What First Aid can I do for my cat? Part 2

In the first part of this blog, we talked about assessing the situation – making sure you aren’t at risk, and assessing the cat to see what you need to do then and there before rushing them in to see us. In this part, we’ll be looking at what you can do – how to resuscitate a cat, stopping bleeding, and transporting them safely to us. 

[Push], [Push], [Push], [Push], staying alive, staying alive… the art of feline CPCR 

CPCR (CardioPulmonary Cerebral Resuscitation) used to be called CPR, and if you want to use that term, feel free! Whatever you call it, it is essentially providing breathing and a heartbeat for a cat who is unable to do so on their own. Any cat who is so severely injured that they require CPCR is unlikely to survive – the TV programmes showing people miraculously reviving after a chest compressions are, sadly, very misleading. However, there are cases every year where rapid CPCR can genuinely save a cat’s life, so it’s always worth a try!

  • Breaths – for a cat who is not breathing on their own, and clearing their airway hasn’t solved the problem. You cannot do mouth-to-mouth with a cat, but you can do mouth-to-nose. Do be careful, however – if the cat wakes up suddenly (or is less unconscious than they appear) they may bite you! In addition, any cat with a nasal discharge or blood in their mouth may conceivably be carrying a disease that you could catch – it is unlikely, but not impossible. If you know the cat and are confident that they are healthy (except for whatever has just happened to them), then you can carry out “rescue breaths” mouth-to-nose, otherwise, use a “spacer” (like the styrofoam cup described below):
    • Form a seal over their nose – for the reasons given above, it’s probably best to use a styrofoam cup with the end knocked out rather than wrapping your lips around their nose, but that is an alternative.
    • Extend their head and neck so the neck is a straight as possible (avoid if they have obvious injuries to their head or neck).
    • Blow gently into their nose until you see the chest rise; then allow the air to flow out again. Ideally, you want to be giving roughly 20 breaths per minute.
  • Compressions – for a cat who has no heartbeat. Note, however, that a cat with severe bleeding may have such a weak heartbeat that you can’t feel it – in this case, stop the bleeding first!
    • Lie the cat on their right side (so their right legs are underneath) – if they seem to have suffered a spinal or head injury it is best to avoid moving them, and chest compressions can be done with them on their left side, but it isn’t as effective.
    • Place your hand around their chest, just behind the elbow, and squeeze the chest so it is compressed by about a third.
    • Repeat approximately 100 times a minute (yes, the song “staying alive” does work for cats!).
    • As you’re probably having to breathe for them as well, give two rescue breaths every 3-5 chest compressions.
  • Know when to stop – if the cat hasn’t made any response in 3 minutes, it’s time to stop. If their heart and breathing haven’t started on their own in this time, they aren’t coming back.

Stopping the Bleeding

If a major artery is cut, a cat can bleed to death in thirty seconds or so. However, most injuries affect smaller vessels and, give half a chance, the blood will clot and the bleeding will either stop or at least slow down enough to give you a chance to get the cat to us.

The key to stopping bleeding is pressure – but once again, make sure you aren’t injured by a miserable cat when you start pressing on a sore spot! It can help to have an assistant to hold the cat still while you try to stop the bleeding, but if not, you can use one hand to restrain them and one to work on them.

Ideally, try and apply a fairly tight pressure bandage – however, this may be difficult one-handed, and it’s important not to cut off circulation to the leg (see tourniquets, below).

If you can’t, or the wound is somewhere you can’t bandage (e.g. around the neck), then apply digital pressure with your fingers through a sterile dressing (if you have one!) or a clean cloth like a handkerchief.

If all else fails, it is possible to apply a tourniquet to a limb – a really tight bandage that will stop all blood-flow to the limb. A tourniquet can only stay on for about 15 minutes, though, or else the limb will die and become gangrenous, so do not try it unless you know how or we tell you to.

Bring them to us!

Although first aid is genuinely vital, it doesn’t usually save lives on its own – what it does is buy time to get the cat to us so we can work on them. However, transporting an ill or injured cat is something of an art form… The trouble is there’s no one single way to do it, it depends on what’s wrong with the cat. In general, however, try to follow these rules:

  • Do not transport cats loose, held or on your lap. However badly injured they are, they need to be transported in a box or basket, to stop them trying to escape en route.
  • Don’t move or bend cats with possible spinal injuries any more than necessary (e.g. weakness or paralysis or obvious injury to the spine or back). These cats should be gently “scooped” off the road or wherever using a rigid board (actually, a shovel is usually pretty good) and transported in whatever position they’re in.
  • If there is an open wound, an “Elizabethan” collar or “cone” is really useful to prevent them from making it worse.

In Part 3 we’ll talk about the management of specific types of injury or illness. If your cat is suddenly ill or injured, call us for advice!