First Aid And Treatment In Illness


Sensible care and proper feeding will do a great deal to keep your cat fit, healthy, and active but accidents and illnesses can still occur. It is therefore important to know how to recognise the symptoms of ill health, how to deal with accidents and injuries, and to know when it is necessary to consult a Veterinary Surgeon. It is true that cats are not always as easy to deal with as dogs but the average family cat is not a wild tiger and should not be treated as if he is. If the administration of tablets, or liquid medicines, or the treatment of wounds is approached in the right way it should not present problems. It is worth remembering that a cat which is well cared for, handled and groomed when he is well, will accept medical care much more readily when it becomes necessary.


Some of this advice may sound obvious but it is surprising how often people overlook the simple rules of common sense and involve themselves in unnecessary difficulties. If your cat is placid and well behaved the advice may well be quite superfluous for you but if you know that your own pet is nervous, or have never tried to examine him before, it is best to take all necessary precautions. 'Try to choose a room with a good natural or artificial light and check that doors and windows are securely fastened. Your cat may not wish to be examined and will make plans to leave as soon as he suspects your intentions. 'Try to choose a reasonably small room and one that is free from places where a cat can hide and not be retrieved easily (the spaces under cupboards and wardrobes for example). If necessary, block these exits off. Hours can be wasted in trying to coax an angry cat out of its retreat. If possible place the cat on a table as it is not easy to make a proper examination while crawling around on the floor. Immobilise the patient as far as possible. This is best done by placing him in the centre of a really thick blanket or old coat and wrapping it completely around. Leave only the head out if the head or mouth is to be examined, or leave space to look at an injury on a limb, or leave the tail free if the temperature is to be taken. Cats, if they are frightened or in pain, or if they resent treatment, will not hesitate to use their sharp claws and teeth to help them escape, so be warned that a small or thin blanket will not be sufficient. Some people may prefer to put on a thick pair of gardening gloves as a precautionary measure but these are rarely sufficient against bites and have the disadvantage of being rather clumsy when handling the cat. To open the mouth, wrap the cat up as described above. If possible, get a friend to help by standing behind the cat, holding firmly onto the blanket, and restraining him from attempting to raise the front paws. Then place one hand firmly over the cat's head from behind, gripping at each side of the upper jaw and gently tip the head back to open the jaws. This may be sufficient to give a view of the inside of the mouth, but it may also help to place the forefinger of the other hand on the point of the lower jaw to depress it slightly at the same time.


Smooth-coated tablets usually present little problem. Open the mouth as described above, drop the tablet at the back of the cat's tongue (as centrally as possible) and quickly shut the mouth, allowing him to swallow. Rough-coated tablets are inclined to stick and if they are bitter or unpleasant to taste the cat will fight against being given them again. This can be overcome by putting the tablet inside a piece of firm butter (or cheese) and administering it in the same way. While some modern medicines are almost tasteless and can be administered in food, there are still the exceptions. Even very hungry cats will, as a rule, examine their food before eating it and they are very quick to discover when any extraneous substances have been added.


These can be dealt within very much the same way but to avoid spills it is best to put the measured dose in a small bottle or an eyedropper. Wrap the cat up completely as before and open the mouth, tipping the head back slightly. Trickle the liquid onto the cat's tongue, or behind the upper canine (fang) tooth, onto the hard palette, and you will find that in most cases it will swallow the medicine quite readily and without struggling.


Listlessness, disinclination to take food and a raised body temperature are the main signs of a generalised illness or infection. Healthy cats will often sleep for hours and hours at a time and this is quite normal and typical of carnivore behaviour. However, an observant owner will readily detect the differences in the behaviour of a sick cat. It will remain in its own box or a quiet corner and will show no interest in its surroundings. It will not play, or react to its owner's voice, and it will not wash or stretch itself or rub affectionately against people's legs in the manner which is so typical of the cat which feels well. There are two main reasons for apparent loss of appetite. The cat may be unable to eat or it feel ill and have no interest in eating. In the first case there is some physical reason why the cat cannot take its food. Typically, it will approach the plate eagerly and then turn away. This may indicate such conditions as a sore mouth, bad teeth or tooth abscesses in the older cat. It may also be due to a foreign body in the mouth such as a bone lodged across the roof of the mouth, or at the side of the molar teeth, or a sewing needle lodged in the soft tissue. In this case the cat is feeling ill or nauseous and shows no interest when food is offered, or simply turns the head away.


