How to Care for an Injured Cat

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Have you ever come home at the end of a long day to find an injured cat? If you've lived with cats for any length of time, you'll no doubt have a story or two to tell. Whether it's a swollen face, a bleeding ear or an impressive limp, feline injuries are common even for indoor kitties. Learn the basics of cat wound care to help your cat immediately after an injury and while she's recovering from veterinary treatment.

Recognizing an Injured Cat

The hardest part of feline injury management is cats' tendency to hide their pain. That's because their wild side is programmed to avoid showing weakness. Think about it, a visibly injured cat is a magnet for predators.

Signs of pain and injury may be obvious, like bleeding, limping and swelling, but they may also be more subtle, like hiding, lethargy and diminished appetite. If your cat isn't visibly hurt but is still acting oddly, examine her more closely for signs of an injury.

Man in red shirt holding a cat with a bandaged paw over his shoulder

What to Do if Your Cat Gets Hurt

Indoor cat injuries are typically sustained from athletic misadventures (failed jumps or falls), furniture accidents (dashing under a rocking chair or recliner), burns (stove or heater mishaps) and door slam injuries. You might be present when the accident happens, or you might come home to find an injured pet.

As soon as you spot an injury, call your veterinarian or local animal hospital and let them know you're on your way. Treat every feline injury like an emergency. Even the most superficial wounds require immediate attention, and with cats, you never know how painful and complicated a simple limp might be. Almost all injuries heal faster with earlier veterinary intervention.

Follow Vet Instructions for Cat Wound Care

If your injured cat comes home with stitches, a surgical site or an open wound to care for, there are clear rules you should follow. Listen to your vet closely.

The first step is keeping your pet from licking or scratching her wound. If she is sent home with a protective collar, do not remove it without a discussion with your vet. You should only loosen your cat's cone or collar if it is clearly restricting her breathing. If loosening a collar allows your cat to wiggle out of it, call your vet immediately. Vets belabor this point because a collar is often the only thing keeping an injured cat from making her wounds worse.

If your kitty has bandages, they must remain clean and dry. Any wrappings that become saturated with drinking water or urine or smeared with stool or litter must be replaced within a few hours at the most. Your vet may teach you how to change wrappings yourself, or they may ask you to bring your cat back for a clean bandage.

Look out for swelling that may indicate bandages and wrappings are too tight, but never remove them on your own unless you've been instructed to. If the area around a bandage appears swollen, red or oozing, it's time for an immediate check with the vet.

Finally, follow the directions on any medications to the letter. If you have questions about whether they're appropriate or necessary, call your vet to discuss before taking matters into your own hands and discontinuing the medications or changing the dosage. You should never give your cat human medications or anything she has not been prescribed without your vet's advice.

Orange tabby wearing protective cone.

Keeping an Eye on Your Feline Patient

Recovering cats should be monitored for overall behavior, elimination habits and appetite. Signs that your cat isn't recovering well include:

  • Lethargy
  • Hiding
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Urinating outside the litter box
  • Vomiting

If she shows any of these signs, take her back to the vet for another check. Any evidence of self-trauma should be grounds for calling your vet, as well. Cats can use their raspy tongues and sharp claws to remove their stitches or induce an infection. The signs of an infected wound may include a foul smell, redness, discharge or swelling.

Nutrition for Injured Cats

Cats have special considerations when it comes to nutrition after an injury or surgery. Many will refuse to eat, making a nutritious diet especially important. Your vet may recommend a therapeutic food for immune support or extra calories while your pet is recovering. Your cat may also need special food if she has an upset stomach or gastrointestinal issues after an injury.

It's important to go out of your way to ask your vet to make specific recommendations for feeding an injured cat. They can take her injuries, medications, other health conditions and eating preferences into account.

Cat Wound Care at Home

People who love cats often want to play a more direct role in treating injured cats. Vets often applaud a desire to learn more about cat wound care, but many strongly recommend giving a professional the opportunity to weigh in. Having a vet direct pet parents' home care efforts can keep them from inflicting accidental damage. If you feel up to the task of treating minor cat injuries at home, here are some pointers:

  • Clean minor wounds with warm water and dry them with a clean kitchen towel or a wad of soft paper towels. You can use a mild salt water solution, but Petful advises leaving the disinfectants on the shelf since some can delay healing and others are toxic to cats.
  • Deep injuries may improve with soaking or hot compresses. Apply a clean kitchen towel as a compress or soak the injured area in a warm Epsom salt solution for five minutes.
  • Only apply topical creams and salves with a recommendation from your vet.

If your cat negatively reacts to you trying to treat her by scratching or biting at you, it is likely best to just bring her into the vet and let the professionals perform the examination and treatment to avoid exacerbating the issue.

As always, call your vet if you have any doubts. Remember to watch out for the signs of an infection or digestive issue, and be sure not to overlook any subtle evidence of pain or discomfort. With a little love and care from you and your vet, your kitty will hopefully be back to her frisky self in no time.

Contributor Bio

Dr. Patty Khuly

Dr. Patty Khuly is an honors graduate of both Wellesley College and the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. She received her MBA at The Wharton School of Business as part of the prestigious VMD/MBA dual-degree program. She's now the proud owner of Sunset Animal Clinic in Miami, Florida. But that's not all. Dr. K is a nerdy reader, avid knitter, hot yoga fanatic, music geek, struggling runner, and indefatigable foodie. She lives in South Miami with three dogs, countless cats, two rescued goats and a hilarious flock of hens.

You can follow her writing at DrPattyKhuly.com and at SunsetVets.com.

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