First aid for cats: a complete guide

June 21, 2024 - 8 min read
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding your pet’s care, treatment, or medical conditions.
A cat's front legs, with one leg wrapped in a blue bandage with a paw print on it.

Bringing a feline friend into your life is pretty awesome, but let's be honest: sometimes things don't go as smoothly as we'd like.

That's why knowing basic cat first aid can be a lifesaver. Even minor injuries can turn into bigger problems quickly, and being prepared can make all the difference in getting your kitty back on their paws in no time.

In this handy guide, we’ll cover some of the essential things you should know to feel prepared should the situation arise.

Preparing for emergencies

veterinarian holding cat

You know the saying: if you don't plan, you're almost asking for trouble. 

Okay, maybe that's a bit dramatic, but there's definitely something to be said for being prepared. Having a basic understanding of cat first aid can make a huge difference when the unexpected happens.

First aid kit for cats

A first-aid kit is a must-have, but it's important to remember it's just a temporary solution until you can get your kitty to the vet. 

Here's a list of essentials to keep on hand:

  • Gauze pads and bandages (various sizes)

  • Cotton balls

  • Adhesive tape

  • Antiseptic wipes and saline solution

  • Blunt-tipped scissors

  • Tweezers

  • Eyewash

  • Foil blanket

There are lots of pet first aid kits available, so they should be easy enough to find, but we do recommend finding one that is veterinary-approved to ensure it has medical-grade items inside. 

Perhaps stating the obvious, but there are a few things to keep in mind when bringing a cat first aid kit into your home:

  • Store your kit in a cool, dry place that's easily accessible.

  • Inspect the contents regularly and replace expired items.

  • Consider a second portable kit for your car so you’re prepared on the go.

Emergency contact information

Speaking of being prepared, it helps to have a few numbers saved on your phone. We’ve all been there—in the middle of a stressful situation needing to find a phone number—but the wifi is so slow, and crucial seconds are ticking by. Save yourself the pressure!

  • Veterinarian: Keep your vet's contact details readily available, including their address and phone number.

  • After-hours emergency clinics: If your vet uses a different emergency service to cover their clinic out of hours, have the details for this hospital stored in your phone too

  • Poison control hotline: Add the animal poison control hotline number, (888) 426-4435, to your phone for quick access. Note: Calls may incur a fee.

Lastly, don't forget about the growing world of online video vet services! Platforms like The Kin offer consultations with behavioral experts and veterinarians.

While not suitable for every emergency, these tools can be a fantastic first call, especially for minor concerns, allowing you to get expert advice from the comfort of your own home before deciding if an in-person visit is necessary.

Assessing the situation

A veterinarian in a white mask uses an otoscope to examine the ear of a displeased gray and white cat sitting on an examination table.

Staying calm is key when you need to use first aid. Take a deep breath, assess the situation, and figure out the best way to help your cat.

Double-check your immediate environment for any potential dangers first—traffic, water, electrics, fires, other pets—and make sure it’s safe and clear for you to administer any first aid.

Primary assessment

When faced with an emergency, the first step is to assess your cat's responsiveness.

Are they aware of their surroundings? Are they displaying signs of consciousness? Try calling their name to see if they respond. If they are responsive, move on to the secondary assessment. 

If not, it’s time to check for the ABCs of life support:

  • Airway: Are they able to take in air? Look for signs of airway obstruction like difficulty breathing, wheezing, or open-mouthed breathing.

  • Breathing: Are they able to breathe? Observe your cat's chest for normal respiratory movements.

  • Circulation: Is their heart beating? Place a hand on their chest or feel for a pulse near the hind leg.

If any of the answers to the above are ‘no’, then take your cat to the nearest vet immediately.

Secondary assessment

If your cat is responsive and breathing, proceed with a secondary assessment:

  • Look for injuries. Check your cat for wounds, bleeding, swelling, broken bones or deformities.

  • Note symptoms and behavior changes: Observe any vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, or changes in behavior.

While veterinary attention is always crucial, depending on the situation, there might be some temporary measures you can take, such as applying first aid to your cat before getting them to the vet.

Common cat emergencies and first aid procedures

A silver tabby cat with striking green eyes is being held by a veterinary professional in green scrubs. The vet's gloved hands gently support the cat, one hand with a stethoscope ready to examine. The cat's attentive gaze and the close human interaction symbolize the importance of regular health check-ups to identify and manage common feline health issues.

