Copyright 1996, 2002, 2003 Sarah Hartwell

This article is part of a series looking about cats and cat care in Britain from the late 1800s through to the 1970s. It has grown since originally written in 1996 (web version 1999) and was split into separate web documents in 2003 (to speed loading time) with some overlap between the parts. Each part is split into topics and the contents of each topics are ordered chronologically as far as possible with added "then and now" commentary. 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.



Cox-Ife, Grace; "Questions Answered About Cats" (1947)
France, Sydney W; "Siamese Cats" (1949)
Soderbergh, P M; "Your Cat" (1951) (using 3rd edition; 1959)
Soderbergh, P M; "Pedigree Cats, Their Varieties, Breeding and Exhibition" (1958)
Tenent, Rose; "Pedigree Cats" (1955)
Mery, Fernand; "The Life, History and Magic of the Cat" (1966) (originally published in French)
Cats Protection League (various leaflets from 1960s & 1970s)

Other sources are as credited in the text with additional personal information and commentary.


From the 1880s to the 1920s and 1930s, it was generally believed that cats were becoming weaker than their predecessors due to poor diet, inbreeding, delicate pedigree cats and giving away kittens too young. Pedigree cats were considered prone to dyspepsia (indigestion) due to being highly-bred and eating a too-fixed and stimulating diet (their diet was lean chopped mutton). In 1901, "Two Friends of the Race" advocated the use of homeopathic remedies rather than drugs. A common tonic for colds, mange and even distemper involved tincture of arsenicum in a spoonful of milk or with a mixture of eggs, cream and brandy. The external symptoms of mange were treated with sulphur ointment, carbolic acid ointment, green iodide of mercury ointment and acid sulphurous lotion.

The most serious feline disease was distemper - generally this was the severe form of cat flu (calicivirus) though possibly some cases were feline infectious enteritis (panleucopaenia). It was attributed to high temperatures or drought and affected cats were treated with a mixture of castor oil and liquid paraffin which supposedly cleared bile. The owner was also instructed to dose the cat every three hours with a dessertspoon of egg white mixed with ten drops of brandy to settle the stomach. Distemper was also known as "show fever" since many cats became infected at cat shows and returned home to die, often infecting the entire cattery at the same time. Up until the 1930s, cats were believed to carry the deadly diphtheria; a cat with a sore throat was often euthanized.

In 1900, diarrhoea was treated by dissolving 1 oz of fresh mutton suet in a quarter pint of warm milk. A teaspoon of the mixture was given every two hours. Constipation could be treated with a tablespoon of olive oil or an enema of water and glycerine. Cod liver oil, sardine oil (from canned sardines), fried bacon with bacon fat or a mixture of olive oil, milk, cream and salad oil was used as a tonic for out-of-condition cats and for tom cats in the summer time (they supposedly suffered skin troubles in summer).

Cats were believed to become off-colour in the spring, losing their appetites, developing foul breath and unkempt coats (moulting!). A daily dose of cascara tablets (a laxative) would prevent the symptoms from worsening. Failure to treat these symptoms would result in constipation, diarrhoea, runny eyes, running nose and suppurating ears! If untreated, the cat would supposedly die from nervous exhaustion, heart failure, enteritis, pneumonia or pleurisy. Broken bones were set, usually very effectively, with casts of papier mache made with brown parcel paper and strips of calico fabric or linen.

An early treatment for external parasites such as lice was combing the cat with a mixture of vinegar and water. A lotion could be made of one part sulphur mixed with ten parts train oil and applied all over the fur. Alternatively, a wash of equal quantities of hydrogen peroxide and water could be used, but would bleach the fur.


In the late 1940s, veterinary care was far less advanced than we are now used to; it was also relatively expensive and there were no feline specialists. The needs of a cat were considered to be much the same as those of a small dog with little real understanding of the differences between feline and canine metabolism. In addition, this was still the post-war period and thrifty owners would have nursed their pets at home.

In her 1947 book "Questions Answered About Cats" by Grace Cox-Ife listed the major components of the feline medicine chest as "cotton wool, pair of tweezers, packet of orange sticks, canker powder, canker lotion, boracic lotion, boracic powder, Vaseline, disinfectant, a teaspoon or a small hypodermic syringe, half-minute clinical thermometer, liquid medicinal paraffin, milk of magnesia." She noted that many disinfectants contained poisonous coal-tar and that safer ones were T.C.P., Milton and Sanitas.

According to Sydney W France in 1949, the cat-owner's medical box should contain "cotton wool, lint, scissors, orange sticks, tweezers, Boracic powder and crystals, liquid paraffin, canker lotion or powder, T.C.P. Antiseptic, Antepeol ointment enteraphagos ampoules and Boucard's Lacteol Tablets". He added that "Unlike dogs, cats are very difficult patients, and easily become so alarmed that treatment and the giving of medicines is almost out of the question."

Many of the brand names familiar to box Cox-Ife and France have vanished in the last half century. One now familiar - and perhaps essential - item not available in those days was the cotton bud. Both authors described how to wind a small piece of cotton wool round the tip of a matchstick, orange stick or tweezers. While the 21st century owner can buy off-the-shelf ready-made remedies, the 1940s cat owner, having improvised his or her way through the war, was far more conversant with making up balms and solutions from available ingredients.

Many of Cox-Ife's comments on sickness and treatment can be found almost identically worded in France's book on Siamese cats. Both Grace Cox-Ife and Sydney W France had been editors of "Cats and Kittens" magazine just a couple of years apart. France may have used Cox-Ife's book as a major resource, or both may have used the same source works through their association with the cat fancy.

Other treatments were common household remedies. For minor burns or scalds, both Cox-Ife and France recommended cold strong tea, tannic acid, or a solution of bicarbonate of soda and water made of half a teaspoonful to a quarter of a pint. Earwax could be cleaned out using a home-made cotton bud dipped in diluted methylated spirit. Other home remedies are, by modern standards, alarming, such as the use of aspirin for colds (France, 1949) and turpentine for bronchitis (France, 1949), "Treatment should consist in keeping the patient in a warm room with moisture generated by a bronchitis-kettle or vapour from one of the special proprietary bronchitis vapour lamps on the market. The cat may also be induced to inhale by enveloping it in a towel beside a jug containing hot water in which a teaspoonful of turpentine has been placed." Cox-Ife (1947) advises a "soothing expectorant such as syr. Cocillana compound" for bronchitis accompanied by excessive coughing.

He also noted "When obtainable, beaten-up raw egg is a wonderful conditioner for cats, especially when recovering from illness" and mentions the usefulness of yoghourt. Before the war, yoghourt had been available from the larger dairies, but in post-war years it had to be home-made "It is used in the treatment of summer diarrhoea in children, and eaten freely by peasants in all south east European countries. [Yoghourt] should be warmed before being given to a sick cat; do this in a double pan, or the curds and whey will separate out. It may, if necessary, be sweetened with glucose, which also adds to the nutritive value."

To fumigate a room, Cox-Ife tells the reader to "seal all openings except the door. Place a large bowl on the floor in the. centre of the room and in this stand a jam jar containing two or three ounces of permanganate of potash. Pour in enough liquid formaldehyde to come well up the jar, leave the room quickly and seal the door from the outside. Leave for several hours. This will not harm any fabrics in the room. All clothing that has been worn when attending to the sick cat should be placed in the room and also any bedding that cannot be burnt."

Cats were becoming more popular pets and the cat fancy was starting to thrive after the war. According to France, veterinary treatment for cats was also improving: "At one time, veterinary surgeons really interested in cats were few and far between and many of then frankly were loath to give other than the larger animals the attention that cats required. Happily, I believe that to-day conditions are different, and I know of. several who are splendid with cats. Nothing is too much trouble, and the new Sulpha preparations, and Penicillin injections are used by them for cases requiring those treatments. I should say that Sulpha preparations, like M. and B. are splendid for pulmonary conditions, and penicillin for wounds and when there is a septic condition. The use of powders for cats is rather dangerous, and M. and B. and penicillin are best injected into the patient. Usually a treatment lasts several days, but the effects are miraculous."

Of abscesses and wounds (especially common in tomcats) France wrote: "Bring the swelling to a head by frequent applications of heat, either by lint wrung out from boiling water, or by a bread or kaolin poultice. Once the abscess has broken, cleanse the wound thoroughly with lukewarm water containing a little peroxide of hydrogen or other mild antiseptic. Keep the wound open until it is absolutely clean and free from discharge, when healing may be assisted by dusting with boracic powder. Abscess in the ear is a matter for a vet. Subsequent wrinkling of the ear may often be avoided by gentle massage with liquid medicinal paraffin" Cox-Ife had suggested massage with either olive oil or liquid paraffin.

Miscellaneous Ailments

In 1947, Cox-Ife suggested the following treatment for inflamed eyes (conjunctivitis) "Bathe the eye with warm boracic lotion (a teaspoon of crystals in a pint of water) and after drying place a tiny portion of Golden Eye Ointment between the lids." For an ulcerated eye (noted as a complication of distemper), "if a little finely powdered calomel (obtainable from a chemist) is dusted over the eye daily in the early stages the worst results may often be checked."

Almost identical advice is given by Cox-Ife and France regarding wounds. France wrote "Wounds should be cleaned and kept clean by gentle swabbing with Dettol or T.C.P. in warm water, and bandaged if possible. If the wound is very large, the cat should be taken to a vet, for a few stitches. Punctured wounds must be kept open until all discharge has ceased and if there is any swelling or heat in the part, fomentations should be applied.. Ointments are abhorred by cats as they make the coat messy, but as a wound heals it may be dusted with boracic powder."

France defined Asthma as "A troublesome cough with quickened breathing and undue expansion of the chest, coupled with lassitude and a disinclination to go out. A vet, should be consulted but it will help to keep the bowels open and to feed the patient on raw lean meat, in small quantities at frequent intervals-the idea being not to distend the stomach by large meals and so cause pressure on the chest. An eggspoonful of Kaylene-ol given internally twice a day before food will help to clear poisons from the system." This is largely a re-write of Cox-Ife's words on catarrh! Cox-Ife had written of asthma "Some old cats suffer from this complaint. The symptoms are cough, quickened and wheezy breathing, and some lassitude." And she recommended small, frequent meals to avoid overloading the stomach and "Bromide sedatives are sometimes helpful, and constipation should be avoided by the use of liquid paraffin." Many of the breathing problems were probably associated with a life time of exposure to coal fires, pipe/tobacco smoke and with general industrial pollution.

With regard to whether tumours are curable, Cox-Ife wrote "This depends upon the nature of the growth. Malignant tumours are incurable, but not all tumours are cancer. In most cases of non-malignant tumour a surgical operation will be successful. Veterinary advice should be sought as soon as the swelling is noticed."

