Perhaps it is owing to their delicate organization that cats are peculiarly liable to diseases of various kinds, and certainly, owing to their uncommon independence of character, it is exceedingly difficult to "doctor" them. Neither will they stay indoors for a cold or a fever, unless they choose to do so, nor do anything else which common sence ought to teach "sick folks."
Pet cats, however, will usually submit to treatment from those in whome they feel confidence, and will even take disagreeable medicines if handled and spoken to with gentleness. It is extremely difficult to tell, however, when it is best to doctor a cat. In trifling aliments it is usually better to leave them alone for a day or two: then, if they do not recover, to decide what is the matter and try simple remedies. For obvious reasons, homoeopathic remedies are always safe for cats.
Physicians say that the domestic cat is often a source of disease. It breeds and disseminates skin troubles especially. It carries about with it the contagion of diphtheria, and even spreads the germs of consumption. A trouble akin to ringworm, which attacks the scalp and causes the hair to fall out, is frequently conveyed by cats. Likewise it is with scarlet fever. When there is sickness in the house, old clothes are apt to be used for various purposes and are thrown afterward into an out-of-the-way place. The family pussy makes a nest of these clothes for her kittens. Her fur and that of the kittens become infected with disease germs, and there is an epidemic in the neighborhood. Nobody can imagine how it got about, but the cat could tell if it only would. The careful housekeeper, of course, will not leave such opportunities for the cat to spread disease.
One of the worst diseases to contend with among cats is the one known simply as "worms." The cat loses its appetite, lies in dark corners, and emaciation sets in. Sometimes a worm is passed or vomited, and then it is easy enough to diagnose the cat's disease; but more frequently nothing of the kind is seen, especially if the cat be neat and cleanly in its habits. And against these internal enemies the poor cat has no power of resistance. According to Mr. St. George Mivart, there are three kinds of these internal parasites, and each kind is subdivided into several more classes. It is enough, however, for the ordinary owner to know that his cat is liable to have thread-worms, flukes, and tape-worms. The worst of the former measure only one twenty-fifth of an inch in length, while others measure four or five inches. Fits of vomiting frequently will expel these latter, but it is extremely difficult to cope with the smallest ones. Cats suffering from worms have colic, diarrhoea, epileptiform convulsions, and a wasting prostration. The best possible remedy for them is santonine, taken in the form of one-grain powders, three times a day, on an empty stomach, and at least one hour before eating. The latter precaution is very important, because the worms, when the stomach is empty, seize upon and eat the santonine, which is to them a deadly poison. After following the powder treatment for two or three days, a dose of physic should be given the cat (at night), to carry off the dead and dying parasites. The course of santonine powders should be repeated for at least three consecutive times, giving the physic each second or third night, as only in this way can the newly hatched worms be killed and carried off before laying their eggs; and only thus can the cat's system be cleansed from these troublesome pests. In cases of the smallest of these parasites, scientifically known as olulanus, even this treatment fails: the parasites, resembling trichina, infest the lungs, liver, and other visceral organs, and cause death.
Some authorities advocate giving the santonine in castor oil, but as there is very little taste to it, and as cats will swallow a powder if their mouths are gently opened and the powder is emptied carefully on the back part of the tongue, the latter seems to me the better way. Of course, two people whom the cat knows and loves should administer the medicine.
For the physic, a very mild cathartic pill may be given, placing it so far back on the cat's tongue that he will swallow it on closing the mouth. If castor oil is given, let one person hold open the cat's mouth, firmly but gently, by the back of the jaws, while another pours a teaspoonful carefully into his throat. "Garfield Tea," steeped quite strong and given in teaspoonful doses, is better than castor oil.
In case the cat will not take liquid medicine, or will not keep quiet long enough, it can be smeared on the fur. In their desire for perfect cleanliness cats will lap their fur clean, and thus swallow the medicine. For this reason it is not safe to use the carbolic soap that is good for washing dogs, on a cat. Carbolic acid has a particularly bad effect on cats, and should never be used around them in any way. Cats have been known to die of paralysis brought on by the use of carbolic soap.
Colds are almost as frequent among cats as among people, Sometimes asthma follows as a result of long exposure to weather. One winter when the "grip" was unusually prevalent I took it from the Pretty Lady. No one in the family had shown any symptoms of the malady until she came down with it and betook herself, as she always did in sickness, to my room. Her labored breathing, watery eyes, and general feverish condition showed plainly what was her trouble, and instead of thrusting her into the cellar or out of doors from fear of contagion, I made her a bed near the register, where she remained several days. Before she was able to leave the room, even, I was ill myself with all the symptoms of grip.
In all cases of colds, or in other feverish conditions which do not seem to indicate any particular disease, the homoeopathic pellets of aconite and belladonna, given two at a time alternately once an hour, are the best and safest remedies.
