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Identifying 10 common cat injuries

Cats are curious, agile animals who love to explore their environment, but their activities can leave them prone to injury. As a cat owner, it’s best to be aware of potential household hazards so you can take precautions to protect your furry friend. You will also need to identify the signs of an injury to ensure your cat receives prompt veterinary treatment.

Below are 10 common injuries that cats may experience. It’s worth noting that, while you always need to be careful, keeping cats safely contained at home helps reduce many of these risks. 

Swallowing foreign bodies 

Cats commonly swallow ‘foreign bodies or objects’, which can cause obstruction, choking, poisoning or other life-threatening complications. This is particularly common in young cats and cats who are not given enough stimulation. Examples of ingested foreign bodies can include needles and thread, string, rubber bands and other fibres (including dental floss), coins, any small objects and cooked bones. 

Some of these foreign bodies can lead to serious intestinal damage and may require surgical removal of the object. Some signs that might indicate that your cat may have swallowed a foreign body include lethargy, vomiting, refusing food, choking, or difficulty breathing. You may even notice something stuck in your cat’s mouth or under their tongue. In all cases, seek immediate veterinary assistance. 

Luckily, many of these accidents are preventable by ensuring your cat has no access to foreign bodies they could swallow and not allowing them to raid the bin. You will also need to provide your cat with safe toys, avoiding any with string or small parts they could remove.

Poisoning

Apart from swallowing foreign bodies, cats can also become seriously ill by ingesting substances that are poisonous to them, either directly or through grooming their contaminated fur. Common poisons include household items (such as cleaning products, human medicines, antifreeze and beauty products), pesticides, dog flea treatments and certain plants (especially lilies, which are highly toxic to cats, but also other common plant species). 

Toxicity from poisoning is often fatal, so if you suspect your cat has ingested a poisonous substance, call your veterinarian urgently and seek immediate treatment. You may be asked to bring a sample of the substance or any packaging containing product information. 

The signs of poisoning can vary, so be alert to anything unusual, which may include: vomiting, diarrhoea, neurological signs (weakness, seizures, tremors, excitability or depression), pale gums, difficulty breathing, swelling or inflammation of the skin, a jaundiced (yellow) appearance, increased drinking, difficulty urinating, bleeding or bruising, or loss of appetite. The best way to prevent these accidents is to safely secure any products that are toxic to cats, avoid indoor or outdoor plants known to be poisonous, never use rat baits or other pesticides and don’t allow your cat access to toxic foods, which include onions, chocolate, raisins and fruit stones.

Motor vehicle accidents

Cats who are not contained within their home properties may wander onto the road and become involved in accidents. Some owners assume this is only a problem in urban areas, but UK research has shown that cats living in rural areas are three times more likely to be hit by vehicles. Motor vehicle accidents can lead to multiple severe injuries for your cat, including fractures, head injury, internal injury and bleeding, shock, and severe soft tissue injuries.  

Cats who sustain spinal or abdominal injuries have an increased risk of death but these kind of injuries may not be immediately obvious. If your cat is ever hit by a car, you must always seek immediate veterinary treatment because there are often internal injuries, even in cases where the cat appears uninjured. If your cat is still able to move, they may have run from the scene and hidden somewhere, such as under another car, so will need to be coaxed out. The best way to transport your cat for treatment is to gently wrap them in a towel and place them in a cat carrier. Keeping your cat contained at home, including for supervised outdoor access, is the best way to protect them from road accidents. 

Cat fight injuries

There are other benefits to keeping your cat safely contained at home and one of these is to prevent cat fight injuries. Cats who roam are at risk of fighting with others, leading to cat scratches and bites that can cause puncture wounds in the skin. These wounds are prone to painful infections within the tissues due to bacteria carried on the claws and teeth of other cats. When the infection leads to a lump under the skin full of pus, it is referred to as abscesses; these require veterinary treatment such as lancing, cleaning, drainage and antibiotics, with some cases requiring surgery. 

Some infections do not cause an abscess but still cause significant inflammation and pain; when this infection is localised it is called cellulitis. Signs that your cat may have an abscess or cellulitis include pain, swelling, fever, loss of appetite, lethargy, tooth marks or scabs on the skin, foul smell or discharge. As well as the localised pain, discomfort and tissue damage, these infections can sometimes have potentially serious systemic effects. If you suspect your cat has been involved in a fight, seek veterinary treatment as soon as possible before an abscess or cellulitis develops.

