CATS AND CAT CARE RETROSPECTIVE - THE 1960S AND 1970S: KITTEN CARE, GENERAL CARE & MEDICAL CARE
Copyright 2003 Sarah Hartwell
This article is a look at views about cats and cat care in Britain during the 1960s and 1970s. The original "Retrospective" was written in 1996 (web version 1999) and split into separate documents with some overlapping areas. Each document is split into topics whose contents are ordered more-or-less chronologically with added "then and now" commentary or background. In this way I hope to keep it an ongoing work! It is interesting to note how attitudes have changed, as well as how our knowledge has increased.
Cats Protection League (various leaflets from 1960s & 1970s)
Mery, Fernand; "The Life, History and Magic of the Cat" (1966) (originally published in French)
Pedigree Petfoods/Peter Way Ltd; "Your Guide to Cats & Kittens" (1973)
Other parts in this series focussed mainly on the 1940s and 1950s, when serious cat care books were being published for the general public, and only touched upon later decades. Some notes about the 1960s and 1970s cat care appeared in the earlier two "Retrospective" articles to show how attitudes were evolving. This article focusses on the 1960s and 1970s onwards. By the 1960s and 1970s, there was far more cat care information available although there were still misconceptions about cats and their care. The way in which cats were fed and given health care was changing andnew breeds were appearing; unlike dogs, these were developed for looks rather than usefulness.
It is hard for me to think of the 1970s as being "history" since I was in my childhood/early teens at the time. One of my favourite childhood books was Molly Lefebure's "The Hunting of Wilberforce Pike" about resourceful cats battling a cat thief (sadly out of print, but well worth trying to find) and my local library stocked Doreen Tovey's books about her Siamese cats.
The major sources for the 1960s and 1970s are the English translation of "The Life, History and Magic of the Cat" by French author Fernand Mery, "Your Guide to Cats & Kittens" by Pedigree Petfoods (Whiskas manufacturer) and literature produced by the Slough-based Cats Protection League (CPL) now known simply as Cats Protection (CP) and based in Horsham. Concerned with welfare, rehoming and population control rather than breeds, breeding or exhibiting, the CPL produced and distributed leaflets such as "Some Facts About Cats". Additional information is sourced from CPL member magazines of the time.
THE CPL ON KITTEN CARE IN THE 1960s & 1970s
The 1960s CPL leaflet contained advice on the hand-rearing of kittens, no doubt much more of a hit-and-miss business than it is today, and on weaning of all kittens - which was then regarded as a complex affair.
Hand-rearing "may have to be resorted to if the mother cat dies or is unable to feed her kittens. The kittens must be fed every two hours, day and night, on warm milk or fine oatmeal gruel, or any well recommended branded food suitable for this purpose. A fountain pen filler with a small piece of rubber tubing (valve rubber) attached to the end to act as a teat, is best for this purpose and the kitten should be given as much of the milk food as it will take. Do not squirt the liquid down the kittenís throat. Hand feeding is very difficult and entails a great deal of time and patience. One cannot lay down hard and fast rules regarding the feeding of kittens or cats. Owners will soon find out what their particular kitten or cat likes and what suits it best, from the foods suggested. The simpler the feeding the better, and provided common sense is used and the food is fresh and given with discretion, the kitten should thrive."
From birth to 4-5 weeks, the ordinary healthy kitten would be fed by its mother and, provided she was well nourished during pregnancy and while nursing, they should be "bonnie babies". They would start looking for extra food at about 5 weeks and care and attention should be given to their requirement at this important period of their lives. Sadly some kittens were taken from their mother at 4 weeks old, hence the necessity for detailed - and seemingly over-elaborate - instructions.
The suggestions given were the outcome of many years of investigation and actual experience at the CPL's HQ Clinic where the feline residents, and the various strays and in-patients, provided an excellent medium for observation of how to accustom kittens to a change in diet without ill-effect. The advice was aimed at first-time kitten owners and also owners of unspayed females who intended to wean the kittens that were kept from the expected litters (most would be put to sleep at birth). The various stages of the process were:
Once the kittens were weaned, the owner could follow the advice on feeding them as laid out in other CPL literature (and elsewhere in this series). One elderly lady who used to attend CPL fayres in Chelmsford, Essex had been a district midwife and one of the few people to successfully hand-rear kittens in those days. She used the fountain pen filler and applied her understanding of human infants to the kittens. These days, incubators, special formula food (e.g. Cimicat, KMR) and a large amount of specialist information in books and websites mean that even premature kittens can often be successfully hand-reared.
In "Basic Care of Cats and Kittens", the CPL advised that the kitten be taken to its litter tray at regular intervals, particularly after eating or waking up. Though there would be occasional mistakes, cats were naturally clean and learned quickly. The litter tray should be filled with earth or a commercial cat litter. If the owner had a garden, the kitten should be introduced to it gradually, and would eventually look after its own toilet arrangements outdoors. Sand or peat were also suggested as suitable litter.
In the 1991 edition of "Cat Care" the CPL no longer advised the use of earth as it was likely to be contaminated with the faeces of other animals. "The best fillers are cat litter and wood shavings (not sawdust) obtainable from pet shops, or peat or sand, obtainable from gardening shops [...] if wood shavings, peat or sand are used, this can be placed on a garden compost heap. Cat litter can be disposed of in plastic refuse bags."
Once the cat was going outdoors, and this was assumed to be the case in Britain, the tray should be moved to wherever the cat would be kept overnight, "Finally, only allow access to the tray after nightly lock-up or when the cat is shut in the house for any reason. Healthy, adult cats, if shut in after about 9 pm, after their last feed, will probably not need a toilet tray at all, although they should always have access to one."
By 1991, Dettol was no longer recommended as a litter tray disinfectant and Domestos was recommended instead. This advice was long overdue - Dettol contains substances toxic to cats.
PEDIGREE PETFOODS ON KITTEN CARE IN THE 1970s
In the 1970s, canned foods were becoming increasingly popular, but had not entirely taken over from the traditional home-prepared meals. No doubt some owners religiously followed the CPL's milk-gruel-meat process, but most kittens would be weaned straight onto adult canned foods. Pedigree wrote "Most modern canned cat foods provide all the necessary nutrients for a kitten in a well-balanced form. A kitten two to four months old will probably need four small meals a day, and these should be gauged to fit the animalís appetite, so that it Is neither presented with too much food nor left hungry."
The advice given to owners is more scientifically presented - it is given in terms of a 6-8 week old kitten eating 24 times as much food as an adult and needing to eat the equivalent of 25% of its own bodyweight daily. Milk was considered an excellent source of protein, vitamins and minerals for growing kittens. Pedigree Petfoods cautioned against vitamin deficiencies such as rickets through lack of vitamin D (from milk, liver and eggs) while Vitamin A helped protect against infection and was important for good growth. Cod liver oil and brewer's yeast were recommended as supplements. However "The best way to ensure a balanced diet, however, is to give the kitten a good quality tinned food such as Kit-E-Kat or Whiskas. These foods provide all the nutrients required and need no supplementation." This clearly illustrates the trend towards canned, rather than home-prepared, meals.
Misconceptions from the 1950s, such as cats not digesting fats particularly well, were being overturned: "kittens thrive on a well-balanced diet of protein, fat, carbohydrate, minerals and vitamins - although carbohydrate is probably not essential and is utilised less efficiently than fats." Solid food was essential to meet kittens' high energy requirements and to properly develop their digestive systems. "Modern canned foods such as Kit-E-Kat, Whiskas and Katkins provide all the necessary nutrients in a balanced form, although the older traditional foods like boiled tripe or scraped beef make excellent occasional variants in the diet."
For those who wanted the slower weaning process, recommended weaning meals were similar to those of the 1950s and 1960s. "Some of the meals can consist of two tablespoons of fat-enriched milk, either alone or mixed with egg or cereal. Give tinned meat, boiled or raw whole meat at least twice a day in sufficient amounts for the kitten to finish the whole meal. Remember that cooking will rob meat of some of its vitamin value, though will make it easier for the kitten to digest. The diet of a kitten can be varied by adding raw minced liver, lights and other offal - all rich in blood-building iron - plus rabbit meat or cooked and boned fish. [...] The kitten can be introduced to tinned foods, mixed with gravy, early on, and several can be tried to see which is preferred. Fresh water must always be available for the kitten, and it must be changed daily even if the animal does not appear to drink."
They cautioned against allowing kittens to become too fussy in what they ate and advocated variety in its diet: "By the time a kitten is three months old it will probably have developed definite tastes in food; but to prevent it becoming over-fussy, try to extend rather than restrict its eating experience. Add cooked vegetables to the diet. These may be more acceptable if mashed with stock or gravy, and the kitten should soon get used to them. Carrots or any green vegetables, as long as they are well chopped, will provide both satisfying Ďbulkí and essential vitamins."
At 3-4 months old, the frequency was reduced to 3 larger meals daily and then to 2 large meals daily at 5-6 months. "A kitten weighing 6 lb will probably need about 10 oz. protein-rich food every day; but as it approaches maturity, this amount can be kept steady and bulked up with cereals."
THE CPL ON WEANING AND FEEDING KITTENS AFTER THE 1970s
By the 1991 issue, details were a lot simpler. After all, kittens had successfully been weaned in the wild long before man started keeping cats as pets! Weaning of domestic kittens could start at about 3 weeks. Since wild kittens might not be completely weaned until 6 months old, kittens up to that age could be fed carbohydrate foods (sugar and starchy foods). In the wild they would be hunting beetles and flies to supplement their motherís milk.
Kittens about to be weaned could be slow in learning to lap. If so, the owner should moisten their lips with milk. Once they had learnt to use their tongues, they would quickly learn to lap liquids and eat soft, mashed food. All food for kittens up to about 6 months old should, for safety reasons, be cooked, chopped, carefully de-boned and mashed in enriched cowís milk or Cimicat (obtainable from the veterinary surgery). A recipe was given for enriched cow's milk: "1 cup cowís milk, 1/4 cup fresh double cream, 1/4 raw egg yolk, 1/4teaspoon glucose or honey, 1 drop Halibut Liver Oil".
Whereas earlier texts had advised the owner to remove fat from meat, they now stated that commercially prepared foods tended to be low in animal fat and should be supplemented with a little chopped, cooked fat. Dry and semi-moist foods were to be mashed with milk or water, or served as a Ďtoppingí to moist meals. All foods described for cats could be served to kittens and, provided they did not vomit or have diarrhoea, the amount could safely be left to them. During the 1980s, cat owners had realised that nature did not provide kitten weaning foods, and kittens could progress straight onto adult food without needing a gruel stage.
Some meals could still consist entirely of milk mixed with cooked cereals or vegetables. Raw meats and offal should be introduced gradually into the diet, well mixed with usual meals, from about 6 months old. Meanwhile, any vitamin or mineral supplements prescribed by the vet could be phased out gradually. At 9 months old, the kittens officially became cats, would continue to grow and mature until they were about 2 years old.
Once kittens were used to solid food, they could go to new homes. This was at about 8 weeks old. At that age, kittens still had tiny stomachs and needed about 6 meals a day, 2 teaspoonfuls at a time. The number of meals could be reduced gradually, as the size of each meal increased. Occasionally a kitten might be greedy and vomit through eating too much too quickly!
TRANSPORTING YOUR CAT IN THE 1970s
In the 1940s and 1950s, the main means of transporting cats was by rail, often unaccompanied and almost always for breeding or showing purposes. A securely fastened hamper, well ventilated and with blankets at the bottom and with brown paper wrapped around the sides to exclude drafts was recommended. It would be labelled with the sender's and recipient's names and addresses (phones if they had them), the destination station and a large label stating "LIVESTOCK" on the lid of the hamper. Quite a few cats escaped during transit.
In the 1960s and 1970s, car travel was becoming more common. According to "Your Guide to Cats & Kittens" (1973) cats sent by rail in wicker baskets had been known to eat through the basketwork and escape, while a determined cat could escape from a cardboard carrier in a few minutes. Zipped-up carrying bags were a common way of taking cats to the vets, but the zip had to be opened a couple of inches to provide ventilation - a cat could easily force it open and escape.
Some cats hated car travel and a tranquilliser could be prescribed the vet. Cats could be trained from kittenhood to travel in a car. Those who travelled often, and the rising popularity of cars meant people were more mobile, were advised to leash-train their cats. Though a leashed cat might sit on a passenger's lap, it should never be allowed complete freedom as they had "been known to cause accidents by jumping on to their ownersí backs or getting trapped under the hand-brake".
Some owners took their cats on holiday with them. While relatives might be happy to have the family cat along with the family, many hotels did not permit cats and this had to be checked in advance. As a rule, stud cats (unneutered males) were never allowed in hotels. The increasing popularity of the car meant that caravanning and camping (known as tenting in the US) were popular forms of holiday. Some caravaners took their cats with them. Some cats remained inside the caravan while others had small portable runs or were kept on leads. Many cats seemed to enjoy their camping holidays though others were distressed by the experience (some were probably lost while on holiday).
In books from the 1970s, it was assumed that "travelling" meant "motorcars" so advice for rail travel was very much secondary in this era. The advice is little different from that given in the 1950s: "Cats may be sent or taken by rail provided that they are housed in escape-proof containers of adequate size, allowing ample room for them to stand up. Put a warm blanket in the bottom of the container, and in very cold weather provide a hot-water bottle. If a basket is used, cover the sides to about three-quarters of their height with strong brown paper to keep out draughts. Whatever the container, it must be clearly labelled Ďlive cat, with careí together with the name of the station of destination and, if the cat is sent unaccompanied, Ďto be called forí. When a change of trains is involved, work this out so that the cat is not left for hours on a draughty platform. If your cat accompanies you on a train journey, it is possible to take the basket into the compartment: but should the train be very crowded or the cat very noisy, the basket should be put in the guardís van."
At the discretion of the conductor, cats in baskets could travel on buses. They could also travel in baskets on the London Underground. Cats were allowed to travel as excess baggage on short flights within the British Isles and other countries. For overseas flights, the cat's journey must be booked well in advance. Cats travelled as cargo in the luggage or cargo compartment in a container which had to comply with airline regulations and, on long flights, contain food and water. (Unlike US internal flights, UK air regulations do not permit animals to be carried in the cabin). Although shipping companies varied in their requirements, one requirement was common - any cat leaving the UK had to be quarantined for six months upon its return under rabies legislation.
In the 1940s and 1950s, a pedigree cat might be sent by rail to a breeder the other end of the country, either one way or to be mated and returned. In the 1970s, though cats were not could not be sent overseas for mating and then returned, many cats were exported to other countries. Some were pets while others became part of breeding programs overseas. Conversely, cats were imported into the UK (mainly from the USA) and spent their first six months in a quarantine cattery. Shipping cats abroad was a specialist task.
"The easiest way to export a cat is to arrange for the operation to be carried out by an experienced agent, who will know the regulations and papers required by the country involved. No kitten under three months of age should be sent abroad; and most countries require a certificate giving the cat a clean bill of health, together with certificates showing that the animal has been vaccinated against feline infectious enteritis and, possibly, rabies."
Britain was (and still is) a rabies-free country. The main purpose of the quarantine period was to protect Britain from rabies. The growth in commercial air travel and air freight meant that cats, sometimes pets arriving with their families, but more often purebreds from North America, were being imported into Britain for breeding, had to be quarantined for six months in a special quarantine cattery. While in quarantine they had to receive rabies vaccinations. The USA and other European countries did not have quarantine regulations, but vaccination against rabies was advisable. Australia and New Zealand had shorter quarantine periods, the exact period depending according to the cat's country of origin. The number of people attempting to smuggle animals into Britain was believed to be very small and in 1972 carried a fine of £400. The smuggled animal would be destroyed if the owner would not, or could not, pay for its 6 months quarantine.
To import a cat into Britain required permission in the form of a Landing Order Licence from the Ministry of Agriculture. If this was granted, arrangements had to be made with a Ministry-approved quarantine cattery well in advance. The carrying agents (e.g. airline or ship staff) were the only people authorised to meet the cat on arrival, and would conduct it from its point of entry to the agreed cattery (or arrange for quarantine cattery staff to collect it). To reassure owners, the quarantine pen and its dimensions were described and the owner was advised to frequently visit his cat in quarantine to assure himself of the animalís well-being.
BOARDING FACILITIES FOR CATS IN THE 1970s
"Your Guide to Cats & Kittens" notes that although cat may be much-loved family members, they were frequently a problem at holiday time. Going away for a weekend and letting the cat fend for itself was no longer an option! - arrangement had to be made for the cat to be cared for. "Food must not be put down and left, particularly in hot weather, for it will become stale, fly-polluted, infected and uneatable." One possibility for short holidays was to ask a neighbour to feed the cat and to restrict the cat to the house with a litter tray "and not permitted to roam in and out of an open window at will" since an open window could attract burglars. This doesn't quite tie up with advice elsewhere about providing a cat flap! The other worry was that the cat would stray in search of the owners if left alone and given access to outdoors.
Another alternative was to take the cat on holiday. A few hotels accepted cats (though not unneutered toms). This also depended on whether the cat minded travelling. Some owners took their cats on caravanning and camping (US tenting) trips. The cat could be confined to the caravan or to a portable run or taken out on a leash. Some cats were people-oriented enough to have access to the outdoors during these trips.
However, for many cat owners, the best solution was to use a boarding cattery. Although all British boarding catteries had to be licensed by law, the conditions of some fell short of reasonable standards of space and cleanliness. Even today there are reports of dingy catteries with poor security and little attention paid to cats which become unwell. Pedigree Petfoods' book provided the address of the Feline Advisory Bureau (FAB) who maintained a list of boarding catteries met the strict FAB standards. FAB-approval is still the gold-standard for catteries today.
PEDIGREE PETFOODS ON GENERAL HEALTH CARE IN THE 1970s
As in previous decades, home nursing was sometimes required. With the increased availability of good veterinary care, there were far fewer home remedies needed. Some things didn't change though! Cats remained difficult and unco-operative patients. Warmth, freedom from draughts and good hygiene - disinfection of the nursing area and keeping the cat clean - were emphasised as essentials when nursing a sick cat.
Hot-water bottles wrapped in blankets could be used to keep the cat warm, but must not be allowed to get cold overnight. It was preferable to make an electrically heated bed from a wooden or hardboard box. Detailed instructions were given The box should be approximately 14 inches high with a pegboard floor raised 6 inches from the base. A hole should be drilled in the side, about 2-and-a-half inches from the base. An electric flex should be passed through the hole and a light socket fitted. A 60 watt bulb would radiate a pleasant warmth under the floor of the box and, providing the wire was not faulty and could not be wetted if the cat urinated, it would be quite safe to leave it permanently switched on.
A very sick would be unable to take nourishment by itself, and would have to be coaxed hard into feeding little and often. There were various nutritious tonic liquids available from reliable pet shops. Alternatively the cat might similar powdered foods available for babies and old people that could be mixed with milk or water. Little sips of glucose and water or milk were better than nothing and would help prevent dehydration. Poor appetites might be aroused by tasty foods such as minced chicken or rabbit. Egg yolk was also good for an invalid eat (nowadays there would be worries about salmonella!), and if mixed with a little milk may syringed into the cat's mouth. In cases of cat flu, when the nasal passages became congested, the owner should offer strong-smelling fishy foods such as kippers or sardines. Warming food to just blood heat also made it more attractive to cats.
Antibiotics were another new development available to sick cats. They were non-specific and could rob the catís intestine of the beneficial bacteria which normally manufactured vitamin B in the cat's gut. Extra vitamins might be required to compensate. Of course no drugs should be given except on veterinary advice and cats were just as awkward then when it came to taking tablets as they are now! For cats which worried at their wounds, it was possible to make an Elizabethan collar (funnel collar) out of a circular piece of cardboard secured with laces though such collars should only he fitted under veterinary guidance.
Cats with FVR could be given inhalations such as Friarís Balsam, using either a steam kettle or by holding the cat over the vessel in which the inhalation had been prepared. This helped to clear the nasal passages and might improve the catís sense of smell so food should be offered straight afterwards. Though not mentioned in the book, a common brand of inhalant was (and still is) Vicks which was frequently used with snuffly children. Such preparations could not, however, be used as chest rubs as they were on humans!
MERY ON FELINE MEDICINE IN THE 1960s
As can be expected, much has changed in feline medicine in the thirty or so years since Mery's book. He wrote of concerns about cats carrying diseases such as leprosy, Ďtyphusí (not the same as human typhus) and tinea (scalp disease) or scabies. Of particular concern was tuberculosis which, wrote Mery, cats could catch from, and communicate to, humans; doctors and vets alike apparently recommended the destruction of TB infected cats because of the risk to humans.
"We cannot deny that cats can suffer from tuberculosis and communicate it. Nevertheless in tuberculosis, as it occurs in cats, it is almost always the human bacillus that is the cause. The cat is infected by its surroundings and, except in the case of ocular tuberculosis, the disease takes a rapid and grave course (extreme thinness, coughing, difficulty in breathing, etc.). Tuberculosis is one disease that cats are more likely to catch from humans than humans from cats. Nevertheless, once a cat has become infected it is very likely to pass the disease on. Therefore, doctors and vets alike will recommend the destruction of an animal with tuberculosis."
Today's zoonotic scare-disease, not mentioned then, is toxoplasmosis rather than TB. Toxoplasmosis, present in some cat faeces, is primarily a risk to pregnant women who handle soiled cat litter. The risk is reduced by wearing rubber gloves - or asking someone else to clean the litter tray.
Mery wrote of 'pseudo-typhus' "Certain illnesses develop with lightning rapidity. A Siamese that yesterday was playful and enjoyed a good appetite may suddenly appear sad, still, drawn in on itself, its nose dry and its eyes half-closed. It has not eaten today? Never mind. It will eat better tomorrow. And tomorrow, sometimes the cat is dead. This is the acute form of the famous pseudo-typhus. It is often accompanied by profuse diarrhoea, uncontrollable vomiting, and it sometimes ends with a last loud cry, striking as an ultimate appeal. There are very effective vaccinations against this disease which, in 1935, killed more than a million cats in England and which still rages in France, Germany, Belgium and the United States."
This of course is a description of Feline Infectious Enteritis (known in the US as distemper). Although Mery did not mention Cat Flu or other respiratory ailments, he wrote that "the 'common cold' is not an illness to which cats are susceptible, but catarrh is common, usually being a symptom of another illness." He recommended warmth, nasal inhalations and a diet containing raw meat and fresh green vegetables. A little daily lemon juice was also said to help.
Ear mites (canker) was also covered by Mery: "It is equally important not to neglect parasitic otitis, which shows in a violent scratching of one of both ears and the presence of a more or less dry secretion, brownish in colour. The parasitic mites that cause this trouble are tiny insects that make their home only in the ears of dogs and cats."
Mery mentions parasitic skin diseases as being caused by fungi (including ringworm) or mites with fleas not considered much of a problem: "Fleas and lice can be transferred from cat to human but the problem is not acute and they are easy to get rid of ... The most common non-parasitic skin disease among cats is eczema, a condition which seems to have many different causes. Authorities cannot agree on whether it is caused by diet, biochemical disturbances (which might possibly be inherited), the disturbance of hormone balance (such as may occur in neutering), a malfunctioning of the kidney or adrenal gland in older cats or perhaps even an infestation of blood-sucking parasites such as fleas or lice." Modern books place fleas at the top of the list, rather than the bottom, as a cause of eczema.
One particular quote from Mery caught my eye: "Local anaesthesia and general anaesthesia together with antibiotics, have permitted the most daring interventions from the operation for diaphragmatic hernia to splenectomy, gastrotomy, the pinning of complicated fractures and the replacement of diseased limbs and organs with artificial ones." I think Mery was overly optimistic about bionic limbs although recent veterinary advances for cats include blood transfusions, heart pacemakers, hearing aid implants and kidney transplants.
THE CPL ON FELINE MEDICINE IN THE 1960s & 1970s
Unlike the home-nursing days of the 1940s and 1950s, during the 1960s any serious ailment should always be referred to vet. However, there were minor ailments which could be tackled at home using preparations available from vets and pet stores and most of these ailments related to parasites. These are detailed in the section on General Health Care.
The CPL leaflet "Some Facts About Cats" covered ailments such as flea-allergy eczema (unlike Mery's book, where fleas were an afterthought as far as skin conditions are concerned) and Chicken Fleas (these being more common in the days when more people kept chickens in their garden). It stated "Insect Powder containing Pyrethrum is considered safe and is used at CPL HQ Clinic, with satisfaction. It is important to make sure that any preparation intended for use on cats and kittens is guaranteed harmless to domestic pets and that the container bears full directions for application. Should there be any difficulty in obtaining a suitable powder, CPL will supply a carton for 3/ó (3 shillings) including postage."
"Generally speaking the dry cleaning method is preferable. With bathing, there is always the difficulty of getting the cat thoroughly dried, apart from the fact that bathing is not altogether appreciated by cats. [...]. When powder is used it should be dusted into the catís fur (a blower is very useful for this) making sure that it gets right down to the skin. Gently rubbing with the finger tips will help considerably. The whole body must be treated. Needless to say this operation is best done outside in the garden but can of course be done on the kitchen table which should be well covered with an old sheet or newspaper. The sheeting can be washed and the newspaper burnt. Another method is to dust the powder well into the catís fur and then put the cat in a linen bag with its head out. The bag and eat should then be held in someoneís arms for about a quarter of an hour. It will be found that a great many of the fleas will be in the bag after the cat is taken out."
Early flea powders were provided in puffers, but later on they were supplied in cartons, like talcum powder containers. After the 15 minutes had passed, the surplus powder, along with any dead fleas, were combed out of the cat's fur. The bedding must also be treated: "If at all possible, boxes and bedding should be burnt. Baskets and blankets that are irreplaceable must be thoroughly washed, using strong soda water for the basket, rinse with Dettol and water afterwards and then left out in the air for as long as possible." (Dettol is now known to be toxic to cats and was not recommended in the 1991 "Cat Care" leaflet).
"A dirty, matted coat lends itself to infestation by lice and their presence is often detected by the stickiness of the catís coat when the fingers are pushed through the fur. Loss of condition, scratching and licking and eczema are attributable to lice, no time should be lost in ridding the cat of these parasites. The fact that so few people realise their cat is infested by lice until it is pointed out to them, indicates that a regular inspection of the catís fur is necessary, especially in the Summer months."
Lice usually necessitated bathing " Powder preparations can be used but it is considered that bathing is by far the most effective. Here again there is the "drying" problem. A method which is very effective although somewhat tedious for both cat and owner, is a thorough combing using a mixture of vinegar and water, one part vinegar to two parts water, into which to dip the comb. This will help loosen the nits from the hairs to which they are attached by gum by the parent."
Cats occasionally picked up ticks and in the experience of the CPL, this happened when the cats were accustomed to wandering in fields where sheep had grazed. Removing them involved "painting around the spot where the tick has attached itself, and getting as close to the tickís head as possible, with Iodine or Industrial spirit, will usually cause it to release its hold."
"Some Facts About Cats" explained "Cats that hunt rabbits or frequent house and runs, often get small fleas round the edges of their ears and eyes. They are not the usual type of flea but seem to attach themselves to the skin in the same manner as the tick and have to be forcibly removed with tweezers. The ears become very tender, and bathing with equal parts of TCP and warm water is suggested." Another 1960s CPL leaflet, "Cat Care", has an advert asking 4/- (4 shillings) for powder efficacious against chicken fleas and advises the use of TCP and warm water as an alternative.
By the 1970s, CPL advice had become more technical in its descriptions of ectoparasites and endoparasites, including descriptions of their lifecycles. Most cats would be affected by parasites at some time or another, though a few cats never seemed to get any at all.
Cats affected by fleas were described as "often sleep fitfully, wake suddenly, scratch themselves more than usual, give vigorous grooming nibbles to parts of their bodies, jump up and run short distances, twitch their fur and tick certain areas constantly. (NOTE: this behaviour can also indicate the presence of biting lice or harvest mites)." Powders such as Alugan or sprays such as Nuvan Top were recommended and could also be used against ticks and lice. For cats who reacted to both aerosols and powders, Cyflee tablets could be obtained under prescription. Of flea collars, the CPL wrote "Flea collars are unsafe for cats and humans since both are exposed to the impregnated chemical."
Sucking lice which are attached to the skin were dabbed with a small piece of tissue dipped in Alugan powder or moistened with Nuvan Top spray. Young ticks could be treated in the same way, the tick and surrounding area were treated with the insecticide. Mature ticks were more resistant and generally required veterinary attention to avoid leaving buried mouth-parts. After removing the tick, sore skin was dabbed with diluted TCP or white Vaseline. Ear mites and harvest mites both afflicted the cat's ears though harvest mites tended to attack the pouch at the base of the ear and could be treated the same way as fleas. Ear mites were treated by GAC ear drops, 6 drops for adult cats and Ito 2 drops for kittens.
Cats hosting gut parasites often gave no indication other than increased appetite though those with heavier infestations might be in poor condition. Treatment could now be administered at home and there were preparations which were safe for kittens. An adult cat was starved for 12 hours and then given one Yomesan tablet, then starved for 4 hours more. Some cats vomited Yomesan and would have to be given Solaban instead - this variety was unpalatable and had to be given whole, never crushed in milk. Scolaban was unsuitable for kittens, but one quarter of Yomesan could be safely administered. Fasting was not required when treating roundworm. Citrazine could be added to a normal meal in quantities proportional to the cat's body weight. It was recommended that routine treatment against both roundworm and tapeworm be given every 6 months.
Parasites were not the only concern, "fur ball" in the 1960s referred to a major accumulation of fur in the gut, not the sausage-shaped fur pellets most owners see from time to time. Digestive upsets could also result from eating indigestible items. Most cats medicated themselves using grass and the CPL sold sachets of Cocks Foot grass seeds to be grown indoors. " It is a natural medicine for relieving bile and sourness and its action as an emetic is often the means of inducing the vomiting of hair-ball. Long-haired cats are especially subject to hair-ball in the stomach, but most cats suffer from this disorder during the moulting season. Regular daily brushing and combing helps to remove the loose hairs and will minimise the risk of hair accumulating internally. Grooming also improves the catís coat and stimulates its growth."
