THE CAT - HISTORY AND DISEASES.
THE HONORABLE LADY CUST.
[Note. This early booklet on cat care by Mary Anne Boode Cust is much referenced by Victorian and Edwardian cat fanciers. The original copy is owned by the National Library of Australia.]
THERE are useful and interesting little volumes published upon the natural histories of “The Dog,” “The Pig,” “The Cow,” and other animals. The authoress of this work, having in vain sought similar work upon “The Cat,” an animal to which she is herself very partial, she has determined to take up her pen on the subject, for the benefit of those who have the same regard for the Cat; regretting to be obliged to conclude, from such an omission, that the Cat is not now considered worthy of notice, or its life worth preserving.
The Almighty formed “every creature for the service of man,” and with the gift of dominion over every living thing, it became man’s duty, as well as his interest, to study and investigate their capacities to serve him; and in return for these services, it was surely meant that he should also study their diseases, attend to their comforts, and not ill use them.
All creatures, in their different structures, are “fearfully and wonderfully made,” and all ought, therefore, to he worthy of the study, and interesting to the only one, with a mind to appreciate those wonders — the most noble of all the created beings — Man.
Cats appear to have been known in every country from time immemorial; to the Chinese, Persians, and Hindoos. They were domesticated with the Egyptians, Phoenicians, Romans, Jews, and Greeks. They are admitted by some of these nations into their Mythology; and they are proved to have been regarded in a very different light to what they now are, for we read that “In Egypt the cat was held in the greatest veneration; and that when it died a natural death, it was actually mourned for with demonstrations of grief appointed for the event; and that if the death were caused by malice, the murderer was condemned to be given over to the rabble to be buffeted to death.”
Moncrieff mentions, “That an insult offered to a cat by a Roman was once the cause of an insurrection among the Egyptians, even when the fact of their own vanquishment could not excite them to rebel.” And it is also recorded, “That Cambyses, who succeeded his father, Cyrus, as King of Persia, about the year 530, availing himself of the regard of the people for their favorite animals, when he invaded Egypt to punish Amasis for an affront, made himself master of Pelasis, which had before successfully resisted his arms. The stratagem he adopted was certainly an ingenious one; he gave a live cat to each of his soldiers instead of a buckler; and the Egyptian soldiers, rather than destroy these objects of their veneration, suffered themselves to be conquered. ”This regard of the Egyptians for cats was extended even beyond the lives of the animals, for we know that caves have been discovered filled with their bones and skeletons; and that even embalming and making them into mummies, to preserve their remains, were resorted to; which process being very tedious and troublesome, and most likely expensive also, proves beyond any doubt the high estimation in which they were held by that nation.
The Turks maintained large establishments of cats at the public expense. Baumgarten, when he visited Damascus, informs us, “That he saw there an hospital for cats. The building was very large, and surrounded by a wall, and was said to be filled with inmates.” On inquiring into the origin of this strange institution, he was informed “that Mahomed, when he had once lived there, brought with him a favorite cat, which he kept in the sleeve of his garment, and carefully fed with his own hands, taking off his sleeves rather than disturb the repose of his pet; therefore his followers paid superstitious respect to these animals, and supported them in this manner by public alms, which were found adequate to the purpose.” They did not allow any eats to be destroyed, and they even made it a penal offence to do so. It is to be supposed they did not multiply so rapidly in that country as they do in this, or their numbers could not have been maintained.
There are other records in history of cats being more generally and highly esteemed in former days than they are at the present time, for we read, “That Howell the Good,” a prince of Wales, in the year 948, instituted laws respecting them. ,“That the price of a kitten, before it could see, was one penny; until it caught a mouse, two pennies; and when it commenced mousing, four pennies.” It was then required “to be perfect in its senses of seeing and hearing, have all its claws perfect, and, if a female, to be a good nurse; if the animal failed in any of these specified qualifications, the seller was to forfeit to the purchaser the third part of its value.” “If any person stole the cat that guarded the granaries of the Prince, he was to forfeit a much ewe, with its fleece and lamb; or in lieu of these, as much wheat, as when poured upon the cat, suspended by the tail, her head touching the floor, would form a heap high enough to cover the tip of the former.”