Falls

You may have heard of the saying that ‘cats always land on their feet’, but this is not the case. A common accident for cats is to fall from balconies or open windows, referred to as ‘high-rise’ syndrome. This can lead to severe injuries such as fractures (including jaw, facial, limb and dental fractures), ligament injuries and injuries to internal organs such as the bladder and lungs. One research study found that 90% of cats who have these falls suffer some form of trauma to the chest and 37% require emergency treatment. If your cat falls from any height seek immediate veterinary attention, as their injuries may not be obvious. These falls can be prevented by cat proofing balconies and fitting windows with cat-proof screens.

Ticks

Like dogs, cats are highly vulnerable to tick bites, which can cause tick paralysis if the tick involved is a paralysis tick. Tick paralysis is too often fatal but is largely preventable by using a tick control product as advised by your veterinarian. You must only use products designed for cats, as dog tick control products can be toxic and even fatal when applied to cats. It’s also wise to search your cat’s skin and coat daily to check for ticks. 

The signs of tick paralysis in cats include a change in the sound of your cat’s voice, wobbliness in the back legs and paralysis that progresses to the front legs, coughing, vomiting, loss of appetite and problems breathing. If your cat shows any of these signs, be careful not to offer them anything to eat or drink; call your veterinarian for advice immediately and seek emergency veterinary treatment.

Collar injury

Cat collars with identification tags are an important form of identification as an adjunct to microchipping, but they need to be safe. Cats can experience collar injuries if their collars fail to release under tension, as they become hooked on something like a fence or their leg gets stuck through their collar. For outdoor cats who are not contained to their home properties, these injuries can prevent them from returning home and the collar can become embedded into their skin, causing severe tissue damage, pain and infection. To avoid this, supervise your cat’s outdoor access and only use a properly fitting collar with a quick release mechanism.

Tail pull injury

There are many ways a cat’s tail can become injured through being pulled. These include becoming stuck when a door slams, cat fights, car accidents, and incidents where a person or child pulls on the cat’s tail accidently or without understanding this can hurt the cat. There may be no external sign of injury to the tail, but tail pull injuries can cause nerve damage, tail fractures, and may be accompanied by other injuries such as fractures to the pelvis, hind legs or other parts of the spine. 

If your cat seems to be dragging their tail, has a painful or swollen tail, is dribbling urine or is not walking normally on their hind legs, they will need an immediate veterinary assessment, including radiographs. To prevent these injuries, keep your cat safely contained and always supervise them in the presence of children.

Torn or broken nails

Cats love to scratch and climb and should be provided with indoor opportunities to express these natural behaviours, such as scratching posts and cat towers which they can climb. However, sometimes a cat’s nails can catch on something that causes the nail to break. This is quite painful and often leads to bleeding. You may also be alerted to this if you see your cat limping or licking at the affected paw. The bleeding should normally stop fairly quickly but seek your veterinarian’s advice about whether any treatment is needed or if your cat needs regular nail trimming. Particularly as cats get older, their nails don’t tend to get worn down as much, and may become long and more prone to catching on things and becoming damaged.

Fractured teeth

Sometimes when cats chew hard on something they can fracture a tooth. This can also occur after accidents such as being hit by a car. It’s important to know that fractured teeth in cats need to be assessed by a veterinarian as soon as possible to determine whether the tooth needs to be extracted. If fractured teeth are left untreated, they can cause pain, infection, tooth root abscess and gum disease. Signs your cat may have a fractured tooth include pawing at their mouth, eating on one side or salivating. Make sure your cat has regular veterinary checks, seek advice about how to care for their oral health and avoid any hard bones or toys that could cause this damage.

Avoid potential hazards and have a happier cat! 

Cats are wonderful companions and can live a long and healthy life with the right care. To give your cat the best chance of reaching a ripe old age, it’s important to avoid potential hazards that could injure them. Regular veterinary checks and containing your cat to your property are a great way to help with this. 

To help reduce veterinary bills and ensure your pet receives the veterinary care they need if the unexpected happens consider taking out a pet insurance policy. When you choose RSPCA Pet Insurance, a portion of first-year premiums goes to the RSPCA helping them protect other Australian animals in need.