Did I Kill My Cat By Mistake?

Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

Two weeks ago I was playing with my cat, Blacky, when he scratched me badly and I slapped him on the head. He was OK afterwards — he didn’t run away or anything. I gave him food and played with him, and all seemed well. A week later, he was asleep on my bed, so I said hello to him and put my hand on his head. He woke up crying like he got a scare or his head was sore. He didn’t seem right, so I brought him to the vet, who said he had ear mites. For the next week he hid outside while my other cats came back at night. Then he came back one day unable to walk well — he was weak in the front legs and crying at the other cats, although he did eat. My mother brought him to the vet and he had blood in his ears, eyes and brain, and they put him to sleep. Could this have been blunt head trauma? A stroke? A tumor? Could I have caused this by slapping him? Would he still be eating after head trauma? I’m just so sad over this.

~ Ben

Cat with a sneer

Photo courtesy of Morguefile

Siouxsie: This is certainly a tragedy, Ben, and we don’t blame you for being sad and feeling guilty.

Thomas: But we want to tell you that judging from our research, it’s highly unlikely that you caused your cat’s brain injury.

Bella: That’s not to say it’s OK that you slapped your cat, mind you. But unless you clocked him hard enough to send him flying across the room, we don’t think you could have killed him.

Siouxsie: Put a heck of a scare into him, yeah — which is probably why he woke up and freaked out that your hands were near his head.

Thomas: Also, ear mites are very painful and uncomfortable, so Blacky may have been trying to keep your hands away from his ears.

Bella: We think it’s much more likely that your Blacky got hit by a car or suffered some other traumatic injury while he was outside.

Siouxsie: This explains why your vet found blood in his ears, eyes and brain.

Thomas: According to the Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook, 40 percent of traumatic brain injuries in cats are a result of being hit by a car.

Bella: Plus, traumatic brain injuries take anywhere from minutes to a few days to manifest — not two weeks.

Siouxsie: Since we’re on the subject of head injuries in cats, we’re going to talk a bit more about them. Other potential causes of head injuries are falls, animal fights (including being mauled by larger animals such as dogs or coyotes), and human abusers.

Thomas: A cat with a head injury will show some fairly obvious symptoms that something’s not right. First of all, you might actually see the injury — blood, road rash or bite marks, etc., or fluid leaking from the nose, eyes or ears.

Bella: Your cat may be walking funny because his brain is misfiring — this could lead to a staggering gait or weakness in the limbs. He might also have seizures or twitching, jerking or shaking in the legs.

Siouxsie: His pupils may be unevenly dilated and his head may be tilted.

Thomas: Or he may be semiconscious or unconscious.

Bella: Head injuries are life-threatening emergencies! If your cat has a head injury, you need to get him to the vet right away, no matter what it takes.

Siouxsie: Take some basic precautions, though. First of all, a seriously injured cat may be very fearful and inclined to lash out. Head injuries can cause extra violence and aggression, so your cat may injure you if you’re not careful.

Thomas: Be careful when lifting your cat because he may have a neck or spinal injury as well, and if you don’t keep his spine as straight and level as possible, you may exacerbate his injuries and even cause paralysis.

Bella: Place your cat on his side on a flat surface and wrap him in a blanket, for his safety and for yours. The blanket will also help keep him warm because severely injured animals (or people, for that matter) can go into shock very quickly. Monitor him for vomiting — head injuries can cause vomiting — and clean the vomit away from his mouth if possible so he doesn’t inhale it.

Siouxsie: With quick veterinary treatment, a cat can recover from a head injury if that injury is not severe enough to damage the brain stem, the part of the brain that controls vital functions like breathing and the heartbeat. However, the cat may never be quite the same. Blindness, a permanent head tilt, chronic limb weakness, and in some cases behavior changes can result, depending on the location of the injury.

Thomas: The  best way to prevent head injuries is to keep your cat inside. The vast majority of brain injuries in cats are caused by things that only happen outdoors. There are lots of ways to enrich your cat’s indoor environment and even create safe outdoor spaces so that he won’t get bored.

Bella: We also recommend that all cat caretakers take a pet first aid and CPR course in order to be prepared in the event that your cat has a medical emergency. Mama recently got certified in pet first aid and CPR through a class offered by the American Red Cross. Other organizations also offer these courses; if you’re interested, do a web search to find classes near you.

Siouxsie: So, Ben, we hope we’ve helped you. If at all possible, we hope you’ll consider bringing your other cats indoors to keep them safe from possible injury.

Thomas: Compassionate purrs to you and your family.

  • Rebecca

    Ben, I have lived with cats all my life (and that’s been quite a while now), and have seen various traumas, injuries and deaths over the years. I have also worked for vets as well as for two different wild animal rescue/rehab organizations. I agree with the kitties – from what you said, I think it’s highly unlikely that you caused your cat’s death. However, you unfortunately got a taste of what it’s like to have someone die shortly after you did something you regret, and that’s a horrible feeling because once they’re gone you can never go back and make it up to them. Over the years these kinds of experiences have made me a better friend to my cats, and I regret the errors of my past. The only thing I can do about it now is do the best I can for the cats of my present and future.

    It’s obvious that you love and care for your cats very much. I would agree that they are probably better off inside, or maybe just in an enclosed yard they can’t get out of for outdoors time. I think it was probably a car, and that’s too bad because it didn’t have to happen. However, from what you’ve said I know you have many years of being a good friend to cats ahead of you.