Cats are recorded to have been used for other purposes than mere catching rats and mice. The Greek monks, in the island of Cyprus, used to teach them (if they do not even now do so) to catch the serpents with which that island is infested.
In the present day, a love for cats appears chiefly permitted to “elderly spinsters,” and is often even ridiculed; but persons who laugh at these pets as unworthy, are not acquainted with their history, either in their own or other countries, and with the characters of the celebrated men who selected them for favorites; many of whom, of the highest rank, and filling the most important situations in the state, were nevertheless not ashamed to own publicly their affection for their favorite cats. The proud haughty Cardinal Wolsey was accustomed to hold audiences, and receive his guests, with his cat generally seated on the arm of his state chair, or at the back of his throne; and an equally eminent statesman of Prance is mentioned on one occasion as not rising to receive an ambassador from a foreign court, because his favorite cat and her kittens were nestled in the train of his robes, and he could not disturb them.
Petrarch, the great Italian poet, had his favorite cat, which after its death, occupied embalmed a niche in his studio. The celebrated painter, Godefroi Mind, who died at Berne, in the year 1814, and who was styled “The Raphael of Cats,” from his having devoted himself exclusively to the painting of them, was unbounded in his affection for them; and when at one time the hydrophobia was prevailing in Berne, so that eight hundred cats were destroyed by order of the magistrates of the city, poor Mind was so grieved, that he is said never completely to have been consoled. He contrived to hide his great favorite, Minette, until the panic was past; and he always worked at his easel talking to her; and was generally found with her and her family, either on his knees or on his chair, when his friends entered his room.
The wise and solemn Doctor Johnson, too, is known to have had his favorite cat, which at one time being very ill, and refusing its food, he discovered was tempted to eat an oyster; consequently, not trusting to the tender mercies of his servant to feed her, he used to walk out, and himself buy and carry home oysters, in his pocket, to tempt her appetite, until she was quite recovered, and able to take her ordinary food.
The poet Gray did not deem the cat unworthy his muse, and though the stanzas are known to everyone of my readers, as being applicable to my subject, they cannot be omitted.
VERSES BY GRAY.
ON THE DEATH OF HIS FAVORITE CAT,
DROWNED IN A VASE OF GOLD FISHES.
‘Twas on a lofty vase’s side,
Where China’s gayest arts had dyed
The azure flowers that blow,
Demurest of the tabby kind,
The pensive Selima reclined,
Gaz’d on the lake below.
The conscious maid her joy declared;
The fair round face and snowy beard,
The velvet of her paws,
Her coat that with the tortoise vies,
The ears of jet, and em’rald eyes,
She saw, and purr’d applause.
The hapless nymph with wonder saw
A whisker first, and then a claw,
With many an ardent wish;
She stretched in vain to reach the prize—
What female heart can gold despise?
What cat’s averse to fish?
Presumptive maid! with looks intent,
Again she stretched, again she bent,
Nor knew the gulf between.
Malignant Fate sat by and smiled,
The slipp’ry verge her feet beguiled—
She tumbled headlong in.
Eight times emerging from the flood,
She mew’d to every watery god
Some speedy aid to send.
No dolphin came, no neriad stirr’d,
No cruel Tom nor Susan heard,—
A fav’rite has no friend.
Learn hence, ye beauties, unceceiv’d,
Know one false step is ne’er retriev’d,
And he with caution bold;
Not all that tempts your wond’ring eyes,
Nor heedless hearts, is lawful prize—
Nor all that g1itters gold.
