Bryan Day, a student at
New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service, was studying for
midterm exams on his couch, notes in his lap, papers scattered nearby.
Ethan, his lazy orange tabby, was curled next to him, head pressed
against Bryan’s thigh, body stretched out over Bryan’s textbooks and
papers. Before long, Bryan and Ethan, both seemingly bored to tears,
succumbed to simultaneous naps.
A short time later, Bryan
was awakened by some unexpected jostling of his leg.
Bryan looked down in horror.
Ethan was in the midst of a seizure.
If you came home from
work and found your cat having convulsions, paralyzed, or bleeding,
would you know what to do?
First aid doesn’t mean
setting up a do-it-yourself veterinary practice.
Your primary objectives when administering first aid is to prevent
further injury, alleviate pain and distress, and help start the recovery
process. Whatever the
emergency, getting help from a veterinarian is the highest priority.
Knowing proper first aid, however, may dramatically affect your
The first step in any
emergency is to make sure the environment is safe.
If the emergency occurs in a burning building, near an electrical
hazard, or in the middle of the road, move the cat to a safer location
first. The next step is to
quickly assess your cat’s condition and rank the problems from most
severe to least. This
process is called triage.
Broken bones and external bleeding are easily detected, but more serious
problems may be overlooked.
Your initial evaluation should be as follows:
Does your cat respond to his name being called or head being
stroked? If not,
immediately check the A, B, Cs: Airway – is
something in the throat obstructing the airway? Breathing – is
the cat breathing? Circulation
– is there a pulse? If not,
start CPR immediately (see sidebar).
If your cat does respond:
take your cat’s respiration rate.
Normal is 20 – 40 breaths per minute. Next, take your cat’s
by placing your fingertips along the inside of the thigh, on the femoral
artery, in the groin area. Count for 15 seconds and multiply by 4. Normal is 160 – 240.
If possible, take your cat’s temperature with a digital rectal
thermometer. Normal is
between 101 and 102.5 degrees F.
Finally, observe the color of the gums.
They should be pale pink. White gums may indicate severe anemia,
gums with a bluish tinge may indicate inadequate oxygenation, and
yellowish gums could signify liver disease.
Small red spots are pinpoint hemorrhages and could indicate a
Rank the problems.
If the cat isn’t breathing, has no pulse, is choking, in shock or
severely bleeding, these problems take immediate priority.
If these problems aren’t present, tend to the next most severe
problem and get the cat to a vet immediately.
are rare. Some of the more common feline emergencies encountered are
Hit by car/falls
from height: Move the injured cat out of any
dangerous area. Use a
blanket or coat as a stretcher.
Gently ease cat onto the stretcher, then lower him into a large box or
secure container for transport to a veterinarian.
Cats falling out of windows (“hi-rise syndrome”) is a serious
problem, especially in urban settings.
Dr. Dianne DeLorenzo, owner of Abingdon Square Veterinary Clinic in
New York City, treats several hi-rise cats every summer. “The best first
aid for these cases is to
prevent the problem in the first place.
Windows without screens can be deadly”, she says.
Cats generally avoid water, but cats may accidentally fall into a pond
or pool. If cat is not
responsive, hold the cat upside down by firmly gripping the hind legs
and swing the cat vigorously downward to remove water from the lungs.
If the cat is not breathing, begin artificial respiration.
try to look in the back of the throat.
If a foreign object is detected, try to spot it with a flashlight,
and then remove it with tweezers or a spoon handle.
This should be reserved for cats making choking noises and gasping
for air or pawing at its mouth.
Most burns in cats are due to improper heating pad or heat lamp
use, or scalding by hot liquids.
Cats may also jump onto stovetops and burn their feet or tail.
Heat burns should be cleaned gently with soap and water, and then
apply cool compresses to the area for 30 minutes.
Cover with a loose bandage and take to a veterinarian.
Do not put ice directly on the area, and avoid ointments, as they
are difficult to remove.
Kittens are most likely to chew or bite an electric cord.
If your cat still has the cord in his mouth when you discover it,
pull the plug out. If this
isn’t possible, use a broom handle to move the cat away from the live
wire. Shocked cats often go
into cardiac arrest. Provide CPR if necessary.
Take your cat to the vet immediately, even if the cat only appears
to have burns on the tongue or mouth, as pulmonary edema (fluid
accumulation in the lungs) often develops after electric shock.
