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( Originally Published 1936 )
It is said that nursing is half the battle in treating a sick human being. It is more than that in dealing with a sick cat. Shut off from us by the barrier of language, not knowing the why of the hurt and the handling and the medicines and all the tiresome business of healing, cats doubly need the reassurance of affectionate care, of gentle hands and a soothing voice.
For nursing means much more than just the practical details. I knew a cat who was accidentally poisoned. The veterinary came, administered antidotes, and went, saying that he doubted if the cat could recover. But Cedric's mistress sat down by him and tended him the night through, stroking him, coaxing him to take the drink he needed, crooning a foolish little ritual, "Cedric, get well for Missie's sake," and in the morning he was better; in a week he was well. Another cat, similarly stricken and given the same antidote but left alone for the night, died.
Of course the practical details are important, and if you cannot attend to them at home it is better to take your pet to a hospital: But you can manage them if you really want to, and home is the best place for a sick cat. I have often heard Dr. Bruce Blair say that the temperature of even a healthy dog or cat will rise when it is confined in a cage in a strange place. During the score of years that he was head of the Ellin Prince Speyer Hospital he never failed to advise owners to care for their pets at home if they could.
In nursing your sick cat the first detail is its bed. If it has had a favorite spot to lie in, a particular chair or corner of a sofa, it will as a rule want to stay there, and you should humor it if you can, but if the nature of the ailment or the conditions of your household forbid this, fix a bed in a quiet corner. It should be airy but not in a draft, near sunlight but shaded from the glare. Newspapers make a good mattress; they should be changed and the discarded ones burned every day. The blanket should be changed and washed daily. A cat that is badly hurt or so helpless as to be in danger of bedsores will find a rubber air cushion a very grateful relief.
When a sick cat is inclined to move about to its harm it may be necessary to cage it. Canny owners accustom their pets to occasional cage life early, and that makes it simpler to confine them when the need arises. It is possible to buy attractive cages that will match your furniture.
Administering medicine to eats is a ticklish business. Liquids are most difficult, for the cat's muzzle is small, and it has not, as the dog has, elastic cheek pouches into which they can be poured. But patience does it. If you are nervous and hasty you get nowhere with a cat. Have the dose ready in a medicine dropper or a fountainpen filler, stroke the patient and talk to it soothingly, and then (if it is a quiet cat) you will be able to put your left hand around the back of its neck, pressing the jaw hinges open with your thumb and second finger, and drop the liquid down its throat.
A fractious or frightened cat will have to be wrapped in a blanket to keep it still. Avoid making it struggle. And do not pour anything down hastily, or much at a time, lest it get into the lungs and give your pet pneumonia.
Tasteless potions can of course be added to a cat's food or water, if he is eating or drinking. Liquid paraffin, which relieves constipation, can be mixed with broken-up sardines. Olive oil can be given the same way. Bismuth powder, excellent for diarrhea or vomiting, cannot be detected when added to meat. Milk of magnesia is fairly tasteless in cow's milk. But do not let the patient see you doctoring its food. I have known cats to wax suspicious at the mere sight of the medicine bottle.
When the drug can be had in the form of pills or can be put in capsules it is easiest to give it in that form, even though you cannot fool a cat as you often can a dog by wraping a pill in a bit of meat.
Cats decline to bolt things. But with small spring forceps you can drop a pill far back on the tongue, and down it goes. Powders can be dusted on the tongue, but never try this with bitter ones; your pet may be nauseated and refuse to take anything for days. Use a capsule for the disagreeable dose..
Getting an invalid or convalescent cat to eat is of the greatest importance, and here is the great advantage in having sick pets at home. They are more inclined to eat in familiar surroundings, and hospital attendants rarely have the time to use the artifices necessary to induce an ailing cat to take the nourishment it is too languid to want. Just to set down a saucer of food is not enough. Take a little scraped beef or minced chicken in your fingers and hold it at the cat's nostrils or rub it lightly against the mouth. I have seen very sick cats roused in this way to eat.
But do not overdo it. A little at a time is the rule for stomachs sensitive from illness.
The type of food to give depends on the nature of the ailment. If your pet is anemic and thin from a wasting disease, give milk with a little cream in it, beef that is a trifle fat, boiled codfish, boiled tripe, and similar foods. Half a teaspoonful of cod-liver oil daily is a good builder if it agrees with the patient; if it upsets the stomach, avoid it. Oil goes down best mixed with sardines. I believe strongly in beef juice, for it not only nourishes but stimulates, and when a cat is thirsty it will drink this quite readily. Prepared extracts are likely, because of the salts they contain, to irritate a cat's stomach, so make the juice yourself. Broiling the steak slightly makes it easier to press the juice out.
Raw egg is good in fevers, beaten up in milk, one egg to half a pint of liquid. When the digestion is bad the white of the egg only should be used. Very sick cats have benefited by egg albumin forcibly fed. But forcible feeding must be done very cautiously, for it may cause an attack of vomiting that will result in heart failure and death.
Arrowroot is nourishing and very useful in checking diarrhea. If the bowels are loose, it is best to give things with a little starch in them, or gelatine, rather than meats, oils, or vegetables.
Neat cats must be very sick indeed before they cease to go to the pan, and generally it is best to let them go. Place the pan near the bed, and change the sand or paper often. Never let a sick cat's coat become smeared, but clean it with damp absorbent cotton. Keep the eyes, the ears, and the nostrils clean too. When there is a discharge, as in distemper, it is very important to clear out the nasal passages.
A thing that must be watched out for in nursing cats with skin troubles is their inverterate tendency to wash themselves. An Elizabethan collar is the best guard. Cut a round of cardboard and make a hole in the center just large enough to slip over the head. The collar should stand out from the neck about four inches. Wound with a strip of soft cloth it is not uncomfortable, and most cats, though at first they think it queer, end by tolerating it very gracefully.