If your cat is a bird killer look for the tell-tale signs of feathers in the garden, or the over- distended stomach which may indicate that your cat has been eating between meals! This type of inappetence usually corrects itself quite quickly but if your cat has not recovered his appetite within 24 hours it may be wise to consult your Veterinary Surgeon. If you can see no apparent reason for your cat's behaviour and he appears perfectly well and active, it is sensible to allow 24 hours to elapse before taking further advice. However, keep him under observation and do not offer alternative or more tempting foods. It may well be that your pet has found something unwholesome to eat in a neighbour's rubbish bin and in this case starvation is the best policy. However, if your cat refuses food and at the same time seems listless and quiet, he is probably ill. You should consult a Veterinary Surgeon as soon as possible. The temperature of the cat and other animals is usually taken in the rectum. The normal temperature of a healthy cat is 101.5°F (35-6°C) and a rise of even 1' may be a significant indication of illness. Most cats resent having their temperature taken, so it is best to immobilise the patient in the manner described earlier by wrapping it in a thick blanket. If possible, get a friend to help but if this is not possible wrap the cat up, tuck it under one arm, or put it on a table and gently lean on it while holding onto the tail. A heavy bulb Veterinary thermometer is easier to read and is slightly less easy to break than a human one. First shake the thermometer well so that the mercury falls in the tube. Lubricate the thermometer with Vaseline, insert the bulb into the rectum and wait for a specified time (usually one minute). Then withdraw the thermometer, wipe it on cotton wool and examine in a good light to read the level to which the mercury has risen. Always disinfect the thermometer using a chemical disinfectant before returning it to it's case (remember that a medical thermometer placed in boiling water will break). The pulse can be detected by placing the hand inside the upper part of the hind leg, where the femoral pulse can be felt, but this is of little value to an unqualified person in attempting to assess a cat's state of health.


Cats that are in pain tend to resent handling and the first indication that an owner may notice is when a normally friendly cat growls or cries out on being lifted or stroked. Muscular strains or sprains do occur in cats but they are less common than in dogs. Pain or swelling in a foot, limb, tail, or anywhere over the body surface is much more likely to be due to inflammation as a result of a small wound (usually a bite or a scratch). This usually leads to the formation of an abscess which not only causes acute local pain but may even result in a raised body temperature and general malaise (see Chapter 7). If your cat appears to be in pain examine it carefully all over for any sign of swelling or hair loss, which may indicate the site or cause and then, of course, consult a Veterinary Surgeon (see the next Chapter for advice on treatment). Fractures (see later under 'Accidents' in this chapter) are not always obvious or easy to diagnose. If your cat is quite unable to take any weight on a limb, consult a Veterinary Surgeon as soon as possible. The symptoms of abdominal (internal) pain are less easy to detect. However, a cat that is suffering from some severe abdominal condition will generally rest in an upright position, rather than curl up comfortably and it will sometimes give a rather harsh rasping pur. Distressed breathing may also be associated with catarrhal conditions but signs of nasal discharge will usually indicate this.


Cats, like dogs, vomit very readily and this is, to some extent, a natural protective mechanism when they have eaten some irritant substance, or simply eaten too much. Vomiting often expels hairballs in the stomach and this is especially noticeable in the moulting season. Severe infestations of round or tapeworms may cause vomiting in cats or kittens. However, if vomiting persists, it is almost certainly a symptom of illness and if not checked can lead very quickly to dehydration. Consult a Veterinary Surgeon as soon as possible.


As we have said before cats do not, as a rule, drink very much and a sudden increase in thirst is almost always an indication of ill health. However, if a cat has changed from eating canned or fresh meat to a concentrated type of semi-moist or dried food this will be likely to cause a natural compensating increase in drinking.


By this is meant sudden and convulsive contractions of the muscles of the abdominal wall.


