Useful facts and information about cats

Cats need grass

Most cats and kittens will eat grass when it is available to them, and cocksfoot grass seems to be favoured. The grass is a natural medicine for relieving bile and sourness. It also acts as an emetic and is the means of inducing the vomiting of hairballs. For those cat owners who live in accommodation without gardens, the grass can easily be grown in pots or boxes. Readers in Britain can obtain sufficient seed for six pots by sending a stamped addressed envelope to the Cats Protection League .

The close season for fleas

Although infestation by fleas and lice is most likely to occur in spring and summer, it can happen at any time during the year.

With the onset of winter and bird migration, and hibernation of squirrels and hedgehogs, fleas normally contracted from grass by cats and dogs tend to become less of a problem. However, fleas do have a remarkable ability to survive, particularly in centrally heated homes, for up to a year, or even longer. Therefore, animals showing evidence of fleas, or their droppings, in their coats, or who scratch persistently, may have become re-infested by fleas living in carpets, skirting boards or armchairs in the home. In such cases, effective treatment is essential; your vet can advise on the best medication.

Too many owners neglect to tackle the problem at once, for it can frequently be resolved by vacuuming all floors, coverings, washing all bedding and by the use of fly killers and insecticidal strips in the places where cats and dogs frequent, or rooms to which they have access.

Some organizations

But forgetting such shortcomings it is a happy thought that there are so many people concerned with the health and well-being of our friend, the Cat. In Britain, for instance, the Cat Action Trust (known as CAT) is exploring ways and means of limiting colonies of stray and semi-wild cats. In Denmark and Israel such cats are given ‘the pill’ in special medicated foods, but because of the risk of side effects and other practical difficulties, CAT has resorted to the more reliable method of trapping and surgical neutering, while another organization, Cats in Industry can be consulted where there is an indigenous wild cat population in foundries and workshops, which they will uplift, neuter and rehome. And there is FAB, not an abbreviation of ‘fabulous’ but of the Feline Advisory Bureau, a worldwide organization which cares entirely for the well-being of the domestic cat and propagates to its members information about illness, disease, and treatment in the feline which had, for many years, suffered as the poor relation of other domestic animal species. It has a comprehensive library relating to cat diseases and, being a registered charity, is happy to give free advice to all enquirers. With such help at their disposal there should be lots of healthy cats, and happy owners, in the future.

Some statistics Cats are increasing in popularity – (a ‘convenient pet’). Ownership: 19.1 per cent of all households in Britain included a cat in 1979 as against 18 per cent in 1975, and 17 per cent in 1966. Population: in 1979 there were 4,892,000 cats as against 4,714,000 in 1975 and

4,200,000 in 1966. Feeding: in 1979,90 per cent of owners fed tinned pet food some of the time.

How To Help Your Cat In An Emergency

Road accident

Cats involved in accidents do not always show external signs of injury. Cat skin is very resilient and may remain unbroken despite severe internal injuries. Cats which are found dead without cause have usually died from internal injuries sustained in accidents.

Injured cats should be picked up in the manner previously described and gently placed in a suitable container. Broken limbs should be kept in as natural a position as possible and any external wounds protected from dirt during journey to vet. Try to keep the cat’s airway clear by holding its tongue forward and clearing away any fluids.

Influenza (feline viral rhinotracheitis orFVR)

A very infectious virus disease of cats. Outbreaks occur every summer. The first signs are sneezing, moist or running eyes and nose, sometimes with profuse salivation.

This disease is very infectious, so isolate your cat and keep him warm and dry. He will usually eat until his nasal passages are congested. Nowadays prompt treatment will save the great majority of cases.

Do not take your cat with ‘flu into a crowded vet’s waiting room; leave him outside in the car, if that is possible, until called in for attention. It is particularly important to ensure the cat drinks fluids, even spoonfeeding if necessary.

Emergency situations Symptoms


Acute diarrhoea

Loose or soft motions and a cat which is obviously ill. Diarrhoea in the young kitten can be very dangerous.

Withhold food and give only fluids. Withhold milk temporarily. If diarrhoea is severe or if it persists more than twenty-four hours, seek help from the vet.


Pet cats are often bitten by other cats. The bites are usually small puncture wounds rather than tears in skin. Sudden lameness or swelling of one leg is often caused by a bite.

Bites are always infected wounds, and when they are puncture wounds they do not drain easily. Antibiotics should only be given professionally; the next condition, an abscess, may develop if the condition is untreated.

Keep in a darkened, quiet room until seen by a vet. Never give aspirin to cats.


An abscess is an infected pus-filled swelling which is frequently the result of failing to treat a bite. Sometimes a large tense lump is noticed; usually the abscess is only noticed after it has burst and produces a large, smelly wound. Abscesses often occur around the head and at the root of the tail.

An intact abscess should be drained and cleaned by your vet. He will give appropriate treatment and tell you how to keep the wound clean. Veterinary treatment will probably still be necessary even after an abscess has burst. It is essential in either case that the wound is kept open until the infection has been eliminated.

Feline infectious enteritis (FIE or panleucopaenia)

This is a specific virus infection which often, but not invariably, involves acute diarrhoea. Young kittens contracting it may die before the owner notices any symptoms.

This disease is easily prevented by vaccination, and is so serious that all kittens should be vaccinated between six and twelve weeks.

Treatment of the unvaccinated cat with FIE must be undertaken very quickly, but may still be unsuccessful. Prevention is better than cure.

Ear infections

The cat will shake its head or scratch at its ears. On closer examination the ear(s) will be found to contain foreign matter which may smell. Often tiny white mites may be seen crawling in the ear.

Pending proper treatment, some relief may be given by putting warm olive oil or medicinal liquid paraffin in the ears. Gently remove any debris which is softened and will come away easily. Do not probe down into the ear or use any spirit preparation.

Emergency situations Symptoms Action

Bone or needle in the mouth or throat

The cat will show sudden and extreme discomfort, will paw at its mouth and may cough or choke. An acute throat infection can produce similar symptoms.

Open the mouth and see if any foreign body is obviously present which can be removed easily with tweezers. Do not risk doing further damage. Do not offer food, as an anaesthetic may be necessary. Contact vet as soon as possible.

