HOME MEDICAL CARE - The Well Cat Book: The Classic Comprehensive Handbook of Cat Care - Terri McGinnis

The Well Cat Book: The Classic Comprehensive Handbook of Cat Care - Terri McGinnis (1996)




Although the average cat has few illnesses requiring prolonged hospitalization during his or her lifetime, many minor illnesses can become severe if proper home care is not provided. Most veterinarians are anxious to have your cat recuperate at home if you can provide adequate nursing. It also saves money and will draw you closer to your animal. This section is designed to give you the information you need for basic home nursing. If you become familiar with its contents you should be able to treat at home most minor illnesses diagnosed by your veterinarian. In cases where there are no alternatives to hospitalization, familiarity with basic nursing techniques should allow the hospital stay to be shortened and more of the convalescence to occur at home.


If your cat has a serious illness, regular and accurate record keeping is invaluable for the veterinarian helping you treat your cat at home. Take your cat’s temperature at least once daily (preferably around the same time) and record the values. Record how much your cat eats and drinks, the frequency of urination and the type of bowel movements passed. This, of course, requires that your cat be kept indoors and a litter box be provided. In some instances it is best to confine the recovering cat to one room or a small area; other times the cat can be allowed to wander freely around the house. Your veterinarian can help you decide on the best kind of confinement. In no instance, however, should a sick cat be allowed to roam unsupervised outdoors. Sick cats frequently disappear, only to be found later in much worse condition than when they left, or else never return at all. Additional helpful information to keep in your records includes an indication of the times and amounts of medication given and a record of any unusual signs (e.g., vomiting) that develop or any other change in condition. Take these records with you whenever you visit the veterinarian.


Use a rectal thermometer to take your cat’s temperature. An oral thermometer can be used in a pinch, but the bulb is more likely to break off. Before inserting the thermometer into the rectum, shake the mercury column down below 99° F (37.2°C) and lubricate the tip of the thermometer with any nontoxic, greasy substance (petroleum jelly, lubricant jelly, vegetable oil). Place your cat on a table or other level platform, hold your cat’s tail up with one hand, and insert the thermometer into the rectum with a firm, gentle push. You may feel some resistance to the thermometer just after you pass it through the anus; this is due the cat’s strong internal anal sphincter muscle. When you encounter this resistance just continue to push gently but firmly until the muscle relaxes and allows the thermometer to pass, or rotate the thermometer gently. This is most easily done with the cat standing, but can be done while he or she sits or lies down. How far you need to insert the thermometer to get an accurate rectal temperature depends on the size of the cat—an inch to an inch and one-half (2.5 to 3.75 cm) is usually sufficient. If you feel the thermometer go into a fecal mass when you insert it, try again. The thermometer should be left two or three minutes although many thermometers will register an accurate temperature in about one minute. (Helpful information if you have an uncooperative cat!)



To read the thermometer, roll it back and forth between your fingers until you can see the thin mercury column inside. The point where the column stops is the temperature. Each large mark indicates one degree, each small mark two-tenths of a degree. Normal is usually 101.0 to 102.5°F (38.3 to 39.2°C).


For how to take your cat’s pulse and measure the heart rate.


The only way to be sure your cat has really swallowed medication in pill, capsule, or tablet form is to administer it in the following way: Place your cat on a table or other similar platform and get your pet to sit or stand relatively quietly. Grasp the pill between the thumb and forefinger of one hand so you have it ready to administer. Then place the opposite hand over the top of your cat’s head, thumb and index finger near the corners of the mouth as illustrated and tilt the head backward until the nose points toward the ceiling. Press against the cat’s lips with your index finger and thumb to open the mouth and use the third finger of your pill-containing hand to hold the lower jaw open. Then quickly drop or place the pill over the back of the cat’s tongue. (With practice, you can give the pill a quick and gentle shove with your index finger to send it on its way down the throat.) Then immediately allow the cat’s mouth to close and hold it lightly closed until the pill is swallowed. If your cat licks his or her nose as soon as you release your grip, you can be fairly certain the medication has been swallowed. (To be successful be sure to keep the cat’s nose pointed upward during the whole procedure.) If pilling is to be successful it is extremely important to perform these maneuvers quickly and smoothly. If you spend too long in preparation, an uncooperative cat has mustered his or her full counterforces by the time you actually attempt to give the drug, and you are destined for failure. Although it may seem difficult at first, with a little practice giving medication in solid form to all but the fiercest cats becomes very easy. For these cats, tubular plastic pill “guns” are available in pet supply stores or through your veterinarian to hold the tablets, pills, or capsules and shoot them into the back of the cat’s throat. In preparation for the day when you may have to nurse your cat at home, it is a good idea to go through the motions of administering medication to develop your skill while your cat is still young, cooperative, and healthy. You can use a small piece of dry kibble as a practice pill. If you have trouble with the above-described traditional restraint method and/or your cat is an uncooperative type, you can try the alternative method illustrated at right. This method (sometimes called the Hilton technique in honor of the veterinarian who first published it) induces many cats to reflexively remain still while their ears are grasped and their neck is turned sharply.




