Cats

Emergency Cat Care Guide

posted: 05/15/12
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Emergency Cat Care: Breathing Difficulties
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If your cat cannot breathe, he may have an obstruction: Clear his airway. If something is lodged too far down and your cat's mucous membranes are blue, you can try a cat Heimlich maneuver. Press in and up sharply just below his rib cage, in the direction of his head. But be careful not to press too hard or you'll risk breaking your cat's ribs.

If there is no obstruction, but your cat is wheezing, coughing or not breathing at all, he needs emergency medical care.

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Emergency Cat Care: Burns
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Don't underestimate the seriousness of a burn. Cats' skin doesn't blister like human skin. Instead, in a deep burn, the skin will appear reddened and the fur in the affected area may fall out. Apply cold water or a cold compress to the area for 20 minutes, then wash gently with disinfectant. Have all burns, even those that appear minor, checked by a vet. Avoid burn ointments since they are difficult to remove if other treatment is called for.

A cat that likes to chew may gnaw through a live electrical wire, causing electrocution and burns. Electrical burns, usually in and around the mouth, are pale yellow, bloodless and cold. This kind of burn usually causes serious damage to skin and can result in a buildup of fluid in the lungs. Take your cat to a vet as soon as possible.

If your cat has been burned by chemicals, don't treat him until you have put on gloves, or you risk burning yourself. Remove and dispose of his collar or harness, which may have soaked up some of the chemical. Flush the area with large amounts of cool water and get to a vet immediately, bringing the package or a sample of the chemical with you.

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Emergency Cat Care: Eye Injuries
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If your cat has something in his eye, hold his head steady and his eye open, and try to wash it out with tepid water or eyewash. Or, you can remove a foreign particle with a cotton swab. If you can't get it out or if it penetrates the eye or lid, get the cat to a vet promptly. If your cat is blinking, squinting, avoiding bright light or his eyes are tearing excessively, he may have an irritation or injury to the eye surface. If you cannot see any injury, try an eyewash to cleanse any possible irritant. If you see an injury or if there is no visible injury but the problem persists, take your cat to the vet.

After a traumatic incident, different-sized pupils usually indicate a serious eye or brain trauma. Your cat will need immediate veterinary care to save the eye or, if there is bleeding or swelling in the brain, to save his life.

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Emergency Cat Care: Seizures
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Convulsions, or "grand-mal" seizures, may be caused by neurological disorders, brain injury, toxins and venom or heat stress. A cat experiencing a grand mal seizure, in which all the muscles go into spasm, usually first appears restless or anxious for a minute or two and may seek affection. Next, the cat loses consciousness, may convulse or drool for a few seconds to a few minutes and may become incontinent. If the cat is convulsing, provide gentle restraint. Although your cat may appear to be quite normal when he regains consciousness, call your vet for advice; often the veterinarian will suggest keeping him confined for a day or two under close observation. Seizures lasting more than a few minutes or several seizures in succession constitute an emergency; get to the vet quickly.

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Emergency Cat Care: Trauma
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Any wound, no matter how insignificant it may seem, should be treated as potentially serious. Even minor cuts and scratches can become infected or form abscesses; tiny puncture wounds may have resulted from bites or stings that introduce infection or venom. Clean minor wounds with mild soap and water, then swab them with an antiseptic solution. A bandage may be more trouble than it is worth for minor nicks. Have any unidentified bite or sting wound checked by a veterinarian.

Control heavy bleeding by applying pressure. When the bleeding has stopped, bandage the wound: Wrap the bandage around the wound and around the entire injured area of the body -- the whole tail or limb, or the entire torso or head. Do not bandage tightly. The idea is to secure the cloth without cutting off circulation. If there is a foreign object lodged in a wound, do not try to remove it; in fact, bandage around it without disturbing it at all. A tourniquet should only be used as a last resort if a limb or tail is too badly damaged for the bleeding to stop. Blood loss is a major cause of shock, so monitor breathing, pulse and general condition on the way to the vet.