"Distemper" is something like the catarrhal cold accompanied by sneezing, coughing, vomiting, intense fever, and diarrhoea, with mucous or watery discharge from the eyes and nose. Sometimes the glands of the throat are swollen also. The cat early shows an inclination for dark corners and warm, even hot, places. The eyes and nose discharge freely, and then sneezing, coughing, and a rattling sound in the chest follow. In very severe cases, it would be a mercy to administer chloroform and thus end its misery. The cat-lover cannot often bring himself to do this, however, in which case a warm, comfortable bed should be provided, where the animal will not be disturbed by other cats or by children. A sick cat cannot bear to be handled, and therefore only his mistress should approach him, and that only as often as is absolutely necessary. Beef tea in small doses should be frequently given, with a grain of quinine once or twice a day. Sometimes a half-teaspoonful of port wine or brandy, in extreme cases of debility, may be administered. In case of constipation, give an aperient. Careful nursing, warmth, and gentleness are of great importance, with as little handling as possible.
In ordinary colds, aconite and belladonna, as above, may be given, or aconite and arsenicum. Cats have pneumonia, too, but seldom recover from it. Diphtheria sometimes attacks cats, when, for the sake of the family, as well as for the afflicted animal, the latter should be put painlessly out of life.
Cats brought up in country places are seldom troubled with fleas, but those living in cities or suburban towns are often tormented with them through July and August. The cat-flea is not like that of the dog, being one-quarter smaller; neither is it like the one which infests human beings under certain conditions. There is a strong tar-soap kept by most druggists, with which kittens, and, in extreme cases, big cats, may be washed, which kills these fleas. The soap must be well rubbed into the fur, making a good lather, and then washed out thoroughly in warm but not too hot water, and thoroughly rinsed. Great care should be taken not to get the lather into the animal's eyes or ears, however, and, after rinsing, the cat should be thoroughly dried with a towel, and put either in the hot sunlight or near a stove to dry. Under no circumstances wash the cat with carbolic soap, as the tar is just as effective and perfectly safe; and she should always be thoroughly dried before exposing her to cold or drafts.
A milder and better way is to get the real Dalmatian insect powder. Buy it if possible at a wholesale drug-store, as that sold in groceries and smaller drug-stores has usually lost its strength. Dust the powder thoroughly into the cat's fur, all over its body, legs, and tail, and even the top of its head, but always be careful in these cases not to spill the remedies into the eyes and ears of the cat. After sifting the powder into the cat's fur, put the animal out of doors, that the insects may jump off on to the ground.
A better way to get rid of fleas is used by a lady in Chicago who owns some of the best cats in America. She has ready a square of cotton batting and a square of cotton cloth; placing the cat in the centre of the batting, which has been laid over the cloth, she rubs strong spirits of camphor quickly into the fur and then gathers the corners of the batting and cloth tightly around the neck of the animal. She has a fine comb ready and a dish of hot water, for the pests, who detest the camphor, will run to the head of the cat, and must be combed out and plunged into the scalding water. Hundreds of them, however, will jump from the cat and lodge in the cotton batting, where their scaly feet stick in the cotton so that they cannot get away. When the fleas cease to run out on to the head of the cat, she judges that they have deserted the cat. The animal is then let out of the batting bag, and the latter carefully carried to the kitchen and deposited in the stove. The scent of the camphor clings to the cat for some time and acts as a preventive. A whole cattery may be cleaned out in this way. Sprigs of sweet-fern scattered about will keep them away, as will pennyroyal, both of which herbs the fleas detest. A drop of oil of pennyroyal rubbed into the cat's fur is a good preventive.
The mange is in reality caused by a small insect and is to the cat much what the common "itch" is to mankind. Taken in time, the mange can be easily cured; but a dose of chloroform carefully administered is about the only thing for severe cases. When the cat first shows symptoms of mange, dust its fur thoroughly with flowers of sulphur. Give it sulphur also with its meat. There is very little taste to it, and if rubbed into the meat the cat will not notice it. A cerate of sulphur may be made by rubbing a teaspoonful of the flowers of sulphur into two ounces of vaseline, and with this anoint the sore places. The cat will probably lap it off, but that will do no harm. If these remedies fail, go to a reliable veterinary.
Cats are sometimes afflicted with "Job's comforters," and show the same patience, too. Our Mr. McGinty and Thomas Erastus have both had large boils, which were exactly like the ones that afflict human beings. These are sometimes a week or two in gathering and usually "break" of themselves. There is not much that can be done for these, as no self-respecting cat will wear a plaster or a poultice for one minute: and he cares for the abscess himself after it is broken. In case the swelling continues for several weeks and does not break, a veterinary practitioner should be called. Sometimes these gatherings become fatty tumors, in which case the cat can be etherized, and the tumor removed by a professional veterinary surgeon. One of the Pretty Lady's sons, a beautiful and intelligent fellow, weighing twelve pounds or more, developed cancer of the throat, and was mercifully killed in consequence.