Problems most often occur when the pill is not placed or dropped properly over the base of the tongue. If you drop the pill off center or not far enough back, the cat will spit it out or bite into it. If this happens and the cat is still cooperative, try again. Many times when this occurs the cat tastes the medication and begins to drool profusely. This is no cause for concern, but usually requires that you wait a few minutes before trying to administer the medication again. Buttering uncoated tablets helps with this problem and is also useful if the pills don’t seem slippery enough or seem a little on the large side. If you find it absolutely impossible to give solid medication in the manner described you can try crushing a tablet or pill (pill cutters and crushers are available at drugstores) or emptying the contents of a capsule and mixing the drug thoroughly with a small portion of meat or some other favorite food. Sometimes the medicine can be mixed with water and administered as a liquid. Most medicines taste so bad, however, that a sick cat will not take them voluntarily in food or liquid. So if it can be avoided, do not use these methods of administration. You can never be sure that your cat has taken all the medication when it is administered in food, and some drugs are inactivated in the presence of food. If you grind an enteric-coated (coated to be absorbed in the intestine) tablet or empty the contents of a capsule into food you may be preventing normal absorption of the drug from the gut. Coverings are often designed to remain intact until the drug reaches the part of the gut where it is best and most safely absorbed.



The simplest way to give your cat liquid medication is to squirt it into the back of the mouth using an eyedropper or syringe (hypodermic or infant ear type). For most liquid medicines your veterinarian will provide you with the tool necessary to administer the medication; if not, request the necessary item and also request a demonstration of its use. To administer a liquid, grasp your cat’s head as if you were going to give a pill, then slip the dropper between the rear teeth and squirt in the liquid; or if the mouth is open far enough, just squirt the liquid onto the back of the tongue. Keep the cat’s nose pointed upward while the liquid is swallowed. Otherwise, the cat will tend to shake his or her head and spit out the medicine. Give only small amounts at a time (¼ teaspoonful, 1 cc) and allow swallowing to occur between each portion to avoid causing the cat to choke or inhale the liquid.



Since lack of appetite (anorexia) accompanies many feline illnesses, coaxing or force-feeding is often necessary to insure that sufficient calories and nutrients are consumed and to maintain the nutritional health necessary to the vital functions and repair of injured or diseased tissues. The effects of one day without food, of course, are not irreversible, but prolonged refusal to eat forces the cat’s body to draw upon its own vital tissues to obtain the calories necessary for survival. If this process is allowed to continue for too long it can itself result in death although the original disease would not have. Water is also very important to your cat’s health and recovery, since dehydration begins as soon as water intake does not meet daily water need. (For more about dehydration). Water can be administered by the techiques used for force-feeding liquids, and since most foods used for force-feeding contain a high proportion of water, hand administration of food helps meet the cat’s daily water need. Use the following information about hand-feeding whenever your veterinarian suggests that it is necessary and to help stabilize a sick cat’s condition until veterinary help can be obtained. Do not, though, use hand-feeding in lieu of a diagnosis; unless proper treatment is given, hand-feeding alone cannot usually bring a cat back to health.

Liquid diets can be force-fed to a sick cat in the same way liquid medication is given. It is easier to feed solid or semisolid diets by using your finger or a tongue depressor (available in drugstores) to wipe the food onto the roof of your cat’s mouth. (Grasp the cat’s head as if giving a pill. Insert your finger or the tongue depressor full of food and wipe it against the roof of the mouth.) Solid food can also be given rolled into small pellets like pills.