THE CPL ON FELINE MEDICINE AFTER THE 1960s & 1970s
Parasites were no longer something to be ashamed or something which only afflicted "dirty" families and their livestock. "All animals, including Man, are likely to become infected with parasites. The commonest ones found on, or in cats are: fleas, ear mites, round worms and tapeworms." The main ones were biting lice, ticks, body mites and ringworm, though all of these were more common in cats living close to farm animals or in strays and ferals. Cats under stress were also more susceptible to parasites - this including sick cats, nursing females and cats in catteries. After the age of 3, well nourished cats were reckoned to have some degree of resistance to parasites. Active hunting cats were more likely to be infested than non-hunting fireside cats.
Though various preparations were now available, it was important to never overdose the cat or to treat it too frequently. Flea combs and flea powders or sprays were highly recommended. Sprays to ill fleas in the furnishings were recommended. Worming tablets were also important. All of these could be bought from vets' surgeries, however " To buy these tablets is one thing; to get them into your cat is another! Treating a cat will depend on whether you can hold him or whether heíll take tablets in his food."
Flea collars were no longer warned against, but must be quick release collars - " If your cat wears an absorbent, light-coloured quick release cat collar (obtainable from CPL), the presence of flea dirts will show as spots on the inside of the collar. Such collars can be powdered or sprayed with an anti-flea preparation and, since fleas tend to bite the neck where the cat cannot reach, sometimes a collar is sufficient to keep your cat flea-free."
To kill fleas which were on the fur: "Spray your hands lightly with Nuvan Top, or spray the comb, and simply run through the catís fur. If your cat is terrified of the smell, raise the fur and sprinkle on powder. Ruffle the fur with the fingers to spread it. Try to groom your cat after 60 minutes, because a cat might lick excess powder or spray and might swallow dying fleas. If eaten, fleas can infect cats with tapeworms." In addition, tapeworm tablets had become available which did not require the cat to be fasted.
PEDIGREE PETFOODS ON FELINE MEDICINE IN THE 1970s
By this time, the advice available to owners was extensive and the veterinarian was no longer a last resort for when home nursing failed, but was a main source of feline health care. Although veterinary care for cats had made huge advances since the 1940s, many vets still treated cats as "small dogs". The more dangerous home remedies had all but disappeared! By the 1970s there were many more drugs available for treating feline ailments . These had to be used sensibly : "Used with knowledge and care, drugs are life-savers for both man and cats, but no drug is completely safe. The cat is more sensitive to some drugs than many other animals. Thus many of the common pain relievers, particularly those containing aspirin and codeine, should never be given to cats: so do not be tempted to give them pain-relievers intended for humans."
A good choice of veterinary surgeon depended on word-of-mouth recommendation and on personalities. Owners were advised to look for a vet with a special interest in cats, or who himself owned cats. By then, however, most multiple practices had at least one Ďsmall animalí specialist. In cases of genuine hardship, where the owner could not afford veterinary treatment, one of the animal charities might be able to help. "Your Guide to Cats & Kittens" also provided a helpful definition of the most common types of drug, antibiotics, corticosteroids, anti-helmintics and parasiticides, and their uses. Most of these are familiar to the modern owner. "Cats on prolonged courses of corticosteroids tend to become susceptible to infection and should be kept calm" while "parasiticides are used to control invaders such as fleas and mites." Injections were considered more reliable than tablets or capsules. The array of medicines was something the 1940s owner could not have imagined.
Although, there were attempts to understand behavioural problems and define abnormal behaviour, such as anorexia, aggression or other "mental traumas", these were treated with drugs, not behaviour therapies. Cats, especially timid, non-aggressive ones, were said to be susceptible to mental shock and frequently required veterinary treatment of their nervous systems before they are restored to normal. One cat which received an enema and manipulation to relieve a blocked bowel was so traumatised that it had to be treated with tranquillisers, sedatives and vitamins before it would eat again. In modern times, many nervous problems can be resolved using behavioural therapy.
It was known that abnormal behaviour could be due to poisoning, disease or injury. Infections could affect aggressive tendencies, eating and sleeping patterns and "house cleanliness" (toileting). One form of brain damage apparently left cats with the need to be fed by hand since they would no longer take food voluntarily; they also tended to fly into a rage when picked up and were more aggressive towards other cats.
Clawing furniture, loss of "house cleanliness" or loss of feline personal hygiene could all be disturbing to the owner. A loss of good toilet habits was often due to shock or a lack of co-operation on the ownerís part since cats normally had excellent hygiene. However "it must not be forgotten that urination - in younger animals especially - may be an act of submission." (i.e. it had wet itself in fear) . Fail to groom or clean itself was a more difficult problem and required a vets opinion. In recent times, two common reasons for failure to groom are dental problems and senility, while senility and territorial marking are both causes of house soiling behaviour.
The cat owner was admonished to never try to diagnose a feline illness themselves as they risked being wrong. "Always - and this cannot be stressed too often - take a cat that seems ill, or is behaving abnormally, to a veterinary surgeon." A guide to common problems was provided so that owners were prepared for any problem and could give the vet the accurate information he needed for a correct diagnosis. The book took pains to stress that the advice should not under ANY circumstances take the place of professional advice and the veterinarian was now a familiar figure, not a last resort when home remedies had failed. If the cat was seriously unwell, the vet would do a house call. Otherwise, the cat had to be taken to the clinic - no longer a problem for the growing number of motorcar owners.
Getting the cat to the vet was another issue! Not all owners had cat baskets. If no cat basket could be borrowed, an empty picnic hamper might suffice. A laundry basket was usually too large, but might offer an alternative. Many households still had rectangular dress baskets of woven split cane, where a close-fitting top half pushed down over the identical bottom half. Secured with a strap, these were ideal. A hat box was possible if air holes were punched into it. Those without cars were advised to use a wicker basket or a specially designed cardboard cat carrier. A piece of heavy linen (or two layers of thinner material) could be stitched under the rim of the basket, using a darning needle and string. Once most of the cover is secured and the cat had been persuaded inside, the rest could be fixed around the handle with safety pins. Suitcases were definitely not suitable since they were not only airtight, but the "cat rattles unhappily inside". Stout cardboard boxes were useful, but fold-away cardboard pet carriers, as sold cheaply at the vet's, were better. The drawback with cardboard was that it disintegrated if it got wet.
Decades earlier, cats had even been sent by train to cat shows in just a hessian sack with only the cat's head sticking out. In the 1970s a pillow or bolster-case ticking could be used as an emergency carrier. As in days gone by, the catís feet and body must be secured in it, with the head left outside and the fabric pinned firmly around the catís neck. Apparently, once the cat got over the initial surprise and was tucked tightly under the owner's arm, it settled well to this method of travelling. "Your Guide to Cats & Kittens" suggested this was because it could see all around it
A major change since the 1940s and 1950s was that vaccines had become widely available and all cat owners were advised to have their cats vaccinated against Feline Infectious Enteritis (FIE or panleucopenia) - the dreaded "distemper" of past decades - and given an annual booster. When "Your Guide to Cats & Kittens" was published in 1973, FIE was the only major cat disease for which a vaccine was generally available. The authors hoped it would soon be possible to protect cats against unpleasant respiratory illnesses such as FVR (Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis), known as cat flu, and in fact a vaccine for this appeared a year or two later. In mainland Europe and the USA, rabies vaccinations were required or strongly recommended. Britain did not allow rabies vaccinations except for cats in quarantine (or those to be exported to areas where it th vaccination was required) because the policy British health authorities was to keep rabies out of the country rather than to live with it.
Road accidents were now a major hazard to cats in towns and villages. The age of the motorcar was here. Unneutered males, and to a less extent, unspayed females were are greatest risk of road accidents as they tended to wander in search of mates. To help avoid traffic accidents, all cats should be kept indoors at night. During the daytime they should be discouraged from leaving the garden or surrounding fields. The ideal solution was a chain link fence around the garden, with an overhang to keep cats in. The book admitted that this was often not practicable. It did, however, reflect the change in attitudes - cats were no longer expected to be free-roaming creatures and to ensure their safety, their movements needed to be restricted.