The most humane way to kill a cat is to chloroform it. Put the cat in a small tight box, or, better still, into a tin wash-boiler, closely covered, in which you have first placed a good-sized sponge wet with chloroform. In a few moments the cat will become insensible, but do not take her out of the box for at least thirty minutes, and then put her in a pail of water head downward for another half hour. A cat apparently dead from the use of chloroform may revive in the fresh air. This should always be done by some person of judgment, and never by a child. You will in most large places find an agent of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, who can attend to the matter if you cannot. There is another way to cause instantaneous death, often employed by these agents, that of killing them by cyanide of potassium, or prussic acid. But this should never, under any circumstances, be attempted by any one else.
Cats have canker of the ear, which may be cured in the early stages by applying a healing lotion to the external ear, or dropping a little into the internal ear, if that is affected. Mr. Harrison Weir says he has frequently tested, with excellent results, a mixture of one ounce of spermaceti ointment with twelve grains red oxide of mercury for sore eyes. Wash the cat's eyes carefully in warm water, dry on a silk handkerchief, and apply a little of the ointment. This might also be good for canker of the ear.
After a cat has been ill with colds, or abscesses, or worms, it often needs a tonic. Aconite may be given, but I have found that a one-grain pill of quinine given every other day for a week or two has excellent effects. This is sometimes a good remedy when an old cat seems to be "run down."
When a cat has consumption, as sometimes happens, there is little that can be done. The same may be said of asthma; and when it is positively certain that a cat has an incurable disease, it is a mercy to put it gently beyond the reach of suffering.
Nervous diseases are not uncommon among cats. Mrs. Spofford tells us how her Lucifer went insane at the sight of a camera, and did not recover for months. Cats are frequently frightened into a species of insanity, and there are numerous cases on record where cats have become almost imbecile from fear. A young cat, especially a highbred one, will sometimes get so excited at play that for half an hour afterward nervous tremors can be felt by the hand of the owner.
There is no suffering of a cat apparently more acute than that which attends milk fever. Cats often suffer intensely in giving birth to kittens, and indeed for a week or two before. A female cat in this condition should be handled as little and as gently as possible.
When a cat is ready to be delivered, give her a good bed in a quiet, dark place, and she will take care of herself,—unless she has been pampered as mine have, when she will insist on sympathy and affectionate care. There are so many stray cats, and it is so hard to find good homes for them, that the kindest way is to drown all but one of every litter of kittens, and this should be done as soon as they are born. If you wait longer the mother cat suffers more. On no account should all the kittens be taken away, as the cat is pretty sure to have milk fever.
One or, at most, two kittens is all that the mother cat should be allowed to nurse, if you want to keep her in good condition. In case, however, she by some means loses them all, and her milk comes, something must be done for her. Give her three of the ordinary homoeopathic pellets of aconite and belladonna, alternately, once in half an hour. Rub her breasts thoroughly with camphorated oil, manipulating them as much as possible to prevent caking. If the milk can be drawn, this will relieve the cat greatly. And usually, much as a cat dislikes water, she consents, when her breasts are in this swollen condition, to have a towel wet in cold water placed across them, and will ask to have it changed when it becomes too warm.
A kitten is seldom sick while it is nursing. One of my cats once caught an adder and played with it for some time before she was noticed. When it was taken away from her, she went straight upstairs to her kitten and licked him all over most affectionately. That night the kitten shrieked throughout the wee sma' hours, and in the morning we found it dead. The poor mother's tongue had doubtless poisoned it, although she was not ill herself until the milk fever came on.
Young male cats, if desired as pets, should be castrated or gelded, an operation that may be performed by any veterinary, or a man who understands it. It should be done before the kitten reaches the age of nine months. A gelded cat makes a good mouser, is a home-keeper, is more gentle in disposition, more cleanly in habit, grows to a larger size, and is much handsomer than the ordinary torn, being more desirable in every way for household purposes.
The process of spaying female cats should never be undertaken by any but an experienced veterinary surgeon, and even then there is much risk attending the operation, especially with Angoras and high-bred cats.