Paws, tails, and ears are the most common areas affected by frostbite.
Initially, the skin appears pale.
Later, it becomes red, hot, painful, and swollen.
Warm the frostbitten area rapidly by immersing in warm water for 15
minutes. Cover with a loose
bandage, and avoid rubbing the skin.
If devitalized tissue develops, it must be removed by a
Exposure to cold weather can result in
hypothermia, a generalized cooling down of the whole body.
This can cause a very slow pulse and breathing rate, seizures,
coma, and death. Affected cats should be given a warm water bath.
Take a rectal temperature every 10 minutes.
Stop the bath when the temperature reaches 101 F, then wrap the cat
in blankets that have been briefly warmed in a dryer.
Avoid heat lamps or electric blankets, as they can burn the skin.
Cats suffering from heatstroke usually pant, may have bright red
gums, and may collapse. Rectal temperature can rise as high as 110
degrees! Wrapping it in
towels soaked in cool (not ice cold!) water will lower the body temp.
Monitor temp every ten minutes.
Discontinue cooling when temperature reaches 103.
Dr. Mark Gibson, owner of Animal Kind Veterinary Hospital in
Brooklyn, New York, encounters his share of heatstroke cases every
“If the vital signs are stable and the cat isn’t comatose or in
shock, cooling takes first priority.
Clients who’ve begun the cooling process prior to coming here tend
to have a better outcome for their cat.”
There are many causes of seizures – heat stroke, low blood sugar, brain
tumors, liver disease, epilepsy, etc.
If your cat seizures, clear away any objects that the cat might hit
during the seizure. Do NOT
attempt to hold the cat’s mouth open or closed; airway obstruction by
the tongue rarely occurs.
Provide gentle restraint during the seizure by holding a light blanket
or towel over the cat.
Afterwards, confine the cat and monitor breathing and pulse. Schedule a veterinary appointment as soon as practical.
It should again be
emphasized that first aid is not meant to replace veterinary care.
Knowledge of basic first aid allows cat owners to handle
emergencies effectively until a veterinarian can be reached.
Knowing the basics may someday save your cat’s life.
For a cat to survive, its
breathing and/or pulse must be restarted within a few minutes.
If a cat is unconscious and its breathing and pulse have stopped,
prompt CPR may save your cat’s life.
This is where the ABC’s come in handy:
if the cat is not breathing, but there is a pulse…
Remove the collar if
present. Lay the cat on
its side, open the mouth, clear the Airway of any mucus using
a napkin or tissue.
Pull the tongue forward to clear the throat.
Sometimes this may stimulate breathing and the cat to regain
If the cat remains
unconscious, put your hands on the chest and apply gentle downward
pressure to expel air from the lungs.
Let go, to allow them to refill.
Repeat every five seconds until cat breathes on its own.
If there has been
chest trauma, the lungs might not refill automatically.
You should blow air into them.
Gently Breathe into the nostrils for 2 to 3 seconds to
inflate the lungs. You
will see the chest move if done properly.
Pause for 2 seconds, then repeat.
Continue until cat breathes on its own.
Cardiac massage to
restore Circulation: if no pulse is detected…
Place your fingers on
the chest at the spot where the elbow rests against the chest, and
press gently but firmly five or six times in a row.
Wait one second, then repeat.
Alternate with artificial respiration.
If no response is seen after ten minutes, the procedure is not
likely to be successful
How to prevent
The best way to treat
emergencies is to prevent them before they happen. Here are some helpful tips:
Electric wires should
be kept out of sight.
Some cats (and kittens in particular) will chew on wires out of
boredom or playfulness.
polishes, bleaches, detergents, and other household chemicals in a
Houseplants should be
kept in an elevated area and out of the cat’s reach.
Keep trash secure
both inside and outside your house
When traveling with
your cat, make sure you provide a sturdy carrier. Don’t roll windows
down far enough for a cat to escape the car, and don’t confine a cat
in a car alone while running errands, etc.
During summer, make
sure your cat has access to shade, fresh water, and adequate fresh
windows are open, be sure there are screens in place.
If using window fans, make sure they’re shielded to prevent a
foot or tail from getting caught and traumatized.
Basic first aid kit
A feline first aid kit
should contain a few basic items that may be needed in the event of an
emergency or accident. Some
basic items to consider: