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Keeping Your Cat Well

[The Character of The Cat]  [Choosing A Kitten]  [Care And Grooming Of Cats]  [Keeping Your Cat Well]  [More Cat Articles] 

( Originally Published 1938 )

Re-word the old saying to read "Lack of care killed a cat," and you have a reasonably accurate explanation for most cat ailments.

The larger part of cat illnesses can be avoided by proper care and diet. In a sense, there is no need for your cat to be ill unless an accident occurs, or the cat gets a chill, or visits the wrong playmates, or you bring home the germs of some cat disease on your clothes. Yes, barring accidental sources of infection, your cat will live a long, healthy, and pleasant life if you care for it properly and feed it correctly.

Ailing cats differ from ailing dogs. Cats do not contract infection so often, but when a cat becomes ill the nursing problem is more difficult, because the cat has an active distaste for medicine, and usually misunderstands your intentions when you attempt treatments.

Sick cats do not like to be handled, and usually prefer to go into a corner and mope. Cats are very sensitive to a change of scenery during illness, and a cat has a better chance of recovery if kept at home in familiar surroundings. This fact must not stop you from taking your pet to a cat hospital immediately if its ailment is serious, or if it has been gravely injured.

Cats have ailments similar to those from which people suffer, such as diseases of the throat, lungs, stomach, and liver. But in general, most cat illnesses yield to simple medication and diet. The cat is careful to avoid disease. It eats carefully and shuns getting wet. Danger signals of approaching illness in a cat are: lack of enthusiasm at play, a loss of appetite, and a decreasing interest in caring for its coat. Loss of appetite alone may not be serious, because the cat stops eating under an emotional strain, such as moving to a new house. If a cat persists in not eating, it is probably ill:

1. Feed properly. Meat is the chief food, winter and summer. Be certain the meat is fresh.

2. Brush and comb the cat often. Daily is best. 3. Allow plenty of fresh drinking water.

4. Have green grass available at all seasons.

5. If you have played with another cat, wash your hands thoroughly before playing with your own pet.

6. See that the cat has daily elimination. Constipation should be tended to immediately.

7. Fresh air and sunshine, and exercise are necessary.

8. Be certain that your windows are screened, so the cat will not fall from a window ledge and injure itself.

This is the source of many cat illnesses. Colds are contracted from a wetting, from sleeping in a draft, from a sudden winter exposure to which the cat is not conditioned, etc. Through the doorways of the nose and throat the cold germs enter, and while they may not be serious themselves, they may result in pneumonia, bronchitis, and other pulmonary diseases, or even distemper. No cat cold should be taken lightly. Treat your pet immediately, and continue until it is fully recovered.

SYMPTOMS; Sneezing, a warm dry nose, occasionally a discharge from the nose, watering of the eyes, lethargy, lack of interest in food. If the attack is mild, the cat may not have a loss of appetite.

TREATMENT: If you have other cats, isolate the one with the cold immediately. Keep the ailing cat in a warm room, and make its bed comfortable with a hot water bottle, or an electric pad (low heat). Give it half an aspirin once a day (no more than three doses). Vapor inhalations several times a day help (see note following). Vaseline will help relieve any soreness around the nostrils, and will make any discharge of mucus easier. Reduce the amount of food somewhat. If the cat will not eat meat, try searing a piece of beef, then cut the meat into strips and press out the juice with a potato masher. Cats will usually take this nourishment even when very ill. If there are evidences of constipation, a teaspoonful of mineral oil should be given twice the first day, and once the following day. Continue to treat the cat for a week after the last sign of cold is gone.

Cats in general do not approve of medical treatment. It is wise to train your cat in kittenhood to be handled, to take liquid from a spoon, and to allow its mouth to be opened while you insert a small particle of food. Later this trained cat will take medicine without trouble, and will allow you to open its mouth and administer a pill.

Giving medicine to sick, untrained, grown cats is usually a strong-arm operation. To give liquid medicine or tablets, first wrap the cat's legs, body, and neck securely in a heavy towel. If you are working alone, it is best to pin the towel with safety pins. With your left hand on top of the jaw, grasp the thumb and forefinger back at the rear of the cat's mouth. Put pressure on the cat's cheeks, pushing them inward against the teeth. This has a double purpose: it causes the cat to open up, and it keeps you from getting nipped. If your pet has confidence in you, you can put the tablet far back in its mouth by hand-otherwise, it is safest to give the tablet with a spoon. There is a fair chance that you will not have difficulty in giving the cat liquid medicine. Some cats will lap the liquid readily.

Some medicines may be mixed in a cat's food. Bismuth mixes well with meat, mineral oil may be combined with some tuna, etc. Since meat is often the best food in time of illness, the cat should be urged to eat it. Ball up a little meat in dabs and try hand-feeding. Liquid medicines sometimes may be fed, through a medicine-dropper. If the cat is jumpy, an orange spoon is safer, because the cat may break the dropper and be cut by splintered glass.

WARNING: There is danger of the cat contracting mechanical pneumonia if medicine goes down its windpipe. So dose with care. Do it slowly.

INHALATION TREATMENT: Inhalations are valuable in fighting colds, but you will have a hard time convincing the average cat that inhalations are -necessary, proper, ox CRICKET. Place the cat in a box of screen wire. Prop the box on chairs so that you have a clear space below. Drape the top and sides of the box with a sheet, then place a pan of boiling water and inhalant below the cage so that the rising medicated steam will be breathed by the cat for ten or fifteen minutes, whether kitty approves or not. Oil of eucalyptus, or a similar inhalant, will be satisfactory: If the cold is severe repeat the treatment several times a day. Be sure the cat is kept warm after the treatment.

These diseases sometimes follow a difficult cold. If your cat does not respond to the cold treatment in two days, you have reason to suspect other complications. A cough is a usual accompaniment of bronchial or lung trouble, and continued high fever is another sign. While nursing and treatment at home may bring your cat to recovery, a trip to the veterinarian is the safest solution.

Treatment of respiratory diseases at home requires the continuation of the cold treatment. Heat must be kept up, and if the cat has pneumonia it is well to put it in a warm jacket. The jacket should cover the neck and chest completely, and may be supplemented with poultices or hot applications.

Remember, a sick cat must eat; tempt it with its favorite foods. Don't hurry convalescence. Give the cat time to recover, or you may have the nursing job to do over.

This is the cat's most dangerous germ disease. It may attack a cat in several ways, and it is possible that each separate form may be an individual type of germ infection by itself.

Distemper that attacks the air passages may be lethal not entirely because of its own effects, but because it induces severe pneumonia. Intestinal distemper strikes speedily and is usually violent enough to kill the cat without the aid of other infections. One thing is known for certain about distemper; the germ that causes it has an exceptional amount of vigor. Highly contagious, this cat-slayer is easily contracted, hard to dispose of, and harder still to eradicate from a cat's living quarters after a recovery. To keep distemper localized you must follow these sanitary precautions:

1. Place the cat's box in a warm, well-ventilated place that can be cleaned easily.

2. Make the bed from crumpled newspapers, with an overlay of blanket, or ticking. Remove and burn the papers daily-wash and sterilize the blanket daily (better have two blankets).

3. Keep all water or food pans, spoons, cups, etc., used during the cat's illness sterile by scalding.

4. Burn immediately all swabs or cotton used to remove mucus.

5. Empty, scald, and refill the cat's toilet pan several times daily. Be sure to use paper filler, because it can be put in the furnace and burned.

6. Following the illness, the cat's box should be disinfected and repainted, or burned. Thoroughly fumigate the room used by the cat. The course of the disease will probably immunize your pet, but no other cat should be allowed to come into the sickroom for at least four or five months afterward. If your cat dies from distemper, allow perhaps half a year to pass before you try to bring up another cat :n the same apartment.

If these sanitation rules sound rigorous enough for a plague, remember that distemper is a plague. Like a welltrained gangster, distemper doesn't fool around when it starts into action.