All animals of the feline tribe, including the lion, tiger, panther, leopard, &c., are distinguished by their sharp and peculiar formidable claws, which, concealed in a glove of velvet, they can protrude at will. “The footstep of the cat is noiseless, and that of the larger animals of the species nearly so, which renders them the more formidable, as they creep stealthily along unheard, and when at a convenient distance, spring with a bound upon their victims. Their teeth, to the number of thirty, including the tusk, are formidable weapons, better calculated for tearing than for masticating their prey; for this reason they eat slowly, and generally growl to alarm and prevent others sharing it with them.” “They have not the swiftness of other animals, they seize their prey by stealth, watching it with the most untiring patience for many hours, often for the mere gratification of possessing it to play with. I have frequently observed one of my own cats seated on a low wall in the stable-yard, watching a mouse in the straw, invisible to any eye but her own; and in returning to the place many hours after, have found her exactly in the same position, and still watching with the same unabated anxiety, certainly not prompted by hunger, as she had regular meals. Indeed, starved cats are never good mousers; when eager for food, they pounce upon their prey too soon, and consequently lose it. They will brave wet and cold in its pursuit, though of all animals they most like warmth and soft warm beds to lie upon. They have naturally a great antipathy to cold, and windy weather; wet annoys them exceedingly, or getting their feet damp; but nothing will deter them from the pursuit of their victims when once bent upon their destruction, for, notwithstanding their antipathy to wet, I have seen a cat thrust her arm up to the shoulder, in the coldest water, to seize a fish at the bottom of a glass globe.
The eyes of cats are peculiarly and wonderfully adapted to their nature. “In the eyes of man, and in most anima1s, the pupils admit of a very small degree of dilation and contraction, — dilating in the dark, and contracting a very little when exposed to strong light; the pupil of the cat’s eye, which, found on examination by day to be very narrow and small, at night expands over the whole surface of the eye, and shines like a ball of fire; thus beautifully and wisely adapted for the better seeing their prey, which chiefly moves by night. The Chinese can tell the hour of day by the eyes of cats; in the bright sun there is scarcely any pupil visible at mid-day. They have a great dislike to some smells; but, on the contrary, have great delight in others, and the odour of some plants, rubbing themselves on them — such as catmint, valerian, and, the blue nemophila, which they discover at a great distance for them, for the power of scent is not so strong as in the canine species.
The extreme cleanliness of their habits renders them nice household pets; and I do not agree with Buffon, that “the cat is a treacherous friend to exterminate an insidious foe,” for I have found them as capable of attachment as the dog; but being shown in a different manner, it is not observed. The dog, after a separation from his master, immediately springs upon him, devouring him with caresses; the cat cannot at the instant understand its joy, it is evidently quite puzzled at his appearance; requiring a few moments to recover itself, and comprehend it, which it then shows in its own way, creeping about him, rubbing itself against him, purring, and following him closely, fearing, as it were, to lose him again.
Another recommendation is the remarkably pure and sweet nature of the fur, to the dressing of which they pay so much attention, that the soiling of it to an irreparable degree, causes them to pine away and die.
Kittens are fifty-six days before they are born, at which time they are, like puppies, blind and deaf, the eyelids and ears being firmly closed; and the former, if opened, showing the power of sight immatured. In about nine days, sometimes sooner, sometimes later, they commence their functions.
The untamed mother hides her kittens, but the domesticated cat always forces them upon the notice of her own protectors, bringing them and anxiously recommending them to their care, and expressing evident signs of pleasure on seeing them caressed. It is curious to watch the mother fetch her kittens one by one to remove them to some place she has fixed upon for them. How gently she carries her little treasure in her mouth! looking carefully around to be sure that no enemy is in sight, and then placing it down and smoothing its coat. If the distance is great, she rests, as the little burden is generally fat and heavy. The mother nurses her progeny for a few weeks, scarcely ever leaving them, and after that time she catches and brings them small game, such as young mice and birds, instructing them how to kill them. No maternal love can exceed that of feline mothers for their offspring; they will brave any danger in their defence, and. fight for them to their last breath, fretting with lamentable cries for many days if deprived of them; and frequently not forsaking them even when dead, until they no longer bear any resemblance to what they were. They will also adopt and nurse the young of each other even with their own. I had two Angora cats with kittens at the same time, and they all occupied the same nest; the two families were a joint concern, and when one of the mothers went out, the other nursed them all. One very remarkable circumstance I have always observed; when these fond mothers, through illness, lose the sustenance with which Nature has provided them for their young, they are immediately conscious of the cause of their cries, and become so distressed and irritated that they invariably kill them. Kittens are generally born in spring and autumn; male cats will sometimes destroy them.
