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Troubles of the Digestive Tract

[On Grooming a Cat]  [Things an Indoor Cat Needs]  [Colds and What They Lead To]  [More about Respiratory Diseases]  [Distemper, Tuberculosis, and Infectious Enteritis]  [Troubles of the Digestive Tract]  [Worms and Hair Balls]  [Diseases of the Nerves and Brain]  [The Soul of the Cat]  [More Cat Articles] 

( Originally Published 1936 )



DIGESTIVE AILMENTS MAKE A long story, for they extend all the way from the teeth to the anus, from pyorrhea to rectal abscesses, from stomatitis, or sore mouth, to colitis. They make up the greater part of the cat cases at animal clinics, and for this we cat-owners ought to take shame to ourselves, because wrong feeding is the chief cause. But I hope not many of us are as foolish as the colored girl who brought a white Persian cat, miserably sick, to a veterinarian late one night.

"What have you been feeding him?" the doctor asked.

"Horatio had sausages and a chicken bone and fried potatoes foh dinnah. Then mah girl friend across the hall had a pahty, and she treated him to ice cream. Horatio shuah does appreciate ice cream. 'Nothah thing he likes is cigarettes. It does tickle folks to see Horatio gobble the end of a cigarette. It's a trick mah boy friend learned him."

The boy friend had run to the drugstore when Horatio succumbed, and bought castor oil and buckthorn to pour down his throat. They were naively surprised that this made him worse. Now this may be an extreme case, but there are many just as outrageous.

Cats that are allowed to roam pick up things that upset the digestion, or worse. Country cats sometimes get thin from eating too many grasshoppers and beetles. And, contrary to the general belief, mice are not wholesome for cats, but fortunately well-fed cats seldom eat the mice they catch.

I do not suppose that four cats out of five have pyorrhea, but as they grow old they are subject to it, and the cause is what it is in humans: too much soft food. If your cat rubs its face with its paw, picks at its food, dribbles from the corners of its mouth, and has indigestion, you may guess pyorrhea. As pyorrhea develops the teeth are loosened and the gums become soft and inflamed. Often the first indication is tartar on the teeth; this is the time to take it in hand, and clean the teeth with a soft brush or a swab dipped in a one per cent solution of hydrochloric acid, or in bicarbonate of soda. Real pyorrhea requires the veterinarian, for it may be a case for the forceps.

Stomatitis is an inflammation of the mucous membrane of the mouth. Your pet may get it from being scalded by hot food, or from strong medicine, or from indigestion. The symptoms are bad breath, difficulty in eating, fever, and a tendency to sit with the head held stiffly forward. Open the mouth and you will find it inflamed, perhaps ulcerated. Sometimes there is a deposit at the back which the timid take for diphtheria, but it is not really that, and you need not fear contagion. The mouth should be cleansed with an antiseptic solution and the ulcers painted, but a layman should not attempt to treat ulcers.

Pharyngitis, or inflammation of the cavity into which the nose and mouth open, is a sort of extension of stomatitis, harder to deal with because the pharynx is less easy to reach. It may be caused by chills, or by bacterial invasion, or by a bone lodging in the throat. The most serious form, that caused by distemper germs, was described in the chapter on distemper. A cat with pharyngitis almost always coughs, especially when it tries to eat; but if the throat is very bad it refuses food, becomes very nervous, and hides away in corners.

In its mild form this disease soon yields to treatment. Keep the patient warm, coax it with soft nourishing foods, and pin a baby's wool sock snugly around the throat, with camphorated oil rubbed into the skin under it. Two per cent lime water is a good wash for a sore throat.

Gastritis, to which cats are rather subject, usually comes from bacteria taken into the system with food that is not fresh. Cats get it from eating mice, or poisoned baits that have been put out for vermin. A distressing symptom of gastritis is thirst along with an inability to drink; the sufferer will sit by the water dish eyeing it longingly, or if it does drink or eat anything, up it comes directly, accompanied by froth. Cats lose strength fast in gastritis; the sooner the doctor comes the better. There may be gastric ulcers, and they are very serious.

Gastritis is inflammation of the stomach, enteritis is inflammation of the bowels. If your pet cries with pain when you press on the abdomen, you may conclude that the trouble has gone on down. The toxic results of constipation can bring on enteritis, but do not experiment with purgatives, for they may do more harm than good. The cat's strength must be kept up (if it recovers enough to take nourishment) with small doses of beef juice, rice water, barley water, milk, and white of egg in water. In bad cases these are introduced by way of the rectum, but this, and the drugs that are needed to relieve pain, are matters for the veterinarian.

Plain dyspepsia often troubles cats fed not wisely but too well. They show it by hiccoughing instead of purring, by emesis, constipation, halitosis, and a dull demeanor. It is a good plan, when you suspect dyspepsia and cannot immediately have an expert opinion, to starve the cat for a day or two, and to empty the bowels with an enema of warm soapy water. You can easily do this with a soft rubber ear syringe, and if your pet has been properly trained to handling it will lie quiet on a rubber apron across your lap. Fractious patients must of course be held by an aid, and their claws muffled in a towel.

Colitis, or inflammation of the lower bowel, is as painful to cats as to humans. Most veterinarians put the sufferer on a milk diet, and give enemas of starch or opium. Abscesses near the rectum are painful too. A very old cat of mine had them, and they hurt her so that I decided to see if enemas would not correct the condition, and happily they did.

Kittens are subject to colic, and occasionally adult cats have it too. Usually they tell you; they cry and are very restless. A harmless remedy is a ten-grain tablet of bicarbonate of soda in water e'very few hours till the bloating is reduced. And a hot-water bottle on the tummy is as grateful to a cat as it is to a human being with a midriff ache.

It cannot be said too often that constipation, diarrhea, bad breath, loss of appetite, and an abnormally large appetite are danger signs. Never neglect constipation. If your cat does not evacuate once a day, you must give it milk of magnesia, as prescribed in the chapter on Colds and What They Lead To, make sure that he has plenty of fresh water to drink, and check up on his diet to see that the cook is not giving him spaghetti or something equally harmful. And remember that a cat with diarrhea is a sick cat.

An increased appetite may indicate worms, or intestinal catarrh, or diabetes. Refusal to eat, if persisted in, shows illness, except in the case of a homesick or grieving cat.

I met, one day, a man who had often told me of his intelligent old cat, Plato. He looked as if he had lost his last friend. He is a solitary, shy sort of man, and Plato was the whole of his family. "Plato is dead," he told me, "and I killed him." Having had to leave the city for a time, he had put his cat in a cats' boarding place, and Plato, unable to understand the separation and perhaps thinking it final, had refused to eat. And the stupid attendants who collected the dishes from the boarders' cages after a meal never noticed that Plato's meat was untouched. This had gone on till Plato died of starvation.

Doctors know that it is hard to get a homesick cat to eat, and so they advise keeping ill cats at home rather than in a hospital.