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( Originally Published 1936 )
There is a good deal of confusion in the lay mind about the skin diseases to which cats are subject, and this is not strange, for there are several of them, some parasitic, some non-parasitic, some contagious, some non-contagious, and often the eruptions look pretty much the same to the inexperienced eye. It is unfortunate, because the different diseases come from different causes and require different treatments. Also, many a poor cat has been evicted or destroyed by an owner who feared contagion to human beings, when the animal was suffering from a non-contagious breaking-out brought on by wrong feeding.
The head resident veterinarian of a large animal hospital told me that he had hardly ever known of dermic trouble being communicated from a cat to a human being. However, I knew a woman who caught ringworm from her cat, and there is always this possibility in some types of skin ailment. So if your cat develops eruptions, it is wise to isolate the sufferer, to observe sanitary precautions in handling it, and to consult a veterinary, who will probably determine the nature of the disease by making a laboratory test of scrapings from the infected spot.
A brief description of the skin disorders that attack cats may be helpful. Cats are less liable to such disorders than dogs are. They are cleaner, they take better care of their persons, and they are more critical about what they eat. Garbage often has a curious attraction for dogs in the best society, but unless a cat is an absolute bum or is very hungry it is scornful of food that is not nice. But of course cats are not proof against wrong feeding imposed upon them by foolish owners, and they are not, if they are neglected or below par, proof against the parasites that are always lying in wait for them.
There is a wide difference between mange and eczema, which are the two principal skin diseases. Mange is a parasitic affection and may be transmitted from cat to cat, and in some forms from cats to human beings. Eczema is a danger flag that nature throws out to indicate that some part of the machinery-the stomach, the intestines, or the kidneys-is not doing its work, or perhaps that the nerves are out of order. It is not contagious, but is sometimes complicated with contagious troubles.
The commonest form of mange in cats is sarcoptic mange. It is an irritating, itching disease, and a bad feature is that it sometimes leads to auricular mange, or parasitic canker of the ear, which is difficult to eradicate once it gets deep down in the convolutions of that organ. The villain in this piece is an infinitesimal mite called the Sarcoptes minor, and, owing partly to the cat's habit of rubbing its head against things, this is the part of its body that is generally attacked.
Like all these pests the sarcoptic mites love filth, and when they find themselves on a clean, wellgroomed, healthy cat they just, as a rule, sit tight and wait for favorable conditions. Their ability to exist a long time without declaring themselves is proved by the fact that sometimes this mange develops in cats who have been confined for months in an apartment where there was no chance of infection. Almost always it starts around the eyes or ears or on the cheeks or neck; if your cat begins to scratch its head, to rub it against furniture, and shake it as if trying to dislodge a troublesome invader, you may suspect mange. It is true that toothache or a foreign object, such as a needle, lodged in the jaw may cause such symptoms, but the uneasiness that comes from pain and the uneasiness that comes from itching may be distinguished from each other.
If it is sarcoptic mange you will find by looking closely, as the disease develops, very small red pimples or elevations, over which presently sticky scabs will form. Unless you have had experience it is not best to try to treat this yourself. You might be mistaken in the diagnosis, and if you set out to experiment with so-called cures there is grave danger that you will use some drug that is poison to a cat's sensitive skin. Cats are more susceptible than dogs. Never use preparations of tar, or balsam, or alkali, or carbolic acid, for they have been known to kill cats on whose skin they were rubbed.
If you must carry on without a veterinary, get some good boric ointment and apply it to the sore place, first cleansing this with a weak solut:on of Lysol. Soap, even the pure unscented soap which is the only kind that ought ever to touch cats, is irritating to a mangy surface. If the eruptions are of some extent, the hair should be carefully clipped around and above them. Never grease a cat's whole body or even a large part of it, for the discomfort and the interference with the pores might bring on a depression that would end in death.
If your cat has mange, do not let it associate with other cats, and do not let it lie on cushioned furniture. Give it a bed of its own in a warm, quiet place, a bed lined with cloths that can be frequently changed (and the old ones burned). There is really no risk to yourself if you are careful. It is very bad for the patient to lick the doctored spots, and if these are where a light bandage can be applied, or if an Elizabethan collar (described in the chapter on The Importance of Nursing) can be adjusted and worn without hurting the sores, some such check should be employed.
Sarcoptic mange at its worst, as it is sometimes seen in homeless cats, can be very terrible. Once in a tenement street I picked up an old cat whose head was so covered with hardened, thickened scabs that it looked like an elephant's skin. The poor thing was nearly blind and starved to a skeleton, yet it managed a rusty purr when I lifted it and carried it away to be mercifully put to death.
