How do I perform first aid on a cat?
If you've got a cat, it's a good idea to have a separate feline first aid kit just for your pets. Like people, cats will occasionally get injuries. In fact, they will usually get them more frequently than people do - cats tend to run around and jump onto things. They can fall, scratch each other, bump into things, and injure themselves in a number of ways. Cats who are allowed outside are at an even greater risk of injury. Having a first aid kit ready for your cat will allow you to treat these minor injuries and keep them from getting infected and turning into something major. This page covers what you should put in it and how to apply first aid to cats with minor wounds.
What should I have in a first aid kit for my cats?
First of all, you could just buy one. It will be a little more expensive than putting it together yourself, but it's easier. There is one online that is a first aid / disaster preparedness kit. It's got the basic first aid supplies as well as well as disaster supplies for if you get caught in some sort of emergency (vacuum-sealed food and water for the cat, toys to keep it busy, water purification tablets, etc.). It's probably more than you need, but then again you never know, as Hurricane Katrina shows. You can get it online here:
You can put together a pretty good one for your cat yourself, however. Here are some basic suggestions:
1) A first aid book on how to treat injuries your cat might get. This can be a BIG help. If you're in an emergency, a basic manual on how to treat stuff can save you time and keep you from having to search around on the Internet or keep you from making basic mistakes. You can get one online here:
This one is really comprehensive and will cover even a lot of the extreme situations your cat might get into. It's also got information on dogs as well.
2) Gauze and surgical tape. These can be used to make bandages for your cat, and you can also use the tape along with the gauze to create a compress if the cat is bleeding.
3) Hydrogen peroxide. This has two basic uses in your kit: you can use it to disinfect any wounds, but you can also use it to induce vomiting in the cat if it ingests something poisonous. Don't get any higher than 3% hydrogen peroxide. Give the cat one teaspoon per ten pounds it weighs. This is something to do SPARINGLY, as it can be dangerous for the cat - only do it if you're in a real emergency.
4) A pillowcase. You can stick the cat inside and carry it that way if you absolutely have to. A cat carrier is better, but if you are in an emergency you may need to make due.
5) Tweezers. You may need these to pull out splinters or other objects.
6) Gloves. Not absolutely necessary, but it is a good idea to have two kinds: heavy gloves that a cat cannot scratch through (in case your cat is disoriented or violent because of an injury - it happens, even to very friendly pets, because the cat may not be thinking straight) and those plastic surgical gloves (needed to protect the cat from infection if you are applying a bandage to its wound - your hands will have germs on them).
7) A cat thermometer. This is important for if your cat is acting sick and you want to find out if your cat has a fever.
8) An ice pack. Ice packs can bring down the swelling with various wounds. You can also use it if the cat is running a fever to cool it down somewhat. Get a real one and not just something you can hold ice in. Something like this:
9) Eye wash. Not just eye drops - you should get a bottle of saline solution, like the stuff that you use on contacts. You might want eye drops as well, though. Make sure it is safe to use in the eyes. This is for either to try to rinse out foreign objects in the cat's eye by gently dripping it in or to try to clear out discharge.
10) A flashlight, preferably heavy duty. This is good for a couple of things. First, if you're trying to do first aid in the dark, you will need light to see. Second, your cat might get lost - a flashlight will help you if it is hiding somewhere in the dark, under a car, etc.
11) A towel or blanket or comforter. You can use these to keep the cat warm or to restrain it by wrapping it around them tightly (very useful for head wounds).
12) Scissors or hair clippers of some kind. With long-haired cats especially, you may find that if the cat begins bleeding and has a wound, it is hard to find the actual injury site because of matted hair. Scissors will let you cut this away to get a clearer view of the wound you're treating.
13) A map along with directions and phone numbers to your regular vet and to any nearby emergency vets. Put the hours of each on the map, and you should also put any poison control or other numbers you might find handy there as well.
How do I perform first aid on a cat with a physical injury?
The most common first aid task you'll be called on to do is a wound of some sort - usually scratches or bites from other cats. You should always treat these, as they can become very serious if left alone.
For minor wounds:
If the wound is minor, such as a scratch or a bite, you can treat it yourself in many cases. First, check the wound to make sure it is not deep. If it looks like it might need stitches or if it has torn the skin such that you can see inside the cat, then it needs to go to the vet. Do not try to treat it yourself in these cases.
Stopping the bleeding is your first step. If it is not that deep, but it is bleeding, then take some of the gauze from your first aid kit (or any cloth if you don't have it) and press it against the wound. Use your ice pack if you have one as well, because cold will help stop bleeding. Do not touch the wound directly, unless you've got surgical gloves on, because of the risk of infection to the cat. By the same token, do not use cloth that is dirty or has been used as a rag. Keep the pressure on the wound at least for a few minutes.
If the bleeding does not stop after you have put pressure on it for awhile, you should take the cat to the vet. An artery may have been cut, which could cause it to bleed to death if untreated.
Once you stop the bleeding, you should disinfect the cat's wound. There are a couple of basic household items you can use to do this: hydrogen peroxide (3% or under only) or soapy water. The water should be slightly warmed if you're using that. Use bottled water if you can, because it will have been filtered and will not have bacteria. Pour whichever one you're using onto the wound, gently. Don't try to rub the wound, because it will break up any blood clots there and cause bleeding to begin again. A secondary goal here is to gently wash off any dirt or junk that has gotten into the wound. If you see big, visible stuff there such as hair or rocks, then you should use tweezers to take it out after you have tried gently washing it. Finally, wash the wound out again with some water that has no soap in it, so that you can get rid of any soap or peroxide there.
After you have done this, bandage the wound using gauze and surgical tape. If the wound seems at all serious, you should take the cat to the vet to have it checked out.
For serious wounds where something is stuck in the cat:
If there is a physical object stuck in the cat, such as a knife, a piece of wood, or anything else that has impaled the cat somehow, do not try to remove it. You should not be doing first aid in this case. Take a towel or blanket and keep it around the cat, and have someone keep the cat calm while you drive it to the vet as fast as possible. Pulling out a foreign object will often increase the bleeding, killing the cat.
What to watch out for:
Sometimes you will think a minor wound isn't a big deal when it really is. You have to be on guard and paying attention to the cat to make sure. Some bad signs that the pet needs to go to the vet:
2) Going into shock. This would happen pretty soon after being wounded. If the cat is unconscious, moving slowly, or panicking, it needs to go to the vet. Shock can kill a cat. If the wound is minor, then you should not notice any serious behavioral changes in the cat after you get it calmed down and treated. If the cat is acting strangely in any way, it is a bad sign and the cat needs professional attention.
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