Relationship with Man

Cats have lived in a close association with the human race from ancient times and have been variously esteemed, revered or reviled as vermin.

This relationship is almost unique in the sphere of animal owning by man since the cat is the only animal kept by man which produces nothing in the way of animal products or work. If one excepts rodent control which, after all, is merely the pursuit of natural instincts even

though extremely valuable the relationship is different from that with cage birds or other exotic pets usually kept caged, such as rabbits, hamsters, bush babies and so on. Companionship of a kind is offered by cats but has nothing in common with the subservient affectionate behaviour of dogs. Indeed most cats give the impression of a tolerant acceptance of human company together with the comforts which can be obtained by contact with man resulting in a type of mutual respect.

Exceptions to this general rule occur in some particular breeds, notably the Siamese and to some extent the Burmese and Abyssinian, in which a more dog-like attachment to the owners is often evident with resultant greater dependence on human contacts. It is this unusual pattern of behaviour that appeals to many cat owners but it is this same pattern which can present so many problems to the veterinary surgeon in dealing with feline patients.

Unless kept by cat breeders, most cats live a life of freedom from physical control; they are seldom confined to houses and flats and it is accepted in law that control of the kind possible with other animals is not possible with cats. Hence cat owners can seldom, if ever, be held responsible for any nuisance caused by their pets.

Although freedom-loving and highly athletic, cats are, somewhat paradoxically, lazy by nature and the amount of exercise taken, once the playful stages of kittenhood are passed, is minimal except in the pursuit of sexual activities or hunting.

These facts need to be appreciated by anyone who proposes to deal at all closely with the domestic cat.

As Patients

Cats present peculiar problems to the veterinary surgeon, owner and nursing attendant.

First and foremost it must be remembered that, although a domestic animal, the cat is probably nearer to the wild than most other domesticated species ; the veneer of civilised behaviour is thin and can easily be breached by interferences which would evoke little response from many animals. This can result in outbursts of savage temper which makes the

cat the most dangerous animal with which the veterinary surgeon has to deal. Weapons of offence are teeth and claws both of which can inflict potentially serious injury and neither of which can be adequately controlled by the routine methods applied, for example, to dogs.

Additionally there is the fact that the normal bacterial flora of the cat’s mouth includes two types of organisms, Pasteurellas and Streptococci, which are highly pathogenic when introduced into wounds, which makes any damage inflicted by cats on handlers potentially serious. For this reason in addition to protecting himself from injury it is the veterinary surgeon’s duty to instruct the owner in the correct way of holding the cat during treatment and to advise prompt medical attention should he be bitten in spite of all precautions.

On the other hand the feline patient has many advantages. It seldom runs a ‘surgery’ or excitement temperature. Its surgical anatomy is ideal for many operative techniques and it is usually possible to carry out abdominal palpation easily and fully. Despite the development of numerous breeds, the basic conformation of cats is uniform. Hence departures from the normal can be recognised more easily, dose rates of therapeutic agents cover a small range and radiographic techniques can be standardised far more easily than in canine patients.

As patients to be nursed, cats present some problems. They retain certain instincts which domestication has done little to eradicate. One of these is the desire to seek solitude and concealment when ill; this means that sick cats cannot be allowed much freedom. Failure of careful supervision often results in the disappearance of the patient which causes much distress to the owner and the necessity to presume death.

Cats are also difficult subjects to dose and tend to resent and resist the forced administration of drugs or nutrients. Considerable patience, perseverance and dexterity is required by owners or nursing attendants to ensure the regular medication occasionally called for. Ancillary nursing procedures such as temperature taking, cleansing of discharge from eyes and nose, grooming, application of heat etc. are at best tolerated, at worst forcibly resisted and seldom welcomed as seems to be the case with many canine patients. Considerable skill and discretion are called for in deciding whether the procedure desired is likely to do more harm than good to a resisting patient.

As an inmate, whether boarder or patient Immediately a cat is accepted as an inmate of a veterinary surgeon’s premises, whether for a short stay of a few hours for some minor procedure or for a period of several weeks, the safety of the animal becomes the responsibility of the veterinary surgeon.

Safety must be regarded as an all-embracing term covering security from escape, maintenance of health, avoidance of infection and safe transport.


Cats can be most expert escapologists and it is essential that this fact be recognised and all precautions taken to minimise the risk. This means first and foremost that there must always be at least two barriers between the cat and freedom so that one is always closed, e.g. if the

cage door is open the door of the room must be closed and vice versa.

It is an extraordinary fact that this simple and obvious precaution can never be impressed upon students and staff until disaster or near disaster has occurred.

The greatest care must always be taken in transporting a cat from one place to another. This should preferably be in a secure container such as a cat basket but if for any reason this is not desirable or possible the cat must be carried in such a manner that the risk of its being able

to get away is minimal. In view of the fact that cats will suddenly panic and make violent efforts to escape if faced with a frightening situation it is better that the animal should be held with its head away from the direction in which it is being carried; this is especially true on veterinary surgeon’s premises when dogs may be met at any time. A good method is for the cat’s scruff to be grasped in one hand, the forequarters of the animal tucked under the opposite arm, head facing backwards, when the hand on this side can be used to control the hind limbs. Similarly when it is necessary to remove a cat from a cage in a room where a dog

is loose the cat’s head should be kept turned away from the dog during removal.

These suggestions will be obvious to many yet it is surprising how often these simple precautions which can obviate so much trouble are neglected even by experienced people.

When it is necessary to have a cat loose in a surgery for purposes of examination, e.g. of movement, it is essential that all windows be closed or protected with wire guards and that chimneys should be blocked off at the fireplace; the number of times cats have escaped into chimneys is too great for peace of mind and their recovery is often extremely difficult. Precautions should also be taken to guard against the cat’s escape if the door is opened unexpectedly.


When it is necessary to move a cat any distance it is preferable to put it in a safe container. Cat baskets are designed for this purpose and are of a variety of types and material. The container should not be too large; it is not a kindness to allow cats much room to move about during transport. The container should be of sufficient size to permit the cat to lie in the sternal position, with limbs flexed in comfort, and to allow the animal to turn round. Whatever the material of the container a thick layer of newspaper should be provided as cats frequently urinate or defaecate when frightened on a journey. Cats are fastidious creatures

in personal habits and much dislike being forced to lie in their own excrement, hence if it is found that a cat arriving at the surgery has fouled its container it is a humane as well as cleanly act to change the paper.

Owners often need advice on how to bring their cats to the surgery.

They should be advised that it is essential they should be under proper restraint, preferably in a suitable container but if this is not available the cat should be wrapped securely in a piece of blanket. Cats not under proper restraint in a veterinary surgeon’s waiting room are a danger to themselves, their owners and other people, as they may escape and get lost or maul their owners or other people in a desperate bid to escape.

The veterinary surgeon is the person who knows the propensity of cats to do this and is thus under a duty to ensure so far as lies in his power that accidents do not happen through lack of insistence on proper control of feline patients on his premises.

If the owner has not a suitable basket, an excellent substitute is a leather or canvas travelling bag with a zip fastener. The zip may be fastened completely or left one inch open only; a larger opening allows the cat to get its muzzle into the aperture, force the zip back and so

escape. These bags properly used are secure and easy to carry: they are lighter and less bulky than a basket. Other alternatives are laundry baskets or boxes of wood or cardboard suitably secured with rope or twine.

Owners frequently find difficulty in putting their cat into the container and will require to be advised of the correct method, controlling the forehand of the cat by holding the neck or scruff, supporting the hindquarters by the other hand under the rump and dropping the cat

gently, hind end first, into the basket, keeping control of the head with the second hand while the lid is closed or the zip fastened.

Loan of baskets

Veterinary surgeons are frequently asked to lend baskets for transport purposes. This is a request the author has consistently refused except in exceptional circumstances. Quite apart from the obvious risk of loss and damage to baskets, which will necessitate a large stock being kept it can result in much unpleasantness between practitioner and client;

there is the worse danger of transmission of infection in cases of ectoparasitism, virus diseases and sepsis, a risk which is so great that it is necessary that every basket should be rigidly disinfected either by scrubbing with hot soda water and exposure to sun and air for several days or by blow-lamp every time it has been used to transport a cat which has not already been examined by the veterinary surgeon.

Exceptions may be made in the case of clients well known to the veterinary surgeon whose cat is suffering from a condition known to be non-transmissible. Only by strict adherence to such rules will transmission of virus diseases such as panleukopenia and respiratory conditions and the avoidance of infection of spay and castration wounds by pyogenic bacteria be avoided.

Sedation for Travelling

Veterinary surgeons are often consulted regarding cats being taken on journeys and are asked to dispense or prescribe suitable sedatives.

Advice should include information as to a suitably sized container, as previously described, and most careful consideration given to the question of sedation. Cats are seldom subject to travel sickness, in marked contrast to dogs, so anti-emetic drugs are rarely needed. The

reaction of cats to small doses of the tranquillising (ataractic) drugs is so variable and idiosyncracy so common that these are best avoided; similarly, response to sedative doses of barbiturates is somewhat irregular. A perfectly safe and reasonably effective drug is potassium bromide and the best recommendation is to give a dose of 150-600 mg. (2J-10 gr.) pot. bromide 1 hour before the start of the journey. Small doses of the same drug may be continued for 1-2 weeks when it is desirable to assist a cat to accept a new and strange environment, e.g. 150 mg. (2£ gr.) twice daily.