“Of the wild cat there is supposed to be only one species, which extends, with very trifling variety in colour, over all parts of the world; the differences from the tame variety is more in the internal than in the external structure; its intestines being the smallest and shortest of all the quadrupeds. Those of the sheep, when measured, will be found to be thirty times the length of the body, whilst those of the wild cat will be found to be only three times the length of it. It is supposed to be common to both the old and new continent, for when Christopher Columbus first discovered the new, a hunter brought him one from the woods.”* In our own climate they are now chiefly confined to mountainous countries, principally to the Highlands of Scotland. “The wild cat is larger than the tame English one, especially its face, and this gives it a greater appearance than it really has.” The hair is longer, the face flatter, and the teeth and claws much more formidable; the muscles are very strong, being formed for rapine; the tail is of a moderate length, but very thick and flat, marked with alternate bands of black and white; the hips and hind part of the lower joints of the legs are always black; the fur is very soft and fine; the general colour is a yellowish white, mixed with deep grey. The colours, though they appear at first to be confusedly blended together, yet on close inspection will be found to be disposed like the streaks on the skin of the tiger, pointing from the back downwards, and rising from a black cist that runs from the head along the middle of the back to the tail. It is the most destructive of all the carnivorous animals in this country; it lives by day in trees, and hunts by night. Buffon tells us “that the wild cat of Spain, instead of having the colours pale like ours, are more brought out by the climate to be bright and marked; the yellow colour being more red, the brown becoming black, and the grey white; and that when transplanted to America, they still retain their colour.” Le Père de Tetre tells us — then in the Antilles — ”there are a great number of cats, which have been brought here by the Spaniards.”
* “The evidence of Columbus is valueless. Antrobus has a so-called wild cat, but it is a marsupial animal; and the true naturalists always call a foreign wild beast, seen for the first time, after some tame animal.” — OWEN
Hiertro dello Valli evidently means the Angora kind, when he says, “There is in Persia a cat (particularly in the province of Choragan) of the figure and form of our ordinary ones, but infinitely more beautiful in the lustre and colour of its skin. It is of a grey blue, without mixture, and as soft and shining as silk. The tail is of great length, and covered with hair six inches long, which the animal throws on its back like a squirrel.” This is the exact description of the Angora cat, only that they are larger and do vary in colour like our own; though the eyes, which he does not name, are generally yellow like topaz. He further says “he purchased a pair of them to introduce the breed into Italy.” The Angora cat is by far the most beautiful, gentle, and affectionate, and resembles more the dog in intelligence and attachment to its owner.
Bosman, in his ‘Voyage de Guinee,’ says, “Cats do not change like dogs when transported there; and, though the tame cats vary in their colours, they do not form a distinct species, and that Syria or Choragan produces one constant sort, which is perpetuated” All the cats I myself saw in South America and the islands of the West Indies were of the poorest and smallest description, not larger than a half-grown one of our country. Very thin, with staring coats, and infested with vermin, — to such an extent they were obliged to be washed to keep them alive. Bosman also relates that “In the province of Pe-chily, in China, there are cats with long hair and drooping ears, which are in great favour with the Chinese ladies:“ others say this is not a cat, but an animal called “Samxee.” Writing of the drooping ears, he further adds, “It is worthy of remark that there is in animals evident signs of ancestry of their slavery. Long ears, varied colours, long and fine hair, are effects produced by time and civilization, whilst all wild animals have straight, round ears;“ for instance the wild pig, when the domestic one has ears always inclined to fall. The ears of high-bred rabbits of the present day also fall; but I am doubtful the ears of cats or any of the feline race ever would fall, as their hearing would then be less acute and not so well suited to their habits of life.
Having now written as much as is interesting upon the history of cats from the authority of several learned authors, interspersed with my own remarks and observations respecting them, I shall proceed to write upon the management of them, and their treatment under disease, which I have found the most efficacious (believing no one has yet done so) a study in which I have ever taken interest and pleasure — the trying to alleviate, by the best means in my power, the sufferings of every creature formed by the Almighty hand that made all.
