Cat first aid advice needed
September 23, 2013 8:28 AM   Subscribe

My 13yo cat has a head wound on her forehead by her eye that she will not stop itching. It started out as 3 small scratches (like our other cat had kicked her in the head or similar) but every time it scabs over she itches the scab off and so it has expanded into a hole in her head that is now encroaching on her eye. We've tried putting cat hydrocortisone and lidocaine cream around it, covering it up (can't find anything bandage-like that'll stay on her head), tying a sock on her itching foot (she yanks it off) and putting her in the cone of shame (she itches around it. Somehow). I'd like to avoid a vet visit if possible because they terrify her and I am poor.
posted by clavier to Pets & Animals (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This is exactly the sort of situation for which the Cone of Shame was designed.
posted by slkinsey at 8:33 AM on September 23, 2013

Cat scratches get infected really easily. When they do the wound breaks open, can get itchy, and gets larger just as you are describing. And they generally don't get better on their own (or with hydrocortisone, do not put steroids on an infection!).

So yeah, you need to go to the vet and get some antibiotics for this asap, sorry. Waiting is only going to make it worse and I'd be worried about her eye becoming involved, this really does need to be sorted out professionally.
posted by shelleycat at 8:33 AM on September 23, 2013 [10 favorites]

This is exactly the sort of situation for which the Cone of Shame was designed.

Actually no, this is just the sort of situation for which veterinary care was designed.
posted by shelleycat at 8:34 AM on September 23, 2013 [27 favorites]

Yeah, gotta agree -- vet visit is indicated for this one.
posted by peakcomm at 8:40 AM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Vet! I understand that the cat hates the vet--my geriatric female cat, who is racking up the vet visits, has become increasingly grumpy about the situation--but this requires intervention. Be upfront that you'll need a payment plan, and see what happens.
posted by thomas j wise at 8:43 AM on September 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

This is a small problem that has kept and will keep getting bigger until it's a big problem - unless you go to the vet. Check to see if your vet has a payment plan, or a sliding scale. Or look for an animal hospital in your area that may have more private donor funds to cover people who can't pay.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 8:43 AM on September 23, 2013

Trim her nails and cover them with Soft Paws and it will be harder for her to scratch it open.
posted by Jacqueline at 8:45 AM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

When my cat did that, it turned out that he was scratching there because he had an ear infection. We went to the vet and came home with an ear wash and drops.
posted by amarynth at 8:45 AM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

The wound is getting bigger - but is there any discharge? Blood, pus, etc? Does it smell bad? Is it bright red and/or swollen, or sensitive to the touch (i.e. does she freak out if you touch it)?
If you answered no to all of the above, it may not be so infected that you can't treat at home.

First - get a better/larger/different cone and make sure she can't get it off or reach around the front of it to continue scratching.

Second - wash it gently with soap and water and cover it liberally with neosporin. Do this twice daily.

Third - continue until it heals or it starts to exhibit the symptoms listed above. Any of those symptoms means the wound is either infected or too deep to treat topically, and you'll need to go to the vet.

IANYV, but this procedure worked wonderfully on one of my cats a few years ago when he got a scratch from his brother across the top of his head behind his ears.
posted by trivia genius at 8:46 AM on September 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

I carefully treat all minor-ish cat wounds with hydrogen peroxide dabbed from a cotton ball, followed by antibiotic ointment with great success. If the wound is not minor, or you try this and the wound does not improve, do look for affordable vet care...humane society or local shelter are good places to start/ask for info.

Reading that 1) your cat shows discomfort 2) it's close to the eye and 3) it's been getting bigger/deeper makes me worried. Your cat will get over being transported. Short-duration anxiety for the cat to treat a potentially very important problem is worth it.
posted by xiaolongbao at 8:56 AM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth, 99% of cats hate going to the vet. That is not a good reason to avoid going. I understand the cost issue, but if you go in to the office and explain that cost is an issue for you and understand that most vets are not in it for the money and will do whatever they can to help out their clients (sometimes to the detriment of their own business) then I think this will not end up being an incredibly expensive visit. Just make sure, at each step in the process, to gently and patiently remind the staff that cost is an issue. If they suggest a test, you should ask how much that test costs. If they recommend medication, you should ask how much it costs, and if there is a cheaper option that might be as effective. Once they outline the treatment plan, you should ask how much the follow-up visit will cost, and if it is possible to just check in over the phone if things are progressing as expected. If your vet has a problem with you asking these questions, you should find another vet.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:05 AM on September 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