Stomatitis (sore mouth)

Very sore mouth, usually with scale (tartar) on the teeth. The gums are reddened and ulceration may be present. The cat is reluctant to eat or drink, or may do so with its head on one side. There may be loose teeth.

Proper dental treatment under an anaesthetic is usually necessary. This may be accompanied by treatment for the mouth infection. In emergency, as a temporary measure, bathe the mouth with warm, very dilute salt solution.


Usually very obvious and dramatic with a marked hypersensitivity to all stimuli, such as sound, touch and light. (Slug bait is particularly dangerous; made up in bran, it can be attractive even to cats.)

Put animal into a quiet, dark room and contact vet for advice. If possible, take a sample of what has been eaten when you visit the surgery.

Transporting your cat to the vet

It is not always possible for a vet to come to see your cat; in fact, it is often better to take him to the surgery, where there is specialized equipment to deal with emergencies. If there is any possibility that your cat may have to be given an anaesthetic, for example to open an abscess, or to take an X-ray, do not give him anything to eat or drink.

A container is essential to transport a cat in a car. If a proper cat basket is not available, a stout cardboard box, such as those used to contain twelve wine or spirit bottles, makes a good substitute. Cut or punch some small holes for ventilation, and tie the box firmly with string or adhesive tape.

Do not make the common error of half-filling the box with a cushion, as this will leave inadequate room for the cat. A few layers of newspaper or an old woollen garment are ideal. Pick up an injured cat by holding the scruff of its neck firmly with one hand, and either tucking the cat under the other arm, or placing the hand under the cat’s abdomen.

If a cat is very vicious, the best method is to drop an old thick coat or blanket over it. Tuck the edges towards, and under, the cat and pick up the whole bundle and put it in the box taking care not to suffocate the patient.

Telephone the surgery to say that you are on your way with an emergency.

The following schedule is a useful guide for seeing at a glance how to deal with the most common emergency situations.

Cat Health and Cat Diseases

The loved, cared-for cat may, if it is lucky, live out its lifespan, free of illness, a visit to the veterinary surgery proving necessary only for routine inoculations and/or attention to minor injuries, like the paw that gets trapped in a door, or a bite sustained in a cat fight.

Cats are, however, prone to a number of serious diseases and being the resilient creatures that they are, such conditions may go undetected if the owner does not watch for symptoms of unusual behaviour. Does our cat’s coat look other than glossy and shining? Is there discharge from the eyes and nose, and have we heard the occasional sneeze? A sure sign of trouble is when we find the cat maybe hiding in a corner, or sitting facing, and gazing at, the wall.

A healthy cat is a contented, bright-eyed, playful cat, with a healthy appetite. Remember, it cannot tell us when it is feeling out of sorts, so it is up to us to take heed of warning signs and seek veterinary attention immediately.

The following A – Z is intended as a guide to symptoms and their treatment. It is, however, essential that the diagnosis of a vet is sought in every case and that the owner does not resort to home remedies; for, while most of the veterinary preparations on sale from retail outlets are first class, only a vet is qualified to correctly diagnose our pet’s condition, and the tablets and creams purchased with good intent may, if not professionally prescribed, be quite the wrong treatment for the ailing pet.


An abscess can result from a bite, scratch, sting, or even a swelling as the result of an inoculation. The abscess may cause restlessness, be painful to the touch and, indeed, cause a rise in temperature making the animal go off its food. A cold cloth could help the condition but, if it persists, seek the advice of your vet who may need to drain the fluid. If you do not brush your cat regularly a wound such as this might go undetected.


With advances in veterinary science, pets are undoubtedly living longer, and whereas twelve years was once considered the life span of a cat, many are now living for fifteen or even twenty years. As with all domestic animals the care they have received in earlier life will often determine their living to a healthy, ripe old age. The cat from six years of age onwards will sleep more. It may, in its latter years, have failing eyesight and sense of smell. This is the time when it will need more care and affection than ever before, being kept away from draughts and receiving veterinary attention at the first sign of discomfort. Don’t make the mistake of introducing another cat, thinking that a kitten will put fresh hfe into your old pet; rather let him live out his final years with dignity in his accustomed number one place by the hearth.


This means fear of cats. Presumably someone with such a fear is an ailurophobic! The opposite of an ailurophobic is an ailurophile, a lover of cats. Ailurophilia means love of cats.


Just as some people develop an allergy to cats, which can be helped by a series of desensitization injections, so the cat itself may be allergic to certain foods and substances which can cause various skin complaints. Applications of soothing lotions are of little avail without correct diagnosis, which must be undertaken to trace the cause, often by a series of tests.


This is another word for baldness. The condition may be caused by dietary deficiency, kidney ailments and other causes. Alopecia, while unsightly, is not really harmful to the cat, but consult your vet as to treatment and cure.


Anaemia is common in cats, symptoms including lack of appetite and general lethargy, the animal often becoming disinterested in food. Can be treated with antibiotics and other drugs but sometimes a blood transfusion is necessary.

Anal glands

I was once horrified to receive a letter from a cat owner who, conscious of the need for regular worming, and having noticed that her cat continued to rub its bottom on the ground, had tried no less than twenty-six worm tablets to relieve a condition which was caused, not by worm infestation, but by irritation from the anal glands, the two small sacs on each side of the anus. These glands often, in both cats and dogs, become impacted with the yellow somewhat evil-smelling liquid which is secreted in the sacs. It is possible for the owner to empty the sacs of this liquid with the fingers and a handy piece of cotton wool. It is, however, something which they are strongly advised to have done by the vet initially, after which they may take the decision to carry out this operation themselves.

Anorexia nervosa

This is the complaint more often associated with teenage girls and in effect means refusal to eat. It is doubtful that the queen cat gives up eating to retain a sylph-like figure; more likely the condition is brought about by an emotional disturbance.

Ascarids (roundworms)

See Worms.


Under no circumstances give your cat aspirin. This is toxic for most cats. A cat’s reaction to aspirin is similar to that of a youngster having an overdose.

Bad breath

This can be caused by the aftermath of a strong smelling food such as fish, or could be a sign of worm infestation. Animal Amplex are effective but if the condition persists seek veterinary advice.