In modern times, most cat owners are well aware that kidney disease is "the great leveller", but in Cox-Ife's time, "kidney trouble" was not recognised and was confused with other urinary disorders. She wrote "Neutered cats sometimes suffer from a condition which makes the passage of urine difficult. The cat will be restless and uneasy and may be noticed to strain in its attempts to pass urine. Often the owner suspects constipation. In all such cases it is wise to seek veterinary advice immediately." The formulation of cat biscuit in those days increased the risk of urinary blockage, which is what is referred to here. Then, as now, neutered males were particularly at risk due to the small diameter of the male urethra. There is no mention of actual kidney failure.

She did, however, mention rickets which is rarely seen to day due to our reliance on commercially prepared diets. "Prevention [of rickets] is better than cure: In most cases the trouble is due to incorrect feeding. Kittens need concentrated food in small amounts. Badly-ventilated and overcrowded houses, lack of fresh air and exercise, over-working the queen, excessive in-breeding are other causes. Lime-water should be added to milk given to. young kittens. Feed on a good nourishing and varied diet (see section on Feeding) and add cod or halibut liver oil once a day to the food. Arrange so far as possible to have kittens born in the spring so that they get the benefit of fresh air and sunlight during the period of growth."

Another disease covered by Cox-Ife, but only rarely seen today was TB. "[Tuberculosis] is fairly common amongst cats and very contagious. It attacks various parts of the body and is usually far advanced before any symptoms are noticed. Any cat which seems persistently out of condition should be examined by a vet. Sometimes one or both eyes become affected, the pupil being dilated and grey looking. There is no cure for the disease and the only thing to do once a diagnosis has been made is to have the animal painlessly put to sleep."

France included "Flies" in his section on sickness, "Cats love to catch and eat flies. Contrary to popular ideas, this will not of itself lead to the cat becoming thin, and is not harmful except inasmuch as flies carry infection. The only remedy is to keep the place as free from flies as possible; especially does this apply to cat houses. Sanitary pans must be changed frequently in summer, and no food left about."

Digestive Upsets

Cox-Ife noted that if a cat or kitten had diarrhoea it sometimes caused soreness and she recommended dusting a little baby powder (prepared Fuller’s earth) under the tail. The most usual causes of diarrhoea were foreign bodies, worms, undigested food, poisons, bacteria and overfeeding although the dreaded distemper also frequently commences with diarrhoea. Treatment for simple diarrhoea was to feed starchy foods as far as possible: cornflour, arrowroot and Benger’s Food being recommended. "A teaspoonful of water to which has been added a very small pinch of bismuth powder and two or three drops of Collis Browne’s chlorodyne will often prove effective if given once a day. This treatment should not be continued for longer than a few days as bismuth is poisonous if given over too long a period."

She wrote that ordinary constipation could be treated by correcting the diet and avoiding starchy foods as much as possible. Lightly boiled liver was considered excellent for constipated cats, however she recommended veterinary advice if the cat was suffering an impacted bowel or retention of the urine. If a change of diet did not help simple constipation, one or two teaspoonfuls of liquid paraffin could be given. A daily dose of liquid paraffin over several days was also advised for hairballs.

France also wrote of hairballs in his section on moulting (shedding), "Moulting takes place in spring and autumn. Loose fur should not normally cause any trouble but during the moult, especially with long haired cats, it can be a nuisance as the cat's continual licking will cause it to swallow quite a lot of fur and a bail of fur may form in the inside of the animal. This is a matter or a vet." However, to prevent a visit to the vet he echoed Cox-Ife's advice that "A small daily dose of liquid medicinal paraffin may be given during the moult."

In the 1940s, feline constipation seemed a common problem, perhaps due to relatively poor understanding of diet. In 1948, France wrote "Constipation is often found in cats but it may almost always be taken as a sign of a defective diet. Aperients may be necessary in obstinate cases but they can at best only be regarded as palliatives. The safest is Petrolagar (directions on packing) or liquid medicinal paraffin (a teaspoonful for kittens, two for grown up cats) or sardines with plenty of olive oil. Lightly boiled sheep's liver twice a week will prove beneficial and the cat should be given a somewhat sloppy diet in which is included plenty of cooked, chopped greenstuff (cabbage, spinach, etc.)."

Cox-Ife had this to say on stomach upsets: "[Gastritis] may be caused by chills or chemical irritants or from eating putrid meat, but most attacks are of bacterial origin, such as occur in distemper. The symptoms are sickness, thirst and refusal of food. The cat will sit with its head hanging over a bowl of water, though if any is consumed it is rarely retained. Treatment will depend largely on the cause, and veterinary advice should be sought. In the meantime withhold all food and drink for at least twenty-four hours, and keep the cat warm. When food is permitted it may consist of barley water or milk and arrowroot. Later finely scraped raw beef, or steamed fresh fish, may be given, but the return to solids must be gradual. Sometimes fresh soda water is retained when other liquids would be ejected."

According to France, "Gastritis is inflammation of the bowels caused by eating bad meat or by small bones lodging in the bowels, or by poison. The general symptoms are vomiting, thirst, lack of appetite and signs of pain. A vet, should be consulted but quiet and absence of food will rest the inflamed organs. A pinch of bismuth powder on the back of the tongue will be beneficial, but must not be given often as it is poison: White of egg with half a teaspoonful of brandy and a table' spoonful of water will serve to keep up the cat's strength."

The symptoms of Indigestion are described as dullness, listlessness, lack of appetite and retching; perhaps with offensive breath and either constipation of diarrhoea. However, an owner had to be certain that the symptoms were not early signs of a serious illness like distemper. Cox-Ife wrote "It is not possible to be certain, but examination of the cat’s throat and temperature may be some guide. If the former appears to be inflamed (shown by an increased redness at the back of the mouth) and the latter is high, treat the ailment as serious by keeping the cat warm and quiet and sending for a vet."

Meanwhile, simple indigestion could be treated by withholding all food for at least twenty-four hours and giving half a teaspoonful of milk of magnesia in water. Overfeeding was cited as a common cause, in which case the cat should have smaller quantities of food at more frequent intervals. She advised that milk and water should never be given together at one meal or within at least four hours of each other. "Kittens fed on cow’s milk sometimes suffer from indigestion; the addition of a few drops of lime water to the milk will prevent curdling and make it more easily assimilated."

Of "biliousness" (indigestion) France wrote "The symptoms are sickness after food, and unusual thirst, with possibly constipation, flatulence or diarrhoea. A light diet of steamed fish, and bread and milk or milk puddings is indicated, with small doses of milk of magnesia until the trouble clears up. If the sickness persists, consult a vet." It should be noted that he was writing of Siamese cats which were considered to have more delicate digestive systems.

The Dreaded Distemper and other Respiratory Ailments

Most cat care books of the time devoted space to the much feared "distemper" (cat flu) and infectious enteritis. In 1947, Cox-Ife devoted large sections to these diseases and how to distinguish distemper from more minor respiratory problems, of which there were many. Alarmingly for modern owners, aspirin was considered a safe and useful remedy.

"Distemper takes various forms. It will simplify matters if these are described under separate headings, but it should be understood that sometimes several forms appear in the same case. Symptoms must be treated as they arise. It is very easy to mistake the early stages of distemper for an ordinary cold, and for this reason any cat who is observed to be sneezing should at once be isolated and kept warm and quiet. A dose of aspirin will sometimes prevent further development. Distemper is highly contagious and infectious and if one case occurs in a cattery it usually runs through the whole lot. Distemper of the cat is not infectious to dogs, nor can cats catch dog distemper.

THE CATARRHAL FORM is the commonest and the most benign. This commences with sneezing and a watery discharge from the eyes. Sometimes only one eye is affected. The eyelids become swollen and inflamed and as the discharge thickens the lids are glued together. The nasal discharge may change from a mucus to a purulent state. The temperature is usually high. Keep the patient warm, give a small dose of medicinal paraffin, and clear away all discharge from eyes and nose at frequent intervals. For the nostrils use glyco-thymoline in hot water on swabs of cotton-wool. Keep the eyes clean with warm boracic solution. Steam inhalations are beneficial as recommended for catarrh. Such liquid food as the patient will take should be given. Hand feeding must be resorted to if necessary.

THE PHARYNGEAL FORM is indicated by the dribbling of saliva from the mouth and refusal to feed. The mouth and throat are ulcerated, the gums sore and inflamed, and sometimes there is coughing. This is a highly dangerous form of distemper and veterinary advice should be sought at the first signs of dribbling.

THE ABDOMINAL FORM is accompanied by gastric or enteric complications. Sickness or diarrhoea may be present.

Bronchitis or pneumonia may complicate an attack of distemper and great care should be taken with recovering cases to prevent excessive exercise or chills which may easily cause a relapse with fatal results."

In 1949, France paraphrased Cox-Ife's words on the various forms and complications of distemper, noting also that distemper was often heralded by the cat dribbling "ropy" saliva.

"Distemper may take various forms and is highly contagious and infectious. The catarrhal form, which commences with sneezing is the mildest, and with proper treatment cats usually recover from this form. Symptoms must be treated as they arise and on the first suspicion of illness the cat should be isolated and kept warm and a vet, called in. There is danger of a relapse, even after an apparent recovery, so that the utmost care should be exercised. In the catarrhal form the eyes as well as the nose may be affected. Sometimes only one eye is implicated. The conjunctivae swell up considerably and protrude between the lids, taking on a red and angry appearance, a purulent discharge collects over the eye and glues the lids together and the animal dreads exposure to the light. Sometimes the earliest symptoms may be the dribbling of saliva from the mouth and refusal to feed. Other types of distemper are accompanied by gastric or enteric complications, which give rise to sickness or diarrhoea or both. Lung affections such as bronchitis or pneumonia may complicate the case."

Cox-Ife (1947) wrote of pleurisy and pneumonia "With pleurisy there is usually high temperature, a short, dry cough and laboured breathing. The cat shows signs of pain when picked up. High temperature and quick difficult breathing are the symptoms of pneumonia." And she advises immediate veterinary attention and a hot-water bottle. In addition, "The cat should be placed in a jacket made of flannel or woollen material lined with cotton wool. When the cat gets better, do not remove the entire jacket at once, but take off one layer at a time gradually, otherwise he may get a fresh cold. Great relief is often obtained by the application of Antiphlogistine spread on muslin and applied to the chest as a hot poultice. It is necessary to shave the fur as otherwise the material gets into the hair and is a great trouble to remove. The poultice should be kept in place by a bandage, and the jacket put on over this."

France (1949) also wrote of pneumonia: "Pneumonia may follow a chill or distemper. Quickened breathing and a rise in temperature will be observed, with sometimes a cough (absence of cough is a bad sign) and the cat is obviously off its food and listless. A jacket may help to keep the cat warm and a light nourishing diet should be given, with a few drops of brandy if the animal is very weak. {the jacket] should be made of flannel or old blanket or some similar woollen material, double thickness with a layer of lint or cotton wool between, and arranged to fasten along the back with tapes and with two holes for the cat's front legs to be inserted. Do not make the coat too close a fit, but close enough to be snug. As the patient recovers, first the layer of lint or cotton wool may be removed, and then one lining, so that the convalescent is gradually acclimatised to normal conditions again."

