Caring for Cats: Risks of the Outdoors
The onset of warmer weather tempts many cats to spend more time outdoors. Exercise, fun and stimulation are among the benefits, but alfresco activity isn’t without risks. Deirdre Vine talks to Zaila Dunbar, Petplan’s Vet of the Year 2012, about the common hazards of outdoor exploits.
For intrepid feline explorers, the risks of the outside world can be many. Your cat might cut herself – perhaps by landing on a sharp can or nail in undergrowth. Or she may suffer a sting from a determined wasp. But according to Zaila, ‘Injuries from fights with other cats are among the most common cases I see in cats that have outdoor access.’
First aid care
So what to do in the event your puss sustains a cut or gets bitten by another cat? First and foremost, if you’re concerned about the injury or it looks serious you should visit your vet as soon as possible. Bear in mind, says Zaila, that bruising after an injury may not be apparent without shaving fur (which your vet should do), and some serious injuries may not appear obvious at home until several hours after the accident.
If the injury looks safe for you to deal with, Zaila suggests you stem any bleeding by applying firm pressure with clean cotton wool or a cloth for five minutes. Clean the wound with cooled boiled water with added salt (a teaspoon per pint) and stop your cat from licking it – not only do they have rough tongues, which might damage the area, but their mouths contain lots of bacteria.
‘If the wound is small, clean, not licked and your cat remains well in herself, then the body will often heal nicely,’ explains Zaila. ‘But many injuries are invisible puncture wounds. The trouble comes when the bacteria injected under the skin via the teeth multiply and form an abscess that then bursts or needs to be drained. An abscess can make your cat very poorly.’ When it comes to stings and insect bites, Zaila warns: ‘Any swelling around the face or mouth could lead to trouble breathing due to airways being obstructed, so it’s best to get your pet checked by a vet.’
Ways of minimising other risks to a free-roaming cat include ensuring vaccinations against infectious diseases are up-to-date, and that your pet is microchipped, regularly wormed and has appropriate flea treatments. Also make sure that your pet is neutered – spaying female cats prevents pregnancies and certain health problems, and neutering males reduces the desire to roam and fight. In the garden, lawn fertilizers and other pesticides pose a danger; after use, follow the manufacturers’ instructions on how long to wait before allowing your cat to go outside. Do a perimeter check of your garden to make sure there are no hidden dangers, like rusty nails or sharp objects. It’s also a good idea to ensure your cat wears a quick-release collar, which will snap open if it gets caught or snagged.
If you’re in any doubt at all about your cat’s injury, always get prompt assessment and treatment from your vet to avoid complications.