First Aid for Falls in Cats

By Ryan Llera, BSc, DVM; Lynn Buzhardt, DVM

Even though cats usually land on their feet, they can still sustain injuries when they fall. Prepared cat owners should be aware of the problems that can result when a feline takes a tumble. Sprains, broken bones, head trauma, and chest or abdominal injuries may result when felines fall.


What are the signs I should watch for?

If you see your cat fall, observe her carefully for a couple of days.

Some injuries are immediately obvious while others do not become apparent until hours or a couple of days after the fall. Even if you do not see your pet take a tumble at all, you should suspect a fall if you notice any of the following signs:

  • reluctance to stand or walk
  • pain upon lying down or rising
  • stiff gait
  • limping
  • difficulty breathing
  • whining
  • lethargy
  • decreased appetite or difficulty eating


What should I do?

Serious injuries from falls need to be immediately evaluated and treated by your veterinarian. But here are first aid steps to implement at home as you prepare to take your cat to your veterinary hospital:

Monitor breathing. If your cat is struggling to breath, proceed right away to the nearest emergency hospital. Remember that cats are “nose breathers”, so panting is a sign of respiratory distress. Transporting cats with respiratory problems needs to be done very carefully, especially if ribs were broken. Support your cat behind the front legs and in front of the back legs and gently place her in a pet carrier (take the top off of the carrier and place your cat inside). If you do not have a pet carrier, use a rigid object like a baking sheet as a gurney. Cats with broken ribs should stay very still to avoid lung puncture, so do not let her struggle. If she prefers to lie down or sit up, let her do so. If your pet stops breathing, ventilate her to keep her oxygen level up. To assist respiration, make a funnel by wrapping your hand(s) around her muzzle. Keeping her mouth closed, blow air into her nose. Proper ventilation should make her chest rise. Give 10 breaths per minute until she starts breathing on her own, or until you have reached the emergency hospital.

Protect open wounds. If the skin was broken during the fall, wrap a clean towel over the area to minimize contamination. It is particularly important to cover a wound that has a broken bone protruding from it. Bone infections can seriously complicate healing. Puncture wounds to the abdomen should also be covered to minimize infection from outside contaminants; however, if the intestines are punctured, infection could start from within. Your veterinarian will assess this problem.

Control bleeding. If the wound is bleeding, wrap the towel tightly around the injured site and apply gentle, but firm pressure. If the towel becomes soaked, do not remove it, just put another towel on top of it to avoid disturbing the clot. Most bleeding stops within 5-10 minutes; however, for cats with clotting disorders, it may take longer. Excessive bleeding may occur if the spleen or liver was injured, so prompt emergency care is vital.

Look for head injuries. Blood in the eyes, nose, or mouth means possible head injury. Cats will usually swallow blood that pools in the mouth and lick blood that flows from the nose, so there is no need to control the bleeding; just proceed to your veterinary hospital.

Be aware of back injuries. A cat that cannot get up at all may have sustained a back injury and should be kept as still as possible. Gently place your cat on a rigid object like a baking sheet. Cover her with a blanket and seek emergency help.

Monitor your cat for several days. Sometimes, cats appear normal after a fall as they walk around and play. Later, they become lethargic and weak or develop difficulty breathing, so it is important to monitor them closely for several days after a fall. Delayed injuries include collapsed lungs caused by punctures from broken ribs, or hernias that start as small openings and tear open later. Diaphragmatic hernias occur when there is a tear in the wall separating the chest from the abdomen. If abdominal organs (liver, stomach, intestines) move into the chest cavity, respiration is impaired. Hernias may also occur in the abdominal wall, creating pockets that trap the intestines, bladder, or other organs. These delayed problems are emergencies that require prompt attention. Transport your cat with the injured side down as you head to your veterinary hospital.

Monitor eating and elimination. Broken jaws frequently occur when cats fall. Watch your cat eat and drink. If she drops food, yelps when she chews, or drools excessively, have her examined by your veterinarian. Monitor her eliminations. If she does not have a normal bowel movement within 48 hours or if she does not urinate within 24 hours, seek help. Your cat may have ruptured her bladder, or the bladder may be impinged in an abdominal hernia. Lack of normal urination and defecation can be signs of something serious.

How can I prevent my cat from falling?

Cats are naturally climbers, so it is not easy to prevent them from jumping on the sofa or counter tops. Cat owners should always be prepared to handle the unexpected.

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