First-aid for your cat

Photo of Karen Dell

Karen Dell

Senior Editor • Backyard Cat Enclosures

14 October 2016

Something has happened and now you’re frantically googling, looking for a way to help your cat. We won’t waste words here - this could be an emergency!


If your cat is experiencing serious symptoms such as:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Unconsciousness
  • Weakness or lethargy
  • Severe physical injury
  • Severe vomiting/diarrhoea

Then stop reading and:

Call your vet. Callyourvetcallyourvetcallyourvet.

Your vet is your first port-of-call for any issues of cat health. Yes, there are certain things that you can do yourself. Yes, we have taken every care to make sure we give you reliable, accurate information. But we can’t see your cat, we can’t diagnose your cat and we definitely can’t give you professional medical advice.

Keep your vets number on your fridge, in your phone and sticky taped to your cat first aid kit. Tattoo your vet’s number on your arm. Just, please, call your vet! They will know what to do - it’s what they went to university all those years for!

If, for whatever reason, calling your vet is not an option, read on.

My cat is choking!

A cat in distress will be very anxious and may become very aggressive when you try and help it. Be careful! This is not the gentle feline you’re used to. Approach carefully, and wrap your cat in a towel to restrain it if necessary. If you are bitten or scratched, you should see a doctor.

Once your cat is restrained, follow these steps:

  1. Place your hand on your cat’s head, gripping either side of its jaw with your index finger and thumb, just below the canines.
  2. Gently tilt its head back, with nose pointing up.
  3. Squeeze your index finger and thumb together to open its mouth.
  4. Gently pull out your cat’s tongue and identify the obstruction. If it is a needle, embedded bone shard, or similar object, take your cat to the vet immediately. Otherwise, try pulling out the object with your fingers or pliers.

If the above does not work try these:

  • Pick up your cat by the hind legs and dangle it upside down, shaking to try and dislodge the object.
  • Lay your cat on its side, and put your palms behind the last rib on either side of the abdomen. Press your palms together 3 or 4 times and repeat until you dislodge the object.

If you cannot clear the airway, take your cat to the vet immediately.

My cat is not breathing!

If you dislodge the object, but your cat is not breathing, feel for a pulse on the left side of its chest, just behind its front leg.

If there is a pulse:

  1. Lay your cat on its side
  2. Extend the head and neck. Holding the mouth closed, blow firmly into its nostrils, giving one breath every 3-5 seconds.
  3. Continue until there is resistance, or you see your cat breathe. Check for movement every 10 or so seconds.
  4. If your cat is still not breathing independently, take it to the vet, continuing artificial respiration on the trip over.

If there is no pulse:

  1. Grip your cat’s breastbone in the palm of your hand, with your thumb on one side of its chest and your fingers on the other.
  2. Squeeze your thumb and fingers together firmly, around 2 times per second.
  3. After 30 seconds, hold your cat’s mouth closed and blow firmly into its nostrils for three seconds at a time, taking a deep breath in between.
  4. After 1 minute, stop, and check for breathing and a pulse. If your cat’s heart is still not beating, repeat steps 2 and 3. If your cat’s heart is beating, repeat step 3.
  5. If the process has not worked, take your cat to the vet immediately, continuing these steps.

cat wearing Elizabethan collar in vet

Other problems

  • My cat was in a car accident

If your cat was struck by a car, you should take it to the vet, even if it appears unhurt - internal injuries can be invisible yet severe.

In the future, we recommend keeping your cat inside or in a secure outdoor enclosure.

  • My cat fell from a high place

Again, beware of internal injuries and take your cat to the vet.

  • My cat is bleeding

Put on a tight, compression bandage until the wound is covered and not seeping through. Go to the vet immediately.

Do not put sticky adhesive on your cat’s fur. If the bleeding was the result of a cat fight, you should get your cat tested for FIV and other potential diseases. Keep your cat in a secure outdoor enclosure to minimise this risk.

  • My cat has broken bones

Do not attempt to treat this yourself, as you may cause additional injury. Put your cat in a padded cat carrier, or similar, and take them directly to the vet.

  • My cat has burned itself

Run cold water over any burns for at least five minutes, then contact your vet. Do not use human ointments or creams, although you can try covering the wound with saline-soaked gauze.

  • My cat has been poisoned

If your cat has ingested poison, or a toxic plant, try and identify it and contact your vet. Call your vet immediately and do not try to make your cat vomit unless instructed.

  • My cat is covered in a sticky substance

Stop your cat from ingesting it by using an Elizabethan collar (commonly known as ‘the cone of shame’). You can try clipping the affected areas, but do not use paint remover or turpentine. Contact your vet.

  • My cat has an eye injury

Again, use an Elizabethan collar. This will prevent your cat from pawing at the wound and making it worse. You may try flushing the eye with water. And, of course, call your vet.

  • My cat has been shocked

If your cat has been shocked, be careful in touching it - turn off all power in your home first. If this is not possible, use a dry, non-conductor (like a wooden broom handle) to push the cat away from the power source. Give resuscitation as above if necessary. Contact your vet.

  • My cat has been stung

Pull out the sting from the base, avoiding the poison sac. For a bee sting, use an alkaline wash, like bicarb; for a wasp sting, use an acidic wash, like vinegar. Apply ice to reduce swelling.

If the sting is in the mouth or throat, immediately contact a vet, as it may make breathing difficult.

cat recovering at vet

Your cat first aid kit

We recommend having a fur-st-aid kit on hand. You never know when your cat might need it! You should have:

  • A roll of self-adhesive bandages, around 5cm wide
  • Open weave bandages, around 2.5cm wide
  • A box of cotton wool
  • A box of sterile absorbent gauze
  • Non-adhesive absorbent dressings for open wounds
  • Blunt-ended scissors
  • A thick towel
  • An Elizabethan collar
  • A bottle of sterile saline
  • A card with your vet’s number, and the number of your nearest pet emergency room

We hope you never need to use the contents of this guide, but it’s your responsibility to be prepared. Now shake it out with some adorable kitten videos!


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