endure kittenhood relatively unscathed. A few, however, deplete several
of their nine lives in the course of growing up. Knowing the principles
of first aid can be invaluable in seeing that your kitten survives that
turbulent first year of life.
First aid is an
interim measure before veterinary care becomes available. The objective
of first aid is to prevent the condition from worsening, alleviate pain
and suffering, and help the recovery process. Getting veterinary help
remains the highest priority.
The best way to
treat emergencies is to prevent them. This is accomplished by
“kittenproofing” your home. Kittens get into everything – closets,
drawers, garbage cans, toilets, boxes, bags, sofa cushions, and more.
If you have children, go through your home and pick up all toys less
than two inches in length. Also pick up any coins, paper clips, rubber
bands, ribbons, string, tape, and other small objects a curious kitten
might swallow. Keep cleaning supplies and chemicals locked away. Be
mindful of electric cords, as kittens enjoy chewing on them, risking
electrocution. Household plants (fresh and dried) can be toxic. Make
certain that your windows are always closed, or are fitted with sturdy
screens. Kittens seek out high places, and an open window ledge can
spell disaster in the form of “high-rise syndrome”. The few hours it
takes to kittenproof your home may be the best investment in your
Despite our best
precautions, we may find ourselves facing a kitten health emergency.
The most common disasters that strike kittens are burns, electric cord
injury, choking, bee stings, fractures, and poisonings.
Most kitten burns are thermal burns from hot objects like heating pads,
heat lamps, or scalding by hot liquids. Kittens may jump onto stovetops
and burn their feet or tail. If your kitten experiences a burn,
immediately apply a cool damp towel 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
Kittens are most likely to chew or bite an electric cord because a
dangling cord is seen as a perfect plaything. Many incidents happen
around the holidays. “The combination of Christmas lights and kittens
as Christmas gifts increases the chances of this emergency occurring”,
says Dr. Steve Baker, an associate veterinarian at the Pet Care Clinic
in Meridian, Idaho. “We encourage our clients to kitten proof their
trees, nativity scenes, and other holiday decorations. Nobody wants to
spend Christmas Eve in an emergency clinic as a result of natural kitten
curiosity”. Biting through an electric cord can cause, at the very
least, a painful electrical burn on the mouth and tongue. These often
become infected and require veterinary care. Severely shocked cats may
go into cardiac arrest or develop pulmonary edema
(fluid accumulation in the lungs).
Kittens that chew through electric cords should be taken to the
veterinarian immediately, even if it only appears to have minor burns on
the tongue or mouth.
If your kitten gets something stuck in its mouth or throat, it will
cough or gasp suddenly. Kittens become frantic when scared, so wrap him
in a towel and have someone else hold him while you try to look in the
back of the throat. If an object is detected, try to spot it with a
flashlight, then remove it with tweezers or a spoon handle; your hands
will probably be too big for a young kitten’s mouth.
Kittens love chasing moving objects, including stinging bugs such as
bees. “Bee stings or spider bites are often suspected but definitive
diagnosis is uncommon unless the event is witnessed by the pet owner”,
says Steve Marks, Associate Professor and Head of the University of
Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine’s small animal medicine
service. If bitten by a bee, immediately put ice on the bite to reduce
pain and swelling. Try to find the stinger using a magnifying glass, as
some bees leave their stinger in the skin. Pull it out with tweezers if
possible. Clean the area and apply an antibiotic ointment. After
treating your kitten for the bee sting, monitor very closely for an
allergic reaction (called anaphylaxis). Although uncommon, allergic
reactions can occur, and the kitten can go into shock. The tissues of
the throat may swell and obstruct breathing, and blood pressure may
plunge. This is a life-threatening complication. “In most cases,
symptomatic care is appropriate. However, if the kitten has difficulty
breathing, vomiting, diarrhea, the pet owner should seek veterinary
advice immediately”, Dr. Marks says.
Orthopedic injuries are common in kittens because kittens love to jump.
