No matter however rigorously you shield your cat, accidents will and do happen. Cats love routine but don’t always act predictably, thereby setting in motion the informal version of Murphy’s Law, which states that if anything can go wrong, it will. A little forethought and some good planning can help derail this universal principle. Be prepared to treat common injuries your older cat may suffer until the cavalry arrives (or you reach the fort). Possessing the knowledge and tools to handle a feline emergency can ease a traumatic situation for both of you and, also, may save your cat’s life.
WHAT DO I DO FIRST?
Contact your veterinarian in an emergency. While this advice seems obvious, it is easy to overlook when you feel panicky or frightened. Take a moment to telephone your vet when your cat is injured or suddenly appears seriously ill. A veterinary professional can offer advice on how to proceed when you may not be thinking clearly. Your decision additionally paves the method for veterinary hospital workers that may anticipate and prepare for your cat’s arrival.
Of course, most veterinarians are not available around the clock. You can save precious minutes by knowing your doctor’s plan for handling emergencies ahead of time, especially those occurring after normal business hours and on weekends (when emergencies always seem to happen—see Murphy’s Law above). Keep the telephone numbers of your veterinarian, a local emergency veterinary service, local animal poison center, and the national ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center handy at all times.
While getting your cat to your veterinarian quickly is the goal, an unexpected feline accident or injury nevertheless calls for quick, and often challenging, action on your part. For example, you may not have time to get professional help for a choking cat; you must act immediately to save her life. Healthy senior cats can spin into life-threatening shock in an emergency; a debilitated older cat, however, already is in a fragile state. Unless you’re a doctor you can not be expected to act like one. Nevertheless, how you deal with an emergency can make all the difference in your older cat’s survival. inspect the primary first aid can help. First-aid measures for common emergencies you and your cat may encounter follow.
1. Remain calm. Your adrenalin may be running full-tilt, but you need to approach your injured cat quietly and in a nonthreatening way. Take a couple of moments to assess matters.
2. Do not lift an injured cat with your bare hands. Pain can cause even the tamest cat to lash out and act defensively.
3. Use a large towel, folded blanket, or small rug to carry your cat to a veterinary hospital.
4. Cover your cat with an emergency “space blanket” or bubble wrap (a jacket or blanket will do) to conserve her body heat and help prevent shock, which occurs when the body cannot maintain sufficient blood pressure.
Shock is a medical emergency that can occur when a cat is severely hurt or ill— especially if she becomes unconscious—and is potentially fatal. Signs include pale or blue lips and gums; a faint but rapid pulse; shallow breathing; staring, unresponsive eyes; a cold body; and lethargy. A cat in shock must be kept warm, as specified above. Quick veterinary care is critical.
What to do: Apply a pressure bandage to any wound that causes severe external bleeding and rushes your cat to the veterinarian. (A minor cut or scratch is likely to stop bleeding on its own and will not bleed profusely unless a larger blood vessel underneath opens.) Apply a sterile gauze pad or clean cloth directly over the wound. Use adhesive or masking tape to secure the bandaged area, or firmly tie the bandage in place with gauze or cloth strips. Unless directed by your veterinarian as a last resort, do not use a tourniquet, which can cut off the blood supply and cause additional damage to the wounded area. Don’t remove an object (such as a bullet) from a wound. Don’t lift the bandage to see if the bleeding has stopped. Do take your cat to the veterinarian for additional care.
What to do: The usual suspect is an object lodged in the mouth or throat. If your cat is conscious, proceed cautiously to avoid being bitten. A panicked cat won’t appreciate your help. Wrap him in a towel or other restraint and, if available, ask someone else to hold him firmly. Open your cat’s mouth by firmly pressing fingers on either side of his jaw. Look inside to determine what’s wrong before sticking your fingers in his mouth—you don’t want to push a foreign object deeper into the throat. If you can reach the offending item, pull gently with your fingers, tweezers, or long-nosed pliers. Follow the same procedure for an unconscious cat. Caution: If you encounter resistance, do not try to force the object out. If you discover your cat has swallowed string or yarn, do not attempt to remove it. Deeply lodged string or thread can cut through the walls of the intestines or may have a needle attached to it. Instead, rush him to a veterinarian.
To clean a minor cut more easily, dip a blunt-tipped pair of scissors in tepid water, then gently clip the fur around the wound. The clipped fur sticks to the blades, not the wound, and is easily removed by rinsing the scissors in a cup of water. Can’t reach the blockage? Try a modified Heimlich maneuver to loosen the object. To do this:
1. Place your cat on her side.
2. Position the heel of your hand behind the last rib, angling slightly up. Apply three or four quick thrusts with gentle but firm pressure (you don’t want to crack ribs).
3. If the cat does not “cough” out the object, repeat the process. If still unsuccessful, you will need speedy veterinary help.
FRACTURES AND DISLOCATIONS
In an open or compound fracture, the bone breaks and punctures the skin. A simple fracture, which doesn’t pierce the skin, usually reveals itself through swelling, painful movement, or a dragging limb (also a symptom of dislocation). A lower jaw that hangs open may signal a broken jaw. What to do: If your cat appears to have a fractured limb or dislocated hip, carefully place him on a large, flat surface. A cardboard box or clean litter pan works well. Cushion the “gurney” with a towel or blanket and keep your cat as still as possible to avoid further injury. Cover your cat to keep him warm and prevent shock. Trans- port him to your veterinarian immediately. Leave splinting a fractured limb to a professional, since this process can cause severe pain. If you suspect a fractured jaw, tie gauze tape or a long piece of cloth under the chin and behind the ears.
What to do: Prompt veterinary treatment is needed to treat major or minor burns on a cat’s body. For minor burns, cover the burned area with cool compresses (don’t use ice!) on your way to the veterinary hospital. For major burns, protect the area with a thick layer of gauze or cloth, cover your cat with a blanket, and seek immediate veterinary help. Protect your hands with rubber gloves if you suspect chemicals caused the burn. Do not apply antiseptic ointments, butter, or other products to any burned area unless your veterinarian advises you to do so. Never cover any type of burn with cotton balls or pads, because cotton fibers will stick to the affected area.
Older cats are more prone to frostbite than younger cats. The extremities are the most likely body parts to be affected; the pads of the feet, tips of the ears, and the tail are the most vulnerable areas. Look for pale, reddened skin that becomes hot and painful when touched. Swelling also may occur, along with hair loss and peeling skin. What to do: Place the cat in a warmed area and thaw the frostbitten areas slowly. To do this, use warm, moist towels and replace them frequently. Stop the procedure when the affected tissues become flushed. Wrap your cat in a blanket to conserve her body heat. Warning: Do not apply anything hot to frostbitten skin, and do not rub or massage frozen tissues—it may cause more damage. Consult your veterinarian before applying any topical ointment, and keep your cat out of the cold in the future, as frostbitten tissues are more vulnerable to repeated freezing.
The clinical signs of poisoning may be as dramatic and terrifying as a seizure, or as simple as drooling. Symptoms vary from no initial signs at all to staggering, weakness, lack of coordination, depression, vomiting, diarrhea, and convulsion, among others. What to do: Don’t panic if you suspect your cat is exposed to a poisonous substance. Take a minute to collect the material involved, including a product container or anything your cat has chewed or vomited. Put it in a zip-lock bag. If your cat loses consciousness, seizures, or has difficulty breathing, seek immediate veterinary help. If you are unable to reach your veterinarian or a local animal poison control center, contact the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, an operating division of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The Center hot-line provides 24-hour coverage.