Cats loathe water so don’t bath unless absolutely necessary; water temperature should not exceed 26°C (80’F) and care should be taken to rub a little Vaseline round the eyes so that the water does not penetrate this area. Much better, though, to obtain a good dry shampoo which can be brushed through the cat’s coat.


Even a small bite could cause an abscess. Consult your vet who will doubtless prescribe antibiotics. Meanwhile you can gently cleanse the area with germicidal soap and water.

Blood disorders

More common in the older cat. Best to obtain veterinary diagnosis.


The cat which habitually lingers in the kitchen may at some time get in the way of a hot liquid, or even receive an electric shock. Best treatment, as with humans, is to apply a grease, such as Vaseline, or even butter if that is not available.

Don’t under any circumstances use an antiseptic; and if the burn is at all serious consult a vet.


Usually suspected because of the foul smell emanating from the cat’s ears and characteristic pawing of the head, or the cat rubbing its head on the ground. Can be caused by parasite infestation. Owners tend, however, to treat all ear ailments with canker remedies, which could do more harm than good. Best, therefore, to consult the vet for diagnosis and prescription.


See Neutering.

Cat distemper

This is similar to dog distemper but it is not the same disease; cats and dogs can’t infect one another with distemper. Symptoms are runny eyes and nose, with sneezing. Later, digestion and lungs may be affected. The cat should be kept quiet and warm and immediate veterinary help sought. Although not so deadly as enteritis, many cats die of this disease, and can only be saved by immediate treatment and careful nursing. Loss of appetite makes feeding difficult and glucose injections may be needed to maintain strength. The addition of something strong smelling, such as fish paste, to the invalid diet, may encourage a sick cat to take food. As in the case of human influenza, there are some years when the disease is not much worse than a bad cold, and in others it becomes dangerously virulent. Cats of all ages are liable to catch it; usually in catteries, or pet shops, where cats live in crowded conditions.


If the cat has access to the great outdoors it will wear its own claws down on trees, fences and other convenient surfaces. However, the indoor cat must be provided with a scratching post for this purpose. If your cat’s claws have reached dangerous proportions you can carry out the operation yourself with a pair of pet nail clippers, wrapping the cat firmly in a towel leaving the forefeet out if it is apt to struggle. Make sure you do not cut other than the ‘quick’. If in any doubt on where, and how to clip, your vet will not think you are wasting his time if you seek his help.


Common in cats and debatable as to whether the condition is more prevalent in the neutered animal. Blame has been attached to complete dry foods but this can probably be discounted. The cat with this ailment will frequently try to pass urine without success. This complaint is caused by stones blocking the urethral passage. Don’t delay in contacting the vet, who can remove the stones surgically, otherwise the condition could prove fatal.


Poisonous to cats. Do not use to combat fleas.


Not unusual in white cats and odd-eyed varieties. Might be attributable to an accumulation of wax. If your cat is irretrievably deaf, remember that it will be unable to hear approaching traffic so best to resort to a litter-tray and keep it indoors always, if you live in a built-up area.


Every pet owner wishes that their animal companion would, one day, pass away peacefully in its sleep, sparing them having to act out the role of judge and executioner. Heartbreaking though it is to have the life of a pet terminated, this should be done when the animal’s life has become a burden rather than a pleasure to it; for, in keeping a suffering pet alive, we are thinking of ourselves, rather than its well-being. When the time comes, take your pet to the vet and pluck up courage to stay with it while a tranquillizing injection is given. This will make your pet sleepy and contented prior to being put quickly and painlessly to its final rest.


Resorted to by some houseproud owners, but generally deplored. If you must have this operation performed, make sure it is done professionally.


See Skin diseases. However this is a particularly unpleasant irritation with loss of hair and scaling. Can be caused by an allergy to household detergents – in both animal and human, and other causes such as diet, bites, and even excessive temperatures. Curable with soothing lotions.


A condition more usual in the old, or overweight, cat, which will be constantly hungry while shedding weight, drinking a great deal and having a continual need to urinate. The cat with diabetes can live on quite happily provided daily injections of insulin are administered. Tablets could be an alternative.


Could be caused by feeding sloppy foods. Add more starch to diet but if condition persists seek veterinary diagnosis without delay.

Digestive system

Similar to man’s except for the mouth, the cat swallowing its food after a much shorter period in the mouth. The cat will, however, retain the nutritious parts of meat, or other substances, in its stomach, regurgitating the remainder and/or that which is difficult to digest.


See Cat distemper.

Ear trouble

See Canker. There are different causes for what is commonly called canker of the ear, and only the vet, using a special instrument, can diagnose and, therefore, treat correctly. There could be a foreign body, such as a grass seed, in the ear though the commonest cause is the presence of a mite, which lives and breeds in the wax deep down in the ear. Delay in seeking help may cause great suffering, the cat shaking his head with pain and scratching the inflamed ear. Temporary relief may be given by pouring in a few drops of warm, not hot, olive or castor oil, and discharging wax may be gently swabbed out with cotton wool soaked in one part of methylated spirits to three parts of water. Great care must be taken, since the ear is very delicate, and the vet or clinic must be visited as soon as possible.


See Dermatitis and Skin diseases. Could be caused by anything from a blood disorder to wrong diet. Do seek correct veterinary diagnosis and do not experiment with a selection of creams and ointments.

Enteritis (infectious enteritis/feline enteritis)

The most serious of the diseases is infectious enteritis which, as previously stated, spreads so quickly in the neighbourhood, with such a high mortality rate, that people often imagine there has been malicious poisoning. The illness

comes on suddenly with a rise of temperature to 39°C (103°F). The cat refuses food, sits huddled up, often near a water bowl or sink, but without taking water. It vomits occasionally, cries faintly when picked up, and passes blood-stained motions. Death is likely to occur within forty-eight hours, often much sooner. Any cats which survive are immune for life. A vaccine is available which gives good protection. To withold such protection is, to my mind, criminally negligent.

Eyes, care of

Cats are prone to a number of eye diseases ranging from conjunctivitis to keratitis, which is inflammation of the cornea, to cataract, which is more prevalent in older cats and has to be treated by operation. Relief for eye diseases can be given by bathing with a warm solution of boric acid, and Golden Eye Ointment will give relief. However, don’t delay more than a day or two, if the trouble does not clear, in seeking veterinary diagnosis.

