emergency medicine and first aid


An emergency is any situation that requires immediate action in order to prevent irreversible damage to or the death of your cat. Each of the following signs indicates an emergency: Uncontrollable bleeding Extreme difficulty breathing (including choking) Continuous or recurrent convulsions Unconsciousness Shock Sudden paralysis Inability to urinate Repeated or continuous attempts to vomit, repeated unproductive vomiting, and/or diarrhea Conditions such as injury to the eyeball or snakebite are usually emergencies; others, such as certain leg injuries, are not so clear-cut.

Therefore, in many cases you will have to use your intuition to judge the best action to take.

It is to both your own and your veterinarian’s benefit that you are able to recognize an actual emergency. No veterinarian I know enjoys being taken away from dinner, pulled from the bathtub, or awakened in the middle of the night by a hysterical pet owner who obviously does not have an emergency. Most veterinarians value their leisure time more than any emergency fee they may collect. Rational pet owners are often unhappy to find out upon reaching the veterinary hospital that the “emergency” could have safely waited until morning and that the emergency fee could have been saved. Usually, getting emotionally upset leads to restricted judgment. Try to remain calm and use this section as a reference for making that emergency decision.

Most emergencies are the result of trauma (hit by a car, bitten by a dog) or poisoning. Most could have been easily prevented if the owner had confined his or her pet when unable to provide supervision. Medical emergencies due to failure of a vital organ could often have been prevented by consulting a veterinarian soon after the earlier signs appeared. Look ahead. If a weekend or holiday is coming up, it may be a good idea to take your cat in for an examination even if the signs seem minor. An emergency could follow directly. It is also a good idea to make up a first-aid kit to have on hand and to take with you on trips during which your pet will be far from veterinary care.

It should include the following:



  • Rectal thermometer
  • Penlight flashlight
  • Scissors
  • Fine-toothed tweezers
  • Nontoothed tweezers
  • Magnifying glass
  • Needlenose pliers
  • Small wire snips
  • Sewing needle


  • Povidone-iodine solution and scrub (shampoo) and/or
  • Chlorhexidine solution and scrub
  • Neomycin/polymixin
  • B/bacitracin topical cream (or ointment)
  • Rubbing alcohol (70% ethyl or isopropyl alcohol) 3% hydrogen peroxide (poor disinfectant but good for removal of blood)

Poisoning antidotes:

  • Syrup of ipecac
  • Activated charcoal liquid
  • Bandaging materials:
  • Nonstick wound pads (2″ × 2″, 3″ × 3″, 4″ × 4″)
  • Gauze squares (2″ × 2″, 3″ × 3″, 4″ × 4″)
  • Roller gauze (1″, 2″ wide)
  • Roll cotton (disposable diaper or sanitary pad pieces can often be substituted in an emergency)
  • Adhesive tape (½″, 1″, 2″ wide) Elastic bandage (2″, 3″ wide)


  • Cat muzzle
  • Cotton-tipped swabs
  • Styptic powder (or pencil)
  • Toenail trimmer
  • Medical-grade cyanoacrylate glue (rarely needed)

All of the materials above should be easy to obtain in any well- stocked drugstore except for the cat muzzle and the needlenose pliers and metal snips, which can be purchased in hardware stores.

Commercial first-aid kits intended for people can be easily expanded to make them appropriate for use with pets.


The term shock is one that is frequently misused. It is extremely important to know whether or not shock is truly present, because its presence or absence often determines whether or not a condition is an emergency. Shock can be simply defined as the failure of the cardiovascular system to provide the body tissues with oxygen. There are several causes of shock; the most common in veterinary medicine is blood loss. The following are signs that may indicate the presence of shock:


  1. Depression (quietness and inactivity) and lack of normal response to external environmental stimuli. This may progress to unconsciousness.
  2. Rapid heart and respiratory rate.
  3. Rapid pulse that becomes weak and may become absent as shock progresses.
  4. Poor capillary refilling time. To test for capillary refilling time, press firmly against the gums, causing them to blanch (whiten) beneath your finger. Lift your finger away and see how long it takes for the color to return to the blanched area. The normal refilling time is no more than one or two seconds. Poor capillary filling is an early and constant sign of shock. It precedes the pale, cool mucous membranes present in advanced shock.
  5. Lowered body temperature. The extremities (legs and paws) and skin become cool to the touch, and the rectal temperature often drops below 100°F (37.8°C).

If your cat shows signs of shock following injury or prolonged illness, contact a veterinarian immediately. But first wrap your cat in a towel or blanket (if possible) to preserve body heat during the delay before treatment.