AIR PASSAGE DISTEMPER: This type is most subject to cure. At the start, this type of distemper may look very much like a common cold, so all colds should be watched. There is always fever, watery eyes, and discharge from the nose that is first thin, but later turns thick. Watch the cat's coat. Under the pall of distemper the cat neglects grooming, and the coat will form into noticeable spikes or wads of hair. There may be some diarrhea. Most cat owners will find it advisable to take the pet to a veterinarian for treatment. If kept at home and treated, aspirin may be given to adult cats-half tablet doses once a day. Warmth, isolation, and fresh air (no draughts) are part of the cure. Beef juice, egg and milk, chopped or scraped beef, or liver extract should be fed. Swab discharge from eyes and nose frequently, using a dilute solution of boric acid on the swabs. Inhalations are often beneficial.

Unless this distemper is very deep seated, recovery will take place in about four weeks. However, the cat should be kept under supervision for at least a month and a half longer. Keep it away from other cats for at least four months.

NOTE: A virulent form of distemper settles in the throat, where in time it may so ulcerate the throat tissue that recovery is next to impossible. A usual symptom is a pro fuse flow of saliva and a heavily inflamed throat. In advanced stages the cat is unable to swallow, and it is the humanitarian act to end the cat's suffering. Treatment should be left to a veterinarian. If arrested in time, this type of distemper can be beaten. Your cat stands a fourto-one chance of recovery.

ABDOMINAL DISTEMPER AND INFECTIOUS ENTERITIS: These diseases are so parallel in the way they attack a cat that many authorities believe them to be one disease. If you can imagine yourself beset with a violent case of intestinal flu, coupled with a vomiting attack, you have an idea how enteritis acts on a cat. Whether they are two diseases or not, cat mortality, without adequate treatment, is unusually high.

The development of vaccines and serums for enteritis has made encouraging headway during recent years, and any competent veterinarian can give this preventive treatment. Serums are usually administered in the early stages of the disease, and even though the diagnosis is not positive it is better to let the cat have the serum shots than to make the mistake of fooling yourself with a latent case of enteritis.

SYMPTOMS: Loss of appetite, complete lack of play interest, a tendency to sleep too much. The cat vomits a yellowish liquid at frequent intervals, and the bowels produce a mucus-like discharge; sometimes blood appears in these watery stools. The cat weakens rapidly. It develops a very high fever. In severe cases, death usually occurs in 48 hours.

TREATMENT: The attack of this disease is so rapid that it is foolish to try to combat it at home. However, while preparing the cat for a visit to the doctor keep it warm, and make it as comfortable as possible. During the recovery period, remember the precautions that apply in any case of distemper-sterilize and fumigate; and keep your cat away from other cats.

The two chief types of worms that infest cats are round worms and tape worms. But dangerous as worms are to cats, their treatment by unskilled owners is often more dangerous. The constitution of your cat will not stand the kind of worm medicine that would be good for your dog, so suggestions for treatment had better be left to your veterinarian. It is extremely dangerous to give any kind of worm medicine to young kittens, and full-grown cats too do not have much resistance against a violent vermifuge. Worms are fairly common, since the eggs come to a cat through things it eats, but there is no reason for supposing that all cats have worms and are in need of worming treatment.

SYMPTOMS: If the cat has round worms, evidences of the worms themselves may be vomited, or the eggs passed with the cat's bowel movement. A wormy kitten is usually rather obvious because of its pot-belly, while cats and kittens alike show their condition by a coat that lacks gloss and smoothness. With worms the appetite loses its governor, and the cat has a tendency to eat in fits and startssometimes being very greedy, and the next meal not interested in food at all. The cat will usually be disinterested in play or exercise.

Tape worms are less easy to detect, but a cat may pass part of a tape worm in its stool. If you suspect tape worm, take a bit of the stool on a card, place the card in an envelope and take it to the veterinarian. His microscope will decide whether medicine is needed.

TREATMENT: Keep all food and water from your cat for 24 hours before you give the worm medicine prescribed by the veterinarian. Generally, you will not have to wait long for the medicine to act. Wait for about an hour after the worms have passed before feeding your pet, then make the feeding light. Following the worming, the cat's trousers should be carefully swabbed off to prevent any worm eggs from remaining. Keep your cat under observation for at least a day after the worming.