You can use any nutritionally complete commercial food for hand-feeding a sick cat; just remember to take the time to feed enough to supply your cat’s daily caloric needs (about 30 to 40 calories per pound, 65 to 85/kg daily for an adult). Multiple small feedings will be necessary in most cases. Strained baby foods are often easier to administer than the usual commercial foods. Strained egg yolk is best because of its high calorie content and high digestibility, but if your cat finds meat flavors more palatable, you can use strained chicken, turkey, lamb, or beef baby foods, adding two egg yolks per 3-ounce jar (for a high-protein, high-calorie diet) or 1 tablespoon corn oil and 1 tablespoon corn syrup per 3-ounce jar (for a high-fat, high-calorie diet) or a combination of egg yolks, oil, and/or corn syrup. Corn syrup and corn oil may also be added to egg baby foods to liquify them while increasing the calorie and carbohydrate or fat content. Feed an adult cat at least four jars of plain strained egg yolk or two jars of baby food or egg yolk mixture daily. If necessary your veterinarian can supply you with special dietary products designed specifically for hand-feeding sick cats. In addition to foods, you should provide a balanced vitamin-mineral supplement as recommended by your veterinarian while your cat is sick to meet his or her daily vitamin-mineral needs and any increased requirements caused by the illness.


Feed no more than 1 to 2 tablespoonfuls (½ to 1 ounce, 15 to 30 ml) food or liquid per pound body weight at each feeding, or vomiting is likely to occur. Maintain your cat’s proper hydration by measuring his or her water intake and supplementing it by hand as necessary to provide about 2 to 2 ½ tablespoonfuls per pound body weight (65 to 80 ml/kg) daily. (You can use milk if it doesn’t cause diarrhea.) Don’t forget that water or other liquids mixed with foods to liquify them for force-feeding contribute to meeting the cat’s daily water need. If you find that your cat has signs of dehydration and is not improving as expected with hand-feeding and your other treatments, be sure to consult your veterinarian. Sometimes only the specialized techniques available in veterinary hospitals can fill the needs of a sick cat.




Strained egg yolk baby food

34 per ounce (30 per ml)

Strained beef baby food

13 per ounce (30 per ml)

Strained lamb baby food

16 per ounce (30 per ml)

Strained turkey or chicken baby food

20 per ounce (30 per ml)

Egg yolk (medium)


Whole egg (medium)


Whole milk

20 per ounce (30 per ml)


60 per tablespoonful (20 per g)

Corn syrup

55 per tablespoonful (20 per g)

Corn oil

70 per tablespoonful (8 per g)

For calorie content of commercial cat foods.

Any of the above foods are suitable for making hand-feeding mixtures for sick cats unless the illness requires a special diet. If a mixture must be fed longer than two or three days strict attention must be paid to nutritional balance. Therefore commercial products are probably best for long-term feeding. Whole eggs should be cooked (e.g., soft boiled) before feeding or mixing with other foods. Add no more than 1 tablespoonful of corn syrup or honey and 1 tablespoonful of corn oil per 3-ounce jar of baby food unless otherwise directed by your veterinarian. Add milk, meat or chicken broth, or water as necessary to liquify the foods for hand administration and to help meet the sick cat’s daily fluid requirement.


Ophthalmic ointments are most easily applied into the conjunctival sac. Use your thumb or forefinger to roll the lower eyelid gently downward and squeeze the ointment into the space exposed. Approaching the eye from the outside corner helps prevent the cat from seeing the tip of the tube and can facilitate instillation of the medication. Eyedrops should be instilled with the cat’s nose tilted silghtly upward. Use one hand to grasp the cat’s muzzle and hold the lower lid open. Rest the base of the hand holding the dropper bottle above the eye to hold the upper lid open, then drop in the medication. Avoid touching the end of the ointment tube or dropper bottle to the eye to prevent contamination of the solution and injury to the eye.