If people would not allow the mother cat to keep so many kittens, the problem of disposing of the extra cats afterward would be much less formidable. It is perfectly easy to dispose of new-born kittens. My cats always come to me when they are about to give birth to kittens, and let me know they want a bed prepared. The Pretty Lady, indeed, used to insist on my remaining with her. Doubtless she got into the habit because her first litter or two came while we were boarding, when, rather than have her make any trouble, I kept her in a closet and staid by. I let the mother keep one, and select a male for that purpose. The others I immediately do up in a soft old rag, with a piece of brick or stone, and deposit them in a pail of warm (not hot) water. Gentle Lucy Stone told me to warm the water, and thus prevent a shock to the little things. By following this method, and taking them soon after they are ushered into this mortal world, a family of small kittens can be carried into non-existence with no knowledge of the transition on their own part. In this way the over-supply of cats can be kept down, the one remaining kitten is well fed, and the mother does not get dragged down into the distressingly gaunt and dejected state too common to mothers of large families of any kind. The Pretty Lady was always satisfied when, having her second batch of spring or summer kittens, we took them all away and substituted an older one, provided he had not outgrown the natural taste for lacteal food. Once when the old Pomp had grown almost as big as she was, and I had substituted him for a new-born infant, I caught her trying to close those enormous yellow eyes of his, biting and nipping at them as if she were saying:—
"You are all right, perhaps, but if you are going to be a baby of mine again, you mustn't open your eyes for nine days to come."
Strangely enough, although they are extraordinarily fond of catnip when they are well, cats will seldom touch it when they are ill. So that, while this fragrant herb is necessary to keep them in good condition, it is useless to offer it after they have fallen really ill: although a convalescent cat will take to it with good relish. Catnip, however, should be provided occasionally when well, as it acts as a gentle stimulus and corrective, and is decidedly a luxury. It is doubtful, however, whether an extremely delicate, nervous cat is benefited from its use, if she becomes much intoxicated on it, as some cats do. The plant has a varied effect on cats, some being wildly intoxicated, and others seeming only to enjoy a general sense of comfort and mild exhilaration. The former will roll over and over, striking and catching at everything near by, and scratching and biting all who touch it, in uncontrollable frenzy; the latter lie down, or sit upon the stalks, after eating the leaves, and purr more or less violently.
Butter, too, is an excellent corrective for cats. Give them now and then a small piece—say a half-teaspoonful; they like it, and it acts as a gentle laxative, besides keeping the fur in nice condition. A trick some people have when they wish to show their cats, either at exhibitions or to admiring friends at home, is to touch them all over with fresh cream. The cats lap it off, and leave their fur beautifully polished.
Cats are quite as often troubled with diarrhoea as with constipation. Too much liver or fat meat will bring it on, or even exposure to wet or cold. If it continues, the cat will grow thin and emaciated, and end in death by dysentery. In such cases, put the cat in a warm room, with a box of fresh earth or sand and a comfortable bed. First give her a scant half-teaspoonful of castor oil, and six or eight hours afterward repeat the dose, with two drops of laudanum added to it. Follow up this treatment with a teaspoonful, three times a day, of chalk mixture, with half a drop of laudanum in each dose.
If a cat gives indications of poison, by frequent attacks of vomiting and refusing nearly all food for any length of time, a grain of tris-nitrate of bismuth on the tongue once or, in extreme cases, twice a day will give relief. A milk and fish diet should be used unless there is great emaciation, when raw beef, cut or scraped fine, may be given.
Cod-liver oil may be given for consumption, two or three times a day, in teaspoonful doses.
Cats are subject to fits of various kinds,—caused by too heavy diets, or by the opposite. If the cat is fat and overfed, the diet plainly should be lowered, giving milk, fish, and vegetables, with liver three times a week. If the cat is thin and emaciated, a strengthening diet should be given, with plenty of raw meat cut fine, milk, and cod-liver oil twice a day. In cases of extreme exhaustion or emaciation, occasional doses of port wine are useful, given in scant teaspoonful quantities.
A few grains of common alum in warm water, used to wash out a cat's inflamed eyes once an hour, is a simple and effectual cure.
Cats have apoplexy, and even paralysis. They die in their sleep, too, which would indicate that they have heart disease.
The best thing to do is to keep them in good condition by giving them good food and plenty of it,—yet not too much. Let them have fresh grass and catnip. They will eat the latter dry as well as green, and even like the dry packages sold by apothecaries. A saucer of milk at night and early in the morning should be given them; and in all cases their meat should be cut fine. Half the fits which cats have are caused by indigestion. After a cat is three or four years old she begins to lose her teeth, and soon finds it difficult to masticate the hard chunks of meat which many people think are good enough for cats. A little care in this direction will save them much trouble.
Again, do not turn your cats out at night, especially in cold weather. A well-trained cat will make no trouble in the house, and will seldom need to go out at night. If she does she will make her wants known. Let her sleep where she chooses, but leave the cellar door open so that she can get down there, and you will never see or hear anything of rats and mice. Teach her to run out in the daytime, when she will seldom do any mischief, and will not get sick from exposure. It is the night cats that steal chickens, kill birds and pigeons and rabbits, steal from other houses, and get covered with fleas, to say nothing of giving nocturnal concerts.