ON THE MANAGEMENT AND TREATMENT OF CATS
Having briefly considered the general feeding of our fireside favourite, we may proceed to discuss the consideration of its proper care and treatment during the different stages, conditions, and circumstances of a life that can be made happy or wretched at the mercy of those who undertake, or may pretend to undertake, to be its possessors and guardians.
To begin towards the beginning, we may suppose that a charming little kitten, of about ten or twelve weeks, has been deposited in its new home. Being an innocent, simple, happy tempered little creature, it will make itself at home in so pleasing a manner as to gain the approval, if not the affection, of every kind-hearted person in the house. Supposing it to be a well conditioned little animal, of good parentage, and from a comfortable home, it will probably be found to prove itself a clean and nicely behaved little innocent, if rightly managed with care and quiet attention. No animal is instinctively cleaner in its habits, in every way, than is the cat. It is this natural virtue which renders pussy so generally a favoured inmate of the household. As is well known, cats are guided by a peculiar instinct to scratch up earth for the purpose of hiding their excrements. Where there is no access to a garden, they will resort to cinders or coal-dust, and although not, perhaps, desirable, will meet with better approval than the carpet. For the accommodation of a kitten indoors, it is a good plan to have a large flower-pot saucer—the larger the better, but not less than fifteen inches in diameter—kept in some suitable corner, with a little clean garden-earth or sand in it. It need not contain much earth, and it can be changed at will; but should not be allowed to become so foul as to offend the cat. This plan, once tried, will be found to answer well.
Week by week the kitten increases in strength and vivacity. Do not discourage or check the young cat in its sportiveness, although it may be a little too rough in its vivacious evolutions. The most skittish kittens usually make the best cats. They are generally the delight of young children, and make charming playmates when treated gently, and not simply made toys of. Although cats differ in disposition very considerably, they are alike as regards a common dislike for noise and confusion, and the little folks will sometimes require guidance and instruction in their treatment of most pet animals. The cat is an animal of naturally a very strong will, being most impatient of control, and the kitten that is allowed quietly to enjoy unmolested freedom of purpose in its queer little ways and freaks will develop, under good treatment, into a noble spirited and well behaved cat.
The kitten will, of course, be kept indoors at night, and as it grows, continue the good practice. It is a common custom—but, for many reasons, a very bad and cruel one—to habitually shut the cat out of the house at night. If you wish pussy to have a good, sleek, unsoiled coat,—to be a nice pet, not to be dull or asleep all the day,—and, especially, if you wish the house kept clear of mice, keep her in at night, and let her have, as much as may be convenient, the range of the premises. Persons who are quite ready to complain about the nightly disturbance caused by cats in the back-gardens of their neighbours’ houses are apt to forget that their own gentle pet may possibly be a leading performer in the nocturnal concert. A cat will play truant occasionally, but this will not often happen with a well cared for animal, which will prefer human society and the comforts of a good home on most occasions. It is well, however, to let the cat out of doors the very first thing in the morning.
There is seldom any thought or attention given to the breeding of the cat. This is left to nature, and with very natural result. But, notwithstanding, those who possess a cat of a choice sort, and wish to continue or improve the strain, or to effect a cross, can do so with less trouble than may be supposed to be needful. Watch the cat well, if a female, and upon the first indication of the well-known sign be very careful to prevent her from straying in the least. Then introduce the approved “tom,” and allow them to remain together—say for a night—in some outbuilding or spare room. He can afterwards be returned with thanks; but be careful to keep “kitty” quite safe for more than a week afterwards, or as long as may be considered needful. All will then be right, and there need be no more thought or care upon the subject. At the completion of a term of fifty-six days, the litter may be expected. As is well known, kittens are born blind, and remain so till about the ninth day. The domestic cat is more prolific than the wild species, having often three litters in the year. A cat of mine, some time ago, gave birth to twenty-two within twelve months. The age of sterility commences about the ninth year. The wild cat reproduces about twice a year, and the period of gestation is said to be as long as sixty-eight days, which may be correct, and if so, is remarkable.
It is usually expedient to destroy some of the new-born kittens—of course, the least handsome and promising of the litter. But it is exceedingly cruel to rob the fond mother of all her little ones. When thus deprived, a cat often suffers exceedingly, as may be evident by the symptoms which ensue; and her lamentations are painful to hear—much too expressive to be misunderstood. Always retain one, if not two or more, of your selection—the whole litter, if you really wish it. If there be a numerous litter,—say, five,—it is better not to remove all at once, but two the first day and two the next day; or, better still, a third kitten the second day, and afterwards the fourth. Take them as much unobserved by the mother as possible. Drowning is the usual and probably the simplest and best method of ending the brief existence of the little creatures; but it must be properly and completely done. Have ample depth of water in a pail or other vessel, with the addition of just enough hot water to take off the chill—not more. They must be put completely under, and on no account allowed to rise for one second. If you have nerve and patience, simply keep them down with your hand till they cease to move, or else place some article above them in such a way as to serve effectually. They must remain under water for some time, even though life may appear to be extinct. Many years ago, I learned by sad experience the danger of being too expeditious in executing this duty. In drowning a large, powerful animal, care and tact are especially required. Be quiet, cool, prompt, and firm.
The loving and devoted attachment to her offspring is remarkable in the cat. She will face any danger in defending them, and will, above any other animal, often delight to foster kittens not her own, and has been known to cherish and rear the young of animals of quite a distinct kind, such as puppies, the young of the squirrel, rat, hedgehog, etc. The following touching incident took place at the destructive fire that burned down Lusby’s Music Hall, London, on the 20th January, 1884. I give the account as related in The Animal World for March, 1884:—
“Mr. Crowder, one of the proprietors of the hall, possessed a favourite tabby and tortoiseshell cat, which was well known to the frequenters of the hall. The cat had a family of four kittens, which she was allowed to keep in a basket at the rear of the stage. Soon after the fire was discovered, the cat was seen rushing about frantically. She several times attempted to make her way down the corridor in the direction of the stage, but each time was beaten back by the smoke. Presently she reappeared with one of the kittens in her mouth. This she laid carefully down at her master’s feet in the small hall which the fire had not touched. Again she rushed through the smoke, and again reappeared with a kitten, and this manœuvre she repeated the third time. She was now apparently half-blinded and choked by the smoke she had passed through, and it was thought that she would be content; but she seemed unable to rest while she knew that one of her kittens was still in danger; and, giving a look at the little struggling group on the floor, the cat, evading some one who tried to stop her, once more dashed down the corridor towards the seething mass of flames, which by this time had enveloped the stage and the lower end of the hall. Her return was anxiously awaited, but she did not come back. Afterwards, when examining the ruins, some of the firemen came across the charred and blackened remains of the mother and kitten, lying side by side where the fire had overtaken them.”