First Aid for Cats

Two Persian kittens snuggling with an Italian Greyhound dog

© Pelaqita Persians

Being a cat owner is a lot like being a parent. When our human children get sick or hurt oftentimes, we treat them at home with medications and other items we have on hand. The same can be said about treating our feline children. Nowadays, in most communities, there are 24-hour care veterinarian hospitals and emergency clinics. However, if you are like me, a clinic like these may not be readily available or would require quite a long drive before a sick cat could be treated. This necessitates my having a few items on hand to deal with the first aid needs of a cat. This article outlines my suggestions on what to always have on hand.

The phone number of the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (888) 426-4435. An owner should also have a list on hand of the most common poisonous houseplants and toxic household chemicals. The phone number and address of an emergency veterinarian clinic or hospital should also be kept handy. If you do not know of one in your community, ask your regular veterinarian who they would recommend you use in emergencies.

Eye Injury

One of the most common issues a cat owner faces is an eye ulcer which are normally not the result of a scratch or injury to the eye, but a flare up of the herpes virus ("FHV", a common virus in many cats). The herpes virus can flare up when a cat is stressed causing the cat's eye(s) to squint and tear, sometimes accompanied by nasal discharge. A home remedy is a few drops of betadine solution added to a bottle of sterile eye wash (approximately a 20 to 1 dilution). A drop in each eye two to three times a day is recommended. IF no significant and noticeable improvement is seen within 48 hours or if the condition worsens, seek immediate veterinarian help.

Lameness and Limping

Injuries leading to lameness or limping can be treated with rest and ice. There are NO safe over the counter pain medications for cats. Consult your veterinarian for non-weight bearing lameness or for lameness continuing longer than 48 hours.

Vomiting

Vomiting in a cat is common for a variety of reasons. Hairballs are a common cause of vomiting which can usually be easily treated – Hairball Treatment. Pepcid (Famotidine) can be useful in treating vomiting and is readily available over the counter. Dosage is ¼ tablet once or twice a day. A cat that is suffering from severe, persistent vomiting accompanied by loss of appetite and/or weight loss should be seen by your veterinarian. Do NOT use Pepto Bismol (and some varieties of Keopectate products) as it contains an ingredient closely related to aspirin.

Diarrhea

A simple home treatment is liquid Imodium AD (read the label to make sure it does not contain any aspirin or Tylenol). The dosage is 0.34 mL per one pound. If condition persists for more than 24 hours or if you suspect dehydration, immediately contact your veterinarian.

Outdoor cats (or indoor-only cats that have escaped the house) can become victims of other feral cats and outdoor animals resulting in bites and scratches, these types of wounds can lead to an abscess. The hair surrounding the abscess should be shaved as close to the skin as possible. If possible, open any wound and remove the scab, clean with hydrogen peroxide or betadine solution. Apply hot compresses to the area to increase circulation and reduce swelling. Wounds that are kept clean and open usually heal quite well. Do not bandage the wound as it can hinder the healing process. Check for fever a few times a day using a rectal thermometer (use a lubricating gel or Vaseline). A cat's normal temperature is around 101 to 102. If the cat has a fever, contact the veterinarian.

Poisoning

A frequent cause of poisoning is the use of flea and tick products intended for dogs. Flea and tick collars, products that are applied to the skin of the dog or the mistake of applying a dog flea product on a cat can cause death if not managed quickly. If such accidental exposure happens to a cat, immediately wash the area of the cat that has come into contact with such product and call your veterinarian for further treatment.

Supply List

  • Rectal Thermometer
  • Vaseline or other lubricant meant for taking a rectal temperature
  • Imodium (liquid form)
  • Pepcid
  • Betadine Solution (Not Scrub)
  • Sterile Eye Wash solution
  • Hydrogen Peroxide

Cats are extremely good at hiding illnesses and injuries so it is important to recognize your cat's normal behavior and eating habits in order to recognize potential issues. It is important to establish a good working relationship with a veterinarian BEFORE the need arises and always follow up with them about treatments you do at home, especially if the problem has not resolved itself within a day or two or the issue has become worse despite treatment (either by you or your veterinarian).

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