First aid

Prevention is always better than cure so make sure that you have a carrying basket in case your cat needs to be rushed to the vet, a supply of bandages, cotton wool, Elastoplast, surgical scissors, Milk of Magnesia, which is a mild laxative, Vaseline and a thermometer. The average normal body temperature of the cat is 38.6°C (101.5°F). This can vary a little according to the age of the cat and, for instance, whether it has been snoozing outside in a high temperature, but 32°C (90°F) is considered the danger level. A temperature above 38.9°C (102°F) indicates that the cat is unwell, and 40°C (KMT) indicates that it is seriously ill.


An infestation of fleas, if left unchecked, can cause skin disease; and as they can be carriers of parasites it is essential that the insects be removed. Don’t use DDT which is toxic to cats but obtain a suitable aerosol spray which can be brushed through your cat’s coat. Fleas are transmittable from animal to man and, indeed, other animals, so must be nipped in the bud in the early stages. Scratching, particularly around the ears, and poor coat are an indication of a flea burden.


Nowadays fractures can usually be dealt with skilfully, and effectively, by vets, but obviously the sooner the animal is taken to the surgery the better.

Furballs (hairball/digestive complaint)

In slight cases of these troubles, the cat will provide his own remedy by eating grass. Town cats should be provided with a patch of grass, growing in a window box or in the yard. Constipation may be relieved by a tablespoon (15 ml) of medicinal liquid paraffin which can be repeated twice daily for two days. For any more serious digestive upset veterinary advice should immediately be sought. Furballs are caused by the cat swallowing hair while grooming, particularly the long-haired varieties.


See Furballs.


Like the dog the queen can mate only when in season, also, like the dog, it can nowadays be given an injection or tablet to delay season, though spaying is more sensible if the queen is not required for breeding.


See Worms.

Hip dysplasia

This is malformation of the ball-and-socket joint of the hip, and although sometimes found in cats is more prevalent in dogs, causing the animal to be crippled often before middle age.

Breeders are conscientiously endeavouring to breed only from registered HD free stock and similarly cats with hip dysplasia in their ancestry should never be bred from. This is a congenital disorder which can manifest itself after skipping one or two generations.


Often occurs prior to, or after giving birth, and in times of emotional disturbance. The vet will advise treatment ranging probably from use of tranquillizers to spaying and other remedies.


Every kitten should be inoculated against infectious (feline) enteritis. Thereafter a booster injection should be given every two years. Better to be safe than sorry! A reputable cattery will not admit your pet without proof of inoculation.

Kidney disease

Kidney failure is common in the old animal and usually detected by frequent urination. Kidney failure is irretrievable but your vet may be able to prolong your cat’s active life.


Try to find cause. If it lasts over two hours or so consult vet.


See Skin diseases.


See Ageing.

Mange (sarcoptic and demodectic)

Mange is a most unpleasant skin disease caused by parasitic mites. Sarcoptic mange* is, in fact, the commonly known disease scabies or red mange.

Sarcoptic mange, the more common variety is highly infectious and can be transmitted not only from dog to cat and vice versa but also from pet to man. Demodectic mange, the more serious variety which at one time was almost impossible to cure, is rarely transmittable. Briefly, the mites lay eggs under the skin and cause the cat to scratch its body continuously. The disease is first detected by loss of hair around the infected area and crustation of the skin. It is not difficult to cure but does require early veterinary attention. Demodectic or follicular mange is caused by mites invading the hair follicles and sebaceous glands and usually manifests itself in the area around head and ears. Again it is detected by scaliness, dry skin, loss of hair and red sores which may secrete blood.


Often a disease of older cats, metritis is acute inflammation of the uterus. A common cause is infection following kittening. Metritis is generally detected by a discharge of blood from the vagina and increased thirst and vomiting. There may also be lack of appetite. Veterinary attention should immediately be sought.


A monorchid is a cat, or dog, which has only one testicle descended into the scrotum. Monorchids can reproduce but the condition would preclude the cat from a show career. Whether the affliction is congenital is subject to debate.


A kidney complaint prevalent in old cats. Can be checked by a veterinarily prescribed diet.

Nervous system

The cat is a highly nervous animal equipped to move at lightning speed at the slightest sound. It is, therefore, as adept at avoiding danger as it is at hunting its prey.


Also called doctoring and castration. It is a kindness to neuter the torn cat not required for stud purposes. Unneutered, he will not only have a lemming-like urge to do battle but will also spray an unpleasant odour. It is also a kindness to spay the queen which is not required for breeding.

Non-parasitic skin diseases

See Skin diseases. Allergy, alopecia, dandruff, dermatitis, eczema and impetigo all come under the heading of non-parasitic skin conditions and require veterinary advice as to cause and treatment. (Parasitic skin conditions include demodectic mange, sarcoptic mange, ringworm and favus which is caused by a fungus.)

Old age

See Ageing.



Rabies is a truly dreadful disease. It almost always leads to a pitiable death, preceded by severe discomfort, paralysis and convulsion. It is usually passed on in saliva through a bite, and all mammals are thought to be susceptible to it. The biggest danger to humans is the risk of being bitten by an infected domestic pet, particularly a dog or cat. Apart from two cases, in 1969 and 1970, Britain has been free from rabies outside quarantine since 1922. Everyone taking holidays abroad is urged to make sure that this record of freedom from the disease is maintained, not only accepting the need to abide by the necessary animal control measures themselves, but also by doing their best to see that other people do the same. Do not attempt to take your cat out of Britain and remember that should you do so, the animal will be required to spend six months in a quarantine kennel approved by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, on its return. Penalties for smuggling pets into Britain are very severe indeed.

Respiratory system

The respiratory system of the cat is similar to other mammals, the cat breathing through nose and mouth. There is a tube extending from the cat’s throat into its chest which branches to two other tubes which are known as the bronchial tubes, one of these being attached to each lung.


See Skin diseases.


See Worms.

Scratching post

See Claws and De-clawing.

Skin diseases

I have already categorized parasitic and non-parasitic skin diseases. If sore or bald patches, or pimples, appear on the skin, veterinary help is needed. It is dangerous for the owner to apply ointments, since the cat may be poisoned by licking them off. Also, there are many different causes for similar-looking conditions. There may be mange, or ringworm, serious if neglected, but easily cured by the right treatment. The skin trouble may be caused merely by fleas or lice, or it may be due to some internal complaint such as kidney trouble obviously needing skilled treatment. If, therefore, you detect sore places, or loss of hair, on your cat, or if the animal is scratching unduly, do not delay in visiting the veterinary surgery.