When your cat’s ears become inflamed a more thorough cleaning than you give them routinely is often necessary. In most cases inflamed ears should be examined by a veterinarian, and if cleaning is necessary it should be done by a veterinarian who will have the necessary tools for observing the ear canal and eardrum during and after cleaning. Also, if the ears seem painful when touched, anesthesia is usually necessary to make most cats hold still for a thorough and safe ear cleaning. Fortunately, instances when ear cleaning in cats is necessary are infrequent.


Veterinarians use several methods for cleaning ears. In one method a rubber bulb syringe filled with warm water-antiseptic soap solution or a wax-dissolving solution is inserted into the ear canal and used to flush the fluid in and out of the ear. This is done several times and is followed by clear water or antiseptic rinses. The clean ear canal is dried with cotton swabs and appropriate ear medication is instilled. Another method relies on cotton-tipped swabs and the use of an instrument called an ear loop to remove debris.

If you cannot take your cat to a veterinarian, the best way to clean his or her ears at home is to use a cotton swab in the following manner. Grasp the end of the pinna and hold it straight up over the cat’s head. Insert the swab into the ear canal parallel to the side of the head. You cannot damage the eardrum if you keep the swab vertical and parallel to the side of the head, but even if you don’t, cat’s ear canals are so narrow that it would be difficult to reach the eardrum with a cotton-tipped swab unless you were very rough and forceful. Use the swab to clean out debris before you start medication and once daily to remove old medication before instilling the new. Turn the swab gently and try to lift out debris rather than compacting it. Only a rare cat will allow you to clean the ears with the bulb syringe method without anesthesia. If you try it, warm any solution you use to body temperature and flush the fluids in and out gently until all debris is removed. Do not wedge the syringe into the ear to form a tight seal as the pressure can build up in the ear canal sufficiently to rupture the eardrum. After flushing the ear dry the canal gently with cotton-tipped swabs.



After your cat’s ears are cleaned you will usually have to instill medication in them at least daily for one or two weeks. Many ear preparations are sold in containers with long nozzles that are placed into the ear canal. Liquids can be dropped into the canal. After the medicine is in the canal, grasp the lower part of the auricular cartilage through the skin and massage it up and down vigorously. If you are doing it properly you will hear the medicine squishing around inside the ear. This will spread the medication down the length of the ear canal and is a very important part of caring for the ear properly. Once daily before instilling new medication it’s a good idea to partially clean the ear to remove old medication and accumulated debris. Use a cotton swab as described above or wrap your finger in a soft cloth or tissue and clean out the ear as far as covered finger will reach.


Unlike well-trained and frequently handled dogs, most cats cannot be commanded to sit, stand, or lie quietly while unpleasant nursing procedures are performed. So to be successful in caring for your cat’s health at home you need to learn the best ways to provide restraint when necessary to avoid injury to yourself and your cat and to allow the nursing procedure to be carried out. Cats vary greatly in their personalities, and restraint must be tailored to the individual. The best general rule to follow is to use the minimum amount of restraint necessary to achieve your goal. Never use two people when one is adequate, and always try the gentlest method first, unless you know from experience with the cat that very firm restraint is necessary. All the basic home nursing procedures explained in this section are described as if performed by one person, since most cats begin to struggle when firm restraint is applied and since gentle control is the least stressful for the cat. If you find that these simple methods don’t work for you, provide more firm control as necessary, but be sure to proceed firmly (not roughly) and deliberately or as the cat begins to object, you will lose your grip and may be scratched or bitten.

Never attempt treatment with the cat on the floor, on the bed, couch, or in your lap unless the cat is very cooperative. To achieve the best success place the cat on a smooth-surfaced table or other level platform that allows you to stand alongside. The simplest form of restraint involves the use of one hand and/or arm, leaving the other free for treatment. Light restraint includes placing one hand firmly over the cat’s shoulders while he or she lies down or placing a hand in front of the chest while the cat is standing or sitting, to prevent forward movement. One arm wrapped around the cat’s body, so the cat’s head is held between your arm and body and so your hand can grasp his or her tail, provides good restraint for many procedures involving the rear legs and tail, as well as for taking a cat’s temperature (see illustration). For more control grasp the cat’s scruff (skin at the base of the neck) tightly and firmly or grasp the cat at the base of skull and press firmly with your thumb and fingers just below the ears. When using one of these methods, you can, if necessary, rest the arm of your restraining hand down on the cat’s back to give you greater control. If these simple holding methods fail and you have no one to help you, try rolling the cat in a towel or placing the cat in a pillowcase. To give oral medication, allow the cat’s head to protrude, then follow the directions given for administering solid or liquid medicines. For other treatment just expose the area that needs care while leaving the rest of the cat covered. It is not always necessary to physically roll a cat in a towel. A towel just placed over an uncooperative cat often seems to provide a calming effect and will sometimes allow you to grasp and treat an otherwise “impossible” patient. If at any time during these or the following procedures the cat begins to pant or becomes visibly weaker, stop your restraint and allow the cat to regain strength and composure before proceding. Weak cats overly stressed by fighting restraint may collapse.




