Veterinary Treatment for Cats 1900

1900 Monkshood used to treat feline distemper
1900 Monkshood used to treat feline distemper. Photo by jenny downing
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It is interesting to read about veterinary cat care 1900 – 113 years ago. If it could be said that care for our cats as cat owners has not necessarily improved a great deal over this period of time, veterinary standards certainly have, thanks to science. To put things into context the British veterinary profession started in 1785.

Here are some cat ailments together with a brief reference to their treatment in 1900, England.

Distemper (Feline panleukopenia)

Link to symptoms and more about this disease.

Treatment 1900: Isolate cat in a warm room free of draughts. Sponge away mucus with warm water.

Bathing: “Bath the parts” with a mixture of:

  • Condy’s Fluid (one drachm) – Condy’s Fluid was invented in 1857 and was “a disinfectant solution” that could be taken internally or externally. It was also used on people and was one of those impossible, universal treatments that could also “destroy Canker and Fungus on Trees”! One drachm is one dram, which in turn is one sixteenth of an ounce in avoirdupois.
  • Warm water (a pint)

Medication: administer one drop of tincture of aconite in milk. Two hours later administer one drop of homeopathic solution of arsenic. Do this for three days and then once per day. “Aconite” is a herbal medicine derived from the plant “devil’s helmet or monkshood” (see picture). It is a toxin that requires careful application.

Food: provide nourishing foods. The best is “strong beef-tea”. Beef-tea was for sick people to build them up and increase appetite. It was a drink made from boiled lean beef.

By comparison: treatment 2013: today, there is a vaccination for this disease. It can kill kittens.

  • Fluid replacement replacing fluids lost by diarrhea and vomiting;
  • Keep warm;
  • Antibiotics;
  • Blood transfusions occasionally;
  • Supplemental nourishment.

External Parasites

Treatment 1900: only one medication was recommended: Pyrethrum powder sprinkled on the cat and the cat’s bedding. Pyrethrum powder is a reference to pyrethrin which is a natural extract of the African chrysanthemum flower. Today, 2013, the chemical can be made artificially. It is still used today for killing fleas. It is found in shampoos, sprays and dips etc. for dogs and cats.

Diarrhea (spelled “diarrhœa” in 1900)

Treatment 1900: “never allow a cat to continue with this ailment” – the classic advice, still applicable today, is, therefore, to deal with it quickly because a cat becomes dehydrated. Kittens are particularly vulnerable. Depending on the cat’s size, initially administer  a teaspoonful or dessertspoonful of castor oil. Three hours later “follow with the following mixture” (we are not told how to give this to the cat!).

  • Chalk – six grains
  • Laudanum – three drops
  • Water – one ounce

These ingredients are mixed together and “give a dessert-spoonful three times a day till cured”.

Dry arrowroot will also work for “an ordinary case”.

Note: a scientific study carried out in 2000 concluded:

“Arrowroot reduced diarrhoea and had a long-term effect on constipation. It also eased abdominal pain…Arrowroot is an effective treatment for diarrhoea.”

Today, the cause of the diarrhea is diagnosed and then this health problem is treated. There are also direct treatments for diarrhea such as Kaopectate.

Tape Worm

Treatment 1900: “Santonine” is suggested for the “expulsion of worms”. One to three grains of santonine should be added to milk and given after fasting for 6 hours. Santonine is used today as a homeopathic medicine.


“Five grains of santonine given to a child caused pain in the stomach, convulsions, insensibility and death..” (

It is used in very small amounts (!), in the treatment of “long worm—ascaris lumbricoides” in treating people.  Today, the treatment for tapeworm is a drug called Droncit. It has no connection with santonine.


It appears that the treatments in 1900 were based on treatments for people and were often herbal and homeopathic. No doubt there were some benefits and even cures but they were less effective. Vaccinations, antibiotics and drugs have improved things dramatically. The biggest problem, today, is getting people to take their cat to the vet, promptly.

Major reference: Domestic and Fancy Cats by John Jennings


8 thoughts on “Veterinary Treatment for Cats 1900”

  1. Very interesting Michael I found it particularly enlightening that the first thought was for the cat.

    I can’t understand either why people don’t take their pet to the vet ASAP. There’s also the Blue Cross for people on benefits and I’m sure there’s another charity for those who are struggling on the bread line.

  2. It’s a good thing vet medicine has moved on but not so good vets often order expensive tests rather than trying to diagnose and treat cats without putting them through the stress and fear of it.

    • The trouble is that vets are businesses. This can change the way they operate. It can work against good veterinary care.

      I always think it is wrong to make build a business around a companion animal. Best welfare will always be compromised by profit.

  3. This was especially interesting to me Michael as when I first started working for vets almost 50 years ago, although veterinary medicine had moved on a lot from 1900 it wasn’t of course as far advanced as it is now.
    Part of my training was in the dispensary and making up bottled medicines, we still spelled diarrhoea that way and kaolin was the base ingredient for it. There wasn’t all the tests there are now, although we did have a basic X Ray machine and I learned to use it and to develop them in a dark room.
    The vets listened to their clients those days and carefully examined the animal, where as nowadays almost their first thought is ‘tests’
    A downside was we did a lot of ‘exploratory laparotomies’ because we didn’t have endoscopes to look inside a pet without surgery.
    As the years went by, veterinary medicine did advance a lot by I retired and has moved on a lot more since and now it’s more about prevention rather than cure.
    You are right though, the biggest problem is getting people to take their cat to the vet especially now so many people are struggling to survive as everything is so much more expensive and money very tight.

    • I found your comment interesting in the way it described how vets’ behavior has changed from listening to the client to tests. I guess in the old tests were not so available so the vet became skilled at diagnosing from listening. There is a lot to be said for that technique today.

  4. Yes, I believe you are right. Get your cat to a vettery, promptly. That said, castor oil [WATCH THE DOSAGE!],. Give your kitten/cat not water, but ricewater to drink. (Cook rice, give the cat nothing but ricewater to drink…until diarrhea ceases.

  5. Michael, I think that the first three, at least, dealt with parasites. Watch the feces and the butt…whatever is in there will manifest itself if you are looking.


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