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Disease of the Nerves and Brain

[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 )

A SCHOOLTEACHER FRIEND who lived with her cat and dog in a little house she had built on the outskirts of a Westchester town telephoned me in great distress.

"Bill has gone insane," she said.

Bill was her twelve-year-old cat, one of the most sensible and poised individuals I ever had the privilege of knowing. My friend used to say that it was most soothing to come home to Bill after a day spent with forty riotous eighth-grade children. It was edifying to see Bill's tolerant manner toward Fluffy, the dog, a rather feminine and inconsequent creature. I could not imagine Bill losing his senses. Besides, do cats go insane? But yes, Bill had.

Two nights before, a Friday night, she let him out for the brief stroll he always took at bedtime, and he did not return. My friend did not sleep much that night, and the next day she searched and called, called and searched. Sunday morning she remembered that she had not looked under the porch of the house next door. She went down on her stomach and wriggled under, and from the far corner two eyes glared at her. It was Bill, and yet not Bill, for he didn't know her.

He flew at her, snarling, then retreated and crouched in the shadows, shaking in a terrible convulsion. The veterinary came, but they could not reach Bill, and what could he do? She agreed with him that Bill's misery must be ended. The policeman came and did it, swiftly, mercifully, with ,a bullet in Bill's brain.

My friend buried Bill in the garden; she never knew what had befallen him. The doctor thought he had had inflammation of the brain, which might have been caused by some injury or fright, or might have struck with no apparent reason. I believe that diseases of the nerves and brain, when they occur to cats, are mostly from some outside cause. Cats have extremely sensitive nervous systems, but, curiously enough, they are not as subject to diseases of them as are dogs, if they lead normal lives. But they have always been targets for teasing by dogs and bad boys.

Inflammation of the brain may center in the brain substance or it may be in the brain coverings. The victim's first desire is to hide, as Bill's was. In the milder attacks they are just stupid; in the more acute they are maniacal, rushing about and tearing at things, and often the temperature reaches 105 degrees. This disease may be provoked by a fractured bone pressing on the brain, but whatever the cause it is difficult to diagnose and almost impossible to cure. Sometimes the patient passes into a chronic depression-for cats can be depressed, just as people and the times can.

Congestion of the brain is a milder disease than inflammation, with no fever. It may accompany distemper, and it has been known to follow sunstroke, for cats do get sunstroke, even though they are less foolish than dogs 'about playing in the hot sun. Being worried by dogs or children is a frequent cause of brain lesions; an unconscious cat once brought into an animal clinic was found to have a cord tied so tightly around its neck that brain congestion had set in.


Some of the symptoms of congestion are muscular twitching, wild eyes, and a frightened air. If the cat is kept quiet in a dark corner, and a little ice pack held on its head, the chances are that it will recover, but on the other hand inflammation of the brain may be near.

When a cat has apoplexy it falls unconscious, and this coma is followed by paralysis, which sometimes is permanent. Light attacks of apoplexy generally yield to treatment-ice on the head, a laxative, and an enema of warm soapy water. In epilepsy the cat falls to the ground but does not lose consciousness; it stares wildly, quivers all over, and sometimes froths at the mouth.

Anemia of the brain is a slow and hopeless disease, coming from poverty of the blood or from depletion by hemorrhage. The cat will be dizzy at times, dull, and sick at its stomach. An abscess on the brain is another difficult thing to treat. With an abscess there are some of the symptoms of inflammation of the brain; also, the cat shakes its head and holds it in an unnatural position.

Spinal meningitis is a malady of the spinal cord, sometimes the result of an injury, and it is so painful that the patient can hardly bear to be touched. A frequent outcome of meningitis is paraplegia, or paralysis of the rear parts of the body. A cat with paraplegia is a pitiful sight, unable to move its thighs or hind legs. But I have seen one, in an animal hospital, massaged day by day for weeks by an attendant till it walked totteringly; finally it showed a complete cure.

Cat mothers have their share of brain and nervous troubles, like human mothers. Cats with their first kittens are most liable to puerperal eclampsia. Restlessness, fever, and convulsions are the signs, and when they appear the kittens must be at once removed, else the mother may do them harm. Sometimes the seizure is soon over, sometimes it lasts for days. The milk usually dries, but if any remains in the breasts it should be drawn off. Then the cat's owner has her work cut out for her-to keep the kittens alive till the mother can nurse them, if she ever can.