Any irritation of the skin is weakening, so the victim ought to be well fed on simple, nourishing things, especially when convalescence sets in. A daily teaspoonful of cod-liver oil is excellent if it agrees with your cat, but with some it does not agree. As a tonic I have found nothing better than pure beef juice, which I make by broiling round steak just enough to start the blood, and pressing it out. Sarcoptic mange may run a week, or a month, or longer, but if it is taken in time and properly treated the sores will heal, the mousy odor will disappear, the hardened skin will become soft and supple, and the hair, if it has fallen out or been cut away, will grow again as beautiful as before.
Happily for cats they have little liking for the cake and candy that so many spoiled dogs beg for, and get. This and the fastidious distaste of cats for meat that is not fresh make them, as I have said, less subject than dogs to that frequent result of wrong feeding, eczema. However, there is enough wrong feeding of cats to make eczema a not uncommon trouble among them. Some owners have queer notions. For example, salt fish and horse flesh are considered by many people good provender for cats, but both can cause eczema. Happily, there is not much horse meat now, except that used in some prepared rations for cats.
Eczema is a non-parasitic, non-contagious disease, though it may be complicated with a contagious form of mange. There are two types of eczema, the dry and the moist. Dry eczema is most likely to be seen around the ears and on the eyelids, or rather its results are seen, for the pimples by which it manifests itself are too small for the naked eye to discern. What you see is a worried cat scratching its head till the skin is sore and the hair falls out. Persian cats with their long thick coats are peculiarly liable to moist eczema, though the shorthaired breeds have it too. It breaks out along the back, on the head, on the forelegs, at the base of the tail, and on the abdomen. The skin is hot and tender, little sores form, pus exudes, and the hair becomes matted and dirty. If it continues, the hair follicles may be destroyed and baldness ensue.
Outside applications cannot cure eczema, and ignorantly employed they may torture the sensitive skin, perhaps poison the patient, possibly cause death. Even soap and water are too irritating to a skin so sore. Of course in moist eczema it is necessary to remove the dried pus and perhaps to clip away the matted hair, that the skin may be reached for soothing treatment, but this should be done only under skilled supervision. Debilitated cats have died from shock and chill after the reckless cutting away of too much hair, and some of the lotions that are cleansing, no doubt, are absolutely toxic to a cat.
The internal treatment is the important thing. The bowels must be cleared out. The safest laxative for an amateur to use is milk of magnesia, given as prescribed in the chapter on Colds and What They Lead To. The diet must be carefully regulated. Give nourishing food, but nothing stimulating. No salt fish, none of the richer fresh fish, no rice or potatoes or bread or spaghetti, no pork, no liver, only lean beef, cooked lamb and rabbit and codfish, brown-bread toast, milk, and non-starchy vegetables. Do not overfeed, but if there is anemia a tonic, say half a teaspoonful of cod-liver oil daily, is advisable.
Moist eczema has a sad tendency to recur even after it seems to be cleared up, but it can be conquered if you keep your pet scrupulously clean and on a rigid diet.
Ringworm is a fungoid skin disease, one of the few dermic woes that human beings can catch from cats, and cats from humans. Mice and rats have it, and they are the chief source of infection for cats. It starts with small yellow specks, which grow larger and lift slightly, with hairs piercing the scabs. They spread in a circular shape, and are sometimes as large as a penny. Ringworm often runs its course and goes of itself, but it is better to have a veterinarian, for a good fungicide will hasten the cure. And if there are dusty corners or floor cracks where the cat has lain they should be cleaned out, for these vegetable parasites infest such places.
There are various other skin troubles, and they come from various causes. Pruritus, which, .is simply the Latin for itching, has been known to appear for no apparent reason. Or it will follow the use of turpentine or kerosene or any '; other stinging agent, which some people are mad enough to use to free a cat's coat from paint, or birdlime, or other messes into which unfortunate cats do sometimes blunder. Or sickness may bring it on. Its symptoms are swelling and redness, discharges and scurf, and the treatment should be soothing applications to the skin and attention to the diet.
Baldness is something we hate to befall our pets, for an abundant, fine, healthy coat is one of the cat's great beauties and a proof of its condition. Old cats have a right to get a trifle bald around the ears, but bald spots and even thin places on a younger cat indicate something wrong. They may result from inbreeding of the forebears, or from parasites, or from malnutrition of the skin.
When baldness follows accidental burning or scalding, or a bout of skin disease so severe as to destroy the hair follicles, not much can be done about it. When there has been no injury to the skin you must look for other causes. In any event, a wellnourished body is necessary for a good coat, and grooming is the best stimulant. There is nothing like a good bristle brush regularly used to give life to the hair follicles, and, by cleaning out the dead hair, to make room for a new growth.