See Worms.

Toilet training


Make up your mind (see Rabies) that if you wish to take a holiday abroad your cat cannot accompany you. It is sometimes possible to take your cat to a caravan or seaside holiday site, addresses of which can, in Britain, be located in a booklet entitled Pets Welcome published by Herald Advisory Services. There is, however, always the fear of a loved pet getting lost, so if you do not have a neighbour willing to call and feed the cat during your absence, it is better to make a reservation at a recommended cattery where you can be sure that your pet will be safe, and well looked after, during your absence. Addresses of catteries can easily be located in the telephone book Yellow pages. However, sensible owners usually book their pet’s holiday at the same time as their own, so do not forget about puss until a week or two before you set off and be surprised if there isn’t a vacancy. If you must travel with your cat do make sure that it is in a strong cardboard box. You can obtain cat-carrying cases from an RSPCA centre. Don’t let your cat loose in a car as he is likely to be nervous and may cause an accident by leaping about in the car and distracting the driver; also be prepared for a noisy ride!


Unusual in cats who cannot contract the disease from humans but strangely enough can do so from cows and other animals. It is suggested that Siamese cats may be more susceptible.


The cat may vomit to get rid of hairballs, to dispel worms, through excitement, or any number of other reasons. Omit a meal but if the vomiting persists do not delay in seeking veterinary advice. Possibly your cat has been poisoned!


This is a rat poison and supposed to be non-toxic. Repeated doses could, however, be dangerous. Frankly, I am against putting down rat poison, of any type, in areas frequented by domestic pets. If your pet has been poisoned, don’t delay in reaching the veterinary surgery with a sample of vomit if possible, so that your vet can analyse the cause. There is, alas, no antidote for the weed poison, Paraquat.


See Worms.


Regular worming is an absolute must for pet owners and, although many proprietary brands of treatment are widely available, it is best to have tablets prescribed by your vet which can easily be administered in your pet’s food. Worming is particularly important in kittenhood, and before and after the queen cat gives birth. Thereafter it should be a six-monthly occurrence. There are various types of worms which often confuse the cat owner. There are ascarids or roundworms which are those most commonly found and for which kittens and puppies are commonly treated. Roundworm infestation is generally detected by a plump tummy, a staring coat with lack of gloss, bad breath, diarrhoea, maybe vomit in which worms are expelled, and rubbing of the posterior along the ground. Tapeworms are also common in cats and kittens and look rather like an expulsion of spaghetti. Additionally, there are bladder worms which cause inflammation of the bladder and are not so frequent; whipworms which are more common in the USA than in Britain; and hookworms which inhabit the cat’s intestinal tract. Publicity given in recent years to diseases transmittable from animal to man through lack of worming has caused considerable alarm. It must be remembered that even man is not worm-free and that with a sensible programme of pet owner education and regular worming there is absolutely no reason why anyone keeping a pet should contract disease.

Treatment of Ringworm in Cats

Another skin condition of cats which may often be confused with parasitic infestation is ringworm. This is contagious and can be transmitted from the cat to its owner. Small patches of fur containing what may be thought to be cigarette ash are the first indication of its presence. Hair then falls out in a round bald area which may spread and enlarge if treatment is delayed. Fortunately today there is a very effective antibiotic treatment for the condition and veterinary help should be sought as early as possible to prevent it spreading both on the pet itself and to the human owner.

The common ailments of cats, in most cases, can readily be treated and eliminated by good veterinary care. To protect the general health of your pet, and to prevent infections, it is sensible to take your cat to the veterinary surgeon for regular observations. These give the veterinarian the opportunity to examine eyes, fur, skin and particularly teeth.

On a normal diet, cats’ teeth remain clean but frequently become encrusted with deposits of tartar which if left in place can burrow under the gum and cause the tooth to loosen. The breath will be bad and the cat may gag and shake its head while eating. Chattering of the teeth is also a sign. The gums will become inflamed and the cat may even go off its food completely. Annual check-ups where accumulating tartar is removed are therefore very much in the cat’s interest.

Regular veterinary attention, combined with the stimulation of disease resistance by administration of booster vaccine injections, and sensible food, adequate exercise and regular cleansing and brushing of the coat, can ensure that common ailments of the cat are not a problem.

Treating Cat Mites

Second only to fleas in importance are mites and most important of these is the ear mite, Olodectes cynotis. This highly persistent and irritating parasite probably causes the individual pet cat more annoyance and irritation than any other parasite likely to infest it. Cats certainly do have the capacity to build up a minor resistance to the effects of the ear mite which means that they may tolerate a mild infestation without the owner realizing that the mites are present. By taking a sample of exudate from the ear canal a veterinarian can easily identify the mite under a low-power microscope. Identification of the presence of the mite by the owner, however, is relatively simple since the signs are reasonably obvious. These are: continual twitching and flicking of the ears; vigorous scratching of the ears; and shaking of the head. If this is accompanied by the presence of a dark brown discharge in the ear canal and, in certain cases, a bald patch running in front of the ear towards the eye, then it is almost certain that the mite is present.

Kittens usually start their infestation with ear mites from their mother, but may develop a much more severe clinical problem as they have less resistance. In severe cases, adult cats can scratch and shake their ears to the point where they form the haematoma. It should also be mentioned that, as with fleas, cats can share their ear mites with dogs in the family, and often a young animal brought into the house with clean ears can develop them by catching the primary infection from the dog.

Treatment for car mites consists of cleaning out the discharge gently, using a suitable oil-based preparation and destroying the parasites with a safe parasiticide which is often incorporated with antiseptic or antibiotic products to destroy any bacterial infection that the injured tissue may have developed. It must be emphasized, however, that treatment is not a quick and simple thing and continual application of appropriate dressings may be necessary, preferably under veterinary supervision.