Meanwhile "Influenza is symptomised by coughing and sneezing, dribbling and a watery discharge from eyes and nose. The appetite is not usually much affected but raw minced meat may be given to keep up the' patient's strength. Keep warm. If the animal appears to be seriously unwell consult a vet, at once as distemper may start with similar symptoms." Influenza or flu, appears to mean one of the milder types of cat flu (or a kitty cold) rather than modern cat flu (calicivirus) which was known in the 1940s as distemper.

Cats were also prone to much lesser respiratory problems equivalent to the human cold, probably exacerbated by higher levels of pollution, coal dust and smoky hearth fires. France wrote "Cats which lead sedentary or confined lives are more likely to contract colds than those which spend a good deal of their time out of doors. Colds may be caused by washing without systematic drying; subjection to extreme changes of temperature; accommodating several animals together in too small a space; irritants such as dust, etc.; or anything which tends to reduce the animal's vitality and resistance. A cold may also signify the early stages of a specific disease such as distemper or influenza and for this reason, should not be treated lightly. The first symptoms will be sneezing and possibly a discharge from nose and eyes. Lack of appetite may also be present. The cat's nose will be found to be warm and dry. Keep the cat in a warm even temperature and spray the nose and throat gently with diluted Milton or T.C.P. (one part T.C.P. to six parts water). Aspirin given in the early stages (half a tablet for a kitten; one for a cat) may prevent the cold from developing. A light nourishing diet of fish, and chopped liver is helpful."

In 1947, Cox-Ife advised her readers, "It may be mentioned that it is highly probable that a cat suffering from chronic catarrh is a carrier of any disease such as distemper or infectious enteritis from which it may have suffered. Too little attention is paid by cattery owners to this possibility. No cat suffering from " snuffles" should remain where young stock is likely to be introduced."

In modern times, "snuffles" is regarded as a symptom of infection, irritants, damaged nasal passages following viral infection or a foreign body, such as a grass seed, lodged in the nose while some cats are prone to seasonal snuffles in the same that some humans have hayfever.

Cox-Ife advised the following treatment for simple catarrh: "Simple catarrh caused by a cold or a specific diseases such as distemper will usually clear up when the disease has run its course [...] If the condition seems serious, daily inhalations of steam should be tried. The cat should be placed in a cupboard or covered cage with a jug of boiling water to which a few drops of Sanitas or friars balsam have been added." Chronic catarrh was another matter and she wrote of it "Chronic catarrh is very difficult to cure. There are many preparations on the market for dropping in the nose; but whichever is selected should be of as mild a nature as possible. Injections of Parke Davis and Co's Anti-Catarrh Vaccine often effect a cure; they must of course be given by a vet. [...] recommend a daily teaspoonful of Kaylene-ol (plain) half an hour before the main meal, to eliminate the poisons which accumulate in the system as a result of the catarrh."

France also mentioned "snuffles" and wrote, "Snuffles is a chronic discharge from the nose, which may be due to a variety of causes, one of the most frequent being distemper. The discharge is thicker than in an ordinary cold and the condition is often, in spite of all efforts, most persistent and difficult to cure. The general condition of the animal should be attended to but it may be helpful to syringe the nose gently each day with a solution of burnt alum dissolved in half a pint of warm water. Alternatively, a proved treatment is to give Kaylene-ol internally, and to drop Argotone into the nostrils 'twice a day. All discharge should be carefully wiped away with lint or gauze, which should be burnt. Halibut oil or cod liver oil with food twice a day will build up the general condition of the cat. Persistent snufflers should be viewed with suspicion as they may be carriers of disease to other cats. Kittens born on distemper infected premises will often develop snuffles at an early age. Cats with this complaint should be watched during hot weather when the condition often becomes acute and the congestion of the nasal passages may lead to a condition of toxaemia with unconsciousness resulting, in bad cases."

According to France in 1949 "The outstanding symptoms [of Pharyngitis] is a harsh persistent cough, which is aggravated by the passage of food down the throat, Profuse salivation may be present and the cat will eventually refuse food and become very nervous, frequently hiding away in dark corners. Upon examination of the back of the mouth some swelling and redness may be observed. In mild cases, the application of an antiseptic and astringent lotion such as T.C.P. will probably clear up the condition unless this is due to specific disease such as distemper. Light nourishing food of a soft or liquid nature such as warm milk, broth or boiled fish may be offered but if the condition is severe or persistent a vet should be consulted. Lime-water added to the milk (a few drops to a saucerful of milk) will be beneficial."

Infectious Enteritis

A major killer of cats and kittens in the 1940s was Feline Infectious Enteritis. Although a vaccine was available against infectious enteritis, it was a luxury rather than routine and a great many cats, including breeders' pedigree cats, were unvaccinated.

Cox-If wrote "[Enteritis] is without doubt one of the most virulent infections to which any animal is subject. It is caused by a virus and the average period of incubation appears to be about four to five days. It usually attacks cats under a year old and is responsible for thousands of deaths each year. The first symptom is the frequent vomiting of yellow fluid. Death usually occurs within forty-eight hours. In normal times it is possible to get young stock vaccinated against this disease. The vaccine is supplied to veterinary surgeons only by Burroughs, Wellcome & Co., and is for use before infection has been contracted. The same firm prepares a serum for use on infected stock, and if the cat can be treated in time there is a good chance of recovery.

As the progress of the disease is so rapid very little can be done if the serum is not available, but in the case of older kittens and young cats some success has resulted from the following treatment: at the first sign of vomiting give one calomel pill (r gr.), keep the patient warm and feed exclusively on Yoghourt until all signs of sickness have disappeared. Glucose may be added to the Yoghourt after the first forty-eight hours. Yoghourt is a scientifically soured milk prepared by the introduction of a culture of the bacillus known as the Bacillus Metchnikoff. It is useful in all maladies associated with fermentation and putrefaction of the intestinal contents. If true Yoghourt is unobtainable a good substitute may be made by using lactic acid in place of the culture.

Lactic acid can be bought at all chemists. One pint of milk should be brought to boiling point and kept there for at least two minutes to ensure complete sterilization. It should then be cooled as rapidly as possible by standing in a vessel of running cold water till quite cold. Then sixty minims (drops) of lactic acid should be added, drop by drop, stirring the while with a fork. It is then ready for use, but should be warmed slightly by standing in a pan of hot water before giving to the cat. The glucose is added just before use.

A word of warning should be given here about disinfecting premises after an outbreak of infectious enteritis. Fumigation is worse than useless as it will not kill the virus, but it will kill bacteria that if left to do their work will destroy the organism responsible for the infection. Burn all bedding used for the sick animal. Dishes, etc., may be baked or boiled. Leave the room occupied by the sick cat absolutely free from the presence of any cat or kitten for a period of two to three months, then clean in the ordinary way. Any clothing worn when attending to the animal should be similarly left. The essential point is that no cat must have contact with the premises, etc., that it is desired to free from the infection.

France described enteritis as "Enteritis, Infectious or Gastro-enteritis is the worst scourge to which cats are liable. It cannot be over-emphasised that it is infectious in the extreme, and premises where a patient has been should not be used for any other cat for some time afterwards as disinfection and even fumigation are useless. It seldom attacks cats more than twelve months old, comes on very suddenly and is usually fatal. The symptoms are: high temperature, complete loss of appetite, vomiting of a yellowish, slimy froth, diarrhoea, muscular weakness, coldness of the limbs and possibly filmy eyes. A vet, should be sent for at once; the patient should not be taken to the surgery. Pending arrival of the vet, stop all food and drink, keep the patient quiet and warm, and allow no other cat near. A dose of calomel may be given. This may be bought from any chemist in quarter-grain pills, for very young kittens one quarter of one of these pills should be given; older kittens and adults may have half a pill (they can be easily divided). If the cat survives the first twenty four hours, feed it on Yoghourt only, until all signs of diarrhoea have stopped - probably a week or ten days."

Fleas, Worms and Other Parasites

Cox-Ife evidently disapproved of flea powders and preferred daily grooming and careful examination of the coat, especially during hot and windy weather. If powder was to be used either on the cats or their bedding, owners were told to make quite certain it was one safe for cats and contained no carbolic. Then, as now, flea powders safe for dogs were not necessarily safe for cats and could cause illness or poisoning. She stated that in a well ordered cattery, where cats are groomed daily and scrupulous cleanliness is observed over bedding and sanitary arrangements it should never be necessary to resort to anti-flea powder.

In 1949, France wrote "Fleas are to be found on all cats but a healthy cat keeps them under reasonable control 'and they are most likely to be a serious nuisance only with freshly weaned kittens, when the 'mother is no longer performing their toilet for them and the youngsters are too young and inexperienced to deal adequately with the pests Fissons' 'Powder is the remedy. There are innumerable powders and insecticides on the market but it is necessary to make sure that any particular brand is harmless to cats: dog remedies often contain carbolic which is poisonous for cats. Combing with a fine-tooth comb will keep the Siamese cat free from fleas."

In 1949, there were plenty of miscellaneous external parasites to irritate cats which ventured outdoors. Many people kept chickens and/or rabbits which contributed to the parasite problem. Of "insects" France wrote "Insects affecting cats are usually fleas but they may also be annoyed by red mite or rust, usually seen as clusters of minute orange specks round the toes and elsewhere. These should be removed carefully by washing with warm water and soap. In summer, country cats may be attacked by rabbit fleas which are smaller than the usual fleas and are usually found only round the ears. They may easily be removed with tweezers, or the ears bathed with methylated spirit in water, which will kill the fleas."

Long-haired cats occasionally got lice which could be eradicated by bathing the cat in water to which some safe disinfectant such as Dettol, Sanitas or Milton had been added. In hot, dry weather cats sometimes got "harvesters" on the soft parts of the body. "They may be seen as a cluster of minute orange specks in the ear flaps, under the arms or on the underside of the body where they set up a mild irritation. Sponging with soap and water will remove them. Cats that go hunting often pick up rabbit fleas. These cluster about the edges of the ears and are easily removed by sponging with warm water to which a few drops of methylated spirit have been added."

Cox-Ife wrote that canker (the brownish dirt found in the ears and now associated with ear mites) may follow an attack of distemper, or the presence of a foreign body in the eat, but the most usual cause was a parasite. She recommended thorough cleaning using warm water with a few drops methylated spirit added, warm olive oil or veterinary canker lotion. France also wrote that canker could be treated by cleaning the ears with a home-made cotton-bud "dipped in a mixture of one tablespoonful of methylated spirit to a tumbler of warm water." He added that "Antepeol ointment is a good preventative; a very little should be squeezed into each ear once a week, and the ears kneaded gently. Or dusting of boracic powder once a fortnight will also prevent the formation of wax and the beginning of canker."