Hair balls are apt to trouble any cat, but long-haired pets Hair have the greatest hazard from this source. As I have said balls before, in licking its pelt your pet easily picks up quite a few hairs on its tongue, which it transfers to its stomach, forming catdom's most perilous triple play. Ordinarily, a cat will not get enough hair to trouble it, and what does get to the stomach passes out in a bowel movement. A cat that has plenty of grass provides its own remedy by eating grass and then bringing up both grass and hair.

There are no positive symptoms of hair balls, although this condition if left untreated leads to digestive disturbances that are positive enough. Sometimes the cat will have a series of upsets and vomit forth a light froth-or the hair ball itself. The cat with a hair ball usually has little appetite.

TREATMENT: Mineral oil or olive oil will usually free the cat of small hair balls. One teaspoonful a day for two days, or possibly three, is usually sufficient. In stubborn cases a cat should be taken to a veterinarian for an enema or an emetic, depending upon the pet expert's diagnosis.

VACCINATION: You can practically vaccinate a cat against hair balls if you'll only be a good Samaritan and use the brush and comb on your pet daily.

There are usually three different orders of skin troubles- those caused by digestive upsets (dry or moist eczema); troubles brought on by animal parasites (mange); troubles which are the result of fungus infection (ring worm). Of the three, mange is the most contagious to other cats; ring worm is contagious to other cats-and to people as wellso guard yourself against infection when you handle a cat that has ring worm. All three of these skin ailments have their own identifying marks, but it is easy for an untrained person to make a mistake in diagnosis. If you are not positive about what troubles your cat's skin, ask an experienced cat owner, or your veterinarian. In general; here are the signals of these skin diseases:

1. ECZEMA: Two varieties exist. Dry eczema usually starts around the ears and face and its chief symptom is the cat's distress-Puss will tear at ears, nose, and eyes until the hair falls out. You can see the scales of dry eczema in the bare patches.

MOIST ECZEMA: This outbreak is more easily identified. Inflamed red patches, somewhat moist in appearance, are characteristic. The eczema may appear all over the body, but will concentrate in the less hairy spots. The cat's skin will be hot and sensitive.

2. MANGE: (Sarcoptic mange) is characterized by tiny red pimples on the cat's skin. As the attack advances, these pimples burst and form matted scabs. The cat's skin becomes so irritated by scratching that blood will appear.

3. RINGWORM: Watch for ring-shaped, scabby patches raised on the cat's skin.

Before being specific about cause and cure, I want to point out that many ointments that would be suitable for your own skin are absolutely taboo for your cat. Before you apply treatment, be certain the remedy is mild enough to prevent injury. Now for the troubles themselves:

1. ECZEMA is a manifestation of error in the cat's diet. Revise its food supply immediately to eliminate all starches, fish, pork, and other foods you suspect to be disturbing elements. Concentrate on feeding raw beef, whole wheat toast, and add two drops of haliver oil to the cat's food once a day. Keep the cat's bowels regular. Give it a dose of mineral oil, or a milk of magnesia tablet.

2. MANGE: As with dog mange, this skin ailment in cats is caused by a minute boring pest. The parasites have strong constitutions and may lie dormant for a long time. A cat kept in the house is in little danger of contracting mange, but owners of house cats should always consider the possibility of mange. This disease is intensely irritating to a cat, so there is constant danger that a cat will reinfect itself from the spots where it has drawn blood. A skin that is scratched too much will be permanently damaged.

Do not wash mangy spots with soap. Ask your veterinarian to recommend a mild antiseptic and ointment. Bathe the spots, then apply the ointment. Keep the cat's bed fresh. Burn the paper filler after each change. Hair around the mangy spots may be carefully clipped, but avoid depriving the cat of too much fur.

3. RINGWORM: House cats are not protected from ringworm. Your cat may catch it from the mouse it captured yesterday, and unless you use caution, your cat may give it to you. Apply tincture of iodine (carefully) to the infected places. It is safer to use rubber gloves while applying this treatment. Remove and burn scabs that form on the cat. Clip the hair around the infection. Better ask a cat expert or a veterinarian to advise an ointment to relieve this fungus infection.

