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Cat First Aid: What to do in an Emergency

Cat First Aid: What to do in an Emergency

Cat First Aid: What to do in an Emergency

Cat owners are likely used to living with an animal that enjoys his or her own space from time to time. But when a critical moment strikes your cat will need you more than ever. Being prepared for the possibility of an injury or illness is the best thing you can do for your cat. 

This guide will explain the basics of cat first aid to help you support your cat in the moments before it can be seen by a vet.

Cat first aid - grey cat on sofa

How to Tell When a Cat is In Pain

Cats can’t tell us when they are in pain, but as the owner of a cat, you will probably sense when something is wrong by noticing subtle changes in his or her behaviour. Look out for these warning signs to tell if your cat is experiencing discomfort:

  • Eating less than normal.
  • Sleeping more than usual.
  • Limping or dragging limbs.
  • Hiding in a dark safe-looking space more than usual.
  • Grooming less, or grooming a particular spot more than usual.
  • Disinterest in interaction with owners (you could test this by trying to play with your cat).
  • Shallow breathing or breathing quickly (if breathing seems laboured it’s time to call the vet).
  • Changes in toilet behaviour such as not using the litter tray (if your cat looks like it is trying to relieve itself but nothing is coming out you should call the vet).
  • Acting aggressively towards people and other pets that the cat is normally happy to interact with (you might also hear it growling, hissing, or making low whining noises when it wouldn’t normally).

When should you call the vet?

Sometimes cats might be affected by something that isn’t threatening to their health. If they’ve had to travel somewhere in the car, or if they ate something that gave them an upset stomach, for example, they might spend a day or two recovering. If your cat is still acting in a dull or depressed way after a couple of days it’s a good idea to call the vet. They may need to go in for a check-up to make sure nothing needs medical attention. 

There are some instances when you should call the vet straight away because something more serious could be happening. Call the vet if your cat:

  • Is vomiting repeatedly.
  • Can’t urinate or defecate properly.
  • Is having difficulty balancing or is walking strangely.
  • Is acting distressed and appears to be in severe pain.
  • Is breathing quickly, or breathing sounds raspy or laboured.
  • Is having severe, ongoing diarrhoea, or diarrhoea that contains blood.

Keep a copy of your vet’s number somewhere the family can access it, like on the fridge door or in your cat first aid kit.

Cat first aid - Signs of an emergency

Here are some examples of signs of an emergency versus signs you should keep an eye on. If they get worse you should call the vet.

When to call the vet immediately

When to monitor your cat 

Your cat is coughing or breathing in an unusual way for more than a few moments.

Your cat coughs a few times.

Your cat has persistent vomiting.

Your cat vomits once or twice.

Your cat has severe, persistent diarrhoea.

Your cat has diarrhoea a few times.

Your cat has bleeding that doesn’t stop for 10 minutes or has cuts that look severe.

Your cat comes home with minor cuts that stop bleeding quickly.

Your cat acts scared, aggressive, or doesn’t seem to be ‘fully there’.

Your cat’s behaviour changes slightly.

Your cat is not eating at all.

Your cat is eating less or more than usual.

Your cat is not urinating or defecating.

Your cat’s toilet habits change.

Cat First Aid Kit Contents Checklist

Having a cat first aid kit at home or in your car is one of the best things you can do to help your cat in a crisis. Here is a cat first aid kit list of essentials that will come in handy for a range of common cat injuries:

First aid kit - cat essentials:

  • Nitrile gloves
  • Bandages
  • Tweezers
  • Scissors
  • Sterile gauze swab
  • Disinfectant wipes

Other useful cat first aid supplies:

  • Foil Blanket
  • Tick Twister
  • Sterile eye and wound wash
  • Cohesive bandage to keep dressings and bandages in place
  • Conforming bandage to support a strained joint
  • The Stero-paws Cat First Aid Kit contains all of these items meaning you’ll be prepared for almost any emergency to give your cat the best support and help them on the road to recovery.

    The Stero-paws kit is the best cat first aid kit for giving your cat basic medical attention. The kit is compact and lightweight. It can also be clipped onto a bag or belt when you’re out and about. We also stock a full range of vet supplies like sterilisation equipment and animal wound care products. Order through our website and we can deliver your cat first aid kit UK wide no matter where you’re based.

    How to Feel for a Cat’s Heartbeat

    If your cat is unconscious and you want to feel for a heartbeat place your fingers on either side of his or her ribcage just under the front legs. You don’t need to apply much pressure, just press gently but firmly when you find the right spot. 

    If your cat’s heart rate feels very fast, remember that the normal heart rate for a cat is 160-180 beats per minute, which is much faster than a human’s. If you are worried about your cat’s heart rate you should call the vet. 

