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First Aid for Cats – How To Help an Injured or Sick Cat

9 Dec 2021.


There is nothing scarier than when a cat is unwell or hurt. Most kitties are explorers by nature, but their curious spirit can also land them in trouble sometimes. Not sure if your fur friend is injured or sick or what to do if they are? Below, Cat in a Flat explains how to know when a cat needs help, and basic cat first aid for both cat sitters and owners. 

How do I know if a cat is hurt? 

If you suspect a cat might be ill or injured, the first thing to do is to contact their owners and vet. However, you might want to assess the situation first so you can pass on as much information as possible. So, how do you know if a cat is hurt? Here are some of the more common signs.

  • Is the cat hiding? Animals tend to seek out quiet, dark places when they’re sick or injured
  • Is the cat breathing rapidly? This could be a sign something isn’t quite right. 
  • Is the cat growling? Hissing? Crying a lot? A cat’s meow can mean many things, but if Mr Whiskers is making unusual noises, or sounds distressed, this might indicate he’s not feeling well. 
  • Is the cat acting aggressive towards you or other pets in the home? Aggression in cats can be caused by many different things, but if your fur friend begins to act aggressive out of the blue, he might be trying to tell you something.
  • Is the cat licking one area obsessively? Fastidious grooming is as natural to cats as purring. However, licking the same spot over and over again, or grooming it until it’s bald is a bad sign. This could indicate the feline is experiencing pain or discomfort.  
handling a hurt cat

How do I know if a cat needs emergency help? 

Sometimes it can be hard to decide whether a cat requires urgent, immediate attention. If for some reason you’re unable to contact your kitty client’s owners in an emergency, you may be faced with the decision of how quickly you need to get Mr Whiskers to the vet. Here are a few signs of an emergency situation:

  • Does the kitty seem weak or reluctant to get up? Cats need a lot of sleep, but if Mr Whiskers seems more lethargic than usual he probably needs emergency help. 
  • Is the cat struggling to breathe? Is their breathing noisy or faster than usual? Are they coughing? Get in touch with a medical professional. 
  • Is the cat vomiting frequently? Pet owners and cat sitters alike know how common it is for cats to puke. But pay special attention if your fur friend seems to be vomiting more than usual, especially if they are a kitten or an elderly cat. 
  • Is the cat suddenly struggling to maintain balance? Our furry friends are agile creatures. If you notice your kitty client is struggling with balance, falling off or running into things, you should give the vet a call. 
  • Is the cat refusing to eat? Cats can get bored of their food, but if Mr Whiskers is showing lethargy and lack of appetite, there could be something more serious going on. 
  • One of the more common ways stress in cats manifests is in their bathroom habits. If you notice your fur friend is trying to pee or poo but unable to pass anything, this could be a sign of some serious issues. Bladder blockage is more common in male cats than females, but if you notice any of these symptoms, it needs to be treated immediately. 

How do I handle a hurt cat? 

Knowing the proper way to react when a cat is injured or sick can make a huge difference. Remember, your fur friend is already stressed and scared, so the first step for you as a cat sitter is to remain calm. Felines can pick up on your moods, so do your best to not panic. 

Cat owners: always make sure you leave the number for your kitty’s vet with your cat sitter in case of an emergency. It’s also a good idea to have at least one other emergency number—preferably for a local friend or family member who can step in to help with your hurt cat while you’re away. 

Once you’ve alerted your kitty client’s owners, call the vet immediately so they can be prepared for your arrival. In an emergency, the vet’s office may talk you through some basic cat first aid over the phone too. 

Never, ever try to give a kitty medicine intended for humans. Our feline friends are very different from us, and many human medications can be poisonous to cats, or cause an even worse reaction. 

If you do need to transport an injured or sick cat to the vet, you’ll need to know how to handle them properly. Here are a few tips for how to handle an ill or hurt cat.

  • Approach the kitty very slowly. 
  • Place one hand across their chest, just beneath their chin. Place your other hand between their back legs. 
  • You may need to use a thick towel to protect yourself from injury if you’re worried about the cat biting or scratching you. 
  • Holding the cat gently but firmly this way, transport them to a carrier
  • Cover the carrier with a towel or blanket to help reduce your furry friend’s stress during the trip to the vet. 

The basics of cat first aid

A cat also may require some basic first aid during an emergency. Here are some of the more common emergency scenarios and how you should deal with them. 

How to help a bleeding cat

If your fur friend is bleeding, your priority should be to slow or stop the bleeding as soon as possible. 

  • Place a wad of gauze, tissue, or cloth on the affected area and apply pressure for at least 10 minutes. 
  • DO NOT lift the gauze to see if the bleeding has stopped, as this may dislodge the clot. 
  • If the blood comes through the gauze, simply place another piece on top. 
  • Seek immediate vet assistance. 

How to help a cat with a broken bone

  • Gently place a towel or cloth under the affected area to support it. 
  • Take extra care when lifting the carrier, as the slightest jostle can be excruciating on broken bones. 
  • DO NOT attempt to apply a splint yourself. This could cause the bone to break through the skin, or damage it more. 

How to help a cat with a burn

  • Soak a towel or cloth in cold water and apply to the affected area. 
  • DO NOT apply burn ointments or creams. These may irritate Mr Whiskers’ skin. 

What to do if a cat has been poisoned

  • If you believe your kitty client has eaten something poisonous, it’s more important to get them to the vet than to spend time on cat first aid. 
  • If possible, locate the source of the poison. Did the cat eat a poisonous plant? Snap a photo or take a sample of it along with you. Is It something else? Bring the label for the vet to see. 
  • If you’re not sure what poisonous items Mr Whiskers has eaten, don’t waste time trying to figure it out. Always get the kitty to the vet as quickly as possible. 

How to help a cat with insect bites or stings

  • Check if the stinger is still in the cat. 
  • If it is, try to gently remove it with tweezers. Be careful not to squeeze it too hard as this may release additional venom.
  • If you’re worried about doing it wrong, leave the stinger in and take the cat directly to the vet. They can remove it for you. 

What to do if a cat is choking

  • Wrap the kitty in a towel and open their mouth. 
  • DO NOT tilt their head back, as this may cause the object to travel further down their throat. 
  • Look inside the cat’s mouth for the object. If it’s visible, attempt to take it out with blunt tweezers. 
  • Even after removing the object, you should take the kitty to the vet right away. 

Note: Cat first aid should never be used in place of professional care. In all these cases, it’s meant to assist while you get the kitty to a veterinarian. Remember, stay calm to help reassure your furry friend until you can get them safely to the vet.

Would you like to know more about looking after your feline friend? You might like our blog posts on how to recognize if a cat is freezing and tips for getting a cat into a carrier.

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  • Cat Care
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