Constipation or diarrhoea can produce straining and it is, of course, important to be certain of the cause before attempting to treat the symptoms. In the unneutered female straining may indicate the onset of birth pains.


An inflammation of the bladder will cause symptoms of straining (most often in the female). The cat will typically go to its litter tray and strain, in doing so it may pass a few drops of urine or blood. However, these symptoms may also indicate a bladder obstruction as a result of calculi (bladder stones) in the urethra, which generally occurs in male cats. This condition is not only very painful but is extremely serious and may be fatal if help cannot be obtained quickly (see Feline Urethral Syndrome - Chapter 7).


This, of course, will depend greatly on the severity of the accident and it is not always easy for an inexperienced person to assess the degree of damage. As a general rule, keep the patient quiet and warm and contact a Veterinary Surgeon as soon as possible to arrange for an examination and whatever treatment is needed. Where accidents to humans are concerned the advice usually given is that the patient should not, on any account, be moved. Where cats are concerned this advice cannot be applied in quite the same way, however it should be stressed that if an injured animal has to be moved, it must be done as gently as possible, to avoid the risk of further displacement of broken bones. If a cat is injured and lying on the road it must, of course, be moved to safety or there is every chance that it will be struck again by the next car. There is also the risk that a cat lying by the roadside, apparently unconscious, will start to come round and will then panic and bolt, only to collapse in some place where it cannot be found or helped. Unfortunately, even the smallest bite or scratch from another cat is liable to result in a painful abscess (see the next chapter for advice on treatment). It is not unusual to find the claw of the adversary still embedded in the wound. Attacks by dogs probably occur less than one might think, although when they do occur they are likely to be serious. Dogs will often kill young kittens, simply because their instinct is to attack anything that runs away and if two dogs attack a cat the pack instinct to kill seems to assert itself. However, if an adult cat is chased by a dog it usually makes use of its ability to climb out of danger, or if it decides to stand its ground can often put the dog to flight. Injured animals are usually in a state of shock and the best first aid measure that can be given is to see that they are kept warm. If the cat is in a basket, cover it with a light, warm blanket and place the basket near a radiator or, if this cannot be done, put a well-wrapped warm hot water bottle in the basket. Consult a Veterinary Surgeon without delay. It is not wise or helpful for an inexperienced person to attempt to splint a broken limb. The only practical treatment is to place the cat in a basket or in a strong box so that it can be lifted without any unnecessary movement of the damaged leg and to contact a Veterinary Surgeon as soon as possible (see also Chapter 7). Superficial arterial haemorrhage is fortunately much less common in the cat than the dog. This may be, to some extent, because cats are more cautious and careful animals and it is very unusual for them to step on glass or to tear themselves on barbed wire fences. In any case of severe bleeding as a result of injury to limbs, ears, or tail, apply a firm bandage this chapter) and contact a Veterinary Surgeon as soon as possible. If blood continues to seep through the dressing it is best to simply apply a little more cotton wool and bandage on top of the first. To remove the dressing may only serve to disturb any clotting which has taken place. A tourniquet is a tight ligature that is applied above the site of injury in cases of severe arterial haemorrhage in a limb. However, the risk of gangrene developing if the ligature is left in position for too long is so great that it is much safer for an inexperienced person to apply a large pressure bandage with cotton wool, as described later in this chapter. Internal haemorrhage may often result from road accidents, and is usually serious. It is recognised by extreme pallor of the gums and tongue. Keep the patient warm and contact a Veterinary Surgeon as soon as possible. It is not wise to attempt to give a cat any liquids by mouth when it is injured. In most cases it will cause struggling which may be harmful and if there are internal injuries, to give anything at all by mouth is dangerous.


