First Aid for Falls in Cats

By Lynn Buzhardt, DVM

first_aid_for_falls_in_catsEven 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.



If you see your cat fall, observe him carefully for a couple of days. Some injuries are immediately obvious while others don’t become apparent until hours after the fall. Even if you don't 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


First Aid for Falls

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

Monitor breathing. If your cat struggles to breath, proceed right away to the nearest emergency clinic. Remember that cats are “nose breathers”, so panting is a sign of respiratory distress. Transporting cats with respiratory problems need to be done very carefully, especially if ribs were broken. Support the cat behind the front legs and in front of the back legs and gently place him in a pet carrier. If you don’t 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 don’t let him struggle--if he prefers to lie down or sit up, let him do it. If your pet stops breathing, ventilate him to keep his oxygen level up. To assist respiration, make a funnel by wrapping your hand(s) around his muzzle. Keeping his mouth closed, blow air into his nose. Proper ventilation should make his chest rise. Give 15-20 breaths per minute until he starts breathing on his 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, cats with clotting disorders may take longer. Excessive bleeding may occur if the spleen or liver was injured, so prompt emergency care is vital.

Monitor the cat for several hours. 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’s 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 rip 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 intestines, bladder, or other organs. These delayed problems are emergencies that require prompt attention. Transport the cat with the injured side down as you head to the veterinary clinic.

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 the veterinary clinic.

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

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


Preventing Falls

Cats are naturally climbers, so it’s not easy to prevent them from jumping on the sofa or counter tops. Cat owners should always be prepared to handle the unexpected. After all, cats may not always land on their feet.

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