Let's walk through some common cat emergencies, the signs you need to look out for, and some of the steps you can take to help your feline friend until veterinary care is available.

Bleeding and wounds

Veterinarian doctor examining the skin disease of a cat above its eye

Before you start administering first aid on your cat’s wound, it's important to be able to gauge the seriousness of the wound to determine the best course of action. Generally, we categorise these by their size and severity:

Minor wounds:

  • Typically, small cuts or scrapes with minimal bleeding

  • The edges of the wound may appear clean and even

  • There are minimal signs of swelling, pain, or redness around the wound

Moderate wounds:

  • Larger cuts, scrapes, or punctures with moderate bleeding that can be controlled with gentle pressure

  • The wound edges might be uneven or ragged

  • There may be some swelling, pain, or redness around the wound

Serious wounds:

  • Deep wounds with significant bleeding that's hard to control

  • Puncture wounds, especially from bites or foreign objects

  • Profuse bleeding, especially from the mouth, nose, or ears

  • Visible bone, muscle, or organs exposed in the wound

  • Excessive swelling, pain, or redness around the wound

  • Signs of shock, such as weakness, pale gums, or rapid breathing

The severity of your cat’s wound will determine the appropriate course of action. For minor cuts and scrapes with minimal bleeding, you can attempt some basic first-aid steps at home.

  1. Control the bleeding: Apply gentle pressure directly to the wound with a clean cloth or gauze pad to slow or stop the bleeding. Hold firm pressure for several minutes. Apply additional gauze on top if needed.

  2. Clean the wound (minor bleeding only): Once the bleeding is under control, gently clean the surrounding area with a mild antiseptic solution or clean water. Avoid using harsh chemicals or hydrogen peroxide.

  3. Bandage the wound (optional): If necessary, you can loosely bandage the wound with sterile gauze pads and adhesive tape to keep it clean until you can get a vet to apply a proper dressing. Do not wrap the bandage too tightly. This can restrict blood flow.

However, it's important to remember that even minor wounds can become infected. It's always best to consult your veterinarian for a proper assessment and treatment plan. 

Your vet will likely take the following action with more severe wounds and cuts:

  • Moderate wounds: These may require stitches, antibiotics, or pain medication.

  • Serious wounds: These require immediate veterinary attention to prevent complications like infection, blood loss, or nerve damage.


Cat vomiting hairball close up

A choking cat is a terrifying experience. Here's what to watch out for:

  • Pawing at the mouth: This is a classic sign of airway obstruction, as your cat will try to remove whatever is blocking their breathing.

  • Open-mouthed breathing: If your cat is struggling to breathe and has their mouth open wide, gasping for air, they might be choking.

  • Difficulty breathing: This can manifest as rapid, shallow breaths, wheezing, or noisy breathing.

  • Tongue turning blue: This is a late sign of choking and indicates a severe lack of oxygen. If you see this, immediate action is crucial.

If you notice any of these signs, it's vital to act quickly.

True choking is uncommon in cats. Usually they are gagging or bringing up a hairball, which resolves fairly quickly. However, if you believe your cat can’t breathe, then this is an emergency situation. 

Start by taking a look in their mouth (if it is safe for you to do so). You can use an index finger to try to hook or sweep an obstruction out of the back of the mouth, taking care not to push it further down.

If that fails, then you may need to perform the Heimlich manoeuvre. You should hold your pet upright, with their back against your abdomen. Use your hands in a fist to provide upward blows into their stomach, just under their rib cage. Try doing five thrusts. 

If this doesn’t work, you could try holding your cat upside down by their hind legs, tapping them firmly on the back, and then checking their mouth again to see if an item has been dislodged. 

If these steps don’t work, then get your cat to the nearest emergency vet immediately. Even if the removal of the item is successful, you should still take your cat to the vet to be checked over following their choking incident.


Unfortunately, cats have a knack for finding and ingesting poisonous things, both indoors and outdoors. Their natural curiosity often leads them to take a bite of something they shouldn't!

There are plenty of poison symptoms to watch out for:

  • Behavior changes: lethargy, hyperactivity, or appearing drunk

  • Mouth irritation: pawing, drooling, red/swollen gums (from licking toxins)

  • Vomiting and diarrhea that may contain blood

  • Bleeding: unusual bruising, bloody nose, coughing up blood

  • Breathing difficulties: especially after vomiting or inhaling toxins

  • Seizures and tremors caused by neurotoxins

  • Increased thirst, urination, and vomiting (kidney failure)

  • Yellowing gums, weakness (liver failure)

Remember, this is not an exhaustive list, and your cat may experience all, some, or a collection of these. If you suspect your pet has been poisoned, here are some steps you can take immediately.

