Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
I was lifting my baby Toby (a year old now) up and his head accidentally hit the lower edge of the table. I heard the sound. I FELT SO HORRIBLE I WANTED TO HURT MYSELF. He was shocked and immediately began to viciously bite my arm. I took him to the room to calm him down and see if everything was okay; he was pretty aggressive and bitey and angry with me for about ten minutes but then he calmed down and curled up next to me as usual. Now I’ve seen him bump his head here and there pretty often. I’ve also seen him fall while entertaining himself at home (from a maximum height of about 1.5 ft) and I freak out, but Granny says cats are “tough ol’ things.” But I need to know, exactly how much physical trauma is a cat body equipped to handle? Will the head bump incident lead to anything serious? Do they ever get cracked bones from household bumps and falls? If anything happens to Toby I’ll never forgive myself.
Thomas: Maya, the good news is that your granny is right — we cats are pretty tough.
Bella: That doesn’t mean we’re invincible, of course, but it does take quite a bit to seriously injure a cat, and regular household play usually won’t cause injury in a healthy, young cat like your Toby.
Thomas: Cats have extra-flexible spines and soft paw pads that act as shock absorbers when they jump to the ground from distances.
Bella: Even an odd fall from a distance like 1.5 feet shouldn’t cause harm. Our poor Siouxsie *sniffle* sometimes fell when she jumped up to the counter, and even though her dignity was bruised and she may have been a tiny bit bruised herself, it didn’t cause major damage, even for a very old cat.
Thomas: Cats can get hurt from serious trauma like being hit by a car, jumping or falling from a couple of stories high, or acts of deliberate abuse.
Bella: We know of one cat that got a broken leg after his horrible human threw him across the room in a fit of rage, and he got tangled up in the spokes of a bicycle tire and his leg bet the wrong way.
Thomas: So, Maya, we’re sure Toby got a good knock on the head but we doubt he fractured his skull.
Bella: Have you ever moved wrong and knocked your head on something? If you have, you know it hurt like heck and you might even have gotten a lump (bruise) on your head, but it probably didn’t cause any long-term symptoms.
Thomas: Toby’s temporary aggression toward you was probably more because h was scared and hurt than because he was seriously injured.
Bella: That said, if he’s been having odd symptoms like staggering or his pupils (the black parts of his eyes) are of different sizes, or if he has random behavior changes or sudden fits of serious aggression, or seizures, that could indicate he got a concussion. So if Toby has been acting weird since the accident, we’d recommend a visit to the vet just to be on the safe side. Your vet could probably do a lot to reassure you about what does and doesn’t cause serious injury to cats.
Thomas: Now, Maya, we do want to address something else that concerns us. You said that when you picked up Toby and accidentally knocked his head on the table, you felt so bad you wanted to hurt yourself.
Bella: Self-injury is a very serious thing, Maya. Mama’s struggled with it in the past, and she knows lots of teenagers and young adults who have, too. Because she used to self-injure, Mama understands the motivation and reasons for doing it, and she asked us to tell you that if you self-harm, it’s really important to ask for help.
Thomas: It can be hard to talk about, especially if your family isn’t really good about discussing feelings. School counselors and even hotlines could be a place to start. Here’s a website that will help you understand self-injury and provide some resources to get started in healing.
Bella: Give your Toby some love for us, and give yourself a break too. You didn’t mean to hurt Toby, and from your email it looks like he forgave you very quickly. Now the next step is to forgive yourself.
Thomas: We’re sure your vet will be delighted to help you learn everything you want to know about how to take care of Toby. Mama’s talked to several vets who told her it totally makes their day when a person asks lots of questions and really wants to learn about keeping their furry friend healthy and happy.
Bella: So, how about you other readers? Could you talk about experiences you’ve had with your cats , doing crazy things and not getting hurt? Let’s try to reassure Maya, shall we?
I got C when I was 15 years old. When we had only had him for about a week, I woke up one morning to the sound of him screaming. Not meowing, screaming. It turned out that the prop that had been holding the (screened) window open had fallen, and the heavy wooden window frame had come down on him and pinned his leg. As soon as I got to him and hauled the window back up, he ran…so the leg wasn’t badly injured. We kept an eye on him and called the vet, but the leg was absolutely fine and he never had problems with it.
Two morals of the story here: one is that cats are resilient but the other is that sometimes when you’re a new pet owner you won’t know everything. We thought we’d done a good job of kitten-proofing the house –we’d put away cords and strings, made sure the windows were screened in, made sure the plants weren’t toxic, etc. –but it had never crossed anyone’s mind that a window could fall on the cat that way. So even with the best intentions and attempts to be proactive, you can’t always think of everything. We learned from it and took steps to ensure that the window –and all the others around the house–were shored up and would never fall again.
In India last year, I watched a cat jump from one floor up when another cat threatened him, and he was o.k…they do seem to have built in shock absorbers for emergency use…
one thing I’ve read from a vet: injury to a cat’s tail, particularly by pulling it can be potentially traumatic, as the nerves radiate to/from the internal organs and further up the spine; there’s a particular mcongenital condition, i can’t remember what it’s called, that causes the hind legs to be affected; you can see itb in some cats on the live CAT CAM TV channel.
I have a cat who is a total klutz. Crashes into walls all the time. Once he even fell behind the dryer and got stuck. I heard the crash and went to go look for him – he was just chilling. The worst that’s happened is when he got a bruise on his ear – I assume from crashing into something. I talked to the vet and they said it should be fine if it goes away within a week, which it did, during which time he acted just a little clingier than normal and was sensitive about having his ear touched, of course.
Doodle-Bug is our fluffy outside Tortie with a ‘ttude who likes to stroll through the house but feels trapped and prefers to live in the garage where she has a cat-flap in the window that allows her to go outside or retreat into the garage when its bad weather or there is danger (real or perceived). She likes to get up on top of the garage door when it is in an open position. We didn’t know she was up there and when we pushed the clicker button to lower the door she just rolled off of it, but her foot caught in the crimps of the door and she was trapped by her back foot hanging upside down. We all started running and pressing the button to get the door back up and panic ensued. She, of course, dove back into the garage and into her hidey holes she had scoped out. She limped for a few hours but was ok afterward. We check her all over and consulted our vet who told us if she was still limping next day to bring her in. She forgave us and gives us all a “kitty baff” whenever she can get in our laps. She still loves the top of the garage door, but everyone checks for her before putting the door down. Love your kitty and love yourself.