In-patient or Boarder

Contrary to the usual belief, cats are far more liable to fret after admission to kennels than dogs. The latter are more extrovert in outlook and so quickly become interested in kennel routine and tend to forget themselves, but cats are introspective by nature and can rarely be

persuaded to take an interest in routines which do not involve them and which they often find frightening; because of this reason cats may refuse to eat for several days after admission and may require much cajoling to get them started. To be called by name means less to cats than dogs but the offering of some article of diet of which the cat is particularly

fond or the use of a particular method of fondling normally used by the owner will often get results. For these reasons any help the owner can give on diet and management should be noted and not regarded as a mere pandering to whims.

Cats very rapidly assume territorial rights and quickly learn to regard their cage or even basket as a place of security. For this reason changes of cage are to be deplored; once installed the cat should remain in occupation of the same compartment throughout its stay

unless exceptional circumstances arise; similarly the owner’s offer to supply an article of bedding familiar to the cat should not be lightly rejected although it may be discarded and replaced with routine bedding as soon as the cat has settled down.

Despite normally fastidious habits and the desire to seek solitude and concealment for excretory functions, cats adapt themselves remarkably quickly to whatever facilities are available in their cages provided these are kept scrupulously clean.

To minimise the risk of air-borne infection by the various respiratory viruses it is desirable that individual cage units should be as widely separated as is reasonable with free circulation of air throughout the cattery block. A minimum of 3 feet between cages has recently been

suggested by Thomson (1963) as the ideal. For boarding of healthy cats the pleasure afforded by allowing some freedom in wired runs has to be balanced against the risk of spread of infection and must be decided by the veterinary surgeon.

In-patients often need to be admitted without much regard to ectoparasitism or immune status but in the case of boarders it is open to the veterinary surgeon to impose whatever conditions he may think fit in an attempt to avoid introduction of infection.

Whilst immunisation will be dealt with in more detail in relevant sections some mention of vaccination is desirable under the present heading.

Feline Enteritis—Panleukopenia

For this, vaccination is available. It should be a requirement that all cat boarders are vaccinated. The vaccine is a formalised tissue suspension; booster doses are necessary to maintain immunity at an effective level and the veterinary surgeon may reasonably require evidence of recent boosting before admission.

Feline Respiratory Viruses

In the light of recent work and the recognition of many strains of virus causing disease of the respiratory tract, together with the evidence that immunity may last weeks only, it is clear that effective long term vaccination is not feasible. It is, however, possible to obtain autogenous vaccine prepared from cases of infection which have occurred on the premises and to require that all cats admitted as boarders should receive this vaccine during the week preceding or on admission; by this means a serviceable level of immunity is afforded to cover an average stay in kennels.


Lay staff should be trained to examine every cat on admission for evidence of heavy ecto-parasitism as well as obvious disease. Cats heavily infested with fleas or lice may be refused admission or admitted only on the clear understanding that appropriate treatment will be

immediately instituted. Lesions of ringworm are often not apparent but reasonable care should be taken to look for obvious signs.

If long-haired cats are presented for admission with the coat in a neglected state this should be pointed out to the owner and a suitable note made on the admission record.

The foregoing are but some of the considerations the veterinary surgeon will have in mind to ensure that the worries and risks inseparable from having cat inmates on his premises are reduced to a minimum.


The normal expectation of life varies considerably and is probably an inherited factor. Some cats are aged and suffering senile changes in vital organs at 9 or 10 years whilst others are still symptom free at 20 or more. In a series of cats destroyed for neoplasia the following is the age distribution for those patients where a reasonably accurate age was available.


Years Number
4 2
6 6
7 5
8 8
9 9
10 12
11 8
12 11
13 9
14 9
15 7
16 4
17 2
18 2
20 1
+20 1

Clients often ask to what age they may expect their cats to live, an impossible question to answer unless a fairly full knowledge of close relations is available from which a rough estimate may be hazarded.

It is often justifiable to undertake major therapeutic techniques in cats of 14 years of age and more if the general health of the patient is good apart from the condition under immediate consideration.

Many old cats lose weight without any obvious evidence of defective health and this per se should not be taken as evidence of failure. The feline skeleton is less subject to degenerative changes such as osteoarthritis than that of the dog. Chronic nephritis is also less common.

Two reasons for euthanasia frequent in dogs are thus eliminated.

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