NOTES ON SKIN AILMENTS: Try to devise a method to keep your cat from scratching or licking itself while it has a skin disease. Some fanciers use a three-inch card-board collar which is slid over the cat's head through a hole in the center. Make the collar comfortable by winding it with gauze, or cotton tape. This is something like the equipment used to keep a cow from jumping fences. In general, a cat will not tolerate grease on its skin. Turpentine is definitely bad for a cat, and so are coal tar preparations.

FLEAS: Outdoor cats have most of the fleas, but indoor cats may have them. If your cat wakes from slumber to make a hasty stab at itself, followed by a frantic, biting chase for the hopper-it has some fleas. Aside from the discomfort, the cat is in some danger of infecting itself while it has fleas-either by damaging the skin or by taking in the germs or eggs of some cat disease lying in wait on the body of the flea. Tape worm may be contracted this way.

While bathing with antiseptic is sometimes recommended to kill fleas, the danger of catching cold is too great to make this anything but a last resort in the hands of an experienced pet-handler. Flea powder is safer. BUT, remember a cat's skin is sensitive, and "any kind of flea powder" won't do. Obtain a safe brand from a pet store, or a veterinarian.

TREATMENT: Sprinkle the cat thoroughly with powder, working it down from the face, head, and ears to the tip of the tail. Guard the cat's eyes from powder, and try to prevent it from licking the powder. It is wise to use a cat jacket, or the collar of card-board. After two or three hours, depending on the directions for the powder you use, stand the cat on newspapers and brush and comb it thoroughly. Really BE thorough, because the fleas will be only punch drunk and you will have to comb them out. Burn the papers immediately.

While the flea powder is working, remove your pet to a different part of the house so you may give its bed and general camping ground a flea-killing treatment. Flea powder, or a spray, should be poked and shot into every possible breeding-ground. If a liquid spray is used, be certain the residue is all evaporated before you return the cat to its usual living quarters.

You may have to give the flea treatment twice to kill all fleas. It is possible that you will get only the adult fleas ON the first attack-there may be another hatch coming along to plague the cat later.

These are common focal points of infection in cats, esp- cially the ears. One or a dozen illnesses may come to your 40 pet through its ears. Parasitic canker of the ear is one of the worst-and the most common. Eye inflammation (conjunctivitis) is the second. The eyes and ears of a cat are

sense organs that have no business harboring infections. Such ailments cause the cat considerable pain, and since its paws are its only instruments of surgery, there is constant danger of scratching and further infection. But more important, eye or ear ailments may seriously hamper your pet's activities.

PARASITIC CANKER: Unlike common ear canker found in dogs, this ailment is caused by an organism somewhat similar to the one causing mange. The easily recognized evidence of an attack is a brownish discharge and, since most cats are subject to it, examine your cat's ears regularly. Left unchecked, the canker spreads downward in the ear to a region difficult to treat, and may eventually injure the cat's hearing. General inflammation of the ear is usually the result of not treating soon enough. Inflammation causes the ear to swell up, and the cat may have fever and general discomfort.

TREATMENT: Begin treatment as soon as you see the first trace of the brown wax. Never use soap and water, the cat's ears weren't meant to be washed inside. Warm a little olive oil and gently swab out the ear, using a prepared swab or a dab of absorbent cotton twisted on a toothpick. Dry up the oil with fresh swabs and finish the treatment by dusting the cat's ear with powdered boric acid. One treatment won't cure the canker, because there are probably colonies of pests still active. Keep after them, but remember that the cat's ear is sensitive: proceed gently. Extreme cases need and deserve the care of a veterinarian.

EYE INFLAMMATION: This frequently follows colds, or may be the result of continued exposure to dust-filled air. As with ailing human eyes, the cat's eyelids become red and puffy. Tears form, and later a sticky discharge begins to gather and leak down the cat's face. Sometimes the eye will be covered by a film.

TREATMENT: Apply a dilute solution of warm boric acid with a saturated dab of cotton. Take care to wipe away the excess, and also any mucus that may have formed. Protect the cat's eyes by bandaging.

This treatment is for simple eye disorders only. If your cat has what appears to be serious eye trouble, take it to a veterinarian.