It must be realised that cats are not easy to bandage and the first essential thing to do is to enlist a friend to help in holding the patient. The advice given in the earlier part of this chapter on restraining a cat for examination is even more necessary when dealing with a cat which is hurt in some way. Before commencing, check that you have everything that you need within easy reach and preferably on a separate table or shelf where it will not be knocked to the floor. It is useful to have on-hand any dressings that are to be applied, sterile gauze, cotton wool, bandages, adhesive plaster and scissors. Fortunately, cats are less inclined to interfere with surgical wounds than dogs and it is not, as a rule, necessary to bandage areas where there are stitches (such as a spay wound), though your Veterinary Surgeon may apply a Elizabethan collar to fretting individuals. It is rarely possible to bandage a cat's abdomen successfully and it is probably better to construct a cotton jacket to envelop the whole of the cat's body. This need not be very complicated. A simple oblong of material with two holes for the forelegs to go through and a row of fastenings of some kind to secure it in place along the top of the cat's back is usually effective. For a small cat the ribbed area of a man's sock can sometimes be adapted to provide a jacket with more elasticity to keep it in place.

If it is necessary to bandage a foot as a result of an accident, it is essential to first clean the wound thoroughly and remove any dirt or grit. Bathe with warm salted water and clip away any hair that is likely to enter the wound and prevent healing. Dust the wound with whatever wound dressing has been advised by the Veterinary Surgeon dealing with the case and cover the wound with a piece of sterile gauze. a. The first stage in bandaging the foot, ensuring that the injured area is well protected.

Next, swathe the limb in a thin layer of cotton wool, tuck a wisp or two of cotton wool under and between the pads to prevent pressure and commence bandaging from the foot up. Danger of gangrene - It is important to remember that wherever the wound may be on the foot or the limb, it is safer to apply the bandage over a large area and to include the foot. This allows a bandage to be applied firmly but avoids the risk of exerting too much pressure at any point on the leg. If a bandage is applied too tightly half way up a limb there is considerable risk that it will cut off the blood supply and this in turn can cause gangrene, which may be fatal. Having applied the bandage, finish by criss-cross application of thin adhesive plaster or sticky tape and extend this just beyond the bandage to cover a little of the fur. This will hopefully prevent the dressing from slipping, and it can always be trimmed off carefully with scissors when necessary to avoid discomfort of pulling the hair. Ears are often damaged when fighting and they can sometimes bleed profusely. If it is not necessary to have the ear stitched the bleeding can be controlled by a firm bandage. Take a thick pad of cotton wool and place it over the affected ear and wrap a thin layer of cotton wool around the head and neck. Commence bandaging (an elastic bandage is very useful here) in a criss-cross pattern around the head, pressing the injured ear flat against the head but leaving the other ear free to act as a peg to keep the bandage in place. The bandage should extend forward so as just to leave the eyes free and should continue back onto the neck. Great care must be taken to see that the bandage is not applied too tightly under the throat. Finally, again top the bandage with strips of sticky tape to keep it in place. However, in case such an emergency should occur (as for instance when living in an isolated place at home or abroad, where Veterinary help may be some distance away) it may be helpful to have some idea of the method to be employed. It will also help the owner who is unused to medical procedures to understand what is involved when the Veterinary Surgeon may have to inject a cat. The main methods or routes of giving an injection are as follows: - Intravenous - In this case the injection is given directly into the blood stream, usually through a vein in the foreleg. This is often the method employed when administering anaesthesia. Intra-peritoneal - The injection is given directly into the abdominal cavity. Intra-muscular - The injection is given into a muscle - usually the thick muscle of the hind leg or in the back muscles. This route is necessary for some drugs but it is likely to cause a certain amount of pain however carefully given, as a result of the temporary pressure caused by the introduction of the liquid into the dense muscle tissue. Subcutaneous - This is the most common route for injections and the only one in which an owner is likely to be involved. The injection is given into the space between the skin and the muscle, and causes very little discomfort or distress as a rule. It is usually given into the skin of the scruff of the neck. In most cases today syringes are made of plastic and arrive in a sterile plastic pack with a needle I syringes already attached, which greatly simplifies the procedure of injections. First, carefully check the amount of the dose that has to be given. Unwrap the syringe from the plastic cover and read off measurements on the barrel. They will be in cubic centimetres or millilitres (syringes are usually of 1, 2, or 5 cc or ml volume). Secondly, cleanse the rubber cap of the bottle containing the injection with a little surgical spirit. Withdraw the plunger of the syringe to the amount of the correct dose, and plunge the needle through the centre of the rubber cap. Invert the bottle and inject air into the bottle (to break vacuum), then withdraw the plunger until the syringe contains fluid up to the appropriate mark and quickly withdraw the needle from the bottle. Get an assistant to hold the patient or, if alone, wrap the cat up completely in a blanket, leaving out only the head and sufficient neck to inject. Part the hair, and dab the area to be injected with a little surgical spirit. Holding the skin up slightly, plunge the needle through the skin, gently pull the plunger back to ensure that a blood vessel has not accidentally been penetrated, press the plunger to expel the injection and quickly withdraw the needle. Wipe over the site with cotton wool to disperse the fluid under the skin and to prevent any bleeding. All this may sound very complicated and intimidating to anyone contemplating giving an injection for the first time. However, practice makes things much easier and an experienced person can give an injection so quickly and painlessly that the patient does not even bother to look round. Enema An enema is a fluid preparation (usually soap and water solution) which is given by injection in th rectum, using a rubber syringe. It is used as a treatment in severe cases of constipation but it not advisable to attempt it, except under instructions from a Veterinary Surgeon.