  1. Remove the poison: if possible, identify the toxin your cat may have ingested and remove it from their reach.

  2. Do not induce vomiting. Unless explicitly instructed by a veterinary or pet health professional, inducing vomiting can be dangerous in some cases. 

  3. Contact animal poison control: call the national animal poison control hotline immediately at (888) 426-4435. They can provide specific advice based on the type of toxin ingested. You could also consider a video vet service for an initial assessment.

After you have sought advice from a professional, you should follow their guidance on the next steps, whether it's a vet visit or following their recommendations at home.

Fractures, sprains and broken bones

tabby cat meowing

A kitty with a fracture, sprain or broken bone may display some of the following signs:

  • Vocalizations: an initial shriek or cry; followed by increased meowing, grunting or crying. However, some cats may be more quiet than usual.

  • Odd or different behavior: less active, avoiding people or other animals, as well as a decrease in scratching, jumping, grooming, or licking.

  • Limping: or any peculiar changes in movement, like holding their tail more loosely.

  • Swollen or bruised body parts

If you’ve spotted one of the above symptoms and presume your cat has hurt themselves, there are a few things you can do to help ease their pain before heading to the vet.

  1. Minimize movement: Avoid moving the injured limb and keep your cat as still as possible. To encourage your cat to relax. It’s important to be very gentle; remain calm and quiet so they don’t pick up on your stress. 

  2. Apply a cold compress (optional): If available, apply a cold compress wrapped in a towel to the affected area to reduce swelling. Apply for 10-minute intervals, with breaks in between. Not all cats will tolerate this, especially if they are in pain.

  3. Transport them safely to the vet. Make sure your cat is kept secure by transporting them in their usual carrier, a basket or a box. You can provide extra blankets or cushions to help support them.

It is vital you do not try to push any noticeable broken bones back into place or do any other at-home treatments. A broken limb needs immediate veterinary attention.


There are four main types of burns that you should be aware of as a cat parent. 

  • Thermal: The most obvious variety, these occur from exposure to extreme heat. The most frequent culprit for feline thermal burns are curious paws exploring hot stovetops. Other sources include radiators, heating pads, open flames (candles are a cat’s worst enemy!), scalding water, heat lamps, and car engines.

  • Chemical: Contact with harsh chemicals or chemical fumes can cause these burns. Corrosive chemicals cats might come into contact with include acids, drain cleaners, gasoline, and paint thinners. The areas affected will typically be those that directly touched the chemical, like the face, paws and stomach.

  • Electrical: These are less common but can occur if your cat chews on live electrical wires. The shock can cause burns around and inside the mouth. In rare cases, electrical burns can also result from contact with electric fences or power lines.

  • Mechanical: Friction against the skin can cause these burns. Areas where your cat rubs against rough surfaces like carpets, ropes or tyres (think getting dragged under a vehicle) are most susceptible.

The practice cat sits on a table in the reception area in a Veterinary Hospital.

These burns can all be painful for your feline friend. Here's what to do if your cat suffers from one of them:

  1. Remove the source of the burn. Take your cat away. If this is a chemical burn, this means washing them with water immediately.

  2. Cool the burn: For minor burns, immediately flush the affected area with cool water for 10–15 minutes. Running water works best; do not use ice water or ointments. If your cat is getting cold, keep them warm with a blanket (while ensuring it doesn’t touch the burned area).

  3. Cover the wound: Loosely cover the burned area with a plastic wrap to prevent further contamination before taking the cat to the vet. Don’t use bandages or other dressings, as these can stick to the burn.

No matter the size or severity of the burn, you must check in with your veterinarian for further examination. Especially with more complex burns, like chemical or mechanical burns, in case there are other unseen issues.


Strokes are a medical emergency for cats and can happen very suddenly. Here are some key signs to watch out for:

  • Balance problems: difficulty walking, stumbling, or leaning to one side.

  • Head tilt: holding their head at an unusual angle.

  • Vision problems: appearing blind or having trouble navigating familiar areas.

  • Seizures: uncontrolled shaking or jerking movements.