Most digestive distress in a cat traces back to one causewrong feeding. Indigestion, dyspepsia, colic, gastritis, and chronic constipation may be prevented by sane feeding.

INDIGESTION and constipation seem to occur together, and it is probable that one results from the other. Constipation is easily cured if you watch your cat. When constipated the cat may vomit froth.

TREATMENT: Keep food and water from the cat for a day, its stomach needs a rest. Give a teaspoonful of mineral oil twice a day, or a teaspoonful of milk of magnesia at five-hour intervals.

NOTES ON INDIGESTION: As soon as the treatment has an effect, begin to feed the cat sparingly. Revise its menu and eliminate foods you think may have caused the trouble. Usually the cat has been getting too much starch or fat, or not enough fresh meat and grass. A straight meat diet may sometimes cause indigestion because the cat digests meat thoroughly, without leaving enough bulk to cause a proper bowel movement. Try adding asparagus to diet.

More serious digestive ailments require professional care. Remember to watch your pet's elimination.

Neutering is not a crime against the cat; it is often a humanitarian practice. By nature cats are very fertile-a cat can produce several mewing litters of kittens a year. This fact causes countless hordes of stray, diseased, homeless cats. Too much kitten bearing will shorten the life of a female cat. Remember this if you enjoy and value your pleasant household cat.

If you have a male cat and you expect to keep him in your apartment, castration is a practical necessity. The tendency of cat fanciers is to develop a cat of neutral sex characteristics and a fine, friendly disposition. Any male cat, kept perpetually at home, develops argumentative tendencies, a habit of yowling to the sky during mating season, and a touchy disposition.

SPAYING THE FEMALE CAT: Have this done during the latter part of the cat's first year. The operation is fairly difficult and the cat needs partial maturity before it takes place. The cat should be free from worms, and in general good health, before the operation.

NEUTERING MALE CATS: This is a comparatively simple operation, and should be taken care of between the fourth and seventh month of life. Good health is a pre-operative requisite.

If you take your cat traveling, by car or train, don't feed it en route. Water is necessary, but food will bring trouble. Keep the cat in a satchel or ventilated box. Never allow pussy to be loose in your car, especially when the windows are open. Be sure your cat returns with you from a ride. An abandoned cat, particularly a sheltered pet, has little chance to survive. Don't believe the old fib that a cat can take care of itself.

Don't let your cat be a "tin can cat:" Shun, shun the can opener; it gives your cat wrong eating habits. Canned fish and canned cat food are pleasant delicacies for occasional feeding-cats love them-but they're not the foods for steady eating. Don't let your cat trick you into thinking it will tolerate nothing but a caviar diet. Just cut out ALL food for twenty-four hours and see what the cat thinks about its usual raw beef and cooked green vegetables then.

Even if you do think kitty looks cute that way, don't tie a ribbon around its neck. There's too much danger of strangulation.

If your cat is an outdoors cat don't let it drink icy water in the winter time. Warm the water a bit.

A well-fed cat catches more mice than an underfed catbelieve it or not. The reason is simple. A plump cat has more energy, is more active. Catching the mouse is the cat's chief game of skill. Your cat probably won't eat all the mice it snares, but catching the quick mice is a welcome release for energy. No underfed cat has excess energy.

Never forget that cats are easily poisoned by antiseptics, soaps, or medicines that are harmless to human beings, or dogs: Tar, lysol, soaps containing carbolic acid, gasoline, turpentine, or any powders containing these things, may be fatal to a cat.

Sometime or other, unless the female is neutered, the cat owner will encounter the problem of what to do with an unwanted litter of kittens. Too frequently people keep the youngsters through kittenhood, and then simply throw the young cats out on the cold world. Sometimes the kittens are sacked and drowned.

Either method is cruel. If you have unwanted kittens the humane society or, if there is no local branch, take them to a veterinarian for disposal. He will kill them painlessly. Don't leave the kittens' fate to chance. Remember uncared for cats have a very poor chance of caring for themselves, and remember also, the stray cat is often a disease carrier, and therefore A MENACE TO HEALTHY CATS.

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