Other mites cause various skin problems, particularly mange. This condition is less commonly seen today as the mite concerned Notoedres cati, is finding it more and more difficult to perpetuate its life cycle due to the effective remedies available today. If cats are infected, however, the mange mite burrows into the skin producing much irritation and inflammation. The affected area is usually confined to the head and neck, but it can spread along the body if left unchecked. The presence of scabby dried skin is a certain sign that the mite may be present. Veterinary care is essential if the parasite is to be totally eliminated from the body. Treatment usually requires repeated application of washes or shampoos twice a week for about two weeks.

Cats in the country with regular opportunities to hunt and catch rabbits often become infested with the mite Cheyletiella. This seems to be well tolerated by cats and merely causes a degree of irritation and the presence of a dry skin scale, similar to dandruff, on the hair. The application of a suitable shampoo with a safe parasiticide in it is usually adequate to eliminate the problem. This particular mite also enjoys human contact and owners may develop an irritating rash on the wrist and forearm which, if severe, can spread to the chest and abdomen. This is one of the few diseases which could be called a true Zoonoses ~ a disease common to man and animals.

The harvest mite, delightfully named Trombicula autumnalis, is a common summer and autumn problem in cats living in the country. The mite is in fact the larval stage of its larger parent and can be seen by the naked eye, usually on the inside of the legs or underbelly of the cat as little orange-red moving spots. Occasionally the cat may have a heavy infestation between its toes. Any sudden irritation and frequent and frantic licking and biting of the skin occurring during the late summer would indicate the possibility of harvest mite infestation, which can be treated by the application of an appropriate insecticidal powder or shampoo.

Treatment of Cat Fleas

The most common form of ectoparasite is the cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis, and it is this type of flea that commonly infests a cat. However, in a caring-and-sharing way, cats living in households with clogs can often carry the dog flea Ctenocephalides canis, and, though increasingly rarely, the human flea, Pulex irritans. Cat fleas, dog fleas and human fleas can therefore be inter-changed around the family and it is usually one particular member of the family who seems to be preferred when cat or dog fleas are present. Fleas prefer to bite the species with which they are particularly identified but can be persuaded to bite other species though not, it appears, quite as severely.

From the pet cat’s point of view fleas are a nuisance as they bite the skin and suck the blood of the cat; in severe infestation they can cause anaemia and they certainly cause skin problems. Unless infestation is so severe that running fleas can be seen by simply brushing the fur against the grain, evidence of fleas is usually confirmed by identifying little black specks of flea dirt in the coat. This is usually only possible in light-coated cats.

Eliminating fleas is not quite as simple as some flea powder packs may encourage one to believe. Fleas usually lay their eggs in crevices and cracks in bedding, boxes and baskets, though occasionally they may lay them in the actual coat of the animal. Eggs fall out of the coat and when the conditions are right they hatch into maggot-like tiny larvae. These feed on bacteria and very small particles of food, turn into what is known as pupae and then emerge as adult fleas. The pupal stage is extremely resistant and can last for many months, especially in cold weather.

If a cat flea finds a suitable host it will absorb its food by biting through the skin and under these conditions can live for about three months. However, if the flea is living in extremely moist conditions, such as under a kitchen sink, without benefit of food from a passing cat, it can live for up to eight months. It is therefore true to say that in controlling fleas in cats the price of success is eternal vigilance. The cat should be regularly brushed and appropriate flea powders, or even shampoo in severe cases, should be used. The cat is highly sensitive to certain parasiticides and the best preparations to look for are those containing Dcrris Root or Pyrethrum (Pyrethrins). When infestation is severe all beds and bedding should be destroyed by burning and replaced. The cycle of application should be at about ten-day intervals when powder is thoroughly brushed into the coat, left for half an hour and then brushed out again thoroughly. During the cycle, the cat can be bedded on newspaper, which can be burnt at the time of application of the fresh powder. At the same time favourite cushions, chairs and warm corners on the floor should be vigorously cleaned with a vacuum cleaner. Eliminating fleas is a long and tedious process and even when you think you have eradicated them, somewhere lurking in a crevice will be a hungry pupa waiting for its mobile meal ticket to pass by.

Worms in Cats

There are two sorts of parasites which affect the cat — those which are found inside, endoparasites, and those which are found outside, ectoparasites. As far as cats are concerned, endoparasties are confined to worms harboured in the intestine. There are really two main types of worm which the owner must be concerned about. These are roundworms which are normally present in young cats, and tapeworms which usually infest older cats. It is not commonly realized that cats as well as other animals can develop immunity to the infestation of worms. Certainly roundworms seem to be less of a problem in adult cats, due it is believed to a form of resistance similar to that built up against infectious diseases.

The young kitten is usually infected with the roundworm while it is still in the mother’s uterus, so it is necessary to break the cycle of worm infestation by treating the pregnant queen. Most breeders are aware of this and will administer appropriate tablets at the correct moment to ensure that as far as possible worms are eliminated. It is also common to worm kittens before they are sold to the new owner and this should prevent you from receiving your new kitten with hidden extras.

It is not easy to guarantee that cats are free from roundworm infestation and it is therefore wise to ensure that treatment has been carried out thoroughly and effectively. If in any doubt about this it is sensible to consult your veterinary surgeon. Equally it is wise to check with the breeder that the kitten has been wormed before you take it and, if not, arrange for this to be done either before the kitten arrives in the home or immediately afterwards.

Worm remedies, known as anthelmintics, when properly administered, are effective and safe to use. They eliminate the worms completely but it is usually-wise to give a second dose about fourteen days after the first one. As kittens are delicate creatures it is very important to stick closely to the dosage recommended according to the weight of the kitten. Again, the veterinary surgeon can if necessary take all this worry off your hands by carrying out treatment for you.

There are two main species of roundworm found in the intestine of cats: toxocara cati (mystax) and toxascaris ieonina. Toxocara cati is by far the most common. The worms live in the small intestine of the cat and when mature lay eggs which pass out in the faeces. When the infective egg is swallowed by a cat it hatches into a tiny larva which migrates to the lungs and liver before returning to the bowel to turn into an adult worm. If a young kitten encounters a massive source of infective larvae this migration can cause severe debility and even death due to the widespread damage it does to the sensitive tissues of the liver and lungs. In normal healthy kittens roundworms may be present without any sign. Kittens with a fat belly, a dry dull coat, a little diarrhoea and pale gums, indicating possible anaemia, are likely to be heavily infested.

