Chapter 6

Chapter VI

ON THE DISEASES OF CATS.

I must now endeavour to describe a few of the ailments to which pussy is liable, and by pointing out the cause, when possible, may hope to assist the kind reader in avoiding the evil effect, bearing in mind the well-known proverb, Prevention is better than cure.

Considering the careless feeding to which the cat is often subjected, her digestive organs must be somewhat enduring; but, on this account, they must not be overtaxed or disregarded. There is a very simple medicine to which puss will instinctively resort occasionally, which is grass. In an old translation of Pliny may be found the following quaint prescription for the cure of a sick lion:—

“The lion is never sicke but of the peevishness of his stomache, loathing all meat: and then the way to cure him is to ty unto him certaine shee apes, which, with their wanton mocking and making mowes at him, may move his patience, and drive him, from the very indignitie of their malapert saucinesse, into a fit of madnesse, and then, so soon as he hath tasted their bloud, he is perfectly wel againe: and this is the only help.”

Now, without the aid of a violent remedy such as the above-prescribed, Miss Puss can stroll quietly out of doors and help herself to a small quantity of selected grass. This simply acts medicinally as either an emetic or as a purgative. It has been my practice, when keeping cats confined, to have some fresh, healthy grass in a large flower-pot in the most sunny spot, and sometimes put out in the open garden, so as to receive the benefit of all the light, air, and sunshine available.

Diarrhœa is a complaint to which the cat is sometimes subject in a mild form, and may attract but little notice; or it may be so severe or protracted as to cause great distress, and even prove fatal. As in ourselves, it may be brought on by violent changes of temperature, together with unwholesome food or drink, irregular feeding, too much fat meat, putrid matter, too much liver, sour milk, etc. But in the cat the excrements may occasionally appear slightly loose without the animal seeming in the least unwell. This need cause little concern, although slight attention to the general diet and requirements of the animal will not be unwise. In this respect cats differ somewhat from dogs, which are constitutionally of rather constipated habit. When the cat is really ill, it will look so. Puss is a comfort-loving creature, and in nursing, comfort is to be the main consideration. Be careful to attend to the accommodation of clean habits, and allow a fresh supply of earth or sand, as alluded to in Chapter IV.

There is a very simple remedy, and which I have proved to be a sufficient one, prescribed by the Honourable Lady Cust in her little book upon the cat, and I may here quote her own words:—

“In the commencement give new milk, with mutton-suet melted in it; the proportion of a piece of nice fresh suet, without skin, the size of a large walnut, to a teacupful of milk. Keep the cat warm and quiet in a comfortable nest, and if it be too ill to lap, give it, every two hours, a teaspoonful of the mixture, only just warm enough to melt the suet. Put it gently into the mouth with a small spoon. You need not swathe the cat, as after the first spoonful is swallowed it will feel the benefit, and swallow another; but do not give much; it is better to give very little that will remain and do good, than a large quantity which will return. Treat the complaint in other ways as in the human subject. Observe if there be no bile; and if there is not, give to a full-grown cat a grain and a half of the grey powder (Album. cum creta) used in similar cases. As I before observed, you must watch the effect of your remedy, as the complaint may change at once; if it does not, and there is still no bile, give, in about two hours, another dose.

“If the diarrhœa continue, give a teaspoonful of chalk mixture, used for the same complaint in human beings, with seven or eight drops of tincture of rhubarb, and four or five of laudanum, every few hours, until it cures. Cats will continue as ill as possible for a few days, their eyes even fixed; but still, with watching and care, can be cured. A teaspoonful of pure meat gravy at a time should be given now and then (but not until near two hours after medicine), to keep up the strength until appetite returns; then be careful what food you give, and in small quantities at a time, as the digestion will be weak.”

If, however, under fair treatment, the poor cat does not quickly recover, or if dysentery ensue, no hope can be entertained of its restoration; and the wisest and most merciful act will be to end quickly the life that must undoubtedly perish.

