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( Originally Published 1936 )
Some of the visitors to a huge animal hospital in New York City are surprised when they see, under the heading "diagnosis" on the cards that are tacked on the cages of the ward patients, such terms as enteritis, pleurisy, laryngitis, keratitis, otitis, cystitis, and spinal meningitis. Especially if the patient is a cat. That cats are subject to most of the diseases which afflict human beings and have nervous systems which render them acutely susceptible to suffering are facts that have been slow to penetrate the human mind.
Veterinary science has been strangely backward in the matter of the cat, and of the dog also, but this century has brought a great improvement. In the old days, especially in the country, there would be perhaps one veterinarian for many miles around, and he a horse doctor, who if you asked him to help your sick cat would most likely give you a to help laugh. Even now this is the case in some rural districts, but the number of qualified practitioners who specialize in the diseases of small animals is growing, and there are more animal hospitals and clinics than there were. Not all hospitals are good, not all veterinarians are competent, but it is generally possible to obtain expert treatment for a sick cat.
But many of us do not take the trouble, or do not take it till it is too late. A cat's sickness should be dealt with at the start. We must learn to know the signs, for our cats cannot say to us, "My stomach aches" . . . "My throat is sore" . . . "My ears hurt." Perhaps they would not tell us these things if they could, for cats have a tendency to draw away into corners when they suffer and to endure in silence.
When a cat loses interest in its usual pursuits, and mopes with its head tucked down, and sleeps a great deal, it is sick. Refusal to eat is generally a sign of physical disturbance, though in hot weather or after overeating a cat will sometimes decline food simply because it knows it ought to, and taken into a strange place it may lose its appetite temporarily. But a cat that is not overfed and is in good condition ought to have an eager appetite for its meals. Sick cats lose interest in their toilets; they cease to wash themselves, and their fur gets dull and spiky. This symptom does not hold so much with Persians, for they usually leave their valeting to their owners, and their long fluffy hair is not so quick to indicate sickness as is that of the sleek, short-haired breeds. However, any serious illness will cause a Persian's coat to deteriorate.
A healthy cat's eyes are bright, its gums are pink and its teeth white, and its breath is never foul. A healthy cat has a normal elimination of the bowels once a day; and a tendency toward either constipation or diarrhea is a danger sign, possibly at first a slight one, but one that should not be neglected.
There are several important "don'ts" to be remembered when your cat is sick. Don't go to a drugstore and ask for medicine for a cat. A pharmacist's license does not qualify a man to prescribe for a cat. Don't attempt, without expert advice, to worm your cat. There are several sorts of worms, and the treatment differs according to the kind; anyhow most of the popular remedies are too strong and do more harm than good. Do not administer any castor oil, for it is irritating to a cat's intestines.
For mild ailments home treatment is good if intelligently applied, and even a severe attack may call for first aid before the veterinary can be reached. It simplifies matters to have a cat's medicine kit, with these things in it:
Absorbent cotton.Orange sticks or wooden toothpicks. Narrow cheesecloth bandage. Gelatine capsules.A rectal thermometer. White vaseline. Oil of eucalyptus. Milk of magnesia tablets. Liquid paraffin. Bismuth subnitrate. Aspirin tablets. Argyrol (5% solution), Calcium lactate. Bicarbonate of soda. Sweet spirits of ammonia. Boric acid powder.
Vaseline is needed for hair balls; eucalyptus, aspirin, and argyrol for respiratory troubles; milk of magnesia and paraffin for constipation; bismuth for diarrhea; calcium for rickets; sweet spirits of ammonia for prostration; bicarbonate of soda for cleansing the mouth; and boric acid for the ears. Detailed descriptions of the uses of simple medicines are given in the chapters on the various diseases, and in the chapter on The Importance of Nursing will be found directions for administering remedies to cats. An ordinary clinical thermometer may be used, but the special rectal thermometer for cats is better.
It is fortunate for cats that they take better care of their health than dogs do of theirs, for they are more difficult patients once they fall ill. Dogs, especially puppies, are impetuous about eating and sometimes devour food that is tainted, but watch how daintily a cat sniffs at things before tasting them, and how definitely it rejects them if they are not right. Cats are also more careful about getting their feet wet and less impulsive about rushing into danger.
But cats are fatalists, and when disease attacks them they seem to feel that there is no help for it, that the only course is to submit. So much more independent than dogs, they must love and trust you very much before they will ask for aid; their natural dislike of being handled by strangers is intensified when they are sick. Because of this it is wise to- nurse a cat at home, except for the surgical and contagious cases that are best dealt with in a hospital.
A petted cat is like a child: it feels safest and so is most likely to recover in its own bed and among the people it knows. But, since it is often a bad plan to carry a sick cat back and forth for treatments, and since the veterinary's visits may be expensive, a good animal hospital may be a godsend for the owner of a cat.