Try your local/county/state humane society (not the HSUS) or ASPCA for access or referrals to veterinary care for clients with low incomes. The longer you wait, the more likely the wound is to become infected, if it is not already, and become a more costly problem. If you are in the Upper Midwest, I can provide a list of possible sources for low-income veterinary care. I may also have a list of starting points for other regions in the United States. However, I will not be available online for most of the afternoon (12:15-5:30) EDT--I may be able to check in briefly at some point between 2 and 3PM EDT if you can update with your location.

This is not an attempt to shame or guilt you--I am honestly looking at this from the perspective of "how to keep costs down while taking actions likely to help the cat." Wounds that are encroaching on the eye need to be checked out. Ocular injuries (such as those inflicted by accidentally clawing themselves in the eye while scratching) are incredibly painful and distressing. Treating the wound to avoid that outcome is good. In addition, this wound is growing in size, it is open, and it is not improving on its own. Those are also good reasons to take the cat in for care, no matter where on the body the injury happens to be.

As for the "my cat hates the vet," well, that is probably true. However, your cat also doesn't like experiencing distress and physical discomfort, and that is currently happening.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 9:11 AM on September 23, 2013 [4 favorites]

I also treat cat wounds with hydrogen peroxide with great success.

Are you inside a town? Can you go to a vet that is outside town or better yet in the country? Country vets have a better understanding of finances since they are used to people who might have several barn cats and can't afford to spend thousands on each cat every year like city folk.
posted by cda at 9:13 AM on September 23, 2013

Have you watched her in the Cone of Shame - can you see how she's getting around it? Maybe she needs it fitted tighter around her neck, or a longer cone.

Even if you take her to the vet and the vet treats the wound, a CoS is likely to be part of the followup, and if you already know it doesn't fit right, you'll need to have explanation of the problem, so you can collaborate with the vet to make it work better on the cat.
posted by aimedwander at 9:17 AM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Fwiw I think hydrocortisone would delay healing (though my pharmacy classes were fifty years ago) so that's contra-indicated for wounds. It's useful for reducing itching, but not good when healing is needed.
posted by anadem at 9:23 AM on September 23, 2013

I live outside Seattle, so unfortunately a country vet isn't really an option.

There's no discharge or pus, and blood only right after she's itched the scab off; no smell, and the area doesn't seem to be tender--I've squished around it and she doesn't try to move her head away.

With the cone I think it needs to be longer--somehow she curls herself up in a way that lets her shove her foot inside it.
posted by clavier at 9:26 AM on September 23, 2013

Getting the cat treated at the vet NOW rather than when/if the injury gets worse is going to be far less expensive than treatment to, say, remove an infected eyeball. Go now if at all possible. You will save money in the longer term and your kitty will get relief from the obvious discomfort she is in that much faster.

If you are literally incapable of paying for any sort of vet care now I would suggest seeing if you can get a friend or family member to spot you the money.

If THAT isn't possible, though...the most important thing right now is to monitor the situation (checking daily for swelling, bad smells, etc.) and make sure the wound stays clean. The fact that it's "open" is actually a good thing (so long as it doesn't actually reach her eye!). Do NOT use peroxide or iodine, peroxide in particular actually does nothing to speed healing and can cause inflammation.

Sterile saline solution is the best thing to use; you can get bottles of this with a pump-type top at the drugstore (and yes, it needs to be sterile...don't mess around trying to make your own at home). Squirt the saline over the wound a couple times a day and don't cover the wound. If it is oozing pus at all, dab it with a warm washcloth before squirting with saline.

The Cone of Shame should prevent her from reaching her face; if your cone doesn't do this, it's probably the wrong size. Check the pet store; they should have a variety of sizes (you may need to look in the "dog" section).