Less common was drowning and instructions were given on clearing a cat's airways and artificial respiration (chest compressions). A type of accident said to be confined mainly to urban areas was that of falling from a height, such as a balcony, roof or high scaffolding. Cat owners living in flats were strongly advised to wire in their balconies or flat roofs to prevent such accidents. Airgun pellet wounds, either accidental or malicious, were another hazard. Cats were also noted for getting themselves trapped in enclosed places - car boots (trunks) or coal bunkers - due to their curiosity. In their panic they could wear down their claws and injure their feet and teeth while trying to escape. Suffocation was possible and artificial respiration might be needed.
Dogs, even those which meant no harm, were a danger, particularly to kittens which might panic and run into a busy road or become trapped up a tree or on a roof. Children, aggressive tomcats and the annual terror of fireworks could also scare a cat or kitten and owner would then have to rescue it: "Before taking risks yourself, and before calling the Fire Brigade or the RSPCA, who are experienced at rescuing kittens from the most dangerous situations, see if some food - preferably with a strong attractive odour, such as a codís head - will overcome its fear." Cats and kittens should, of course, be safely indoors when fireworks were being ignited.
Other cats, particularly unneutered cats and ferals (which were described as large and vicious elsewhere in that publication), were another hazard. Cat bites and resultant abscesses, particularly to the face, shoulder blades and tail root were not uncommon.
"Your Guide to Cats & Kittens" observed that at home, most accidents occurred in the kitchen. Kittens, being adventurous and inquisitive and lacking an adult cat's experience, were most in danger. "Cats that search on shelves or among saucepans for food may be injured by falling utensils, particularly if they are caught in the act and beat a hasty retreat." Cats were to be discouraged from jumping up on tables, refrigerators or cookers. Scalds from boiling fat (the great British chip!) were more dangerous than boiling water and the true extent of a fat scald was generally not evident for four or five days when loss of fur exposed the scalded tissue. "It is usually possible to prevent fats and oils from spurting by not heating them above the temperature recommended by the manufacturers, by thoroughly drying all items (like potato chips) to be deep-fried, and by the use of a frying-pan cover whenever possible." Keeping containers of cooling fat out of the cat's reach was recommended.
Open fires were still common in the 1970s house; even newly built houses with central heating often had a traditional fireplace as well. Many cats liked to sleep in front of the fire. My own recollections are that some elderly cats (more sensitive to cold) even slept on the hearth or close to the grate! However a sleeping cat risked being burned by spitting cinders while an excited or frightened kitten might dash up the chimney and be burned or suffocated. These were all good reasons why a fireguard should be kept on at all times and even a modern electric fire should have a mesh guard to protect cats from burning accidents on its radiants.
Though improved safety standards were ensuring that few homes contained faulty wiring circuits or naked cables, electricity was another potential domestic hazard. Cats coming into contact with inadequately insulated cables or chewing through live flexes could suffer electric shocks, hence it was unwise to leave kittens unattended in rooms containing a large number of flexes. The book detailed how to rescue and treat a cat in the event of electric shock. The most hazardous electrical appliances were fridges and washing machines. There were a number of cases on record of cats dying agonising deaths as a result of being accidentally shut in refrigerators whilst searching for illicit food. Similarly, washing machines and spin-driers should have their lids kept closed (in the 1970s, most of these were top-loaders).
Poisoning was considered less common due to the cat's fastidious dietary habits. Any cat suspected of eating poison should go straight to the vet. They were noted to be extremely susceptible to impurities in the atmosphere such as carbon monoxide fumes from coke-burning boilers and car exhausts. Artificial respiration was recommended although prolonged carbon monoxide exposure could cause temporary deafness or be fatal. Cats should never be confined in an unventilated newly-painted room because of the fumes. Additionally, paint containing lead (still found in the 1970s, but banned in modern times) was dangerous, especially to kittens with a tendency to lick or chew things. Turpentine or other solvents should not be used to remove paint from a cat as this was toxic; paint-fouled fur must be trimmed away. Paint should be removed from a cat's paws using soap and warm water.
Common poisons were listed as carbolic disinfectant, weed-, insect- and pest-killers, creosote and rat poison. Strychnine was less common, but Warfarin rat poison was widely used and, despite the misconception that it only affected rats, was toxic to cats although quite large amounts had to be eaten before they showed symptoms such as vomiting or passing blood. Metaldehyde slug-killers (still used today) were also particularly toxic to cats. If an owner was certain that the cat had swallowed something poisonous and the antidote was not printed on the container, an emetic should be given in an emergency. Suitable emetics were a small piece of washing soda or a weak solution of salt water.
The age of the motor car brought with it a less obvious hazard: one of the few toxic substances actually attractive to cats was ethylene glycol anti-freeze fluid. Cats might lick spillages when radiators were being drained and had even been known to lap ethylene glycol from car radiators when the caps have been left off. There was no specific antidote available in the household and prompt vet treatment was essential.
Another less obvious poison was the food preservative benzoic acid which had been responsible for a rash of feline deaths in the 1970s. Found in some human foods (which might be fed to a cat as a treat) it built up in the cat's body until it affected the nervous system. Some cats recovered, but many died or had to be put to sleep.
Fits, Fainting and Nervous Disorders
Fits, though uncommon, were caused by "some over-excitation of the central nervous system" and were most often due to infection, poisoning, nutritional deficiencies, teething or, in kittens, to the presence of worms. "Some cats show a particular tendency towards epilepsy - a nervous over-activity which has no relation to other diseases - and a fright, a heavy meal or a change in room temperature may be enough to result in a fit." During a fit, the cat might also faint. It should be calmed in a dark, quiet place while the vet was called. With the truly epileptic cat, little could be done apart from long-term dosage with sedative drugs though occasionally cats would recover quite spontaneously.
Allergies were considered uncommon although some cats developed flea-allergies resulting in fur loss and in self-inflicted damage when they scratched the itchy areas. Similar forms of eczema sometimes resulted from lice, rabbit fur mites or certain poultry mites. Pollen, animal hairs and aerosols could cause hayfever-like symptoms - something which had rarely been noticed in early decades, or merely written off as "snuffly cats". On rare occasions, individual cats could become over-sensitive to substances that are eaten or injected, or to substances that come into direct contact with the skin. The veterinary surgeon might be able to reduce the allergic reaction with drugs.
Food allergies, though uncommon, usually involved one particular food or food constituent. Even small amounts of the substance responsible could cause a severe allergic reaction in the bowel, skin and/or respiratory system. The owner was advised to avoid feeding any food which caused these problems - probably not so much of a problem as it would be today since owners had not then come to rely on commercial cat foods.
Digestive Upsets and "Fur Ball"
"Your Guide to Cats & Kittens" noted that cats occasionally suffered from diarrhoea "a condition characterised by the frequent passage of loose watery motions which may become bloodstained." It might be accompanied by straining efforts, vomiting, loss of appetite, poor bodily condition and soiling of the fur of the hind quarters. Treatment depended on the cause: spoiled milk, allergy or intolerance to milk, bowel infections etc. First aid treatment involved withholding food and milk for 24 hours and offering only clean water. If the diarrhoea continued, but the cat was bright and lively, a little arrowroot might clear the trouble. If the cat was generally ill, urgent veterinary attention was needed.
Constipation was quite common in cats, especially in older cats and the symptoms included "the cat digs holes and then strains for considerable periods without achieving any obvious results". It was essential to distinguish this from bladder obstruction, which had almost identical symptoms and was a medical emergency (and which was common due to imprecise dry food formulations of the time). However, if the cat was urinating normally, it was safe to give a dessert-spoonful of medicinal liquid paraffin which should cure constipation fairly rapidly. Paraffin treatment should not be used repeatedly, as it could provoke further constipation. Of course in modern times there are feline laxatives e.g. Katalax, some of which can be used regularly for cats with sluggish bowels.