Having two people working together makes nursing a very uncooperative cat much easier. When giving oral medication, your assistant can wrap his or her arms around the cat and grasp the front legs firmly, applying downward pressure to prevent the cat from reaching up while you handle the head and mouth. Or your assistant can wield the towel if you find that it is easier to give treatment with the cat partially covered. For other instances when firm restraint must be used your assistant can hold the cat in one of the following illustrated ways. Trimming the cat’s toenails prior to restraint can be helpful. Do not attempt any restraint procedures for cats if you are unwilling to risk a scratch or bite since even the most experienced veterinarian is occasionally injured when handling a difficult cat.





Although most veterinarians rarely muzzle a cat and the times you would have to do it are few, a muzzle can be very helpful when treating a cat whom you know bites or when moving an injured cat. A muzzle must be applied beforeattempting to move or handle the cat. It is difficult, if not impossible, to apply one properly to an already aroused and struggling cat.

The traditional muzzle is made from a long strip of cord, gauze bandage, or cloth. Form a loop and slip it over the cat’s nose as far as possible. Draw the loop tightly around the nose with the ends under the chin. Then bring an end along each side of the cat’s head and tie them together firmly at the nape of the neck. Now slip one end of the bandage under the nose loop as illustrated, bring it back to the nape of the neck, and tie the ends tightly. If the muzzle is applied properly the cat’s biting efforts will be ineffective, and the muzzle itself may provide enough distraction for the cat for you to be able to complete the treatment. Washable nylon muzzles that slip over the face of a cat and have quick release Velcro strap closures that wrap along the sides of the face and around the back of the neck are now commercially available. They are much easier and safer to apply to a fractious cat than the traditional type. Purchase one through your veterinarian or other pet supplier if your cat is uncooperative. Place it in your first aid kit for use in emergencies.




Wounds that require repeated cleansing at home are infected traumatic wounds and abscesses. These wounds are left open or partially open when treated to allow pus drainage and cleaning. Other fresh wounds usually need only a simple disinfection and/or cleansing when they are physically contaminated with foreign material such as dirt, plant parts, or hair.


Solutions of povidone-iodine (0.001% to 1%) or chlorhexidine (0.05%) can be made up at home from stronger antiseptic solutions purchased in a drugstore or directly from your veterinarian. (For information on hydrogen peroxide.) If the opening of the wound is large enough, you can pour disinfectant directly into it. A bulb syringe or turkey baster can be used to flush the solution into smaller wounds, providing you are careful not to build up excessive pressure that could force foreign material further into the surrounding soft tissue. The disinfectant can be applied to a gauze pad or cotton-tipped swab that can be inserted into very small wounds. As the solution is instilled, it may sting. Some cats find this uncomfortable. Clean the wound until the visible tissue looks free of foreign debris and/or until the solution runs clear. Repeat the cleansing once or twice a day if there is a tendency for debris to reaccumulate. Since the stronger antiseptic concentrations also damage normal tissues, stop the daily application as soon as the wound has finished draining.

Simple wounds usually heal most rapidly when left uncovered. In cases where the wound is continually becoming contaminated or when the cat licks at the area so much that it cannot heal or is made worse, it must be protected. Fortunately these occasions are rare with cats because bandages are more difficult to apply and to keep on these small animals than on larger ones such as dogs.