Mange is not often seen in pet cats today, but was far more common in the 1940s. Mangy stray cats were once a familiar sight and the ailment (a parasite) was not just unsightly, it was itchy and debilitating. Mange and its treatment was described in some detail by Cox-Ife: 

"Mange is caused by a minute parasite which burrows under the skin and sets up intense irritation. It is highly contagious and when treating a case great care should be taken to prevent the mites being conveyed on the hands, clothing, etc., to other inmates of the cattery. Mange usually appears first on the head, round the eyes and the edges of the ears. As the cat scratches and tears at itself, the skin becomes thickened and crusted with blood, and finally assumes a hard wrinkled appearance. A remedy which will usually effect a cure in the early stages is to mix two parts of liquid (medicinal) paraffin with one part of olive oil, add sufficient powdered sulphur to make a thin paste and rub well into the affected parts twice a day. All scabs, blood crusts and loose fur must be removed before applying the paste, and the cat’s bedding should be changed after each dressing to avoid re-infection. All swabs, old bedding, etc., must be burnt. Mange is very debilitating and cats suffering from this should be fed on a liberal diet to which a few drops of cod-liver oil have been added."

Internal parasites were also a problem and worming in the 1940s was rather drastic since pet medications were generally formulated for dogs and might even be toxic to cats. Whereas safe worming tablets can be bought from pet supplies stores today (more effective ones can be bought from the vet clinic), in the 1940s a case of tapeworm meant a trip to the vet so that dosage could be calculated. The cat had to be in good health in order to be wormed by the vet! According to Cox-Ife, worming an unwell cat was simply asking for trouble. One wonders what Cox-Ife would think of the modern approach of worming sickly-looking cats. Her emphasis was on prevention and on quality of diet. Quality of diet allows a cat to support a moderate worm burden without signs of ill-health.

Her book is formatted as a series of questions and answers, so the subject is introduced "Now there is this tiresome business of worms; I suppose I must be prepared to cope with them. What is your advice on this subject?" To which she responds:

"First of all I will explain about the two kinds most commonly found in cats: these are the round worm and the tapeworm. The former may be present without doing much damage, provided that the cat is well fed and healthy. The fact that a kitten in the early stages of some specific disease like distemper may vomit round worms has frequently led to the erroneous belief that the worms caused the illness. An inflammatory condition of the intestines or a rise in temperature will cause worms to invade the stomach, from where they are expelled by the cat’s vomiting. It is, therefore, a case of the rats leaving the sinking ship - the parasites leaving a host that has become uncomfortable. To "worm" a cat or kitten in such circumstances is to ask for, and get, worse trouble.

In normal conditions, when no disease is present, experimental work seems to indicate that in those animals which are fed on a diet rich in the elements necessary to maintain good condition, worms are kept under; in animals who from incorrect diet or other causes are in poor condition, worms multiply and contribute further to the loss of condition of the host. A cat who had lost weight and exhibited the haw over his eyes for a very long period was eventually found to be infested with round worms. A daily teaspoonful of T.C.P. solution (one in four of water or milk) and a course of glucose and cod-liver oil tonic effected a cure.

Tapeworms are a more serious matter and their elimination must be undertaken by a vet. The head, the smallest part of the worm, must be voided or it will continue to bud off segments. The presence of tapeworms is indicated by the appearance of small flat segments rather like grains of rice, in the motions and about the fur under the cat’s tail. The treatment is rather drastic and the cat must therefore be in reasonably good health at the time it is undertaken.

Perfect cleanliness over sanitary trays, the thorough cooking of all offal, freedom from fleas, and a rich, well-balanced diet are the chief means of protection against internal parasites."


In the 1940s, rat poison was relatively easy to obtain. Various types of poison were available for other vermin which sadly included feral and stray cats in some areas. A common method of poisoning rats was to set out bowls of poisoned porridge. Poisoned meat (bait) was set out for foxes. Though not covered in either Cox-Ife's book nor France's book, the first line of defence if you saw your pet eat poison was to make it vomit; a forced drink of mustard powder and warm water could be used to induce vomiting. Being more fastidious eaters, cat were considered to be at less risk than dogs. Apart from lead paint, the poisons section of their books overlooked many of the contaminants a cat might lick from its fur.

One of the questions in Cox-Ife's "Questions Answered About Cats" (1947) is "One often hears of cats being poisoned; bow can one recognise the symptoms in time to give treatment?" to which she replies: "Most of the cases of so-called poisoning are really infectious enteritis; because the animal is sick people think it has been poisoned. As a matter of fact cats rarely pick up poisoned food, although they walk on some poisonous preparation and absorb it by licking their feet."

However she goes on to describe the symptoms of more common forms of poisoning:

"Mercury poisoning may be caused by dosing over too long a period with preparations containing calomel. The symptoms are vomiting, diarrhoea, tender mouth, and red, soft, swollen gums. Lead poisoning may be caused by the cat’s walking over wet paint; salivation, sickness and convulsions are the usual symptoms. Phosphorus is used for killing rats and may be thus picked up by cats. Crying, uneasiness, salivation of ropy mucus, and continual sickness are symptomatic. The vomit may be luminous. Strychnine is also used for destroying vermin. The symptoms of strychnine poisoning are violent convulsions and vomiting. In all cases of suspected poisoning telephone your vet, at once and describe the symptoms. A warning should be given here about the use of bismuth. Bismuth is a useful remedy for diarrhoea but is poisonous if given over too long a period. After a few days it should be discontinued."

Despite instructing readers in the use of Dettol, turpentine, aspirin and a number of other medications now considered toxic to cats, France included a comprehensive section on the treatment of poisoning in cats, noting that "Poisoning may result from the cat eating meat or other food treated with poison for destruction of vermin. This is particularly possible in the country although pest destroyers usually claim that their virus is not harmful to domestic animals." He goes on to describe in detail the symptoms and treatment of the more common poisons of the time.

"Strychnine is the commonest poison and a very minute quantity will kill a cat. The symptoms of strychnine poisoning are convulsions, with the hind legs stretched out backwards, the front ones drawn up and the head drawn back on to the neck, while breathing ceases. When the spasm relaxes, breathing will be very laboured, and symptoms recur until the cat dies. There will be no frothing at the mouth or dashing about as in convulsions. The only hope is to make the cat sick at once by giving ipecacuanha wine or a vet may be able to give an injection but death usually occurs too quickly for any remedy to be administered.

Phosphorous is also sometimes used as a poison and although a cat will generally object to the taste, phosphorous poisoning does sometimes occur. The cat will vomit and the vomit will be luminous. Ten grains of sulphate of magnesia in a tablespoonful of sweetened water every two or three hours will help by opening the bowels.

Arsenic in large doses will not poison a cat as it will at once vomit, but smaller doses continued over too long a period may be poisonous. There will be vomiting, signs of pain and severe diarrhoea, the motions being coloured with blood. Castor oil should be given at once. The cat will be thirsty but should be given white of egg and water, not plain water. One white of egg should be beaten up in half a pint of water but it should not be made frothy. Arsenic is sometimes given, under veterinary supervision, as a tonic. Follow the vet's instructions carefully.

Occasionally cats will get lead poisoning from walking on wet paint and then licking their paws. Sickness and pain occur. Give' castor oil with about twelve drops of brandy until the symptoms wear off. Bismuth and calomel, though useful as medicines, are poisonous if given in large quantities or frequently. When treating diarrhoea with bismuth do not continue for longer than three or four days."

Skin Diseases

Ringworm was relatively common (and is carried asymptomatically by many cats today)  and Cox-Ife goes into some detail regarding it:

"Ringworm is caused by a vegetable parasite or fungus. The first noticeable symptom will probably be a slight redness of the skin on the affected part. Later the skin becomes scurvy and the fur falls out. The lesions spread and run into one another if unchecked, resulting in large bald scurvy patches. The hair should be cut away round the infected places before any dressing is applied, all such clippings being burnt. In the case of a long-haired cat it may be necessary to clip the whole of the body before treatment can be effective. The sulphur paste described [as for mange] is excellent for ringworm. If the animal is badly affected it may be necessary to resort to bathing with sulphurated potash. In the case of a batch of kittens becoming affected, this is probably the best method."

Apparently cured cats might still harbour the fungus, "in the case of a female this would result in her next litter becoming infected about a fortnight after birth. It is a wise precaution after an apparent cure to dip the cat in a bath of warm water to which sulphurated potash has been added. Dry without rinsing, and repeat the bath a few days later."

France also described ringworm, but preferred Iodine over sulphur, "[It] is not caused by a worm but is a vegetable fungus growth, similar to mushrooms or "fairy rings," growth being from the centre of the circle outward, in widening rings. In treatment, therefore, it is essential that the outer edges of each patch be treated. [...] It generally starts with increased redness at the base of the ears or along the body about the spine. Later the fur becomes brittle and snaps off, leaving a bare, slightly roughened, circular reddish patch, with a yellowish or grey flaky appearance at the edges. lodex ointment or iodine are useful in treatment. They should be rubbed well into the affected places with pieces of cotton wool which should be immediately burnt. Iodine dries and burns the skin, however, and should not be used too frequently. It may be alternated with a dressing of sulphur powder, olive oil and liquid medicinal paraffin mixed to a thick cream. [...] Ringworm is a tiresome thing to treat and tries the patience of both owner and cat."

Cox-Ife admitted that not all skin conditions were so easily treated since some cats are subject to recurring attacks of eczema in the spring and summer. "It is very difficult to cure as little is known about the cause. Attention should be paid to diet, which should not be too stimulating or heating. Raw meat alternated with cooked fresh fish and a certain amount of green-stuff should form the chief meal. Constipation must be avoided and fat cats should have the quantity of food reduced. Moist eczema is the form most generally found in cats. The skin becomes hot and tender and covered with tiny pimples which discharge and cause a certain amount of irritation. By scratching and licking the affected parts the cat increases the unsightliness and prevents healing. Clean the patches with warm boracic lotion (one teaspoonful of boracic crystals in a pint of hot water) and gently dry with soft rag; dust on a powder made from boric acid, kaolin, and zinc oxide in equal parts."

For bald patches and excessive shedding where no skin disease was present, Cox-Ife advised owners to get the vet. to supply an arsenic tonic and to follow his instructions carefully: "Arsenic is useful in all cases of skin trouble, but as cats can be poisoned by small doses continued over too long a period it is usual to spread out the dosing with a week’s rest in between."


1951, the date of Soderberg's book, is only just into the 1950s and veterinary care was in much the same state as it had been in France's time (1949). Interest in cats was growing, but the emphasis was still on home nursing. Soderberg was, however, more optimistic about the giving of medicine than either Cox-Ife or France. "Dosing a cat presents some difficulty, but with a little experience it can be managed without undue disturbance either to the cat or its owner" and after describing familiar methods for dosing a cat, he adds "Confidence is almost everything when giving a cat medicine, and thus it is that the owner rapidly improves with experience."

