The moment you decide to have a pet cat, arming yourself with basic knowledge of first aid and emergency procedures is a must because it can mean the difference between life and death for your pet. Nothing is more distressing than finding your beloved furbaby unconscious and not knowing what you can do to help her. In any emergency situation, keep in mind that there are just 2 basic rules:
(1) Do not panic and
(2) Rely on your common sense. Even if the cat is unconscious and appears to be dead, there is a good chance that she can be reanimated if prompt action is taken.
Upon finding a sprawled out cat, first establish if the cat is conscious or not. There are a number of ways to do this but do not take too much time here as every second counts when a cat is unconscious.
- Touch the corner of the eyelids and a conscious cat should blink.
- Pinch the web of the skin between the toes and the leg should reflexively withdraw.
- Touch the ear flap lightly and the ear should twitch.
A cat that has been semi-conscious or unconscious for some time may have its blood circulation compromised and this causes the body temperature to drop. So if you feel the cat has cold limbs, wrap her immediately in a blanket or warm towel while taking care not to restrict her chest or place her on top of a warmed heating pack.
When you have established that the cat is unconscious, remember always the Basic ABC – Airway, Breathing, Circulation.
Airway. You must immediately take precaution against choking and maintain an open airway by doing the following:
- Open the mouth and remove any foreign object, blood, mucus or vomit from inside.
- Place the cat’s head below the level of the body so that any fluids in the nose or mouth will run out.
- Keep the tongue gently pulled out of the mouth to facilitate opening of the airway.
Breathing. To check for breathing, watch for chest movements. Count the number of these movements and it should be between 16-40 breaths in a minute. If there is no breathing, begin artificial respiration. This procedure is described below.
Circulation. To assess circulation, try to feel for a heartbeat or a pulse.
- Check for a heartbeat by placing the cat on her side and placing a finger over the chest behind the elbow. Normal heart rate is between 120-140 beats per minute.
- To check for a pulse, place fingers under the armpits or high on the inside of the hindlegs.
- If there is no observable heartbeat or pulse and no breathing, perform Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation as described below.
Artificial Respiration. Perform this on an unconscious cat with no signs of breathing but with an observable heartbeat and pulse.
- Place hands on chest and for 2 counts apply pressure gently over the ribs to help expel air from the lungs
- Remove your hands from the chest allowing fresh air to refill the lungs for 3 counts. Watch for chest movements indicating lung expansion.
- If no observable chest movement, raise the cat’s head and blow air either through its nostrils or mouth.
Ø When blowing through the nostrils: hold the cat’s head gently backwards, close the cat’s mouth, cup a hand over the nostrils and blow. Pause for 3 counts and repeat until there is observable chest movement.
Ø When blowing through the mouth: open the cat’s mouth and hold fingers on both sides of the cheek to keep the mouth open and blow. Between each blow, gently massage the chest. Repeat until the cat is breathing regularly on its own.
Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR). Perform if there is no observable heartbeat and breathing.
- Place the cat on its side.
- Grasp the chest so that the breastbone is resting on the palm of your hand, your fingers are on the chest just behind the elbow with the thumb on the other side.
- Press gently but firmly together your fingers and thumb to compress the chest, repeat 5-6 times at 1 second intervals.
- Alternate these chest compressions with artificial respiration as described above until there is spontaneous and regular movement of the chest and an observable heartbeat and pulse.
Even when you have successfully reanimated your cat with these procedures, still take her to the veterinarian for assessment and further monitoring.
In everything, it is always advantageous to be proactive and prepared. During a routine office visit, you can ask your veterinarian for a short demonstration on how to perform these basic life-saving procedures. You can also print out in advance diagrams showing how these procedures are done. Your cat will forever be grateful to you for your readiness and foresight.