    How to Pick up an Injured Cat

    Pick up an injured cat slowly and gently so as not to make him or her panic or experience more pain than necessary. The best way to pick up an injured cat is to put one hand on the chest just under the chin and the other hand under the belly in front of the back legs.

    If your cat is laying on his or her side and you don’t want to pick it up in this way (if the cat has a broken bone, for example), you could ask someone to help you slide your hands underneath their head, shoulders, belly and hips. Make sure your cat carrier is close by so you don’t have to move them very far.

    Cat First Aid: Open wounds and Cuts

    If a wound bleeds for longer than ten minutes after applying pressure, or if it is in the mouth or eye of a cat, they will need to go to see a vet straight away. Otherwise, there are some things you need to do to help your cat heal properly. Here are some steps for first aid for cats wounds:

    1. First, get your cat into a safe position to inspect itsafe for them and you. Ask someone to help you firmly hold your cat in place or wrap them in a blanket so they can’t bite or scratch you.

    2. Take a look at the wound to see if there is any debris inside it. If there is some shallow debris you might want to use a tweezer to gently pull it out but never go into a wound to extract debris. You could push it further in and make things worse. If you cannot clean the wound, call your vet to have them sterilise it properly.

    3. Cleaning and sterilising cats’ wounds are important steps to make sure they don’t get an infection. Use a syringe filled with water or sterile wound wash solution (this is included in our cat first aid kit), and rinse the wound a few times with fresh water or solution each time. 

    4. Monitor your cat over the next few days to check that the wound is healing properly. Signs of infection include reddening and swelling of the area. If you gently press on the area and it feels hot and hard this could mean an infection is developing.

    Cat first aid - First aid for cats paw injuries

    First Aid for Cats Paw Injuries

    Cuts to paw pads present a bit more of a problem, with an increased chance of reopening and contamination as your cat walks around. Follow these steps for cat cut paw first aid:

    1. Check for debris in the cut. If there is something sticking out of the wound that you can easily grab with tweezers then remove it. If there is any deeper debris do not try to remove it yourself. This will need to be done by a vet. 

    2. Wash the wound with water or sterile wound wash solution.

    3. Apply pressure to the wound to stop bleeding. Small cuts should stop bleeding in a matter of moments but it if is a more severe injury you may need to apply pressure for longer. If bleeding doesn’t stop after 10 minutes take your cat to a vet clinic.

    4. Cover the wound with a sterile gauze swab. This will cushion the bottom of the cat’s foot.

    5. Use an Elastic Adhesive Bandage to bandage the cat’s foot and leg. Make sure to cover the toes fully to prevent swelling. Extend the bandage above the joint in the leg to stop it from slipping off.

    6. Check the bandage is not too tight by inserting a finger between the bandage and the cat’s leg.

    7. Book an appointment with your vet. They will need to properly examine the cut to make sure there isn’t a chance of infection.

    Steroplast’s Elastic Adhesive Bandage has adhesive on the outside, making it much easier to apply bandages to small animals. It’s also latex-free, provides ventilation, and comes with a central line to help guide you when applying a bandage.

    Cat first aid - Other cat injuries

    Other Cat Injuries and Emergencies


    Call the vet immediately

    Book an appointment with vet

    No vet necessary

    Broken bones












    Electric Shocks



    Eye Injuries



    Fights with Other Animals





    Irritants on Fur








    Road Accidents



    Stings and Ticks


    Tail Injuries


    Broken Bones

    Manage any bleeding and carefully move the cat into a carrier to be taken to the vet. Make sure the carrier is padded with soft blankets to absorb the impact of the road on the journey and make sure your cat won’t roll around. Never try to put a splint on a cat, you could risk causing them more pain or worsening the injury.

    Cat Heatstroke First Aid

    Remove your cat from the source of heat and put them in a cool, dark, calm room. Dip your hands into a bowl of cold water and transfer the cold water to your cat’s fur by gently stroking them (do not use a spray bottle to spray your cat with cold water as this might make them panic). Then use an electric fan or manual fan to fan their fur. If you don’t have a fan you could use a large thin book or newspaper.

    Call the vet and arrange to take your cat for a check-up. Even if your cat looks like they are recovering they should still see a vet for heatstroke. 


    You will know your cat is choking because it will look like he or she is trying to vomit or cough something up. It might not be breathing and you might see the cat’s lips turn blueish. If you can, do a finger sweep of the cat’s mouth and check for any obstructions. Don’t push your finger down the throat as you could push the object further down. You might need someone to help you gently open the cat’s mouth. Don’t risk being bitten.

    You can give a cat the Heimlich manoeuvre by positioning their back against your stomach and putting your fist below their rib cage. Gently pull your fist in and upwards using two or three movements to see if you can dislodge the obstruction. 


