Caring for a Sick Kitty

Even when healthy, feline companions present challenges for the humans who care for them. There are even more responsibilities when caring for a kitty who is sick or injured. Michael S. Garvey, DVM, and colleagues provide an encyclopedia of cat tips in their book, The Veterinarians’ Guide to Your Cat’s Symptoms.

Emergency First Aid

What can you do to help a severely injured cat? In the case of trauma and bleeding, the first thing to do is to try to stop the bleeding using pressure against the wound. Then, bring the cat to a veterinarian as soon as possible.

Owners should be careful not to do more harm than good in getting their pet to the veterinarian. The cat will likely be terrified and in pain. The cat may be panting, have dilated pupils, and howl in pain when moved.

Cats may instinctively run away or lash out at those attempting to secure them. Cats that are in pain will seek out a dark secluded place to hide. If the cat is seriously injured or does not reappear within 24 hours, it should be sought out.

Owners should protect their arms, hands, and face while they wrap the cat in a towel or blanket, leaving the cat’s head free. The cat may then be placed in a crate or held while being transported to the veterinarian’s office.


Cats may stop breathing for a number of reasons. Examples include electrocution, smoke inhalation, and cardiac arrest.

Pet CPR classes are available and your veterinarian can help you find one in your area so you can be prepared in case of an emergency. It’s important to follow the guidelines of a trusted source to ensure CPR is performed correctly. A general overview of cat CPR is as follows:

Before performing rescue breathing, make sure the cat’s airways are clear by checking the mouth and throat for any obstructions. Rescue breathing is administered by placing your mouth over the cat’s nose and exhaling through the cat’s nose until the cat’s chest rises. Before performing chest compressions, locate the cat’s heart, just behind the front legs. Lay the cat on its side, compress the cat’s chest with the heel of your hand, and repeat. Alternate rescue breathing with chest compressions as appropriate; continue until the cat is breathing on its own and a heartbeat is felt. Transport the cat carefully to the veterinarian.

Giving Medications to a Sick Kitty

Cats may require medication after a trauma or illness or to treat an ongoing condition such as diabetes or hyperthyroidism. Cats are notorious for running for cover as soon as they see or smell medication. Owners will likely have to corral their sick kitty in order to administer the medication.

Some find giving medication is made easier by putting the cat up on a table or counter. A helper may be needed to restrain the cat. Alternatively, the cat can be wrapped in a towel. The owner can shake the skin at the back of the cat’s neck gently in order to distract the cat while administering the medication.

It is not usually possible to place a medication in the cat’s food as with a dog. Cats often quickly detect and reject medication-laced food. Sometimes medications can be made more palatable with cat-friendly flavors. It may be necessary to find other ways to administer medications, such as in drops, creams, or gels.


Taking a sick kitty’s temperature is not an easy task. In order to take a cat’s temperature, the cat may be placed on a table or counter. A helper may be needed or the cat restrained by a towel. Place a well-lubricated rectal thermometer about 1 inch into the cat’s rectum. Hold the thermometer in place until it indicates it has finished reading the temperature. Most digital thermometers will beep to signal the reading is complete. The normal body temperature for a cat is in the range of 100 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Increased temperature may indicate an active infection and should be evaluated by a veterinarian.

Feeding a Sick Kitty

A cat’s loss of appetite often indicates illness, so you should consult your veterinarian as soon as you notice a change in your cat’s eating habits. Upon the recommendation of the veterinarian, pastes or liquid drops can be put into the cat’s mouth in the same manner as administering medications. A veterinarian may determine it is necessary to give water in this manner as well. A dropper or oral syringe may be placed into the side of the cat’s mouth with the mouth closed.


Sick kitties need conscientious caregivers. Cleveland Amory once said, “As anyone who has ever been around a cat for any length of time well knows, cats have enormous patience with the limitations of the human kind.” This patience is stretched when we need to help a sick or injured cat. The Veterinarians’ Guide to Your Cat’s Symptoms is a tool to become better prepared to help your cat. Your cat deserves an especially caring human companion!

Written by Carol Petersen, RPh, CNP

Edited by Laura Strommen

© Pet Health, a division of Women’s International Pharmacy, Inc.