A limp or swelling and signs of pain in a specific area may indicate a contusion (bruise), strain, sprain or fracture. Contusions and strains are rarely serious on their own, although if the pain continues for more than a few days, a trip to the vet is warranted. Sprains, the stretching or tearing of ligaments, and fractures, the cracking or breaking of bones, are more serious. Usually the ligaments or bones need to be set and immobilized in a splint or cast by your vet. It may be difficult for you to differentiate between the various possibilities, so it's better to be safe than sorry. After any kind of trauma, have a vet examine your cat for any associated internal injuries.

A dangling or twisted limb or a bone protruding out of the skin is a sign of a serious fracture. Be careful; fractures with jagged edges may cause further internal injuries. Get your cat to the veterinarian as quickly as possible, but attempt to limit his movement for the trip. You can immobilize him on a stretcher, which is particularly important if you suspect injury to the torso; or, place him in some kind of container. A cat carrier is the ideal receptacle (especially the type that opens from the top), but a cardboard box or laundry basket can also serve. But be careful when restraining your cat in either of these ways, mainly to avoid causing him pain, but also because an injured cat has a tendency to bite.

If an injured cat resists being placed on a stretcher or in any sort of carrier, simply wrap it loosely in a clean towel and transport it as is. Fighting attempted immobilization is likely to cause additional injury.

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Emergency Cat Care: Weather Related Complications
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Heat stress can be a problem in warm weather, especially for chubby, older or longhair cats. You don't need to worry about hypothermia and frostbite unless your cat goes out in the winter. Signs of hypothermia are decreased alertness, weak pulse, slowed heart rate and shallow breathing. Wrap the cat in a blanket. Until you can get your cat to the vet, slowly rewarm him by wrapping a hot-water bottle filled with warm water (or a warm chemical-gel-heating bag) in a towel and applying it to his body. Frostbite, commonly found on footpads, the ears or the tail, is indicated by pale, cool skin and numbness. Rewarm the frostbitten area with the heat of your hand, by applying a warm compress or by immersing in warm water (102 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit, or 38.8 to 40 degrees Centigrade). Get your cat to the vet immediately if he is in pain; if there is swelling, discharge or considerable discoloration; or if the skin remains pale, cold and hard after 20 minutes of rewarming. Otherwise, have a vet check the cat within a day.

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What to Do in Case of an Emergency
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Whether your cat has a sudden critical disorder or has suffered some sort of trauma, the most important thing you can do is to stay calm. You can't help your cat if you aren't thinking straight. Pause for a few seconds, take a few deep breaths and approach the situation calmly to provide needed care. Make sure that the scene is safe. If not, move as soon as possible to a less dangerous area -- to the sidewalk, for instance, if your cat has been hit by a car. Then try to determine the nature of the problems and prioritize them. If several things are wrong, deal first with the more serious problems, then worry about the secondary ones. Be firm, so that you can examine the cat thoroughly, but gentle, so that you do not exacerbate injuries. If the cat is uncooperative, it may need to be restrained; try to enlist the help of another person.

Check the cat's vital signs: breathing, pulse and temperature. Be sure to write down your readings; even an excellent memory is unreliable in a crisis. You should already know your cat's normal vitals, so you can note any differences. A cat should breathe at a rate of about 20 to 40 breaths per minute, although on hot days or after exercise breathing can be a lot faster. Watch your cat's chest for in-and-out movement and hold a piece of paper or a mirror in front of the mouth and nostrils to check for breathing. Measure the cat's pulse: It should be identical to the heart rate, normally between 130 (resting cat) and 200 (agitated cat) beats per minute. To gauge your cat's temperature, rather than using a thermometer (bad idea if he is injured and too time-consuming), just judge how his ears, nose and extremities feel. Are they warmer or cooler than usual? A low temperature may indicate shock.

If your cat is ill or has minor physical injuries, transport him to the vet in his carrier. If he has severe injuries, the less handling and movement the better; gently immobilize him on a homemade stretcher.

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