A black and white cat walks towards the camera.

Emergencies in cats

Acting safely and quickly in an emergency situation can save your cat's life. There may also be first aid you can administer before you reach a vet.

It's important to be able to recognise if your cat is ill or has suffered an injury. While not all situations will be an emergency, recognising an emergency situation and getting your cat to the vet safely as soon as possible can save your cat's life.


Cats are very good at hiding signs of pain. Stay vigilant to any unusual behaviour and speak to your vet if you suspect your cat is sick or injured.

Dealing with emergencies

When dealing with an emergency, always ensure the safety of yourself and others. Keep calm and assess the situation before acting. If you become injured yourself, you will not be able to help your cat.

An injured cat is likely to be frightened and in pain. Even if they're usually friendly, they may try to protect themselves by biting or scratching when injured. Approach them quietly and slowly, avoiding any sudden movements.

Call your vet as soon as possible in an emergency. They will be able to give you advice on what you can do and how to get help. Always call first – at weekends or in the evenings there may be no vet on-site, and you may be referred to an emergency veterinary practice. Have a pen and paper ready to take details. If you find an injured cat which is not yours, you should still call for help but let the vet know that you are not the owner.

Is it an emergency?

Sometimes it's difficult to know if emergency attention is needed. If in doubt, it's better to call your vet for advice.

Signs which may suggest an emergency include:

  • weakness, struggling to get up, or having difficulty with balance
  • repeated vomiting (particularly if they are young or elderly)
  • large or deep wounds
  • burns and scalds
  • heavy bleeding
  • being unable to use one or more legs
  • a broken leg
  • a suddenly swollen or bloated belly
  • a painful or closed eye
  • severe pain or discomfort
  • being unable to pass urine (especially male cats)
  • difficulty giving birth
  • having eaten something poisonous
  • difficulty breathing or breathing with an open mouth
  • collapse
  • having suffered trauma (such as a road accident or falling from a height)

If it is not an emergency, there are things you can do to care for your sick cat while you wait for a vet appointment.

Handling an injured cat

The best way to lift a cat is to put one hand on the front of their chest, and the other behind their hindlegs and supporting their bottom. Try to avoid putting your hands on any areas of the body that might have injuries. For a cat with multiple injuries, it may be better to lift them in a thick towel to put as little pressure as possible on the injured areas (however be careful as the cat could still bite through a towel).

Make sure you have a safe way to transport your cat to the vets. If you have a cat carrier, remove the lid so you can gently place your cat inside, instead of fitting them through the door. In an emergency situation, a large box might be the only option available. Make sure it has holes for ventilation and is secure to be escape-proof.

If you do not know the cat, you may need to encourage them into an enclosed area before getting help. Sometimes cats can be persuaded to run into the safety of a cat box if there is no other escape route.


If you are bitten by a cat, see your doctor.

What to do during common emergencies

Always follow a vet's advice when you can and be aware that in some cases attempts to handle a sick or injured cat can cause stress and worsen symptoms, especially pain or breathing difficulty.


Do not give your cat human medications, including painkillers, as they are highly toxic to cats.

Basic resuscitation

Resuscitation (CPR) is performed if a cat is not breathing and their heart has stopped. Sadly, CPR in pets is rarely successful even when performed in a hospital, so it is not recommended to attempt it at home.

If your cat has collapsed, do not delay taking your cat to the vets. Getting your cat to the vet immediately gives them the best chance of recovery, as your vet will know the best way to help them.

Road accidents

If you find a cat involved in a road accident, contact a vet even if they appear to be unhurt – there may be internal injuries that are not immediately obvious. If your cat shows signs of pain, breathing difficulty or is unable to walk normally contact your vet straight away as they may need urgent veterinary care.

You may not have seen your cat being hit by a car, but signs of a road accident may include:

  • heavy or fast breathing, or struggling to breathe
  • limping
  • weakness
  • wounds
  • collapse


Cats can fall from open windows or may try and jump from a balcony. Falls can cause severe injuries. Protect open windows on upper floors with cat safe screens and do not let your cat out onto a balcony unsupervised.

If your cat falls from a height, contact a vet even if they appear unhurt – there may be internal injuries which are not immediately obvious. If your cat shows signs of pain, breathing difficulty or is unable to walk normally contact your vet straight away as they may need urgent veterinary care.


Most wounds will bleed a small amount, but if there is continuous heavy bleeding from a wound, you should contact your vet as soon as possible.

What can I do?

Your vet may ask you to apply a bandage or pressure to the wound. This is a temporary measure to reduce bleeding while you take your cat to the practice.


Leaving a bandage on for too long or applying it too tightly could stop the blood supply and cause further damage. Always follow your vet’s advice when bandaging wounds.

Tail injuries

Tails are easily injured if they have been trapped and/or pulled (for example, if they get trapped in a door). Tail injuries can be very painful. Where a tail has been pulled, injury to the spinal cord can occur leading to loss of bladder control or an inability to pass urine.

