Domestic shorthaired cats are believed to be descendants of the Caffre cat, a species of African wildcat which was first tamed by the Egyptians as long ago as 2,500 BC. Cats were so revered in Egypt that they were sometimes mumified and buried with their owners. The Egyptian cat goddess, Bastet, had the body of a woman and the head of a cat and represented love and fertility. The Caffre cat was smuggled out of Egypt and traded by Phoenician sailors, and Romans probably were the first to bring domesticated cats to the British Isles. Many more were brought to Europe by Crusaders during the Middle Ages. These ancient cats inter-bred with smaller wildcats of the continent. The first domestic cats in North America arrived with the colonists.
Humans have often relied on cats for their hunting skills. In Egypt, cats kept the rodent population under control in the grain fields along the Nile. The Black Plague, a disease carried by rats across the continent of Europe during the 14th century, was perhaps eased by cats who continued to hunt the diseased rats and did not suffer from the plague. In North America, during the Gold Rush of the late 1800s, cats played an important role in keeping rats out of the gold mines. However, because of their nocturnal (night-time) hunting habits, humans have associated cats with witchcraft and devilment for many centuries. This association has been responsible for many acts of cruelty toward cats over hundreds of years.
Throughout their history, cats have remained approximately the same size, about 8 – 10 pounds at maturity. A number of breed differences have developed, but over time, cats have not varied a great deal in their physical appearance. The feline body is extremely flexible, with a skeleton consisting of more than 230 bones. (Humans have 206 bones.) The pelvis and shoulders of the cat are more loosely attached to the spine than in most other animals which walk on four legs. The front legs are connected to the body by muscles only – there is no “shoulder joint” as in most other mammals.
When a veterinarian evaluates your cat in the veterinary clinic, the age, sex, and living environment of the animal are top considerations. The general behavior of the cat and whether or not it is allowed to roam outdoors are things the doctor will want to know. The veterinarian will ask about the occurrence of vomiting, diarrhea, coughing, and sneezing. Diet, litter box habits, and the presence of other animals in the home are also important factors in determining the health of the patient. In addition, any significant weight loss in a feline patient could signal a serious health problem. (One pound in the cat is equal to about 15 – 20 pounds in a human.) Breed is usually not a strong consideration in the veterinary evaluation, although some breeds do tend to experience certain disease states more often than others.
Until recently, the two most common ways of giving medication to a cat have been by mouth, or by injection. Now, some medications can be given to cats through the skin in a dosage form called transdermal delivery. Cats have a simple stomach which is designed to handle large pieces of poorly chewed animal protein and fat. Because of this fact, it takes a very short time for any substance to pass from the stomach through the colon. Drugs that can be absorbed into the body very quickly can be given orally, but too much drug at once can cause considerable upset to the cat’s stomach, so oral medications are usually given in small doses more than once a day.
Transdermal delivery is a way to avoid stomach upset and to make giving the drug less traumatic to both you and your cat. When a medication can be given transdermally, the medicine is incorporated into a gel which is applied to the inside of the ear. If your cat requires oral medication, ask your veterinarian if the drug is one which can be given in this way. If the veterinarian works with a pharmacist to prepare this type of dosage form, be sure to consult the pharmacist about how to give the drug properly and about safe handling of the medication.
When a medication is given to a cat by injection, it is usually administered “subcutaneously.” This means it is injected into the tissue which lies just below the skin. Cats have a good deal of this tissue, and this injection sight is usually
more safe than injections given in muscle, which could cause nerve dais-::.–u- in the specialized feline body. If an intramuscular injection is required, the veterinarian will usually inject the large muscle in the thigh area.
Once the medication your cat is given is absorbed, the drug is carried through the circulatory system and through all organs. Since the chemical makeup of the cat is no different from other mammals, the distribution of most drugs is similar in cats as in other species. However, the liver and kidneys of the cat are quite different than other species and the proper dosages of many drugs are very different for cats than for other pets. Because the cat’s body processes medications in a special way, some drugs last longer in this animal and any dose other than the proper one for a cat may be extremely harmful. It is important to follow the directions your veterinarian gives for administering medication to your cat, and to keep medications intended for other pets or human members of your household, safely away from the reach of your cat.