When a kitten fractures a bone, the initial clinical sign is limping,
holding the injured leg up, or walking on only three legs. Simple
fractures (both ends of the bone remain under the skin) are not as bad
as those in which the bone breaks through the skin (open fracture). The
latter are at high risk of becoming infected. If you suspect a limb
fracture, try to apply a temporary splint to immobilize the leg. A
pencil, tongue depressor, or piece of heavy cardboard works well. To
effectively immobilize the leg, the splint must span the joint above and
below the fracture. For example, for a forearm fracture, the splint
must immobilize the limb from the elbow (the joint above) to the wrist
(the joint below). Wrap strips of clean cloth or gauze around the leg
and the splint so that the leg cannot bend. Do not try to manipulate
the bones back into place, and do not wash out open fractures. If the
kitten becomes too stressed during splint application, stop and take it
to the veterinarian immediately.
The average household contains many items poisonous to kittens. Common
household toxic substances include ammonia, antifreeze, aspirin and
Tylenol, bleach, gasoline, lye, paint thinner, rat poison, turpentine,
rubbing alcohol, and others. Indoor and garden plants are a potential
problem as well. Kittens love to nibble on plants and dried flowers.
Some plants merely cause an upset stomach. Others can be fatal. Cacti,
dieffenbachia, mistletoe, poinsettias, acorns, English holly, tulip
flower bulbs, oleander, honeysuckle, and most types of lilies are
poisonous to some degree. A description of the specific treatment for
each of these household and plant poisons is beyond the scope of this
article. Always check with your veterinarian before giving or using any
medication on your kitten. Signs of poisoning will vary depending on
the type of poison and quantity ingested, but in general, you should be
suspicious that your cat has been poisoned if you see signs such as
excessive salivation, vomiting, loss of consciousness, or seizures. If
you see your cat ingest a toxic substance, read the label to see if
specific instructions for treatment are given. If not, induce vomiting
using syrup of ipecac or hydrogen peroxide, one teaspoon per 5 lbs body
weight. Don’t induce vomiting if a strong acid or alkali, or a
petroleum distillate like kerosene was ingested. Call your veterinarian
and be ready to tell him or her what the poison is, the active
ingredients, how much was eaten, when it was eaten, and what signs your
kitten is showing, if possible. If you need to visit the vet, try to
bring a sample of the suspected poison in its original container with
you. If your vet cannot be reached, call a local or national poison
control center for further instructions.
First aid is not
meant to replace veterinary care. Knowledge of basic first aid allows
kitten owners to effectively handle emergencies until a veterinarian can
be reached. Knowing the basics may someday save your kitten’s life.
Seven Signs that Say “Get Thee to a Veterinarian”
emergencies can be managed at home, others require immediate veterinary
attention. The signs below, if present, usually indicate an emergency
that requires immediate veterinary assessment.
non-responsive kitten is usually in serious trouble. If you get no
response or reaction when you call, stroke, or touch your kitten,
immediately check its breathing. Airway obstruction, cardiac arrest,
and poisonings are a few things that can cause non-responsiveness.
– respiratory problems require immediate attention. Fluid in the lungs
or the chest cavity can obstruct breathing, and kittens can go into
respiratory arrest, followed by cardiac arrest, if untreated.
– electric cord burns to the mouth and tongue, contact with household
poisons or plants, and nausea from other systemic illnesses can cause
– serious electrolyte abnormalities and dehydration may occur as a
result of continuous vomiting. Intestinal obstruction from a ribbon,
rubber band, or string is a common cause of chronic vomiting in kittens
and requires immediate attention.
– severe dehydration and electrolyte imbalances can lead to rapid
deterioration in kittens if not addressed promptly.
coloration of the gums
– pale gums implies anemia; bluish gums suggest a cardiac or respiratory
problem, and yellow gums denote red blood cell destruction or severe
liver disease. All of these conditions require immediate assessment by
– fevers in kittens are often due to infectious conditions. Fever
increases a kitten’s fluid requirements, and often depresses their
appetite. Malnutrition and dehydration is a dangerous combination.
Kittens with fevers (temp greater than 103 F) should be examined