In administering medicine to a cat, be careful not to alarm or excite it by needless fuss and ado, nor try its patience by delay. Have what you require ready to hand, and the assistance of one person. Take a large, coarse cloth, such as a round kitchen towel or coarse apron, and seat yourself with your face or left side to the window. Then, with the cloth across your knees, take the cat from your assistant, and lightly gathering up the cloth, wrap it round the cat. The reason of this is twofold: to assist in gently holding the cat secure, and also to prevent its fur from getting soiled by any of the medicine that may drop, and, moreover, save your clothes also. With the cat facing towards your left hand, carefully open the mouth. This must be done with the left hand. The mouth will be easily opened by finger and thumb, the palm of the hand being under the cat’s throat. Gently feel with finger and thumb between the loose skin of the lips, and then, with very slight pressure just behind the molar teeth, the mouth will be opened wide, like magic. So long as you gently but steadily retain the hold, the mouth will remain open. But don’t allow the cat time to become impatient, and mind your fingers. When the mouth is opened, your assistant must promptly and carefully administer the medicine. If it is a liquid, it must be poured in very little at a time from a small spoon. This must not touch the mouth, or the cat will instinctively bite at it. The instant the medicine is given, remove your hold of the mouth and leave the head at liberty, in order that the cat may swallow at ease. A pill should be placed well back, so as to go the right way. A simple powder may be placed upon the tongue dry, mixed with butter, or, if not unpleasant, can be put in a little milk, to be drank as usual.

The Yellows.—The cat is liable to a form of distemper known as cat-sickness, or the yellows, which is analogous to jaundice in the human subject. It occurs more generally in large, high-conditioned animals, and I think it is more common in he-cats than in those of the other sex, and it more generally occurs in early life, but seldom before the attainment of full growth. On the approach of the malady, the cat appears unusually dull and sleepy, and disinclined to touch any kind of food, but may attract little attention. Soon, however, the complaint will be self-evident by the vomiting of a peculiar yellow, frothy fluid. This sickness will recur at intervals, and the poor animal will loathe all food, and drink nothing but water. Sometimes the malady will run its course, and an unexpected recovery may follow; but in many cases the unfortunate cat becomes weaker and weaker, and ultimately dies.

Two or three months ago, from the time I am now writing, I nearly lost a splendid young cat named Colocolo; and I consider the unexpected recovery due to the great strength of his constitution. He is totally black, and was, at the time of the attack, just over eight months of age. And as the circumstances connected with this individual case may perhaps be interesting to any who may have a cat similarly affected, it will not be out of place here to narrate the symptoms and the treatment, such as it was, from first to last.

Colocolo had been to the Crystal Palace Show, was highly commended, and the best behaved cat in his class, often ready for a little skittish sport with an attentive visitor. He had been home just a week when he was taken ill. Whether he had been made a little too much of after his return from the Palace, I cannot say for certain; but I may here remark that I do not in the least think the show disagreed with him. He stood a four-day show at the Albert Palace well, was very highly commended there, and returned in high spirit. At these exhibitions the cats, many of them animals of considerable value, have the best and most careful attention on the part of the management. But they are sometimes pampered by their fond owners, and I may here suggest that after the confinement and restraint of even two nights and two days, it will be wise to be a little careful to avoid undue feeding for a day or two if the cat be in high condition, as show cats often are. [This mistake is equal to the folly, described with telling effect by the late Albert Smith, of supplying blankets to a beloved son to keep him warm while ascending Mont Blanc!—Ed.][3]