Urinary tract obstruction was due to an accumulation of "stones" or "gravel" in the urinary tract and was not unusual in male cats. Small amounts of bloodstained urine might be passed after much straining and the cat would frequently lick the end of the penis. The condition generally needed prompt surgical treatment and could recur. To prevent kidney stones, owners were advised to feed the cat on foods with a relatively low magnesium content: tripe, omelette, tinned luncheon meat, rabbit, roast chicken and most canned cat foods. Mashing a third of a teacup of water into each feed helped prevent further build-up by diluting the urine.. A cat normally fed on tinned cat food should continue with canned food, but the liquid intake should be increased by mixing a similar amount of water into each meal.
Another bladder problem was cystitis. Readers were instructed that a cat with cystitis should not be given dry food, and needed prompt veterinary attention. Another uro-genital problem which caused excessive thirst and urination was womb inflammation (metritis), found in older unspayed females or in females which had recently had kittens. Antibiotics, and sometimes also spaying, were required - but the warm poultices and hip baths were mercifully a thing of the past!
According to Pedigree Petfoods' book, "Contrary to popular belief, fur ball - a condition in which cat hair or fur accumulates in the stomach - is relatively uncommon." Fur ball was a condition mostly seen in longhaired cats. Most ingested fur was passed out in the faeces or vomited up as a pellet of matted hair "rather like the pellets ejected by birds of prey" (modern owners would tend to refer to these as fur balls). "Occasionally, however, the hair accumulates in the stomach and forms a ball which gradually becomes quite sizeable and may be as large as a clenched fist, which, of course, distends the stomach." Fur ball was most likely to develop during moulting. A cat with fur ball became rather dulled in condition, hungry but unable to each much. This led to a progressive loss of condition, and a severely affected cat became quite emaciated. "The doughy mass of the fur ball can often be felt in the front part of the abdomen, just behind the ribs."
The vet might prescribe liquid paraffin given at frequent intervals to help the hair to pass from the stomach into and through the intestines. Doses of liquid paraffin in the catís food or milk 2 or 3 times a week, would keep the contents of the intestines moving freely. Frequent grooming reduced the amount of loose fur which might otherwise be swallowed. Although severe fur ball was serious, it was rarely fatal though some fur balls had to be removed surgically.
Ears and Eyes
Apart from "cauliflower ear" (haematoma), the most common ear ailment remained the ear mite which caused "ear mange" (what earlier writers had termed "canker"). Thorough cleaning and a parasiticide were required; the vet would show how to use an ear mite solution. Young cats were particularly susceptible to otitis, an painful infection of the ear canal, which caused a yellowish discharge. A vet would prescribe suitable treatment, but often surgery would be needed to drain the ear canal. Inner ear infections were less common and were related to throat infections: "The cat holds its head rotated to one side, sometimes almost upside down, and has difficulty in balancing. it may continuously walk in circles and sometimes show a side-to-side flicking of the eyes. Treatment usually involves the use of antibiotics and, occasionally, surgery.
The eyes were seen as a guide to the cat's state of health, A raised third eyelid, dull eyes and even a change in colour, for example from yellow or orange to green, were all early signs of illness. The most common eye complaints were conjunctivitis (runny eyes) which could be caused by cold draughts among other things, and keratitis (inflammation of the cornea). Cats' eyelids and eyes were also often injured in fights by the teeth and claws of feline opponents, ranging from a torn eyelid to a punctured eyeball.
Though cats did not suffer from tooth decay in the same way as humans, they were prone to scale (calculus or tartar) which could lead to painful gum infection and finally the teeth would fall out. A cat with periodontal disease might be unable to eat. Dental extractions under anaesthetic and courses of antibiotics would be necessary. One particularly troublesome form of gingivitis (inflamed gums) occurred in the angle of the jaws at the back of the mouth and was very resistant to treatment. One reason for an increase in dental problems, compared to those described in books a few decades earlier, was the change in diet. Canned food was soft and did not exercise the teeth or gums. Cats no longer had to shear through the flesh and bones of prey. "Your Guide to Cats & Kittens" suggested giving cats an occasional meaty bone to gnaw, or feeding it some of the hard, dry cat foods then available, as these could help prevent mouth troubles.
While cat owners, and cat breeders in particular, of the 1940s and 1950s lived in fear of the dreaded distemper and "show fever", the 1970s saw the beginning of routine vaccination for cats. Better drug therapies and better understanding of feline nutrition helped cats to fight off other diseases which were, in previous decades, killers.
Feline viral rhinotracheitis (FVR) or "cat flu" was the most common infection of cats, particularly those housed in groups, such as catteries and was potentially fatal. Infected cats became vulnerable to bacterial infections and could suffer complications such as a fatal pneumonia. The cat should be nursed in warm, well-ventilated but draught-free quarters, preferably sunlit. Petroleum jelly (e.g. Vaseline) could be used on eyelids and nostrils to prevent the skin from cracking. Since it could not smell food the owner should offer strong-smelling foods such as kippers, sardines, tinned salmon or game - a cat that continued to eat rarely became severely ill. Severely ill cats might derive great benefit from fluid therapy, which a veterinary surgeon could administer. In 1973 there was no effective vaccine and natural immunity lasted only for a few weeks. It was recommended that catteries used effective fan ventilation to combat the risk of FVR since the disease was airborne and spread by droplets from sneezing. There was no mention of providing "sneeze barriers". "Cuddling" was recommended as good morale booster.
Feline infectious enteritis (FIE) was highly infectiousn, acute and often fatal. Caused by a virus, it mainly affected young cats though the exact method of transmission wasn't then known. Effective annual vaccination was available, though many cats were unvaccinated. Symptoms began with high fever, then depression, loss of appetite, vomiting, rapid dehydration and terminated in coma and death. Affected cats often sat hunched over their water bowls or in the sink but seldom attempted to drink. Unless it survived for more than a few days there was rarely diarrhoea. Although FIE was noted to be on the decrease, it was noticeable that both FIE and cat flu often occurred in clusters where a single cat infected others in the neighbourhood. This was the new name for the dreaded distemper of old. An affected cat should be kept warm; placing its bed in an airing cupboard was suggested. It should be fed small quantities of glucose and water frequently.
Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) had also been recognised and was said to be increasing in frequency. The "wet form" with the distended abdomen was the one described. The mode of infection and transmission from cat to cat was unknown. Affected cats almost invariably died within a few weeks and there was no vaccine available. The Feline Leukaemia Virus had been discovered as the cause of some cases of feline leukaemia though it was thought that cats did not infect one another with the disease. Symptoms were vague: progressive loss of condition, digestive upsets, enlarged glands and increasing difficulty in breathing. Feline Infectious Anaemia, caused by a blood parasite, was also mentioned in brief. Loss of condition and persistent fever were common symptoms. It was not definitely known how the disease was transmitted among cats, but seemed likely that a high percentage of the cat population carried the infection but showed no symptoms.
Although Britain was rabies-free and operated a strict quarantine on imported cats, rabies was described. An infected cat would often become more affectionate at first, later becoming excitable, seem afraid of the light and become aggressive. Its jaws might become paralysed, making it drool. Death, which was inevitable, occurred either in convulsions or following general paralysis. Several effective vaccines were available, but they could not be used in Britain except on animals in quarantine and those destined for export .