Permit me to remark that no person with any proper feeling will pamper their favorites with unnecessary luxuries (that should be better bestowed), and over-lavish them with caresses, whilst they are in health and beauty, merely because they contribute to their own vanity and amusement; and then discard them from their affection and even presence when they have the misfortune to be ill and suffering ;* and because the offices of cleanliness, in which they are in health so strictly careful, and can no longer perform for themselves, are obliged to be performed for them, and are naturally not agreeable. Agreeable they certainly are not, for all animals are fretful, and even cross, when suffering or old; and a degree of quiet courage and resolution is requisite to administer to their necessities. But I have always found that I have been repaid for my trouble and annoyances by the gratitude and increased attachment of my patients of every kind, from the largest to the smallest animals. And, after all, I have only done my duty as a Christian, for is it not written, “The righteous man is merciful to his beast?“ He “who tempers the wind to the shorn lamb” meant not His creatures to be ill-used or neglected by man, for whose use they were created.
* Would I do so by thee?
ON THE MANAGEMENT OF THE DOMESTIC CAT.
It is a curious fact that cats will never prosper without grass to eat! I have long observed and been convinced of this; and was ridiculed for my opinion when I asserted it, even by some learned members of the Zoological Society, who would not believe that grass was necessary to the feline tribe in general, or that they would even eat it, until they witnessed the voracity with which it was devoured after a deprivation of it for a few days. I am perfectly certain it is essential for the maintenance of health and life in that species. In the first place it cools the blood, preventing humours, and contributes to the healthy condition of the skin, rendering the fur fine and glossy. It has also a material effect on the general health. Every one must have observed the constant licking bestowed on the coat, and the rough nature of the tongue? Consequently, the loose hair is conveyed to the stomach and intestines, where it remains in balls or long rolls, causing dulness and loss of appetite, and ending in death. The hair swallowed adheres to the rough grass and is then digested, or if the mass is too large (as is often the case in the moulting season, especially with Angora cats), it will be seen thrown up: long rolls of hair with grass, perfectly exclusive of any other substance; and the animal that a few moments previous was dying, will now be relieved, and take its food as usual.
Never alarm a sick animal; they are always more nervous when ill, and fright is most pernicious. Whatever is necessary to be done, must be done as quietly as possible, and without talking and noise. Sick and frightened cats always hide in dark corners to die.
ADMINISTERING MEDICINE TO CATS.
This is a difficult process in imagination; but easy in the performance, when undertaken with firmness, gentleness, and courage, and without noise.
As I previously remarked, there is no animal so scrupulously cleanly as the cat; therefore the chief care must be not to soil the fur with the medicine, as it will not lick it off, and will pine away at the smell.
Roll gently the sick cat in a large cloth, such as a table-cloth, carefully including all the claws of both the front and back, so as to resemble a mummy, leaving only the head out. Then place it upright between the knees of a sitting person, place another cloth under the jaw to keep that clean, and then with a gloved hand open the mouth wide, but gently, at one effort, holding it open and pouring the medicine from a teaspoon down the open throat; a very little at once, not to cause choking; but letting it be comfortably swallowed in very small quantities. Do not put the spoon into the mouth, as the cat will bite it and spit out the contents; but pour it from the small spoon. Then with a sponge and chilled water wipe off the least impurity from the mouth and chin, rub it dry with a clean cloth and unswathe the patient, and put it in a quiet, warm, comfortable place for about an hour and a half. Do not give food or drink during that time, or the medicine will return again; as in human beings, it is necessary to watch the effect of your medicine. You must make a temporary hospital of some unused, uncarpeted room, with a fire, as warmth is half the cure, and every creature in illness requires it more than at other times. Have a comfortable bed for your patient, leave a dish of water in case of thirst (where it would not be pernicious), and do not allow any one but yourself to enter, as quiet and sleep are nature’s own and best remedies; without them there is no cure.
CATS WITH KITTENS.