    Make sure their nose and mouth are free of obstructions and then hold your cat upside down by its back legs to drain water from its lungs. You may need to try to resuscitate your cat (see Resuscitation below). If your cat recovers it’s still important to see a vet as there could be complications further down the line.

    If a cat is drowning do not go into the water, instead, try to push a branch or piece of rope out for them to grab on to if it’s safe to do so.

    Electric Shocks

    Make sure you think about your safety when dealing with a cat that has suffered an electric shock. If it happens in your home, turn off the power and use a non-metallic object like a broom handle to push your cat away from the source of electricity. Check whether the cat is in water and make sure it is fully out of the pool of water before touching it. If the shock occurs through a different power supply, like power lines outside, do not approach and call the police instead. 

    Check your cat’s pulse (see How to Feel for a Cat’s Heartbeat above). If the cat has a heartbeat but doesn’t appear to be breathing, attempt resuscitation (see Resuscitation below). Call the vet and arrange to bring your cat in.

    Eye Injuries

    If you can, wash your cat’s eye to remove any chemicals or debris affecting it. Put an Elizabethan collar on your cat to prevent rubbing of the eye with a paw and take them to the vet. If you don’t have an Elizabethan collar, you could wrap your cat firmly in a blanket to prevent him or her from rubbing their eye while you transport them to the vet. 

    An eyewash kit is ideal for this, containing sterile eyewash solution and eyewash pods that give you precision when washing a very small eye like that of a cat. 

    Fights with Other Animals

    A fight with another animal might not always be an emergency, but it is a good idea to book an appointment with your vet as your cat might need antibiotics. If your cat is severely injured, deal with any bleeding and call the vet to arrange an appointment. 


    If your cat is having a fit they are likely to be quite distressed. Don’t try to restrain or touch your cat as this stimulation could make him or her feel more frightened or even make the fit go on for longer. Dim the lights and remove any loud noises, then make sure your cat is safe and won’t knock into any sharp objects or electric appliances. Call the vet and arrange to bring your cat in.

    Irritants on Fur

    Lots of substances can be brushed from your cat’s fur and you might even be able to bathe your cat depending on his or her demeanour. If you do bathe your cat use a mild soap designed for pet fur as other soaps could cause more irritation. If your cat has paint, tar, or other toxic chemicals like cleaning solutions on it, put on an Elizabethan collar if you have one to prevent him or her from licking the toxic substance from their fur. Call the vet and follow their advice. Your cat may need to be brought in for thorough bathing to make sure all of the toxic substance is removed.


    Call your vet and arrange to bring your cat in. If you can find out what your cat has ingested, bring the packet which shows the ingredients, and a sample with you to the vet. If your cat ate or chewed a plant, bring a sample of the plant and find out what it is called. You could also take a picture to show your vet if you’re not sure. This could also help them determine how much the cat has ingested.


    1. Lay your cat on their side and open their mouth, or ask someone to help you.

    2. Pull the tongue forward and inspect the mouth for obstructions.

    3. Make sure the cat’s head is fully extended with its nose pointing forwards. 

    4. Hold your cat’s mouth closed by putting your thumb on his or her chin and your fingers over the top of their head. Be sure not to squeeze and block off their throat.

    5. Blow into the cat’s nose roughly ten times per minute.

    6. Feel for a heartbeat (see How to Feel for a Cat’s Heartbeat above). If there is no heartbeat, push on the chest just behind the front legs every two seconds.

    7. The process should look like this: 2 breaths followed by 15 chest presses.

    Keep giving your cat CPR until it a vet can see it or for up to three minutes. After three minutes, resuscitation is not likely. 

    Our cat first aid kit contains a Resusciade One Way Valve that can be used to give an animal CPR without having to make contact with its mouth. 

    Road Accidents

    If you hit a cat in your car it’s important not to drive off, even if the cat looks okay. It is somebody’s pet and needs to be looked after. Pick up the cat (see How to Pick up an Injured Cat) and put them in a box or other container for transportation to the nearest veterinary clinic. If you can, keep the cat warm with a coat or blanket.

    Stings and Ticks

    You can remove a sting by pressing down around the poison sac or using a pair of tweezers to pull it out. Wash the area with water, or you could use a solution of bicarbonate of soda for a bee sting or diluted vinegar for a wasp sting. Arrange an appointment with your vet if the sting is in the mouth as there is a risk of swelling where breathing could be obstructed. 

    Put on plastic gloves or use a tissue and part the hair around a tick. Take hold of the tick and gently pull it off. Do not squeeze around the base as you risk pinching off the jaws and leaving them in the cat’s skin. Wrap a tick well in tissue paper and then put it in the bin.

    Tail Injuries

    Arrange an appointment with your vet if your cat’s tail has been injured. Injuries to the tail can cause balance and bladder problems.

    Please enter your details into the form below along with any questions or comments and a member of our team will be happy to provide you with more information: