Cat with broken leg
In an emergency, pet owners frequently do more harm than good by attempting to treat their cats’ injuries themselves. In almost every emergency situation, your first step should be to contact your vet. Do not waste time checking the Internet for advice. If your cat is injured, unconscious, bleeding or having difficulty breathing, get him to the nearest veterinarian as soon as possible.

What Constitutes an Emergency?

Emergency situations may include (but are not limited to) the following:

Inability to urinate: If your cat repeatedly strains to urinate, yowls when he’s in the litterbox or urinates small (possibly bloody) amounts outside of the litterbox, he may have a urinary blockage. This condition, more common in male cats, is a medical emergency and requires immediate veterinary attention.

Difficulty breathing: Cats who are struggling for breath often extend their necks, position their elbows away from the body or use their abdominal muscles to help them breathe. There may be audible breathing noises, such as wheezes. Unlike dogs, it is never normal for a cat to pant, or breathe with his mouth open. In these cases, call your veterinarian, and if you must transport your cat to the clinic, it is important to handle him gently and minimize his stress as much as possible during the trip.

Trauma: It is common for outdoor cats, or even indoor cats who sneak outdoors, to experience trauma, such as being hit by a car. They may come home with obvious signs, like limping or abrasions, or less obvious signs, such as shredded nails. Even if your cat appears to be relatively normal, if you suspect that something may have happened, it’s important to have him checked by a veterinarian to make sure he isn’t suffering from internal injuries.

Bleeding: Consider wounds an emergency, especially if they are actively bleeding or are extremely deep or large, or if they open to the chest cavity, abdominal cavity or head. Do not remove impaled objects — doing so can cause more damage or blood loss. Even bite wounds should be seen by a veterinarian to make sure they are properly cleaned and evaluated.

Persistent vomiting and/or diarrhea: While it’s not uncommon for cats to vomit periodically, vomiting several times a day may be a sign of a serious problem, such as the ingestion of a string or foreign body. This condition may require emergency surgery, so you don’t want to take a wait and see approach. And because cats can become dehydrated quickly when experiencing vomiting or diarrhea, it’s always best to seek veterinary advice early.

Poison ingestion: The signs can vary, depending on the toxin. But, if you suspect that your cat has eaten anything like Easter lilies or antifreeze, get to your veterinarian as soon as possible. You can also consult ASPCA Animal Poison Control or the Pet Poison Helpline. You should not attempt to make your cat vomit on your own.

Limb fractures:
Lameness associated with extreme pain, swelling or deformation of the affected leg, or grinding or popping sounds, could indicate a break (fracture) or other serious problem. Attempts to immobilize fractures with splints tend to make things worse, so it’s best to simply keep the cat still, and head to your veterinarian right away.

Seizures: These may affect just one area of the body or be more generalized. The cat may lose urinary and/or fecal control. If the seizure is over in a few minutes, contact your veterinarian for advice. Seizures that last more than five minutes require immediate veterinary attention.

Sudden loss of mobility in the hind limbs: In some cases, the rear paw pads may feel cooler or can appear blue-gray in color compared to the front paw pads. This can be an extremely painful condition for cats, and it calls for a trip to the veterinarian ASAP.

Loss of appetite: Although dogs can go for a day or two without eating, cats really shouldn’t. When their body is deprived of food, cats can develop a condition called hepatic lipidosis, or fatty liver disease, which can be extremely serious. If your cat hasn’t shown any interest in food for two days, schedule a veterinary appointment.

Keep a First Aid Kit Handy

When planning for an emergency, the most important items to have on hand are the phone numbers for your regular veterinary clinic, the nearest emergency veterinary clinic and poison control center. Never attempt to treat your cat yourself without first discussing the situation with a veterinarian. Should your veterinarian advise immediate on-site treatment (which she will talk you through over the phone), it can be helpful to have a first aid kit at the ready. Your first aid kit should include the following:

  • Rectal thermometer (normal temperature for a cat is 100.5 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Petroleum jelly (you can use this to lubricate the rectal thermometer)
  • Scissors with rounded ends
  • Tweezers
  • Sterile gauze pads and rolls
  • Self-adhesive bandage (such as Vet Wrap)
  • Sterile saline solution
  • Instant cold compress or ice pack
  • Eyedropper
  • Over-the-counter antiseptic ointment
  • Pen light
  • Towel
  • Disposable gloves
  • Styptic powder

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