A light bandage for a foot can be made by placing an infant’s or doll’s stocking over it and taping the sock to the leg with several wraps of adhesive tape applied to the top of the sock and the leg. (Be sure the tape is loose enough to allow normal blood circulation to the foot.) This type of wrap leaves most of the sock loose and allows some air circulation. It is best for covering the nails of the rear feet to prevent damage when a cat is scratching an area or to protect the bandaged foot from licking. Ointments can be applied under such bandages, and the sock will keep the medication on the foot and off the carpet.

When cats object to a lightweight bandage such as the stocking and repeatedly tear it off, a more substantial foot bandage can be made by covering the whole stocking with tape or by using roll or tubular gauze and adhesive tape. Before applying a substantial bandage try to pad the areas between the toes with small pieces of cotton. Depending on the site of the wound, you may want to cover it with a gauze or nonstick wound pad. Wrap the foot firmly with the roll gauze applying several layers vertically as well as around the foot. Follow the gauze with adhesive tape. First apply several tape strips vertically, then wrap more tape around the area to be covered. The long vertical strips not only form the end of the bandage, but help prevent it from wearing through. Try to apply even pressure from the toes to the top of the bandage so normal circulation to the foot is maintained. Don’t be too concerned if your first bandage doesn’t stay in place. A little practice is required to learn how to apply a bandage to a cat’s paw properly so it won’t slip off, and it is much safer to apply a bandage too loosely than too tightly.



Flexible wire or electrical tape may be wrapped over the bandage to help prevent your cat from chewing at it and removing it. Usually, however, such measures are not necessary. After a few minutes of vigorous objection, most cats begin to tolerate these artificial coverings. Bandages should be changed at least every third day unless your veterinarian directs you differently.


Many-tailed bandages can be made from any rectangular or square piece of clean cloth. These bandages are best used to try to prevent a cat from licking at a wound (e.g., incision following surgery) or to help cover open wounds such as abscesses to prevent wound drainage from damaging carpeting or furniture. If necessary, gauze or cotton padding may be placed between the wound and the bandage. This type of bandage is useful to help you cover an area on the neck, abdomen, or back, but don’t be surprised if your cat wriggles out of even the best one. An infant T-shirt can serve the same purpose as a many-tailed bandage and usually remains in place better. It is especially effective if a string or ribbon is run through the hem tunnel to provide a drawstring.



A rare cat will not leave wounds or other irritations alone no matter what bandaging method you try. Also, there are occasional wounds, such as those on the head, that cannot be easily protected by bandaging. In these instances you can try an Elizabethan collar.




Ready-made plastic or cardboard Elizabethan collars can be purchased at some pet stores or from veterinarians. Or you can make one from heavy cardboard as illustrated. This device will prevent most cats from disturbing wounds on their bodies and will prevent the scratching of head or ear wounds. A determined cat can usually wriggle out of even the best applied collar, so be prepared to apply it several times and to administer tranquilizers if recommended by your veterinarian while your cat adjusts to the collar. Also, many cats cannot or will not eat or drink while wearing an Elizabethan collar. Be sure to allow for this by removing the collar when you are home to supervise the cat. Also be sure you know the cause of the problem. A collar will prevent your cat from scratching at his or her ears, for example, but if ear mites are present it won’t eliminate them.


Drugs are identified by their formal chemical name, their generic name, and their brand (proprietary) name. The generic name is usually simpler and easier to remember than the formal chemical name. For example, acetylsalicylic acid is the formal chemical name for the drug with the generic name, aspirin. If your veterinarian needs to write a prescription, request that he or she uses the generic drug name rather than the brand name, if possible. This allows the pharmacist to give you the same drug usually for less money than the brand-name drug would cost. However, keep in mind that some generic drugs have been shown to be badly formulated and it is not always possible to make a successful substitution.

In general, veterinary drugs are the same as human drugs, but less expensive when they are sold under a veterinary label. However, many veterinarians dispense the drugs you need instead of writing prescriptions for you to take to a pharmacy. Although veterinary hospitals make a profit from this practice, for the most part dispensing needed medication this way is a convenience for you and may be less expensive than purchasing the equivalent medicine at a drugstore. If you would like to comparison shop, ask your veterinarian for a written prescription so that you can take it to several pharmacies. In some cases there are no equivalent human drugs or appropriate dosage sizes available and you must purchase the drug in the veterinary clinic. Some companies sell drugs directly to people who are not veterinarians. In some cases the drugs are the same ones veterinarians use. In other cases, however, they are less effective or more likely to be toxic than the drugs a veterinarian would choose. I believe that many of the companies that sell these drugs to the public are interested primarily in profits, not animal health. They usually make few attempts to be sure the drugs are used properly and sometimes fail to warn of possible side effects. Try to avoid such drugs unless recommended by a veterinarian you trust.

