in a hot environment. Symptoms include panting, salivating, weakness and a high body temperature. Move the cat to a cool area, provide water, and seek immediate veterinary care. Do not get the animal wet as this can slow their ability to cool.
If a foreign object becomes lodged in your cat’s throat, try to keep it calm. Do not try to remove the object yourself, as this can cause further injury. Seek immediate veterinary care.
Finally, remember that cat first aid should only be used until you can reach a veterinarian. It is not a substitute for professional care. Always have your vet's number available. I believe with these tips, you’re better equipped to keep your feline companion safe and healthy.
Contact me below if you need further information on emergency first aid for cats.