Soderberg notes that "on the whole the cat is a hardy creature. Apart from one or two epidemic diseases which are serious, cats rarely suffer from dangerous illness if well cared for and given the kindly attention which any pet deserves. If your cat is really ill, there is only one possible course to follow and that is to consult a veterinary surgeon. This you can do as a private patient, or, if you cannot afford that, you can seek help from one of the excellent animal clinics which exist in most towns. At these clinics the fee to be paid is merely what you can afford, so there is not the slightest excuse for any sick cat not having the best attention.

When your cat is really ill and you have no idea what the trouble is, do not take the animal to the vet, or the clinic until you have first explained the symptoms. If your cat is suffering from one of the two really serious diseases, you may be passing on the same complaint to other cats. When the vet suspects either distemper or infectious enteritis, he will visit the animal in its own home."

With regard to accidents, that trusty standby of the medical cabinet (and apparent cure-all!) petroleum jelly was recommended under the familiar brand-name Vaseline. With regard to other ointments he says "Never use any ointment or lotion on a cat unless you have made quite sure that it does not contain any poisonous substances. Some poisons are fatal to cats in even the smallest quantities. It is far better to be safe than sorry."

He rightly notes "Cats are inquisitive creatures by nature and many of them are truly venturesome with the result that accidents are bound to occur from time to time."

"It is a rare accident for a cat to burn any part of its body with dry heat except the pads of its feet. This happens when the animal jumps on to some object which is really hot, although no impression of heat has been given to the eye before the jump was made. Extensive blistering of the pads may follow. or if the burning is more serious, the feet may be raw. The safest remedy is to apply Vaseline to the burnt areas as this will keep out the air and alleviate much of the pain. Try by all means to bandage the feet, but in most cases such bandages will not remain long in position.

Inquisitive cats sometimes tip boiling liquids over themselves with the result that there may be an unpleasant scald. Sometimes they get under the housewife’s feet when she is carrying some hot liquid and the resulting accident produces a similar consequence. Here again, if the damage is not serious, home treatment can be given with Vaseline, and healing will usually be rapid. Use your imagination in the case of burns and scalds, and if you have any doubt, seek skilled help."

The dangers of increasingly busy roads were recognised in the 1950s: "Nimble footed cats may be, yet their intelligence is not sufficient to permit them to cope with the safety-first demands of modern traffic in large towns. As a consequence, at any hour of the day on every day of the week, some cat or other is run over or damaged by vehicles ranging from bicycles to lorries. The best cure is, of course, prevention, so keep your cats off the road as much as possible. ... The technique of veterinary science is such to-day that fractures and displacements, which were once considered fatal, can now be dealt with in such a way that a complete cure is possible."

"Apart from damage as a result of fighting, the eyes of the cat are rarely affected by disease. With lacerations which are the result of claw scratches, the only care that need be taken is to see that the wound is kept clean by bathing with warm water and boric acid powder. It is rarely that the ball of the eye is injured, but usually there is damage to the upper lid ... Whenever there is inflammation of the eyelids and conjunctivitis is suspected, neo-protosil ointment smeared along the edge will be found very useful. If this does not produce a quick cure, penicillin ointment should be obtained from the vet. It cannot be bought over the counter at the chemists. The cure with penicillin at times verges on the miraculous."

"Older cats are inclined to collect tartar on their teeth, and this often produces gum irritation together with bad breath. The only cure is scraping, which should be done by a vet, about once a year. This is not a task which you can safely undertake yourself, so it is better not to try."

Canker of the Ear

One ailment which was of burning importance (getting a passing mention elsewhere in "Your Cat") is canker of the ear i.e. ear-mites. Part of the cause was thought to be pollution, and considerable space is devoted to the topic!

"If your cat suffers from canker of the ear, do not blame the cat; blame yourself instead, for this trouble is more often than not the result of neglect on the part of the owner. Most cats live in a dust-laden atmosphere, and, like human ears, those of the cat become dirt-begrimed. It is in this crust of dirt that the parasite causing canker thrives. If you keep the ears free from dirt by a weekly routine clean-up with warmed olive oil on cotton wool and the application of a small amount of some proprietary disinfectant canker powder, your pet will not suffer the acute discomfort which these parasites can produce.

When once the canker is established, the cure is long and tedious. Certainly each ear will have to be treated twice a day for a time, and daily attention may be necessary for several weeks. Once you have carried out this cure you will take care that the first time is also the last time that it will be necessary. For established canker a good lotion which can be purchased at any pet store is essential. Always suspect canker when the cat is constantly scratching at the base of either ear. There may be causes other than canker, but it is wiser to make an immediate inspection rather than leave the matter to chance."

In modern times, there are many treatments which quickly and effectively cure most cases of ear-mites and it seems to be far less of a pre-occupation to us.

Digestive Upsets

Apart from a warning about the seriousness of diarrhoea in kittens, Soderberg did not consider loose stools any great cause for alarm. The war-time and post-war diet could be erratic and the amount of table scraps fed to a cat (out of necessity not choice) probably caused a greater variability in faeces than the modern owner is used to. Certainly the 1950s cat owner was less likely to worry at the first sight of loose bowel motions!

"Diarrhoea is not a disease in itself but merely the symptom of some internal disturbance. Looseness of the bowel need cause no alarm, for it may merely be the result of eating a particular food to which the cat is not tolerant. Liver or any oil, vegetable or mineral, may produce a temporary looseness, but this condition must not be regarded as diarrhoea unless the symptoms continue over at least twelve hours. For that period of time it is possibly an advantage that the intestines should be allowed to rid themselves of those substances which have caused the irritation.

Subnitrated bismuth, which can be obtained in suitable tablet form from any chemist, is useful, and one tablet given three times during the day will usually put a stop to the trouble. Manufacturers of cat medicines sell powders which are also quite effective."

Of vomiting, Soderberg writes, "The stomach of a cat displays the most remarkable intelligence, for it knows what it wants and also what it intends to do without. As soon as it receives anything which it does not want, it ejects the offending article; the cat is sick. The stomach also displays a remarkable power of selection. When vermin are completely eaten, apart from perhaps the head and tail, one only has to wait for a few hours and the fur and any other unwanted parts of the animal will be regurgitated.

Vomiting in cats, unless persistent, need cause no. alarm. The kitten which in its eagerness bolts its food will have to pay the penalty of losing the meal, and it should not be allowed to eat again for several hours. Adult cats often act in similar fashion with the same result, and they should know better. When it is merely undigested food which is brought up in the vomit, this in itself is not an indication of ill health. Persistent sickness is usually a sign that there is something really wrong. Where sickness recurs at frequent intervals, the help of the vet, must be obtained."

Constipation due to hairballs remained a concern and Soderberg wrote "All cats spend a considerable time each day on their toilet, and much of this consists of violent washing with a rough tongue. As a result many hairs are swallowed which seem to have little ill effect on shorthaired cats but sometimes produce unhappy results with the long-haired or Persian varieties. Unless precautions are taken, a hair-ball of amazing proportions and hardness can be produced in the stomach or intestines. If the ball is in the stomach, the cat is usually able to vomit and thus rid itself of the encumbrance. If in the bowel, there may be a stoppage and more violent methods may be necessary. It is a very good rule, however, never to purge a cat without expert advice. If a long-haired cat is given one teaspoonful of liquid paraffin once a week, no hair-ball is likely to be formed. This again is one of those cases where prevention is far better than cure."


Far more serious than simple diarrhoea and vomiting were "distemper" and "infectious enteritis". Soderberg's description indicates that distemper is a form of cat flu although he also describes enteritis-like symptoms as part of the disease.

"Distemper is a complaint which cannot be left to the rough and ready ministrations of the amateur. If you wish your cat to recover, you must obtain both diagnosis and remedy from the vet. For this reason you will find here only some account of the symptoms which would lead you to suspect distemper. Distemper is a very serious disease and usually produces death for one in every five victims. Your cat need not die if you recognize the trouble in time and are conscientious in using the medicine supplied. Careful nursing is always essential or there may be a relapse with fatal results.

The first general symptom is that the cat refuses food and usually hides itself away in some dark corner to lie on something cool. If you take the temperature in the rectum the reading will probably be about 104°, which in the case of a cat means two-and-a-half degrees of fever. Possibly there will be sickness and usually there is diarrhoea.

This disease seems to be a type of influenza but with little or no sign of a cold in the head. As distemper often attacks throat, lungs and intestines, it is only too obvious that recovery depends in no small measure on the care and attention of the nurse. Unfortunately one attack does not produce permanent immunity, but if the animal is in frequent contact with other cats, it is comparatively rare for a second attack to occur. Certainly isolation and coddling are no preventive measures as the animal is not allowed to build up a real immunity."

Infectious Enteritis

One of the great fears of cat breeders was the dreaded infectious enteritis for which there was no vaccine at that time and the available treatment was rarely effective. Unlike distemper, the onset was rapid and the symptoms more violent.

"Infectious Enteritis is the most deadly of all cat diseases, and unhappily the chances of cure for the victim are very slender. On an average it would be no exaggeration to say that four out of every five cats who contract this disease will die. One of the main reasons for this high mortality rate is that the onset of the disease is sudden, and complete collapse followed by death may take place within the space of twenty-four hours. Thus there is little chance for remedies to be effective before it is too late. During recent years cures have been more numerous than formerly as early treatment sometimes prevents the complications which are usually the real cause of death.

Refusal of food is one of the first signs of trouble, and shortly afterwards sickness starts and continues at very frequent intervals. So far the symptoms are similar to those of feline distemper, but with infectious enteritis there is no sign of diarrhoea and the bowels rarely function before death.

The vet, will do all he can, and the only real help that you can be is to call him in at the first possible moment. He knows what be is up against and you can do no more than hope. If you ever hear of a number of cats dying suddenly in your neighbourhood, you may also hear rumours that someone is going round putting down poison for these domestic pets. You would be much wiser to suspect enteritis and confine your cat to the house.

Within a few years it may be possible for all cat lovers to have their pets injected against this cruel disease, but at the moment suitable vaccines are insufficient to meet the demand and permanent immunity cannot at present be guaranteed. If you ever have the misfortune to lose your cat from infectious enteritis, it would be unwise to introduce a kitten into the house for a full six months."

Skin Conditions

Soderberg commented that there were a number of skin diseases which may attack the cat, but that microscopy of skin samples was often the only way to properly identify the cause. The metabolic causes of some skin problems were only hazily understood and referred to here as a problem with the "internal economy" of the sufferer.

"Eczema is not common among cats, but when it does occur it is not easy to cure for the simple reason that usually the cause is unknown. In all probability diet is at the root of the trouble, but that merely means the diet of this particular cat. Where a number of cats are kept it is quite possible for only one of them to develop eczema although all of them are taking the same food. Thus the diet is satisfactory for the majority. This one animal possesses an internal economy which cannot deal adequately with certain items of food, and as a consequence a blood condition is produced which causes eczema.

There are two forms of this disease, wet and dry, and both produce an irritation which causes the cat to scratch violently, often to the extent of tearing the skin. Thus the first essential is to reduce the irritation as much as possible by the application of some soothing lotion such as calamine.