All drugs dispensed by a pharmacist or veterinarian should be labeled with the generic or brand name, expiration date, concentration, and clear directions for use. This avoids misunderstanding in treatment and helps others who may treat the case later. Since drugs are helpers, not magic potions, your veterinarian should not be secretive about what is being dispensed. Neither should you regard drugs as universal panaceas to be dispensed and used without caution. Caution is particularly important when prescribing medication for cats because they have many idiosyncracies of metabolism that may cause them to react unfavorably to many drugs considered ordinary for use in people or in dogs. Follow your veterinarian’s directions for prescription use carefully, and do not use any drug unless it has been recommended by a veterinarian or other reputable source for use in your cat. Also keep in mind that drugs are changing all the time. Although some generic drugs safe for use in cats are mentioned in this book, better drugs may become available after this book is published. Your veterinarian is usually the best source for the most current information.


Technically, antibiotics are chemical substances produced by microscopic organisms that interfere with the growth of other microorganisms. In practice, antibiotics include a large number of substances, many synthetically made, that are used primarily in the treatment of bacterial infections. Antibiotics are miracle drugs when properly used. They enable us to cure infections that in the past would have certainly been fatal. They can, however, be easily misused.

All antibiotics are not effective against all bacteria. A veterinarian’s decision to use a particular antibiotic is based on the probable bacterium causing the disease and/or the results of laboratory tests in which the infective organisms are grown and tested for antibiotic sensitivity. If the wrong antibiotic is chosen, there is no beneficial effect. If the proper antibiotic is chosen and given at the correct dosage, growth of the bacteria is stopped or at least controlled sufficiently that the body’s own natural defense systems can overcome the infection. If the antibiotic is not given as frequently as prescribed or if the medication is discontinued too soon, forms of bacteria resistant to the antibiotic may multiply, or the infection may recur. Antibiotics are not always effective alone. Other drugs and special nursing techniques must often be combined with their use. In cases of localized infection such as abscesses, antibiotic treatment must often be used with proper surgical intervention for success.

Many people seem to believe that antibiotics are useful in combating any infectious or febrile disease. This is certainly untrue. A particularly common case where antibiotics may be of no help is the viral infection.


Viruses exist in body cells and depend on the cells metabolic process for reproduction. Since the methods of viral metabolism are unlike those of bacteria, which for the most part survive outside of cells and multiply independently, drugs effective against bacteria are ineffective against viruses. When antibiotics are prescribed for use during viral infection, it is to combat bacteria that invade after the virus has weakened the animal (secondary infection). There are very few drugs available for treatment of viral infections. Since viral reproduction is so intimately tied to normal cellular function, most drugs found effective against viruses also destroy body cells.


Like other drugs, most antibiotics have potential side effects. Since bacteria are single-celled organisms similar in many ways to individual body cells, antibiotics can sometimes act against body cells in ways similar to the ways they adversely affect bacteria. Among the possible side effects are allergic reactions, toxic effects, alteration of metabolism, and alteration of normal (and beneficial) bacteria inhabiting the body. A good veterinarian will tell you if there are any side effects you should watch for when antibiotics are prescribed. Side effects can be made more likely by the use of outdated drugs, combining antibiotics with certain other drugs, and by certain illnesses.

Indiscriminate use of antibiotics is to be avoided. Use with proper guidance will avoid toxic effects and stem the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Be glad, not disappointed, if your veterinarian feels that the condition can be treated without antibiotics (or other drugs) and sends you away empty-handed. And don’t use leftover antibiotics unless directed to by your veterinarian. Antibiotics are available over the counter as ointments for topical (on the body surface) use. Common effective ones contain bacitracin, neomycin, and/or polymixin B. These are suitable for applying to superficial wounds to achieve a local antibacterial effect. They should not be applied into deep wounds, as the carrier ointment for the drugs may interfere with healing.