  • Weakness: lack of coordination or difficulty using one or more limbs.

  • Facial drooping: an uneven appearance on the face with one side drooping.

  • Vocalization changes: unusual meowing or difficulty vocalising.

  • Coma: loss of consciousness.


cat with green eyes having focal seizure. stands on top of brick red colored shiny floors.

If your cat does have a seizure, here’s what to do:

  1. Stay calm and clear the area. Remain calm, and remove any nearby objects that could injure your cat during the seizure should they knock into it. You might want to also dim any lights that you can and keep the area quiet.

  2. Time the seizure: Use a clock or timer to keep track of the seizure duration. Note this down and remember to tell your vet. If you feel comfortable, take a video of your cat; this will help with the diagnosis later. If the seizure is going on for more than 5 minutes, contact your vet for help.

  3. Do not restrain your cat. Do not attempt to restrain your cat during the seizure.

  4. Keep your cat comfortable. Once the seizure has stopped, gently pet your cat and keep them in a quiet, comfortable environment.

Consult your veterinarian as soon as possible after the seizure has ended, especially if it was their first seizure, lasted longer than 5 minutes, or was accompanied by other concerning symptoms. There are many different reasons why a cat may have a seizure so it is important to get your pet checked out.

There are a few things after your cat’s seizure to consider; we cover them here in this handy guide.


Cat laying on a cushion

Heatstroke is a serious condition that can be fatal if left untreated. Prevention is the best course of action here—being mindful of warmer days and setting up your home appropriately to keep your kitty nice and cool. 

Sometimes, though, no matter how much we prepare, our cats can suffer from overheating and heatstroke. These are some signs your cat has been exposed to high temperatures:

  1. Excessive panting and drooling: this is a classic sign of your cat trying to cool down.

  2. Lethargy or weakness: your cat may seem unusually tired or uninterested in their surroundings.

  3. Rapid breathing: this can be shallow or laboured breathing.

  4. High body temperature: if you can safely take your cat's temperature, a reading above 39.4 °C is concerning.

  5. Vomiting or diarrhea: these can be signs of distress caused by the heat.

  6. Glazed eyes or disorientation: your cat may seem confused or unresponsive.

  7. Seizures or comas: these are very serious signs and require immediate veterinary attention.

We have a full guide on helping your cat deal with heatstroke, but for some immediate actions, you can try:

  1. Move your cat to a cool area: immediately move your cat to a cool, shaded area.

  2. Cool your cat down: offer cool water to drink and gently wet down their fur with cool water (avoid using ice water).

  3. Improve air circulation: fan your cat to improve air circulation.

We’ve said it once, and we’ll say it a million times: no matter the situation or how well you think your first aid skills are, you must always consult your veterinarian. With their wealth of pet health experience, they’ll be able to ensure that there’s nothing else of concern—or take swift action to stop things from getting worse if necessary!

When to seek veterinary care

vet examining orange striped cat's skin and ear

You've taken the initiative to give your cat some first aid; that's fantastic! 

While basic first-aid can be very helpful, you might be wondering if a trip to the vet is still necessary. Here's a good rule of thumb: when in doubt, always err on the side of caution. Frankly, a vet visit for a minor issue is far better than waiting for a small problem to escalate.

Of course, there are some specific signs that indicate a vet visit is crucial. We'll explore those next, but remember, if you're ever unsure about your cat's wellbeing, it's always best to seek professional advice from your veterinarian.

Indicators of a serious condition

Skinny old ginger cat looking down with sadness, isolated on white

There are some situations where a trip to the vet shouldn't be delayed. Seek immediate veterinary attention if your cat experiences:

  • Persistent vomiting or diarrhea: while occasional vomiting or diarrhea can happen, if it continues for more than a day, it could be a sign of a more serious issue.

  • Difficulty breathing: any signs of laboured breathing, rapid breathing, or gasping require immediate medical attention.

  • Loss of consciousness: if your cat loses consciousness, even for a brief moment, it's a critical emergency.

  • Excessive bleeding: while you can apply gentle pressure to control minor bleeding, significant or uncontrollable bleeding requires a vet's expertise.

  • Severe pain: cats are very stoic creatures, so signs of obvious pain, such as vocalising or avoiding movement, warrant a vet visit.

  • Any concerning symptoms that persist: if your cat exhibits any unusual symptoms that don't improve within a few hours, don’t risk it; seek professional advice.