There are some conditions, in particular Cat Influenza, in which TLC as it is called today (tender, loving care) can do almost as much as modern drugs in restoring a cat to health. Cats, when they are well, keep themselves scrupulously clean by licking and grooming. In a condition such as flu, where there is severe nasal and ocular discharge or if there are mouth ulcers, the cat soon becomes soiled, smelly and very wretched. A capable and devoted nurse can work wonders in restoring a cat's psychological well being and through this, his physical welfare as well. It is true that when a cat is very ill it should not be disturbed too much but equally it should not be neglected. The first sign of returning health in a cat is often when it starts to, half-heartedly at first, wash its face and whiskers. The eyes and nose should be swabbed several times daily with cotton wool dipped in cool boiled water to remove any discharge (Sherley's Eye Lotion can be used on the eyes). This is especially necessary for the nose, to allow comfortable breathing. A cat that is forced to breathe through its mouth not only suffers distress but also further drying and soreness within the mouth as a result. The whole area of the head should then be dried with a soft flannel or dry cotton wool. The forelegs may be soiled by the cat's attempts to rub its eye and nose. Vaseline should be applied around the nose to prevent further drying and a suitable eye ointment used on the eyes. If there has been diarrhoea, the tail region can be cleaned in the same way and a dusting of talcum powder can also be applied to help keep the cat fresh and dry. If it is necessary to force-feed the cat it is important to repeat the cleaning-up process after each meal to prevent stale food accumulating on the hair. Your cat will not feel like a thorough grooming but a light combing each day will help to remove dead hair and also stimulate the circulation. Warmth is essential in this type of illness and unless the eyes are particularly sore, the cat will probably enjoy having his basket moved into the sunshine. Blankets and cushions are inclined to become soiled from discharges and should be changed daily. Cats really hate to be force-fed, so try all possible means to tempt the appetite first. Well-stewed rabbit, hare, or chicken liver are usually popular if they are available, or strong smelling fish, such as kippers or sardines may be useful in cases where the cat has lost his sense of taste and smell. Offer only small amounts of food at a time and if they are refused take them away. Stale dried-up food is unlikely to tempt a sick animal. Dehydration (loss of body fluids) is a very serious problem, so make sure your cat's favourite drinks are always available. It will be noticed that cats in the earlier stages of flu not only sneeze but sometimes literally stream at the mouth, so it is essential to see that not only milk but water is available for the sick cat at all times. After severe illness some cats appear to lose all interest in food and literally go on a hunger strike. In this case, if the Veterinary Surgeon attending the case agrees, it will probably be necessary to administer liquid foods with a spoon, an eyedropper, or a syringe. For the very weak cat a mixture of egg white beaten and mixed with one teaspoon of glucose and one teacup of water or Lactol is recommended. The most satisfactory method of administration is as described earlier in the chapter for giving liquid medicines. The amounts will vary with the cat's willingness to accept the food and swallow but it is better to be content to give only a few teaspoonfuls at a time. When the cat is feeling stronger and is taking food more readily, sieved meat, fish, or canned baby foods, can sometimes be given quite easily with a spoon.

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