We round up our series on when to use an emergency clinic with a look at common feline injuries. Believe it or not, cats have their own set of accidents to which they are prone. In this article, we discuss some of the more common problems seen in veterinary emergency clinics. Obviously, not every possible emergency scenario is listed here, so if you’re not sure, always err on the side of caution and take your cat to the ER if your cat has been injured.
Cats are incredibly flexible, and when given enough time (not very much at all) during a fall, they can rotate midair to land on their feet. In a study using data obtained from cases in which cats fell from various heights, researchers surprisingly found that a fall from one or two stories caused more injury than slightly higher falls. Anytime a cat falls more than a few feet, she should be checked by a veterinarian. Internal injuries such as organ rupture (bladder, spleen, kidney) may not manifest immediately, and cats are very good at masking the signs of orthopedic and other injuries. When evaluated and treated quickly, cats can survive falls from surprisingly high places in many cases.
A degloving wound means that the skin is torn off from the underlying tissue. As gruesome as it sounds, it’s often treatable. When it involves the chin, as is frequently seen in cats that have either fallen from a high place or been hit by a car, the cat has scraped her chin along the ground and the skin can be peeled back, revealing the mandible (jawbone). Surgical repair is usually indicated, and most emergency veterinarians are familiar with the condition.
Another common feline degloving injury involves the tail. Outdoor cats frequently seek shelter in the engine of cars when it is cold outside, making them susceptible to a fan-belt-induced injury. When the car is turned on and the engine begins to rotate, the fan belt catches the skin of the tail, creating a degloving injury. In these cases, shock can result, and immediate veterinary care is critical. The tail is commonly amputated, and most cats recover well provided that they don’t have other complicating injuries.
We’ve talked about cats ingesting poisonous plants, situations that require immediate treatment. In addition, emergency clinics commonly see acetaminophen (Tylenol) poisonings in cats.
While this drug may be used to manage pain in dogs (there are better options available), it is contraindicated in cats. They cannot properly metabolize acetaminophen and can develop methemoglobinemia, a situation in which red blood cells cannot deliver oxygen to the tissues of the body, making an affected cat anemic and extremely weak. Acetaminophen toxicity is commonly fatal, and if you suspect your cat has eaten this drug, contact your veterinarian without delay.
Several over-the-counter flea medications contain a class of compounds called permethrins. For reasons we do not understand, some cats are extremely sensitive to them. Using permethrins (also pyrethrins) can lead to generalized tremors, seizures, and death. Avoid over-the-counter flea medications until you have consulted with your veterinarian, and be aware that many canine flea/tick medications are not safe for cats. Never use any products meant for use in dogs on a cat without consulting your veterinarian.
Abscesses from Bites
Cats that go outside are at risk for numerous injuries, which is one of the many reasons we recommend keeping cats indoors (they can go outdoors in an enclosure, like a catio). One of the most common is a cat bite. If you have an outdoor cat, it is critical to maintain vaccines and have annual feline leukemia (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) tests. Cat bites can transmit FIV and rabies, and it is common for them to become infected by bacteria, leading to painful abscess formation, fever, and possibly infection of various organs. Better to bring your cat to a veterinarian immediately after discovery of any potential bite wounds than to risk complications.
Cats are surprisingly savvy about snakes, especially compared to dogs! However, cats do get bitten by snakes and, because of their smaller size, they are more prone to severe side effects. The initial symptoms are often swelling and pain, with weeping tissue at the site of the bite, but other signs, such as tremors, vomiting, diarrhea, dilated pupils, and/or paralysis may develop depending upon the species of snake involved. Immediate treatment is critical, even for non-venomous snake bites, as these can become infected with bacteria, leading to abscess formation (see above).
Garage Door and Recliner Injuries
Cats are fast and wily, but sometimes not quick enough. Garage door and recliner crush injuries may leave no immediate external signs of injury, but these accidents can cause serious blunt trauma. If your cat is caught in a garage door or a recliner, see a veterinarian immediately, even if you suspect the cat is OK. As with all blunt trauma, injuries aren’t always readily apparent, so a check-up is in your cat’s best interest. Note: Kittens are particularly prone to these accidents.
Being proactive—keeping your feline friend vaccinated and minimizing the chance of an accident by removing hazardous conditions and materials—will go a long way toward avoiding an emergency visit. However, despite your best efforts, accidents may happen. Talk with your veterinarian in advance so you know how to contact an emergency clinic in your area, and keep its phone number and location available in an easily accessible place.