  • Carrie Roux

    Ben, I’m so sorry for your loss…I’m not a vet but I agree that slapping your cat couldn’t have caused such bad injuries. I have accidentally hit my cats with the footrest of the couch, kicked them while walking down a dark hallway, and various other things that *do* hurt (never on purpose!) but wouldn’t cause a traumatic injury. I hope this article at least helps with the guilt, losing a pet is hard enough without having guilt attached to it.

  • Colin

    Ben I am very sorry for your loss, losing a cat that way I can’t even imagine.
    One thing that has worked for most of my cats in this multi-cat household is spraying them with a water bottle if they’ve done something naughty. Not in the face though-I usually aim for their side or butt.
    Again my cats and I share our condolences for the loss of Blacky.

  • Dee

    I know the guilt you carry (what could I have done to prevent this) but allow yourself peace. It was not your fault. Sometimes bad things happen to our furkids beyond our control. Everytime I lose one of my kitties I’ve learned not to be too hard on myself. Instead of caring this blame around honor Blacky and adopt another homeless kitty. He’ll smile down at you from Rainbow Bridge!

  • Anita

    So sorry for you and Blacky. Cats can be rough sometimes and it’s hard to restrain ourselves from being rough back, but I believe this probably was an accident from outside or else there was something else going on besides the ear mites. A few years back I was driving to a friends house and a small long haired black kitty (that I knew was being fed by the neighborhood) was standing in the middle of the road almost in a seizure. To sit in my car and watch it struggle, shaking it’s head furiously, was very very difficult. There was another car stopped the opposite way, and the person watching this drove away. After the kitty was still I went over to it and found it had passed. I picked him up and could see the blood wound on his head. I laid him on the side then found a blanket and covered him putting him in some nearby woods. I felt to bad. Later, I approached the person in the other car who lived there and she acted like she didn’t know what i was talking about, even though she sat and watched just like I did. I believe she hit the cat and didn’t want to fess up to it. Now I feel bad that I didn’t take him out of there and try to find a home for him before this happened. At least your Blacky had a home and someone who cared for him. I’m sure both of these kittys are over the bridge as we speak.

  • gabi

    Don’t ever hit your pets like people you never know what is going on
    in side of them. I lost a cat a beautiful tiger cat one day she was fine
    2 days later she was died, I had nothen to do with hurting her it was a
    a cancer, then a couple of week letter on the internet at the human
    sosiety web site looking for a kitty and this face pops up I fell in love
    I couldn’t get there right away, so I called the lady told me not to worry
    she’ll be here when you come and when I walked in the door I knew
    why you could hear her yelling from the front door and when the
    paper work was done and they let her out she ran all over the
    it took three people to catch her, she is black and white with
    stripes, white face with a little tan she looks like she mess her
    face with chocolate and the same tan bottom and she looked
    likes she messed her bottom, and she is the is so much fun and
    I think a little to smart for her own good, I have had cats for long
    times one was 22 when he died and I will always care form them
    and love them put I will never mourn them becasue there are
    so many animal out there waiting for love, my favorite part
    of my visit to the shelter was watching all those people
    so happy taking home thier new pets. Gabi

  • Lisa

    About 10 years ago, I adopted a kitten. Initially, everything seemed fine but I noticed that he had started scratching a lot so I assumed he had fleas. I went to the pet store and asked about flea medication for kittens and cats. The man at the store assured me that a product was safe to use on kittens, and it did say that on the bottle, so I used it on Toby. Shortly after, he started having seizures, small ones at first, but then they started to increase in frequency and intensity. I took him to the vet who could not find a reason for the seizures. When I explained that I used the flea medication on Toby, the vet contacted the manufacturer. He was also told that they had no prior complaints about any side effects of this medication, but I felt horrible because I thought I had accdentally caused this to happen to my little kitten. We did have to put Toby to sleep. The vet assured me that he felt it was not the medication, but I will always wonder if he was more sensitive to that flea medication than other cats/kittens. I have a cat now that I am VERY careful about anything I use on or around him.

    • Tracy W

      The same thing happened to me many years ago! I applied a flea spray that indicated that it was safe for small kittens & within 30 min my little kitty was losing her bowels & running into walls. I took her to emergency vet & though he tried, she couldn’t be saved. I contacted the company & they paid for vet bill plus for me to adopt another kitten & although that lovely sweet thing lived a long, happy 18 years with me, I still feel guilty about The little one that did not.

  • http://kennelhealth.com Emmber

    Like Carrie Roux said, I have many times accidentally walked into or sat on my cats or seen them jump onto the dresser or bed and fail and hit their heads as hard or harder than a slap would be and they have been fine. I really hope this article has helped you release any guilt you had left Ben.

  • ben

    thxs for your comments i have talked to a few vets most say the same a slap is not strong to do this . But maybe could have bin stroke /or more likely a brain tumor head trauma would be seen faster well thxs again for help

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  • http://pawsandeffect.com saida

    Well Ben I’m really sorry for you lost. I don’t think it was you faul . I personally think that anyone should hit there animals but sometimes it hard to resist. Again Im sorry for your lost . I think it is really hard for anyone to lose their companion, friend ,and family member. R.I.P. Blacky.