It is possible for children playing with kittens which have not been properly wormed to ingest infective eggs which form larvae, as they do in the cat, and begin to migrate through the tissue. They may lodge eventually in any part of the body such as the liver, lungs or muscles. Very rarely, the migrating larvae may lodge in extremely sensitive tissues such as the eye or the nervous system causing severe problems. It should be emphasized that the risk of this occurring is so rare that it can almost be ignored. However, it is wise to ensure that when there are children in the house kittens are wormed before being brought in, and that the worming is repeated under the direction of a veterinarian to ensure that it is thorough and complete.

Cats can be affected with two types of hookworm. Their life cycles are similar to that of roundworms except that the larvae develop from the eggs outside the body and gain entrance to the body by penetrating the intact skin of the animal. Hookworms are particularly likely to cause anaemia because they live by attaching themselves to the inside of the intestine and absorbing blood from the tissues.

Although it is very rare, cats can also be afflicted with a lungworm which is remarkable for its unusual life cycle. The study of the devious routes by which worms find their way into the primary host is fascinating and in this case the worm requires the existence of an intermediate host, in the form of a slug or snail, to complete its life cycle. Infective larvae hatching from the eggs of lung-worms present in the lung tissue of the cat find their way up the breathing passages to the back of the throat where they are coughed up and then swallowed. They pass through the intestine to the outside where they must find a slug or snail and burrow into its tissue. Ultimately a cat must then eat the slug or snail (not a common food preference) and the worm then completes its life cycle and finds its way into its new host’s lungs. Happily lungworm in the cat is very unusual and could not be considered a major parasite problem.

With the tapeworm of the cat, Dipylidium caninum, the interesting feature of the life cycle of this rather unpleasant parasite is that it requires the presence of a flea to act as an intermediate host. The larva of the flea eats the tapeworm egg attaching usually to the fur around the tail of the cat. This flea larva develops into an adult and. During the normal cleaning and grooming process, the cat will swallow the adult flea, its digestive juices absorbing the protective shell around the tapeworm egg inside the flea. The tapeworm begins to develop into the sinister, flat, segmented creature that winds its way through the intestine, shedding segments from its tip. By the time they have reached this stage, they have undergone a remarkable cycle of reproduction to produce a little sack full of eggs which can move after detaching itself from the parent’s body. This sack or segment passes out through the anus of the cat and can sometimes be seen, about the size of a cucumber seed and greyish white in colour, moving towards the tip of the hairs under the tail in order to repeat the life cycle. Elimination of fleas is the first line of defence against the tapeworm and, as in all cases of parasitic infestation, breaking the life cycle in this way is the only effective and final method of control. Treatment of tapeworm is not as simple as with roundworm and it is certainly wise to obtain professional help.

There is one other tapeworm found in cats – Taenia taeniaeformis. This goes through a similar life cycle to Dipylidium caninum but the intermediate host in this case is in fact the mouse. The question must be asked, did nature decide that as cats catch mice, the mouse would be a good intermediate host, or did the worm survive simply because of the hunter and hunted cycle?

Feline enteritis

Infectious feline enteritis is an extremely serious and frequently fatal disease of cats, transmitted from an infected cat to a healthy one, especially in the first few months of life. To the cat owner the illness presents a very dramatic picture. A cat will be perfectly healthy one day and the next will be lying flat out, breathing and panting in a distressed manner and possibly crawling to a basin or sink or lying with its head over a bowl of water. The cat may cry pitifully and sit in a crouched-up position refusing all food. Sometimes, but not always, there may be vomiting of froth and mucus and the animals will resent being touched, especially around the abdomen.

Most often, the owner believes the animal has been poisoned since the symptoms appear very similar. In very severe cases the animal may die within one or two days. This illness certainly justifies the term ‘emergency’. Veterinary help should be sought immediately and measures taken to arrest the progress of the disease. It is not always possible to save the animal’s life and this is why nearly all kittens are vaccinated nowadays with the extremely effective vaccines available. This is certainly one condition where prevention is in-finitely better than cure. The best advice is for owners to take their new kittens to the local veterinary surgeon for general advice and a check up. He will probably look at the general make-up of the kitten to ensure that every-thing is normal and he may look for fleas in the coat or, if the kitten has a swollen abdomen, he may suspect worms and provide treatment accordingly. At this stage he will probably recommend vaccination against feline enteritis and advise on the date he would propose to carry this out. Two injections are normally given to ensure a strong builcl-up of antibodies against the disease. Depending upon its prevalence in your neighbourhood he may advise you to return during the cat’s life from time to time for booster injections.

If you are unfortunate enough to have a cat that is not protected and dies from the disease, it is important to remember that the virus is extremely-resistant and may live in the house for up to six months after the kitten or cat has died. For this reason, it is important to destroy all bedding by burning it and thoroughly to disinfect all areas where the cat has been during its infected state. It is wise nevertheless to delay purchasing a replacement for your cat for at least six months to ensure that the virus has been eliminated. Alternatively, you can buy an older kitten which has already been vaccinated for a sufficient time for the resistant antibodies to be formed in the bloodstream.

Feline influenza

The second major disease of cats caused by a virus is feline influenza, commonly known as cat flu. Here again there is now an effective vaccine against the disease. This took longer to develop than the vaccine against feline enteritis because the virus of cat flu, like the virus of human flu, consists of a number of different strains. The manufacturers therefore have to ensure that their vaccine is effective against all these in order to protect cats adequately. Although feline influenza is less frequently fatal than feline enteritis, it is an unpleasant disease which often leaves its mark on the cat for life. First signs are frequent sneezing and running eyes, symptoms that are entirely similar to those seen in human flu. The cat will probably go off its food and drink more, and lie about showing little interest in the world around it. It will almost certainly have a temperature at this time and may even pant. Veterinary help should be sought immediately so that the condition can be arrested and the damaging secondary effects prevented. If left untreated, the discharge from the nose will become yellow and thick, and the nose will become encrusted around the outside; the eye discharge may also thicken up and the eyes themselves may close or the eyelids stick together with the gummy discharge.