Adrenocortical steroids (corticosteroids) include hormones produced by the adrenal glands and synthetic drugs similar to these natural substances. This group of drugs has a wide range of actions on the body, among them effects on fat, protein, and carbohydrate metabolism, water balance, salt balance, and cardiovascular, immune system, and kidney function. They are very important in the individual’s ability to resist certain environmental changes and noxious stimuli.

Steroid drugs are commonly used in veterinary medicine for their antiinflammatory effects (for example, to give relief from itching due to allergies or other skin diseases). Because of the remarkable response sometimes possible following administration, some pet owners and some veterinarians are inclined to misuse these drugs. Keep in mind that steroid drugs are only palliative, relieving but not curing disease, unless the condition is caused by deficiency of adrenal gland function. Also, keep in mind that steroids are not without side effects. Although they are safe, even lifesaving when used properly, misused they constitute a threat to your cat’s health. Avoid preparations containing steroids sold in pet stores and rely on the advice of a good veterinarian regarding the use of steroids in maintaining the health of your cat. Some names of common steroid drugs are prednisone, prednisolone, cortisone, hydrocortisone, triamcinolone, betamethasone, flumethasone, and dexamethasone. Some have less wideranging effects than others.



Tranquilizers are drugs that work on the brain in several different ways to modify behavior. They have legitimate uses in relieving anxiety and producing sedation, and have been helpful in some instances in changing undesirable behavior patterns. Veterinarians use tranquilizers most often to relieve the anxiety that makes some cats uncooperative when they enter veterinary hospitals, and as preanesthetics. Other common reasons for tranquilizing cats include prolonged confinement (as when traveling), noisy situations (as when being shipped), for appetite stimulation, and for sedation to prevent self-trauma (as in wound licking).

If you can anticipate the need for tranquilization, it is best to discuss the pros and cons with your veterinarian who can then write a prescription for tranquilizing drugs. Cats sometimes react unfavorably to tranquilizers and once tranquilized become less cooperative and more “ferocious” than before. If an unanticipated need arises, two human tranquilizers that can be used in cats are diazepam (Vallium) and chlorpromazine (Thorazine). In such situations call your veterinarian and ask about the advisability of using the drug you have, and ask what the correct dose for your cat should be. Over-the-counter pet tranquilizers contain antihistamines (such as methapyrilene) and other drugs (e.g., scopolamine) that produce sedation normally thought of as a side effect of their normal uses. In high doses such drugs may produce excitement or may be toxic to cats, and their use is not recommended. Do not use tranquilizers merely for your own convenience; attempt to deal with recurrent problems by training (conditioning your cat to the situation). Do not use tranquilizers to sedate your cat following trauma or severe injury (e.g., being hit by a car); they can have undesirable side effects on blood pressure in such situations and can contribute to shock.


Aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) is a common household drug that is often misused when owners attempt to treat their cats. It relieves fever, mild pain, and has some antiinflammatory effects, but is not a specific cure for any disease. Aspirin relieves fever by acting on the brain biochemistry to reset the body’s “thermostat.” It is believed to do this by inhibiting the production of prostaglandins in the preoptic region of the anterior hypothalamus. Prostaglandins, formed in the body cells by metabolism of fatty acids, are potent chemical mediators of inflammation. Aspirin also relieves local pain and blocks inflammation in tissues by interfering with the formation of prostaglandins. It is known that aspirin can be very toxic to cats in dosages safe for other animals. Misused aspirin can cause severe signs of illness, including vomiting, weakness, lack of appetite, hypersensitivity, blood in the stool, and convulsions. Stomach ulcerations and death have often followed the misuse of aspirin in cats. Since the indications for use of aspirin in cats are few, do not administer aspirin at home. Let your veterinarian decide whether aspirin is necessary and advise you how to administer it so overdosage and toxicity do not occur.

Other nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs often used by people such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen are even more highly toxic to cats than aspirin. Never administer them to your pet.


The use of antacids is discussed.


The use of drugs with laxative action is discussed.


For how to use hydrogen peroxide to clean wounds and abscesses. To use it to induce vomiting.


You can try isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) for treatment of inflamed ears.


To use over-the-counter antifungal medications such as miconazole or clotrimazole.