Contact your vet if your cat’s tail is limp and they are unable to move it, if it has a wound, or if it’s bleeding.

Broken leg

Limping or being unable to put any weight on a leg may suggest your cat has a broken bone. Their leg may also be noticeably swollen.

Handle your cat gently and take them to your vet as soon as possible. Do not try to apply a bandage or splint without your vet’s advice.

Burns and scalds

Burns can happen when your cat jumps onto a hot surface, such as a hob, while scalds can be caused by contact with hot water.

A burn or scald may look small at first, but they continue to worsen and blister after the injury. They are extremely painful for cats, so you should contact your vet as soon as possible.

What can I do?

If your cat will allow you to, put the burnt area under cool (not cold) running water for at least five minutes. If your cat struggles, has a severe burn or seems to be in extreme pain, do not delay taking them to the vet to try and cool the area. If you're running the water over their whole body, take care to not let your cat get too cold.

If you think the area may get dirty while waiting for treatment, you can apply a gauze pad soaked in saline, or loosely wrapped cling film over the burn. Do not apply ointments or creams unless advised by your vet.


If you suspect your cat has been poisoned, call your vet for advice. If you suspect a medication or household product is the cause, keep the packaging. If the suspected poison is a plant, try to identify it or take a photograph. This information can be really helpful to your vet.

Do not try to make your cat vomit at home without veterinary advice.

Coat contamination

If a toxic substance (such as paint, antifreeze or tar) has got onto your cat’s coat or paws, they may swallow it when grooming themselves. Contact your vet as soon as possible even if you think you've managed to remove all the substance. Your cat may still need treatment especially if they have swallowed any of it.

What can I do?

You can try to wash off the substance at home but should only use water and a shampoo suitable for cats (if you have it) – be aware that many cats do not tolerate bathing. You can also use an Elizabethan collar to stop them licking the substance.

Fits (seizures)

Seeing your cat having a fit can be frightening, but it's important to stay calm. Most fits are only a few minutes long, however immediate veterinary advice and care is needed if a fit continues for more than five minutes, or if your pet has a cluster of fits close together (within 24 hours).

What can I do?

Turn off the lights TV and radio. Try to ensure your pet does not injure themselves by padding the area with cushions and towels but do not be tempted to pick them up or restrain them. This may prolong the fit and you may be badly bitten by them. Similarly, do not try and put anything in their mouth, or rescue their tongue to avoid it being swallowed. After the seizure, your pet may be disorientated, wobbly and ‘not themselves’ for a while.

If possible, record how long the fit lasts and try to film part of it for your vet.


Cat fights are a common cause of wounds in cats. Wounds from a fight often become infected and sometimes develop into abscesses.

Signs of a cat fight include wounds, punctures and swellings. Sometimes you will not see any obvious wounds but may see other symptoms such as limping, lack of appetite or lethargy.

If left untreated, the wound can give off a bad smell or ooze. If you suspect your cat has an abscess or an infected wound, contact your vet.

Eye injuries

If you notice your cat has a eye discharge, eye redness or is holding an eye closed, it's important to contact your vet. Eye problems can worsen very quickly if left untreated.

What can I do?

Do not allow your cat to rub their affected eye with their paws – if necessary, use an Elizabethan collar.


Heatstroke is more common in dogs than cats. But it can happen if your cat is trapped somewhere such as a greenhouse or conservatory on a hot day. Signs of heatstroke include panting, dribbling and weakness. Severe heatstroke may lead to collapse.

What can I do?

Heatstroke can be fatal very quickly. If your cat is showing these signs after being in a hot environment, move them to a cool, shady spot, pour cool water over their fur, and provide a fan. Contact your vet immediately. If your cat does not recover quickly, they will need veterinary care.

More on keeping your cat cool


If your cat has been stung, you may notice them nibbling or pawing at the affected area, or see swelling of the face or paws. If you can see a sting, brush or scrape it sideways to remove it.

If your cat has been stung in the mouth, swelling may interfere with breathing. Some cats may also experience an allergic reaction to a sting. They may start vomiting, have difficulty breathing or have pale gums. If you suspect your cat is having an allergic reaction or has difficulty breathing, contact your vet immediately.

More on stings

What should I include in a cat first aid kit?

A first aid kit can be very helpful when dealing with minor injuries before you reach the vet.

In your cat’s first aid kit, you could include:

  • conforming or open-weave bandages (two and a half centimetres width)
  • surgical sticky tape
  • a box of cotton wool
  • a box of sterile absorbent gauze or a packet of swabs
  • non-adhesive absorbent dressings (five centimetres square) to cover open wounds
  • blunt-ended scissors, preferably curved
  • a thick towel
  • an Elizabethan collar
  • a bottle of sterile saline solution
  • a tick remover tool


Do not allow your cat to go outside when wearing an Elizabethan collar, as it may reduce their vision of dangers (such as traffic) or they may get stuck in a small gap.

Page details


• 12 March 2024

Next review

• 12 March 2027

Approved by
Anna Ewers Clark

Veterinary Surgeon MRCVS