Finally, if the cone is an absolute no-go, one thing you can also try is a technique my boss actually told me about (per a vet who treated one of his old cats). Wrap some gauze around one of the cat's BACK legs and then wrap this with several layers of sticky bandage tape. Don't get the sticky tape too tight, and don't do this if your cat is a tape-eating weirdo, but make sure there's enough of it such that the cat can't yank the wrapping off in one go. The idea here is to provide a distraction so the cat will leave the head wound alone in favor of trying to get the tape and gauze off her leg.
posted by aecorwin at 9:36 AM on September 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Vet care is a LOT less expensive than human care. If your pet needs attention, please seek the help of a qualified vet.
posted by timpanogos at 9:58 AM on September 23, 2013

When my cat did that, it turned out that he was scratching there because he had an ear infection.

Seconding this! If she has itching, inflammation, an infection, or ear mites in her ears, she'll keep re-opening the wound when she tries to scratch her ears. Seeing a vet now would let you treat the cause of her itching rather than just trying to treat the wound.
posted by gladly at 10:02 AM on September 23, 2013

We extended our dogs too short cone with some duct tape and cereal boxes. It looked really ridiculous but it worked. You can google how to do it but its really as straightforward as it sounds. Cut cereal box, flatten, tape to cone, laugh at poor creature wearing a Chex box on its head.

I'd try extending the cone and treating at home if it doesn't have signs of infection and see how that works for a few days. If its not helping then it may be vet time. Good luck with your kitty!
posted by julie_of_the_jungle at 10:12 AM on September 23, 2013

I googled and found this from a yahoo answer (I know, but I did check the links as well). Hopefully it helps: (Kirkland, WA)
This place is quite low key with solid vet care. The prices are posted on a big bulletin board in their lobby. Just call them and ask for an appointment -- there is a $5 coupon off on your first visit located under "Specials" on their website. The location is off I-405 Northbound just past 85th Street on the "mountain side" of the freeway. Call and explain what you are trying to do - get a diagnosis and figure out the price of medication as you are on a restricted budget. They will try to figure it out for you. (Federal Way)


As for the part where your cat hates going to the vet: I have a couple who are like this as well. One is a 20 lb. cat who screams like an absolutely terrified human toddler (I've had people in cars stare as we drive by, fun! NOT) and a 7lb cat who requires the shoulder length leather gloves to be handled. This isn't to say, "Oh my pain is more than yours"; it's to say, "I get it". I would still take her to the vet. Our vet has been great when we've been upfront about cost issues, I think if you call and talk with them, you might be pleasantly surprised. Our vet's also willing to talk over the phone about whether or not to bring our cats in. They generally tend toward "Yes, bring them in", but they're at least willing to discuss it first.
posted by RogueTech at 10:22 AM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Well, shoot. I was hoping you were somewhere else.

Just for everyone else's info, though I'm sure you already know: in the state of Washington, shelters are restricted from providing certain kinds of veterinary care to privately owned animals. This is not true in all states, and the model I'm used to dealing with is based in a state without that restriction. :-/

I'm not familiar enough with the clinics in the area to offer recommendations.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 12:55 PM on September 23, 2013

My vet has allowed us to sort-of run a tab in the past -- as in, a few years ago we were poor and had three unexpected vet visits in a row, so we paid what we could at the time if the visits, and they billed us for the rest. It helped that our vet knows us well, and has been treating our pets for a while, so they knew we weren't going to run out on them. It's worth checking with your vet to see what they can do for you, payment-plan wise. Since the wound is close to kitty's eye, I think a trip to the vet is absolutely necessary.
posted by sarcasticah at 3:10 PM on September 23, 2013

I've kept this list bookmarked for kitty first aid, and maybe it'll be useful to you, too: Human Medicines that Work for Pets. The nice thing about this list is that it tells exactly what you can use and how much (for cats and dogs).
posted by Houstonian at 3:44 PM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

One suggestion re the cone: try putting it on backwards. I did that when our cat had to wear the cone, but couldn't get into any of her cubbyholes (the cone was just smaller than her hiding places, but she kept bumping into the sides and wailing pitifully). She had to take smaller steps, and it impeded her jumping, but she couldn't scratch her face- her back paws went underneath the cone every time she tried.
It looked like a little plastic poncho.
posted by dogmom at 7:40 PM on September 23, 2013

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