A complete change of diet is also to be recommended, and this change often brings about a rapid improvement. In these days, when all food for animal feeding is difficult, a complete change of diet may tax your ingenuity, but it can be done. The bowels must be carefully watched, and it is a good plan to give several small doses each week of about half a teaspoonful of liquid paraffin. Most cats will take this without protest when it is mixed with the food. Unfortunately one attack of eczema may mean others, particularly if one cannot find out what has caused the trouble, but care in feeding will usually reduce these attacks to a minimum.

Eczema is not contagious and cannot be passed on to other cats or to humans."

"Ringworm. Unfortunately this is a skin disease which seems to be much more common at the present time than it used to be. It is much more likely to occur among cats that live in the country than among those which are town dwellers, for cattle and rats are both subject to the disease. It is highly contagious both to other animals and also to human beings, and as a consequence any cat suffering from ringworm must be completely isolated. The person carrying out the cure must take every precaution to see that be does not transfer the disease on his clothing. No care can be too great to prevent the spread of the disease.

Ringworm is definitely curable, but it is a very long job and requires an infinity of patience. Your vet. will provide you with suitable treatment, but it is quite useless to attempt the task without his advice as remedies which are sure with humans and dogs cannot be safely used on the cat. Some people immediately have their cats put to sleep when ringworm is diagnosed. This is a very easy way out of the difficulty, but it is not a policy which should be adopted as a panic measure. In this matter consult your vet., for he, like most of his kind, will be not only an animal doctor but also an animal lover."


Soderberg exhorts the reader that no animal benefits by playing host to parasites, either internal or external, and when they are found to exist either on or inside your cat, every attempt should be made to eliminate them. He advised considerable caution in the use of flea powders and worming preparation.

"If you keep one cat only and this is not allowed to roam far and wide where it would come in contact with other cats or vermin, then your cat may never harbour fleas, but in actual fact most cats are afflicted with these pests from time to time.... When they exist in considerable numbers, it is necessary to make use of some reliable insect powder. There are many such powders on the market, but if you are wise you will learn from friends what they have used with success on their cats and kittens. Some methods of eradicating fleas are very efficient in killing the parasites, but they sometimes upset the kitten who cannot be prevented from licking itself. For that reason it is a good plan to brush out any powder half an hour after it has been applied. Do this out of doors so that fleas which are not dead are unlikely to return to the cat again. During hot weather insect powder should be used once a week. Remember, too, that although the eggs are laid on the cat, they are hatched usually in dust and dirt and not on the body. As the flea can be an intermediate host for the tape worm, it is well worth while taking every precaution to see that your cat is as free as possible from these annoying insects."

"It is very unusual to find cats with lice, but it does sometimes happen as the result of gross neglect. Although a fit cat rarely harbours lice, the idea that only unhealthy animals can have them is quite erroneous. Lice are much more difficult to remove, for although the insects themselves can be killed by insect powders, these remedies seem to have no effect whatever on the eggs which are always attached to individual hairs. If frequent dusting over a period of several weeks does not dispose of the trouble completely, it will be necessary to shampoo the coat with a mixture of soft soap and a suitable insecticide. What is a suitable substance for cats can be safely left to those manufacturers who make up cures specifically for cats."

"There is no reason at all why either a kitten or a cat should suffer from worms, yet the fact remains that many of them do. There are a number of types of worm which may infest the cat, but in practice one usually finds only two varieties, the round worm and the tape, both of which are equally unpleasant.

A kitten suffering from worms may provide visual proof of the fact by expelling them either in its vomit or in excreta, but there are other signs which point to the same conclusion. Appetite is abnormal to such an extent that the animal never seems satisfied, yet despite good feeding it is a "bad doer" and carries little flesh on its frame. In many cases the belly is distended and hard and the little creature presents a sorry picture of apparent deformity. Often the eyes are dull and running, while the coat is staring and completely lacking the gloss which is the sign of good condition.

There are many vermifuges on the market, but the cat owner will be well advised to ask his vet, to make up a mixture suitable to the cat’s age and condition. The debilitating effect of worms on some cats, no matter what their age, is such that the attempt at cure may be even worse than the worms. Many cats have been killed by worms, but it is highly probable that many more have been killed by the unskillful attempts of the amateur to remove the trouble."


"Almost any poison which can kill a human being can kill a cat, the only difference being that cats seem more sensible in these matters than humans and usually leave the stuff alone. The most serious danger is that which may arise from carelessness in putting down poisoned baits for rats or other vermin. It may not be your carelessness, but your neighbour may not be quite so thoughtful. Fortunately cats will rarely touch the baits, but there is one variety on the market which the unsuspecting cat can walk over and afterwards lick its paws. There are also cats which will eat a rat which has died from poisons and that meal may produce serious and alarming complications.

Gas Poisoning - it is rather surprising that from time to time one hears of cats being affected by coal gas, but it must be remembered that loose taps can be turned on by a cat’s paw. If the animal is unconscious, fresh air is essential, and artificial respiration must be applied by gentle pressure on the ribs. Usually the animal recovers in a few minutes, but it is always a wise plan to send for the vet, if recovery does not occur in five to ten minutes. Keep on trying yourself, for you will be very lucky if the vet, can get to your pet in less than an hour."


Cats then were far less cosseted than cats today, but sometimes nursing was necessary and he gave advice on the difficulties involved with feline patients, cats being generally inclined to be unco-operative.

"Nursing a sick cat may be a very exacting business, but during and after a serious illness the greatest care is essential if there is to be complete recovery. Rarely will a cat do anything to help itself when it is seriously ill. It does not often put up a fight for life, with the result that the issue may depend upon the skill and patience of the nurse.

One of the greatest difficulties which the nurse will experience is that of persuading the sick animal to take nourishment of any kind. Even when the cat is desperately ill, a small quantity of some liquid food suitable for invalids should be fed from a spoon if possible. Provided the animal does not struggle and thus weaken itself still further, small amounts of nourishment at two-hourly intervals may at times make all the difference between success and failure.

Usually a cat is best nursed by the person for whom it normally shows the greatest affection, although it must be admitted that few cats when seriously ill seem to notice anything or anyone around them. It is only during the stage of convalescence that human companionship seems to be appreciated. It is, however, unwise to make generalizations on such matters.

Never allow a sick cat to remain dirty or ill-kempt. You know yourself how much better you feel after a wash, and a sick cat will be all the better for a little gentle grooming. Careful sponging of the mouth and eyes, and a comb run lightly through the coat, should both be part of the daily routine when an animal is really ill."


Tenent noted that cats were very hardy creatures and seldom ill. The home medical box should contain only the simplest of remedies since more serious illness should always be treated by the vet. Her recommendations included homeopathic remedies as these would not harm the cat: "A half-minute thermometer, Vaseline (to grease the thermometer before use), Boracic powder, Canker powder (or canker lotion), Orange wood sticks, Cotton wool, Liquid medicinal paraffin oil, Olive oil, Yeast tablets, a disinfectant such as TCP or Dettol, Golden eye ointment, Glucose, Homeopathic Aconite 3X potency (tablets), Homeopathic Baptisia 3X potency (tablets), Homeopathic Nux Vomica 3X potency (tablets)" In the 1950s it was not realised that TCP and Dettol were harmful to cats.

Owners should always register with a local vet and not to wait for the cat to be ill or injured before looking for a vet. Early diagnosis of illness was essential, though she admitted that cats tended to slink away and hide rather than let the owner know they were unwell. Dampness and draughts were considered major causes of illness in pedigree cats, especially lying on cold linoleum (lino was widely used). In general, an invalid should be isolated in a warm, draught-free room and perhaps given a well-covered hot-water bottle. "Cats object to taking medicine as much as humans do, only in their case it is understandable because they cannot know we are trying to help them [...] Powders and crushed tablets can often be pushed into the mouth with a knob of butter or margarine. When a cat is really ill1 however, it declines all food, and medicine must then be given neat. Probably the best way of administering liquid medicine is through a fountain-pen filler, for if this is placed just inside the cat’s lips it will dribble the liquid through its teeth. A very great benefit of dosing a cat in this way is that there is no danger of it choking or frothing the mixture back at you, as may happen when it is given from a spoon."

"When a cat is ill there is often great difficulty in persuading it to take nourishment. The best way is to coax puss to take a very little food at two-hourly intervals from a spoon, which should be inserted very gently at the side of her mouth. Invalid diet might consist of barley-water made with half water and half milk, and a little sugar added; almost any of the baby milk foods or baby broths, glucose and water, beef-juice, meat jelly, and so on, according to what the cat will take. If the food is frothed out or rejected, then you should resort to the fountain-pen filler method, as suggested for dosing medicine." After cleaning away any discharge from the mouth and nose with a dilution of TCP, "a touch of glycerine or warm olive oil rubbed on the nostrils will help to prevent soreness." As soon as the cat’s strength returned it should be coaxed into eating small quantities of plain food such as raw or cooked beef, sardines, lightly boiled liver, cooked rabbit or any delicacy of which the cat is particularly fond. Egg beaten up in milk was a good tonic as were yeast tablets.

Before listing the more common ailments, Tenent reassured her readers against hypochondria "Please do not imagine that it will necessarily get any of them, but should your pet be unfortunate, it will be obvious that the sooner you recognize the symptoms the better will be its chances of recovery."

Respiratory Ailments

Common wisdom in the 1950s was that the best way to prevent colds was plenty of fresh air and outdoor exercise, however cats sometimes got common colds. Much like humans, and suffered sneezing, catarrh and watery eyes. Sometimes it might also have a sore throat, which was usually indicated by coughing or dribbling. A cat with a slight chill rarely went of its food and generally didn't run a fever. These 2 symptoms allowed the owner to distinguish between a cold or chill and more serious illness. Colds and chills soon cleared up. Unless the throat was sore, the cat was probably able to eat meat, preferably raw. If its appetite was diminished, delicacies such as steamed fish, beef essence, egg custard or egg beaten up in milk could each be tried in turn. A cat with a chill should be kept indoors for warmth, but isolated from other cats. Tenent recommended giving 2 tablets (3X potency) of homeopathic Aconite at the first sneeze and repeating the dosage several times a day. Kittens should have only 1 tablet per dose. Yeast tablets were also beneficial as were small doses of olive oil or milk of magnesia to prevent constipation. "On no account should the common cold be confused with feline distemper or feline infectious enteritis. These illnesses are very serious indeed, and should have immediate veterinary attention."

Bronchitis was a more serious illness: coughing, wheezing, dribbling, heavy breathing, refusal to take food, inflamed eyes and often vomiting of frothy mucus. As well as vet treatment, homeopathic Aconite 3X and Homeopathic Baptisia 3X in alternation were recommended crushed in a little warm milk or put on the back of the cat’s tongue. Inhalations of Friars Balsam aided the breathing. Pneumonia was fortunately rare, but could follow a neglected chill or might accompany distemper. Symptoms were very high temperature, listlessness, loss of appetite and quick and laboured breathing. Touching the cat's chest was painful. Warmth, vet treatment and a pneumonia jacket were required. A pneumonia jacket was made using a piece of flannel (or woollen material), lined with several layers of cotton wool. Two holes were cut cat’s front legs and it was tied along the back with cord or tape. After recovery, it was removed a layer at a time otherwise the cat might catch a chill.