It is very injurious to the mother, to destroy the whole litter, particularly at once; and if the practice is repeated, it is sure to cause cancers, a complaint common to cats. Cats suffer much when deprived of all their kittens, as may be seen by examining them under the circumstances. They will even nurse young rats or hedgehogs to be relieved of their milk. When a litter of kittens must all be destroyed take them away gradually one by one, leaving a day or two between, Kittens can be reared by hand by putting a small quantity of brown sugar into new milk, and constantly wiping them with a nearly dry sponge and soap and water
— to imitate the mother’s licking and saliva, which is soapy. The sugar should always be in the same proportion that is found to agree; plain milk is too astringent.
DELIRIUM AND FITS.
Are common to young cats just at their full growth: most have one attack, particularly male cats. Females are less subject to them, and never have these complaints after they have once nursed young ones, unless frightened into them, which all cats easily are. An approaching attack of delirium or fits may be seen by a general difference of manner in the animal, an uneasy restlessness, nervousness, and peculiar appearance of the eye, which once observed cannot be mistaken. It can generally be prevented by a gentle aperient, such as you would give a dog, only bear in mind that a much less dose must be given, as cats cannot bear the same quantity of medicine. Half a teaspoonful of common salt in about two teaspoonsful of water is a good alterative for them. When seized with delirium, a cat rushes about suddenly, violently, its eyes wide open and staring fearfully. It darts frequently to a window in the first impulse, and then always into the darkest place where it would remain and die if not secured. If it amounts to a regular fit (which symptoms in all subjects are alike), take a sharp pair of scissors and slightly slit one of the ears, but not to disfigure the cat, it must be in the thin part of the ear. Have ready some warm water, and hold the ear in it, gently rubbing, and encouraging the blood to flow; a few drops give relief. The most timid lady need not fear to perform this slight operation, as during the attack the animal does not feel, nor does it resist in any way; but I always use thick gloves in handling animals myself; and recommend them to others. When the attack is over, keep the cat very quiet, as you will observe it is very nervous after, and alarmed with the slightest sound; and let its food be rather less in quantity, and less nutritious in quality, until it is past the time of fits.
Cats have a very dangerous complaint, which I call distemper, though it s different to the distemper in dogs. I do not think it occurs more than once; and it is well it does not, as it requires every care and attention to save the life of the sufferer. Sometimes it begins with constant vomiting of a bright yellow frothy liquid, diarrhoea then comes on which ends in dysentery. If you see the yellow vomiting, give the small dose of salt and water before named, in this case it will act as an emetic. When the stomach it cleared, then, as the vomiting will continue from irritation, and reduce the strength to the last degree very painful to witness, stop it as soon as you can, by giving half a teaspoonful of melted beef marrow, free from skin; one dose is generally sufficient, but if it is not another half-spoonful may be given in half an hour. To allay vomiting from irritation I have never seen this simple remedy fail in either the human or animal subject. I have tried it upon all species of carnivore with equal success; the former should take it upon toast with salt without pepper, overcoming the great repugnance it causes in sickness.
Cats of all ages are very subject to this complaint, and its existence may be suspected before it is actually proved, by any casual observer, by the signs of a neglected toilette, staring coat, dull eyes, and the animal becoming gradually more thin; the evil will not cure itself; and the sufferer will die of that, or its attendant dysentery, which is still more obstinate to overcome. In the commencement give new milk, with mutton suet melted into 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 is 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 settled 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 larger quantity which will return. Treat the complaint in other ways as in a human subject. Observe if there is 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 diarrhoea 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 does. 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.
Flies are very pernicious to cats; they make them thin.
A disease like chickenpox in human subjects will sometimes appear in spring and autumn, chiefly on the throat and head, causing incessant itching as well as the hair to fall off. Give the cat cooling diet and plenty of grass. Rub the spots with flour of brimstone mixed with as much as you can possibly rub into fresh hog’s lard without salt; besides doing good to the eruption, the cat will lick it and swallow some, which will assist the cure.
I have now written all that would be interesting or useful on the subject of cats; and I have acceded to the wishes of numerous friends who have applied to me, saying — My poor puss is so ill! and I cannot find any work upon Cats. Do tell me what I must do for it?
[Lady Cust also wrote "The Invalid's Own Book: A Collection of Recipes from Various Books and Various Countries" (1853)]