Tuberculosis from infected milk, or coming into contact with infected discharges from man and other animals, could cause a cat to become infected. With TB well under control in humans and cattle (and through the slaughter of thousands of badgers suspected of harbouring the disease), feline TB was uncommon. There were various other infections such as Escherichia coli (E coli) which could cause diarrhoea or cystitis. Antibiotics and vaccines made from the animalís own organisms (autogenous vaccines) were effective in treating and preventing E coli infection. In the 21st century, there seem to be regular E coli outbreaks in humans from contaminated meat.
A general "scurfiness" of a catís coat and circular areas of scaly skin signalled ringworm. Ringworm apparently the hair and skin, but apparently usually only in animals which were below par. Modern treatment using fungicides given by mouth were usually very effective. With the benefit of hindsight, it is likely that many cats were infected, but many showed no symptoms unless another illness laid them low.
Effective control of fleas, of which there were several kinds affecting cats, depended on killing the adult insects resident on the cat with fleas dressings such as derris. Bedding must also be thoroughly cleaned, preferably using the vacuum cleaner. Great care had to be taken to avoid any insecticide toxic to cats, such as DDT.
Another method of solving the summer flea problem was the flea collar. There were two main types, plastic and fabric, both being impregnated with an insecticide. While other insecticides in powder and spray form needed to be frequently reapplied, flea collars claimed an effective life of several months. Reports of toxic reactions to flea collars were rare though some cats developed allergies round the neck after the collar had been wetted by rain. One drawback was that cats not used to collars sometimes scratched violently in their (sometimes successful) attempts to remove the offending object. Because some flea collars had no elastic safety insert, they were not recommended for use with outdoor tree-climbing cats. "So although flea collars are a useful addition to the fight against parasites in cats they are not the whole answer and may well have to he supplemented by other medications in the form of sprays, powders or baths."
Lice (and their eggs, called "nits") were less common than fleas and appeared to cause less irritation. They could be treated with derris, but this needed to be repeated every few days to kill off newly hatched lice - nits were resistant to insecticides. Profuse scaling or dandruff in the coat was likely to be due to the Cheyletiella mite. In late summer, cats in country areas might be infested with orange-red harvest mites which caused irritation. These could be treated using an insecticidal powder such as derris or sulphur.
Ticks, picked up by cats which roamed through grass, apparently caused little irritation or inconvenience to the cat and would fall off after a few days. An insecticidal powder or dressing was the best way to cope with a large-scale infestation, or the veterinary surgeon could remove them by anaesthetising them with chloroform or similar and then pulling them free. This was not to be done at home in case the tick's mouthparts remained in the skin and caused an abscess.
Notoedres cati mite, which burrowed into the skin of the head, was the cause of head mange. This was highly irritating and distressing. Symptoms included loss of hair and inflammation of the skin, which would become chronically thickened and thrown into folds. In severe cases the disease would spread to other parts of the body. Treatment was by non-toxic insecticide ointments and lotions prescribed by the veterinary surgeon and applied to the affected areas. Other sources from this time indicate that mange was common in stray cats and the epithet "mangy stray" was a familiar one.
The cat was still prone to roundworms and tapeworms which rarely caused problems unless the cat had a heavy infestation.. During their first few months, most kittens caught roundworms from their mothers. Worming kittens could be dangerous and should only be done by a vet since wormers for adult cats could kill kittens. Effective treatment of tapeworm was always a matter for the veterinary surgeon. Home treatment should not be attempted without professional guidance. In modern times, wormers can be purchased from many petshops, though they are not as effective as prescription wormers.
In addition to roundworms and tapeworms, which had long been familiar to cat owners, there was coccidiosis, a microscopic parasite which caused diarrhoea (mainly in kittens). It was said to be very widespread and seemed to cause little harm to healthy animals.
"Your Guide to Cats & Kittens" advised that some of the cat's ailments were transmissible to the owners. Children who liked to hug and kiss their pets were more at risk due to this extremely close contact. Luckily, people were at more risk of catching illnesses from other members of their own family than from the family cat. It was wise to wash hands after handling or grooming the cat and its feeding dishes should never be washed with the family's dishes. According to the book, "fortunately, eats have a strong sense of hygiene, as they keep themselves clean and bury their urine and faeces."
The main problem was cat allergy, said to be due to breathing in small particles of cat fur. The reaction was usually immediate and either took the form of a skin rash or, especially in children, a kind of asthma. However domestic cats tended to get blamed for any sign of allergy and many were mistakenly destroyed. If allergy did seem to be the problem, the cat should boarded at a cattery for a couple of weeks to see if the owner's symptoms subsided when it was not present. Desensitisation therapy for the owner was possible.
The main cat viruses - Feline Infectious Enteritis and Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis (cat flu) - could not be transmitted to humans. Rabies was a danger to humans, though Britain's quarantine system kept it free of rabies. In other countries, elaborate precautions were taken and a person bitten by a suspect animal had to undergo unpleasant treatment. A much less important zoonosis in the 1970s was is Cat Scratch Fever, "the details of which are rather obscure". It was believed to be a virus of similar agent and caused few if any symptoms in the cat. In humans it caused the lymph glands of a scratched limb to swell.
Salmonella could be harboured by the cat and could cause food poisoning in humans. Cases of salmonella poisoning caused by cat contamination were extremely rare, due largely to the low incidence of the disease and partly to the catís natural habit of keeping itself clean and of burying its motions. This disease has become far more common since the 1980s, partly due to salmonella in eggs and partly due to it being contracted on overseas holidays, but not due to keeping cats.
Tuberculosis had been eliminated from cattle in Britain and was unlikely to pass from cattle via cats to man. Ringworm, though common in cats, was said to be seldom passed to man, but if someone was unfortunate enough to get it, it was easy enough to treat. Toxoplasmosis was a worry to pregnant women though one leading gynaecologist was quoted as having seen only three or four cases in his whole career. Finally, the Cheyletiella mite, which caused scaling and dandruff in a catís coat, could cause an irritable rash on a person's chest, abdomen and forearms.
PHYLLIS LAUDER ON "DE-VOCALISATION" (1981)
According to Phyllis Lauder in 1981 ("The British, European and American Shorthair Cat"), it was possible, for people who didn't like the sound of a cat's voice, to have the him 'de-vocalised'. Lauder presumed that those who approved of the operation were owners of Siamese since the longhairs and domestic shorthairs had tiny voices which Lauder did not think could be an annoyance to anyone. She quoted the story of Mrs Glenda Hubbard of the Oxford Cat Club whose Black-and-White cat, Poco, went for walks with his owners, conversing softly as he walked along. Lauder admitted that the Siamese voice was very loud indeed: "A calling Siamese queen literally roars - and incessantly. Her shouts can be a great annoyance to breeders and to their neighbours. Even the ordinary, brief remarks of a Siamese are uttered loudly; and the breeds ancestrally connected with the Siamese have voices louder than the little 'mew' of a British or North American cat; a Burmese, for example, though not producing anything comparable with the Siamese roar, has a deeper voice than the western cats." However she considered it disgraceful to operate upon a cat's vocal chords for the convenience of his owners and wrote that those who do not like loud voices in cats should not own Siamese (she did not mention the feelings of people who lived next door to a noisy Siamese cat). As far as the British shorthairs were concerned, their very soft voices were probably not at risk. Luckily de-vocalisation of cats has never caught on and even in dogs, "de-barking" is relatively uncommon.
Lauder also spoke out against the American practice of declawing as a horrible mutilation and wrote of the dismay and distress of cats maimed in this way and unable to grip when climbing or jumping. If people selfishly prized antique furniture and tapestries above cats then, according to Lauder, they ought not live with cats. Thankfully, declawing for the simple convenience of the owner has never been permitted in Britain.
Luckily other medical advances were more positive as Lauder also wrote "Medical research has been carried out for most species and vaccines have been produced to protect the cat from such feline ailments as the distempers once grouped together as 'cat flu' or 'feline infectious enteritis'"