Snuffles was chronic catarrh and sometimes followed distemper or a severe cold. The cat sneezed almost continuously, and discharged thick, yellow mucus from one or both nostrils. "Cures have been effected in several ways, but with this complaint it is necessary to point out that the cure for one cat is not always the cure for another." Relief might be found by syringing the nostrils with a solution of warm alum water (a teaspoonful of powdered burnt alum to half-a-pint of warm water). "Wrap the cat up in a large towel, get someone to hold it, and then very gently syringe about a dessertspoonful of the mixture into each nostril." Inhalation treatment could also be tried: "In many cases it also proves helpful to shut the cat into a cupboard with ajar of boiling water to which have been added a few drops of eucalyptus oil. If you decide to try this method, you should make quite sure that the jar cannot be knocked over." Injections (though what of was not specified!) had also been known to cure as had penicillin drops inserted into the nostrils by means of a fountain-pen filler. A good, balanced diet and 2 drops of halibut-liver oil daily were essential.

Digestive Ailments

Cats which were given fish, rabbit or poultry bones were in constant danger of a bone in the throat. Symptoms were frequent coughing or gulping, refusal to eat and dribbling. The owner was advised to wrap the cat in a large rug or blanket so that only its head was visible. With someone holding the wrapped cat, the owner should open the mouth and remove the bone: "This should not be difficult provided you use forceps. Never try to dislodge a bone from a cat’s throat with your fingers, or you may get bitten. If there is the slightest difficulty, then call the vet." Most modern owners would probably call the vet rather than attempt to remove the bone.

Bladder troubles were rare. Almost the only bladder problem was Cystitis and this was mostly seen in males. It was caused by small sandy granules collecting in the bladder and causing a blockage. It required veterinary treatment along with barley water and also bicarbonate of potash three times a day. Again the cat should be put on cooked fish diet and offered warm milk.

Constipation was always treated carefully. It sometimes followed an attack of diarrhoea or was a symptom of a more serious disease such as feline infectious enteritis. Most often it was due to poor diet and lack of exercise. Tenent warned that cats should never be given strong aperients (laxatives) except under veterinary guidance. In obstinate cases, either milk of magnesia or medicinal paraffin was safe though Tenent personally preferred to give a teaspoonful of pure olive oil, or Homeopathic Nux Vomica tablets (3X potency, 2 tablets crushed into the food, less for kittens). Starchy foods were to be avoided, but a good meal of lightly boiled liver would give relief as would sardines or pilchards. She noted that milk also had a laxative effect if the cat would take it. Once the constipation was resolved, a course of yeast tablets broken over the food helped keep the cat in condition.

Diarrhoea had many causes: many kittens suffered diarrhoea after weaning (most likely due to the odd diets advised in the 1950s) or it could result from indigestion, over-eating or worms. It was often a symptom of serious illness such as feline distemper. It should never be allowed to continue as it would weaken the cat and chronic diarrhoea was difficult to cure. Uncomplicated diarrhoea could usually be stopped with carbonate of bismuth 3 times a day or doses of kaolin after each meal. If the trouble didn't stop after a few days or it recurred, a vet's advice was needed. "In all cases of diarrhoea the diet must be studied carefully. Cut out all milky foods and replace with small meals of raw minced meat, beef for preference. In liver cases well-boiled rice is’ excellent, and this is particularly appreciated when mixed with an. equal quantity of lightly-boiled fish. Other suggestions which often prove useful are arrowroot or cornflour made with water, barley-water, or the white of an egg beaten up with glucose and water."

Biliousness was not necessarily a sign of illness: "A cat is in the fortunate position of being able to regurgitate almost anything she does not want or which she knows is not good for her. Therefore, when puss vomits undigested food or matted hair there is rarely cause for alarm." Persistent sickness after meals indicated a stomach disorder, especially if accompanied by thirst, constipation or diarrhoea. Puss was put on a diet of steamed or lightly-boiled fish, fed in small quantities. Homeopathic Nux Vomica tablets, 3X potency, crushed into the food were considered beneficial. If the cat vomited frothy liquid or yellow mucus, immediate veterinary treatment was needed. Meanwhile, the cause of indigestion was usually irregular or wrong feeding and/or lack of exercise. Greedy kittens were prone to indigestion. Symptoms were poor appetite, excessive thirst, much yawning and offensive breath. There might be vomiting or diarrhoea. The cat was fasted for 24 hours after which it was fed primarily on meat, preferably minced raw mutton. Milk should be avoided. A small dose of milk of magnesia (about half a teaspoonful) in water or homeopathic Nux Vomica 3X in the food was considered beneficial.

Hairballs were best prevented by regular grooming and a weekly dose of olive oil (about a teaspoonful), and an occasional knob of butter or margarine. If a hairball did form, a cat with access to plenty of grass would usually vomit it up. Otherwise, plenty of olive oil usually removed it, in obstinate cases a tablespoonful was not too much for an adult cat and most would lap it readily from a saucer.

Gastritis in its ordinary form was usually due to long-standing indigestion, although it could also be caused by worms, poison, eating putrid meat, or poultry bones lodging in the intestines. Symptoms were thirst and vomiting. If the vomit consisted of undigested food, home treatment was usually effective. If, however, the vomit was frothy or yellow mucus, it might be a sign of serious distemper or infectious enteritis. Ordinary gastritis was treated by withholding normal food for several hours and also withholding drinking water. Instead, the cat was to have the white of an egg mixed with a tablespoonful of water and half a teaspoonful of brandy, this to be fed at the rate of one teaspoonful each hour until the sickness stopped. Five grains of bismuth on the back of the tongue often proved beneficial, but not more than twice, and even then only at two-hourly intervals. If there was no improvement, a vet should be called. After an attack of gastritis, the cat was fed steamed fish for a day or two, after which one of the more easily digested meats such as mutton was given.

Feline Infectious Enteritis was by far the worst illness to affect cats or kittens, particularly young cats, appearing suddenly and often killing within 24 hours of symptoms. Symptoms included green or yellow vomit. It was extremely contagious to other cats, and was known to be a viral disease that caused inflammation of the small intestine. "If you hear that a number of cats in a particular neighbourhood die very suddenly of poisoning, you can be almost certain that infectious enteritis is the real cause. ... The mortality rate is highest in Siamese and, to a lesser extent, Persians." Although there was no definite cure, Messrs Burroughs Wellcome & Co had produced an extremely effective vaccine against it. If possible, immunization was started at 6 - 8 weeks old, a week or two after weaning, but could begin at any age. Two injections were necessary, 10-14 days apart. If a cat was infected, immediate vet treatment was required. Whether it recovered or not, its bedding should be burnt and its feeding dishes destroyed, anything that was kept had to be scrubbed in strong disinfectant. "Neither should you visit cat shows or communicate with other cat owners (except by telephone) for some considerable time. Feline enteritis germs are carried on a person’s clothes, shoes, and even on his (or her) notepaper. Finally, however badly you want another kitten do not be tempted to have it for at least six months."

"It might be imagined that cats which enjoy complete freedom would constantly suffer from cuts and wounds. Happily this is not so, for their intuition warns them of the danger of broken glass, barbed wire, etc." However, cats did sometimes have accidents. Profuse bleeding was usually stopped by swabbing with cold water to which a mild disinfectant (Tenent recommended TCP, Dettol or hydrogen peroxide) had been added; this also cleansed the wound. If the wound was jagged, as happened with barbed wire, the fur was clipped back before bathing the wound, otherwise it was likely to turn septic. If it needed stitches, a vet's services were needed. "Punctured wounds (made if the cat is unfortunate enough to be jabbed by a nail or some other sharp instrument) should never be allowed to heal too quickly. Unless the mouth of the cavity is kept clean and open until the bottom of the wound has healed, infection may remain below and result in the formation of an abscess." The wound was kept open by syringing it out daily with a solution of some mild disinfectant such as Dettol or TCP, and, if the cat was amenable, it should be bandaged. "For a cut on the legs, or pads, it is useful to make a little sock of wash-leather which can be slipped over the bandage and keep it in position."

Distemper (Cat Flu)

Distemper was very serious and highly infectious. There were 3 forms: catarrhal, abdominal and pharyngeal. The catarrhal form was more common and easiest to cure if vet advice was sought promptly. Its early stages resembled an influenza cold, except there was also a high temperature. Sometimes it came on so suddenly that a cat that was well in the morning would be sneezing violently in the evening. The sneezing was accompanied by a thick mucus, which sometimes changed to a profuse watery discharge. The eyes became inflamed and swollen, often the lids were stuck together with discharge. The cat might dribble, have a sore throat and its coat was usually staring. As well as veterinary treatment, home nursing was essential. Warmth and homeopathic Aconite 3X at very frequent intervals helped to keep the fever down. The eyes and nostrils were wiped free of mucus using cotton-wool wrung out in warm boracic lotion. The mouth was swabbed out with a warm solution of glycerin of thymol or diluted TCP. A touch of glycerine was rubbed on the nostrils to prevent soreness. The appetite was tempted with egg and milk, beef essence, or any nourishing and easily swallowed food.

Abdominal distemper was usually accompanied by much sickness and diarrhoea. The cat developed great thirst, but often sat over a bowl of water unable to drink. It would try to slink away into corners, or lie around in the coolest spot available to ease its high fever. There was often ulceration of the mouth and throat, the eyes became sunken and the breath turned foul. The coat was harsh and staring. Recovery depends upon recognizing the symptoms immediately and then getting good veterinary attention. Warmth and frequent drinks of glucose and water or thin barley-water (to keep up the strength) were essential. If possible, it was persuaded to eat small quantities of warm milk, beef essence, or egg and milk. Pharyngeal distemper was indicated by profuse dribbling of saliva, loss of appetite and the cat remained stretched out in the coldest spot it can find. The throat and mouth were ulcerated and sore and it might cough. Liquid food was advised and vet treatment was essential. After recovery from distemper, the cat remained indoors until the vet gave it the all clear. This was to prevent fatal relapse and to prevent it infecting other cats.

Skin Ailments

Lice were treated with Derris or pyrethrum powders, Tenent wrote that bathing in warm water, to which a disinfectant, such as Dettol or Milton, had been added, was usually more effective. An alternative method was to comb the cat thoroughly with a solution one part vinegar to two parts water to loosen the nits (lice eggs) from the fur. Country cats often picked up ticks "Unless the head is completely dislodged, the pest will grow again. Make the tick release its hold by placing either a drop of turpentine on the point where the head is buried, or paint round the spot with iodine." Ticks don't actually regrow as Tenent suggested, but if the head is left behind, a painful abscess can result.