Transporting your cat to the vet

Cat in travel pink bag

Cats are not particularly known for their love of car journeys, but after an accident or emergency, it’s likely you’ll need to bring them to your local vet clinic. We have a full guide on traveling with your cat, but a few tips to consider in the meantime are:

  • Use a carrier: choose a sturdy, well-ventilated carrier for safety and comfort. Secure it in the car with a seatbelt.

  • Keep them comfy: line the carrier with a familiar blanket or bedding.

  • Minimize stress: familiar scents and a favourite toy can help reduce anxiety.

  • Know your cat; consider their temperament. Calm cats handle trips more easily; is there something you can do to help put them at ease?

If you are unsure about the best way to transport your injured or unwell cat, then call your vet first for some advice.

Preventive measures

Cat between flowers

Naturally, preventing emergencies is far better than dealing with them. For example, on a hot day, it’s better to put work into keeping your cat cool rather than dealing with heatstroke!

Cat-proofing your home

Creating a safe haven for your curious cat is one of the best things you can do to prevent any nasty accidents and keep them safe. Here's a quick guide:

  • Secure your valuables: put away breakables and fragile items to prevent accidents and injuries.

  • Tame the wires: organise and hide electrical cords to avoid chewing and potential electrocution. We recommend cable tidies, often used for offices or the back of televisions, to make them harder for cats to bite and scratch.

  • Remove any toxic plants. Check your houseplants and garden for lilies and other poisonous varieties.

  • Lock away toxins: secure cleaning products, antifreeze, bathroom cosmetics and other harmful substances away from wandering paws.

  • Consider keeping your cat indoors. Outdoor cats are more at risk of accidents and injury. You may want to consider keeping your cat indoors or providing them an enclosure in your garden.

By following these simple steps, you can create a safe environment for your feline friend.

Keeping outdoor cats safe

Cat on a leash on the grass with autumn leaves

If your cat enjoys exploring the great outdoors, here are some additional safety measures to consider:

  • Cat-proof your garden: create a secure enclosure using cat fencing or a catio (outdoor cat enclosure) to keep them safe from traffic, predators, and other dangers.

  • Microchip and identification: make sure your cat has a microchip and wears a collar with up-to-date identification tags. This increases the chances of a safe return if they wander too far.

  • Vaccinations and parasite prevention: keep your outdoor cat's vaccinations current to protect them from disease. Regular parasite prevention medication is also essential to safeguard them from fleas, ticks, and worms.

  • Neuter your cat. Male cats are more likely to roam. This means a higher risk of road traffic accidents or fights with other cats. Entire females are at risk from unwanted pregnancies.

  • Supervision and routine: if you allow unsupervised outdoor time, gradually introduce your cat to the outdoors and monitor them closely during their adventures. Consider establishing a routine for letting them in and out to help keep track of their whereabouts. There are also a number of cat trackers that may be useful for exactly this scenario!

  • Beware of seasonal hazards: be aware of potential seasonal dangers, like toxic antifreeze in winter and overheating in summer.

Remember, even the most adventurous cat benefits from a safe and comfortable indoor space to retreat to. By taking these precautions, you can give your outdoor explorer the freedom to roam while minimizing the risks.

Regular health checks

Regular veterinary checkups are an essential part of responsible cat ownership. Here's why:

Early detection

Just like humans, cats can benefit from early diagnosis and treatment of potential health issues. Routine checkups allow your veterinarian to identify problems early on, when they're often easier and less expensive to treat.

Vaccinations and prevention

Vaccinations protect your cat from serious diseases, while parasite prevention medication keeps them safe from fleas, ticks, and worms. Your veterinarian can advise on the appropriate vaccination schedule and preventive treatments for your cat.

Peace of mind

Regular checkups give you peace of mind knowing your cat's overall health is being monitored. It's also a great opportunity to discuss any concerns you may have about your cat's well-being.

Consider pet insurance 

Unexpected veterinary bills can be stressful. ManyPets cat insurance can help you manage the costs of unexpected illness or injury, allowing you to focus on your cat's recovery. Learn more!

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Lewis Martins
Communities marketer

Lewis has worked in pet health since 2017. Before joining ManyPets in 2021, he led content production at VetForum and PetsApp. Lewis has collaborated with some of the world’s biggest vet groups and suppliers to write educational articles for vets and pet parents. His Instagram feed is 60% dogs, 40% cats.