A common after-effect of this particular symptom is that the passage-way which runs from the inside of the eye down into the nasal passages, known as the tear duct, becomes blocked. This means that the tear fluid which is formed as a natural washing mechanism to remove dust and particles from the surface of the eye and normally goes clown this tiny tube into the nose, cannot escape by this route and therefore spills over the corner or inner canthus of the eye and runs down the side of the face. Once this duct is blocked it is usually blocked for life and the spilling of tears over the face becomes a permanent problem that can often cause at least discolouration and sometimes irritation and skin problems.

Another serious complication of cat flu is pneumonia. In a severe case of flu in a cat with poor resistance, the virus gets into the chest and lungs and combines with bacteria, which may already be present in the dormant state, to cause a blow-up of serious infection in the lung tissue and the airways of the lungs, creating the classic condition of bronchial pneumonia. Veterinary treatment is vital if the cat’s life is to be saved. This will consist of antibiotics to destroy the bacteria, leaving the cat’s natural resistance to cope with the virus which does not respond to antibiotic treatment.

In both virus diseases the owner’s patient nursing is a vital ingredient in returning the cat back to normal health. There are a few general rules about this which apply to all illnesses and can make a major contribution to the success or failure of treatment. The rules also apply to animals brought home after surgery, whether minor or major. Essentially, good nursing consists of leaving the animal alone but staying close by. Put it in a warm comfortable bed where it is not disturbed by other members of the family or pets, but where it can have the reassurance of your presence. Prevent concerned children from continually talking to the cat or lifting the blanket to see how it is getting on and eliminate loud noise, either electronic or human.

Diet is an essential feature of treatment and the veterinarian’s instructions should be closely followed. This may often involve giving concentrated food such as meat essence, meat jelly or infant’s food. Force feeding is strictly to be avoided. Harm can often be done in forcing a cat to swallow food and any benefit from the small amounts of food which finally end up in the animal’s stomach is usually countered by the upset and disturbance caused to it and its natural progression to normal health. Sometimes, particularly in the case of cat flu, the animal may lose its sense of smell and therefore find food even less tempting. In these circumstances it is often recommended to offer a strong smelling food such as smoked fish, finely chopped liver or beef broth. In severe illness liquid foods only are recommended as they exert the minimum strain on the digestive system and are more rapidly digested and absorbed.

Dehydration, particularly in feline enteritis, is something to watch out for. It is essential that fluid be replaced and sometimes the veterinary surgeon maybe sufficiently concerned about this problem to decide to inject fluid under the skin to achieve rapid results. The owner’s task, however, is to offer fluid at regular intervals, spooning it into the side of the mouth with a teaspoon with a pointed bowl.

There is no doubt that certain cats can lose the will to live even when their illness is curable with good nursing and veterinary treatment. For some reason this seems to be particularly true of the Siamese or Foreign type cats. It maybe a reflection on their sensitivity and even their intelligence. They just seem to lie down and decide to die and nothins; that the veterinarian or the owner can do will persuade them otherwise. This is where sound and constructive nursing plays an essential role in the animal’s recovery. A sick animal should be talked to gently and made to return to the world about it and show an interest in it. One cat in my experience, having decided to die, was lying in a state of abject misery and dissociation when I gave it an injection of liver extract into the muscles in the hind leg. This is unfortunately quite a painful injection and my Siamese patient reacted with considerable anger, leaping from its sickbed and attacking me with teeth and claws. Despite the injuries, I was delighted as I knew the animal had shaken itself out of its death torpor and would now make a healthy recovery, which in fact it did. This story merely illustrates the importance of finding some way to reawaken the cat’s interest in life. One can even resort to subterfuges such as putting a goldfish bowl near to the cat so (hat it can sec the goldfish swimming, or even a birdcage. Despite itself, the cat will react to its natural hunting reflexes and watch the fish or bird with increasing interest and. Almost by accident, discover that it is now capable of recovering.

Common ailments of cats

The ability of cats to stay healthy is obviously part of their survival instinct. In a country home cats have access to open spaces and will travel remarkable distances while hunting and satisfying their curiosity. In this way, the animal keeps its body healthy, its muscles springy and maintains its proper body weight. Obviously hunger, coupled with the hunting instinct, is the driving force which keeps your cat on the move. However, under normal domestic conditions where food is regularly supplied this pressure to go out and find food is eliminated.

If one looks at wild members of the cat family, such as the lion, hunting is performed in groups, usually of lionesses, and the prey is stalked and finally-caught and killed. At this point, with a nice sense of propriety and instinctive recessive behaviour, the lionesses who have done all the work sit and wait patiently while the lion, who has probably merely watched the procedure from the long grass, has first go at the carcass. After gorging themselves all the animals will lie sleeping for hours. This may in fact be the only major meal they will have in several days so that hunger pangs start the hunting cycle again. It can be seen that when the animal’s stomach is full it has no desire to do anything but lie about and sleep. The parallel with the domestic cat is therefore obvious. An over-fed cat will have no desire to move from its bed and may therefore become fat, sluggish and unhealthy.

This is not necessarily always true; many cats naturally keep themselves fit and overweight cats are much less frequently seen than fat dogs. After all, cats seem to hunt out of sheer enjoyment, bringing home small mice and birds to lay them by the back door so that we can admire them. They seem surprised at our outrage that our own pet cat should be so cruel as to kill an innocent singing bird with no need to eat it but simply for the pleasure of hunting.

The lesson is clear, therefore. It is important to start a kitten off with a balanced but not over-generous diet. Under ideal conditions the amount of food fed should be on the basis of about half an ounce of food to every pound body weight of the cat. To weigh your cat simply you can use an ordinary bathroom scale, first weighing yourself then weighing yourself plus the cat and subtracting the first from the second weight. Alternatively, you can weigh the cat in a basket and then the basket alone. This is usually how veterinary surgeons assess weight for anaesthetics or critical doses of medicines.

Cats in towns, and especially those confined to small domestic quarters,probably get less exercise than those in the country and therefore rarely reach the peak of fitness of their country cousins. They may become sluggish and overweight although no doubt extremely contented. From the point of view of health, they are more likely to encounter disease-carrying cats due to the concentration of pets under these circumstances. There is no doubt that the most likely source of illness, disease or injury to a cat is from another cat. The most important diseases of cats are caused by viruses. They are feline enteritis or panlcucopcnia, and feline influenza.