Of the two forms of mange, sarcoptic and follicular, the sarcoptic form was more common in cats. It usually started on the head and neck, and if tackled early rarely spread any further. Follicular mange attacked almost any part of the body, causing small, scaly patches which spread rapidly. Continued scratching caused balding and blistered, scabby skin. The scabs became scaly and the skin became greyish and wrinkled looking. Owing to the poisons in the system, the cat soon became emaciated. Tenet wrote "Opinion varies as to the best remedy for mange, but it is doubtful if any treatment will be successful unless the disease is taken in the very early stages." The vet's instructions must be carefully followed and the owner also built up the cat's strength on good (but not starchy) food. If caught in time, it was cured in 3 or 4 weeks, after which all bedding was burnt and the surroundings thoroughly disinfected.

Ringworm was a distressing and serious, but luckily curable, complaint. "Fortunately cats are not very prone to the disease, although a country cat may pick it up after lying in straw previously occupied by cattle. It is also sometimes carried by rats and mice. There are two forms of ringworm: ‘honeycomb ringworm’ and ‘grey ringworm’. Both are caused by different fungi, and both are highly contagious to animals and humans. Honeycomb ringworm (sometimes known as Favies ringworm) usually breaks out on the face and spreads to other parts of the body, especially the legs and feet. It is so called owing to the circular, raised yellow scabs which it forms. Grey (or Hermes) ringworm starts anywhere on the body. The hair breaks off, leaving dry, grey, and scaly patches on the bare skin."

Eczema was due to a blood disturbance and usually caused by poor diet: too much white fish or too much biscuit meal. Luckily it was not contagious though it was sometimes tricky to resolve. There were 2 forms: a dry, scaly, flaky-skinned form and a moist form with red discharging sores. Both caused itching and should be referred to the vet. Dry eczema was relieved by rubbing liquid medicated paraffin onto the bare patches. Wet eczema was bathed with warm boracic lotion and dried gently with a soft, clean cloth then dusted with boracic powder. "A cat suffering from eczema should not be given milky foods, neither should it have cereals or starch. Otherwise try to provide an assorted diet such as meat (raw or cooked), liver, fish, rabbit, and so on. If a cat has been fed exclusively on fish, it may be a good idea to change over to meat for a while and vice versa. Brown bread scraps mixed with the flesh food will not do any harm if given in moderation. Yeast tablets will also help." A an Elizabethan collar, made out of cardboard, stopped the cat licking the sore areas.

Abscesses (usually due to fighting) were bathed with very hot water containing a few drops of a mild disinfectant such as hydrogen peroxide or TCP. This was continued at 2 - 3 hourly intervals until the abscess broke and the discharge could be very gently squeezed out on a piece of moistened boracic lint. After all the pus had been removed, the wound was dusted with boracic powder. Abscesses which did not break required veterinary attention. Burns and scalds could occur if a cat used to warming itself by sitting near the hot plate of an electric cooker got too near; blistered paws were likely. An inquisitive cat could easily tip up a saucepan of boiling liquid and scald itself. For slight burns Tenent recommended a compress of cold, strong tea. For severe burns the vet was needed and, in the meantime, the affected part was covered with olive oil or vaseline to ease the pain and help to shut out the air. For shock, homeopathic Arnica tablet (3X potency) in a little warm milk was recommended.

Canker of the ear (ear mites) could follow distemper or be caught from another cat. Most often, though, it was due to the owner neglecting the clean the ears. The inside of the ear was bathed with cotton wool soaked in hydrogen peroxide or warm olive oil and then wrung out. Once the discharge had been removed, boracic powder or canker powder was dusted into the ear. This treatment was repeated daily until the canker cleared. Cats occasionally caught "a cold in the eye" or injured the eye in fights. Both were treated by bathing the eye with warm boracic lotion and applying a very little golden eye ointment between the lids several times a day. If the third eyelid ("natural handkerchief") unfolded for no apparent reason, the cat probably needed a tonic prescribed by a vet. Conjunctivitis required veterinary treatment.

Other Ailments

Tenent wrote that well-raised kittens should not have worms, especially if the dam was wormed before mating. However, worms - tapeworm and roundworm - were the underlying cause of many feline illnesses. Tenent wrote that there were some excellent vermifuges available, and at least one of them could be given to tiny kittens with excellent results. No fasting was necessary.

Kittens which were denied sunshine and fresh air sometimes developed rickets. The symptoms were bowed legs and swollen joints and the kitten easily hurt itself in the attempt to jump or climb. It needed extra vitamins and a diet rich in milk, eggs, herrings, raw meat, cooked liver and sardines, plus a drop or two of halibut-liver oil in its food once daily.

Toothache was most common when kittens cut their second teeth between 4 and 7 months. Symptoms were inflamed gums, bad breath, and/or digestive trouble and sometimes fits. Any obviously loose teeth could quickly be removed by the owner and the gums bathed daily with either a solution of glyco-thymoline and water or diluted TCP. Many kittens found a non-splinter bone helpful when cutting their second teeth, and this was certainly worth providing if only to save the owner's furnishings! Elderly cats also got toothache owing to tartar collecting on the teeth; symptoms included foul breath, dribbling, head-shaking, pawing at the mouth, shake its head or rubbing the head against the furniture in an attempt to ease the pain. A vet would remove either the tartar or the teeth.

Kittens occasionally suffered from fits when cutting their second teeth. Fits might also be a result of worms. (Considering the rarity of fits in cats today, most were probably due to the use of medication and disinfectants now known to be toxic to cats) Symptoms of fits varied: a cat might suddenly fall over on its side, kick out in all directions and foam or twitch at the mouth. Alternatively, it might rush about, crying and knocking against the furniture. In other cases, the only sign was the extreme stillness of the cat and it would suddenly fall to the floor without uttering a sound. "The first thing to do is to throw a large, thick blanket over the cat so that you can pick it up in safety. Next place the cat in a basket and close the lid down. Carry the basket to the quietest place in the house and send for the vet. Do not prescribe yourself, and do not attempt to touch the cat while it is in a fit, or you may get scratched or bitten. If the cat recovers before the vet arrives you can let it out of the basket, but not out of the house, for it will still need its medical examination. Meanwhile take it off meat and keep it on a light diet of steamed fish and milky foods."


As can be expected, much has changed in feline medicine in the thirty or so years since Mery's book. There were concerns about cats carrying diseases.

He writes, "Before the Second World War Siamese cats once ran this risk because a leper, having come to France from Indochina with one as his companion, had not wanted to be separated from it. That the Siamese cat is bred today is due, happily, to the strong hold they have on our affections and the fact that it was never possible to prove that the cat could be a carrier of leprosy.

Shortly after the Second World War there was a great scare relating to a disease called ‘typhus’ that occurred in cats. The veterinary surgeons did not take the trouble to explain that this was not the same ‘typhus’ as the disease humans were subject to. The disease had only been given this name to emphasize the extreme rapidity with which the organism was invaded and the high death rate the disease attained. This name for what was in fact a ‘plague’ affecting cats was as ill-chosen as it was unjust."

There was also concern that tinea (scalp disease) or scabies could be caught from the cat. Although they could be caught from a cat in a diseased condition, he pointed out that they can just as easily be caught from a human and in any case are easily cured.

Mery tells his reader "Those who keep cats would be well advised to know something themselves of the diseases and ailments to which cats are prone, rather than leaving everything to the vet.

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 (distemper). Although Mery does not mention of Cat Flu or other respiratory ailments, he writes "the 'common cold' is not an illness to which cats are susceptible, but catarrh is common, usually being a symptom of another illness." He recommends warmth, nasal inhalations and a diet containing raw meat and fresh green vegetables. A little daily lemon juice was also said to help.

The ear canker mentioned earlier by Soderberg is 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.

An ailment rarely covered in modern cat care books is tuberculosis which, writes Mery, cats can catch from, and communicate to, humans; doctors and vets alike apparently recommending the destruction of TB infected cats because of the risk to humans.

"What are the facts relating to tuberculosis? 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 is toxoplasmosis rather than TB and correspondence in the Lancet a couple of years ago suggested that FeLV and/or FIV can cause cancers in humans; the similarity of FIV (Feline AIDS, FAIDS) to HIV led to many pet cats being destroyed in America a few years ago.

One particular quote really 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 veterinary advances in the US show that it is possible to for cats to have blood transfusions, heart pacemakers and kidney transplants.

"Finally, when there is no hope of cure, when the practitioner thinks that it would be more humane to bring useless suffering to an end, the science of today places at his disposal methods of euthanasia that are as numerous as they are diverse, and all equally painless and effective." However, I wonder how many of those "diverse" methods would be considered true euthanasia by today's standards? Mery does not elaborate on the numerous methods at the vet's disposal although some of his contemporaries mention the use of neck-breaking or chloroform, followed by immersing the dead or unconscious cat in a pail of water to make sure.

The CPL leaflet "Some Facts About Cats" covers diverse topics; including a diagram sexing kittens (so owners can avoid keeping troublesome female kittens) and ailments such as flea-allergy eczema (unlike Mery's book, where fleas are 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/— (3 shillings) including postage."

"When powder is used it should be dusted into the cat’s 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 cat’s fur and then put the cat in a linen bag with its head out. The bag and eat should then be held in someone’s 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."

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 would not be advised).

And on ticks: "painting around the spot where the tick has attached itself, and getting as close to the tick’s head as possible, with Iodine or Industrial spirit, will usually cause it to release its hold."

"Some Facts About Cats" explains "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."

"Cat Care", another CPL leaflet of around the 1960s (the leaflets are not dated) has an advert asking 4/- (4 shillings) for powder efficacious against chicken fleas and advises the TCP and warm water as an alternative.


The changes in information dispensed to cat owners reflects our growing knowledge of feline medicine and the advent of vaccination. I find it interesting to trace the way books and leaflets reflect the views of the time. It also reflects prevailing conditions from the improvisation in the post-ware period to better veterinary knowledge in the 1960s. Some of the older leaflets may seem callous by modern standards of cat care, but at the time of publication the suggestions may have been quite novel or even radical; for instance to prevent drowning of kittens at a time when spaying was the exception rather than the rule. Over the years such suggestions have shaped the way we care for cats, by introducing new concepts gradually and helping them to become more widely accepted, and finally the norm.

I wonder what Cox-Ife who disapproved of flea powders and considered worming preparations even worse than worm infestations would have made of readily available safe flea powders, flea collars and worming tablets. Or that kidney problems are common in cats and were simply undiagnosed in her time. Both Cox-Ife and France would no doubt be amazed at the array of diagnostic techniques, surgical options, vaccinations, feline-specific medications and complementary therapies now available. Come to that, how long will it be before cat lovers read 1990s publications and consider the contents out-of-date and reflecting ill-advised opinions on cat care?

(Note: Dates of CPL leaflets are approximate since the earlier leaflets are undated).



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