But to return to the subject now under consideration. Colocolo was as bright as a lark, romping about, at times, with surprising vivacity and great bodily force. He was not less lively on the evening of Tuesday, October 27th, but the next day, however, he was observed to be listless, and disposed only to sleep. He declined to eat throughout the day, and about dusk his first sickness came on. For the next two days he continued to vomit occasionally, in less quantity, however, and the bowels were also disordered. He became weak to a degree most distressing to behold, and the whole skin was tinged with yellow. Nature was left to work her own cure. For five whole days and nights the poor creature ate absolutely nothing, but he frequently manifested a desire for water. A supply was kept constantly within his reach, and often completely renewed, for his mouth was very foul. On the forenoon of the Monday following, the weather being unusually mild, he crept into the garden and basked in the sunshine for some hours. It was sad to see a fine, noble, happy-spirited animal so altered. He was unable to move without staggering, and his hind limbs appeared as if paralyzed. He mounted a step with difficulty, and in descending it he tottered and rolled, or rather sank upon his side. When he came indoors again, he returned to his bed, and fell into a most unusually heavy sleep—in fact, I never knew a cat to sleep so heavily. There was not a sign of life, and the eyes even appeared fixed. We thought he had at last slept the sleep of death, and felt a pang of regret, but not without a feeling of relief to think that the poor cat was thus released from its distress. But, strange to say, we shortly afterwards found that he had aroused and altered his position from on his left side, being coiled in a ball upon the right. After some time, he left his cushion and actually partook of a little milk, but only four or five laps. Probably the strong air in the garden had overpowered his weak frame, and caused that extraordinary sleep, which was the turning-point, apparently, in his illness. But scarcely anything would he touch until Thursday (November 5th), when I offered him some fresh raw sheep’s lights, full of blood. To my agreeable surprise, he ate what I gave, and looked for more. I allowed him a good sized piece, as much as I considered safe to give at first, taking into account his very weak state. On the strength of this he picked up as by magic, and forthwith began to recruit strength at a marvellous rate, and in a few days he became as well as ever. All his former energy had now returned; his coat, which had become dull, dirty, dry, and staring, is now as soft, sleek, and pure as it ever was. Fortunately he appeared to suffer no acute pain during his illness, although, he certainly was very miserable and dejected. But I have seen more distressing cases of this malady in cats, and it is often most humane to put the wretched animal out of its misery by a speedy destruction. Fortunately the yellows is an ailment that occurs but once.

It is, I consider, both unwise and cruel to tamper with strong drugs, and certainly it is mistaken kindness to force milk, or any other food, down the throat of a cat suffering from sickness. Let the poor animal be as quiet as possible, in a comfortable nest, but not so near a fire as to be hot. Sick animals require air, but are very sensitive to cold or the slightest draught. As the cat is such a remarkably clean animal, it will, whether ill or well, often take a dislike to a favourite resting-place, if it become in the slightest degree foul or tainted.

At the very commencement of the sickness, however, an emetic may do good in clearing the stomach. But it should be administered at the beginning or not at all. I have tried it with good result, and have found simple salt and water most handy: it is harmless, at any rate. It may be mixed in the proportion of about one-fifth part of salt. Sulphate of soda (Glauber’s salt) is sometimes preferred to salt. It must, however, be diluted in a much larger proportion of water, and less than a teaspoonful of the mixture will be as much as should be given. To allay an undue continuance of sickness, arising from irritation, about half a teaspoonful of melted beef-marrow may be found to give relief.

Fits.—The cat is liable to fits of a distressing nature, and they occur in young animals—more generally about the time they attain their full growth—and are more common in male than in female cats. When seized with a delirious fit, the poor animal suddenly appears to go wild, dashes about in a frantic manner, with staring eyes, often darts through a window, open or shut, and then hides in some corner. The symptoms of a convulsive fit are somewhat different. In such a case it utters a cry, with staring eyes, and falls upon its side. The whole body appears stiffened, the limbs struggle convulsively, and the mouth foams. The cat is quite harmless, however, during the fit, and there need be no fear in handling it. But be gentle and quiet with the poor animal. The best way to give relief is to cut a very small slit in the thin part of the ear with a sharp pair of scissors, or to make slight incisions with a lancet; not enough to hurt or disfigure the ear, but just sufficient to draw a few drops of blood. It is well to encourage the bleeding by carefully fomenting the spot with warm water, but be very careful not to let any water enter the ear. If, however, the bleeding is free, there will be no need for the warm-water applications. The loss of only a few drops of blood will afford relief. After the fit the cat will generally be timid and nervous, and should therefore be treated with consideration. Be careful to avoid overfeeding it; in fact, for a short time let its feeding be slightly lowered, if in high condition. The cat will quickly outgrow these fits. Many young toms have one attack, and a she-cat never has a fit after having once littered.