First Aid for Cats

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by: Dr Tharm Sook Keng, Island Vet
done as a presentation to both NUS Cat Cafe and NTU Cat Management Network

Earlier this semester, we gathered at NUS for a first aid course for cats, conducted by Dr Tharm from Island Vet. Here’s what we learnt during the course:

How do you restrain a cat?

Ouch.

Say you’ve seen a sick cat around campus. You call us, but no volunteer is close enough to help. Or out of the group of volunteers, only you’re available to help. Here’s what you need to do:

Cats are extremely sensitive to noise and abrupt movement. Hence, it will be good to choose a quiet place to restrain the cat. Aside from their surroundings, you should always take into account the temperament of a cat.

If you don’t want to get bit, it is important to hold their mouth and claws away from us. Both approaches require you to be extremely close to the cat. There are a few ways to do that:

Gentle restraint by the scruff

  • Tap forehead, scratch and stroke chin to calm the cat.
  • Then hold the cat by the scruff – at the back of the neck of a cat, there is a flab of skin that is rather elastic and can be grabbed. When you do this, get a good grip, or else a strong cat can struggle and escape easily. 
  • ALWAYS support the cat’s bottom when you lift it up.

Burrito

You need a large bath-size towel. Lay the cat down onto the center of the towel. Next, with one hand on the back of the cat, take one end and wrap it diagonally across the cat. Repeat with the other end. Grip the excess towel over the back tightly to ensure the cat is secure.

This can only be done if the cat is indoors (for example, if you have the cat at a foster home). 

What do you need, for your first aid kit?

In short:

For skin

  1. Chlorhexidine wash
  2. Antiseptic wash 
  3. Gauze swabs
  4. Alcohol swabs
  5. Cotton tips
  6. Gloves
  7. Syringes
  8. Cotton balls

Eye

  1. Saline eyedrops
  2. Antibiotic eye medication (if prescribed)

Nails

  1. Nail clipper
  2. Potassium permanganate powder (styptic powder) (if prescribed)

Optional:

  1. Pill popper
  2. Scissors
  3. Self-adhesive bandage
  4. Sticky bandage
  5. E-collars (cones)

These will be items that NTUCMN has, so if you’re a volunteer, you can approach your coordinator for details.

Pill poppers are used to administer pills when a cat is unwilling to eat medication when mixed with food. Popping pills is a two person job, as you will need to restrain the cat during application. Thus we do not usually administer pills by pill popper – we request for the vet to provide syrup medication.

Styptic powder is used to stop blood flow from thin wounds – you will apply it by wetting a cotton tip slightly, and dabbing the powder lightly on the wound.

The powder is unavailable over the counter, so contact us if you need it.

What about wounds?

When facing wounds, always:

  1. Flush the wound with saline solution. Then, use alcohol swabs to wipe the area clean. (note: alcohol stings, so make sure the cat is restrained)
  2. Stop the bleeding by applying pressure for one to two minutes
  3. Apply basic bandages.
  4. Bring to the nearest vet if the wound is severe.

Always clean yourselves afterward with antiseptic hand wash or alcohol.

Transporting the cat to the vet

We have several Ferplast carriers on campus, and we use that to transport the cats. But if you were to use your own carriers, ensure that you choose one that is large enough for the cat to stand up and turn.

Soft carriers (carrier bags) are not recommended unless absolutely necessary.

When preparing the carrier, keep it vertical with the door open. This ensures that you can close the carrier in case the cat escapes.

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