If you have been homesteading long, you may have found that having cats on the premises to control vermin is a helpful addition to your property. Since long before we started our homesteading endeavor, we have kept cats who did just that on our property, and it’s been a fantastically symbiotic relationship–we both benefit from each other. It’s one of homesteading’s finest features, when our animals can benefit us as we seek to provide a good life for them.
If you have been following me through the past few blogs that I have written, you might remember that we had Stormy, our elderly “huntress” cat who caught and fed on the gophers at our old place. She did that for a good 19 years for us, and recently passed of old age late in 2015. We miss her immensely, but the blow of losing her was cushioned a bit by our rescue of LouLou–a kitten of 4-5 weeks old who lost his mama back in August of 2013. Basically, Todd and I became his parents.
LouLou (now Lucas, since we found out that he is actually a male in early 2014) has become a fantastic hunter of vermin of all sorts here at our new farmstead. The neighborhood is his playground (don’t worry, he is neutered), and he patrols our property daily, keeping the mouse and lizard population under control.
We see him every few days when he is hungry, which tells me that he’s getting enough to eat by hunting. He’s a sweet but very independent boy, who often gets into fights, no doubt defending his property with all he has. It is not unusual for him to show up home with battle scars and small wounds which we lovingly treat with Vetericyn or salve for possible infection, and love for his bruised kitty-ego.
An Alarming Discovery
Last week, Lucas came home with a pretty horrific injury to his chin. It appeared as if a huge chunk of skin was missing, exposing the tissue. It alarmed me when we first saw it, and my first inclination was to take him to the vet. But as we examined it further it didn’t look like the type of wound that could be stitched up. And oddly, Luke wasn’t acting any differently than he normally does when he comes home. It was almost like he wasn’t injured at all. Todd and I talked about whether to rush him off to the vet or treat it here, watching daily for signs of lethargy, infection, and other telltale signs of emergency. We decided to do as much as we could here and watch him closely.
How We Came to Our Decision
Some very basic things to look for when determining whether you should take your animal to the vet are:
*Is he/she eating and drinking?
*Is he/she eliminating (peeing and pooping)?
*Does the injury look infected?
*Are there any broken bones?
*Does he/she appear lethargic?
*Is he/she vomiting or have diarrhea?
*Is he/she breathing ok?
*Does he/she have a temperature?
I’m sure there are more questions that could be helpful, but these ones will help you determine whether you should take your animal to the vet. If you are not comfortable determining that on your own, you can take note of the answers to these questions and call your vet with them.
In Luke’s case, he was eating, drinking, and eliminating fine (all over our carpet and bed, no less!), his injury did not look infected, and he was not lethargic at all. He had no broken bones, was breathing fine, and had no vomiting or diarrhea. We didn’t take his temperature, but would have had he shown signs of lethargy. We were comfortable keeping him at home under careful watch.
A Note of Clarification
I should mention here that being a homesteading, animal-keeping family tends to present opportunities (often unwelcome) to learn veterinary care–especially when there are no nearby veterinarians to see and treat the types of animals that you keep. Most vets tend to see dogs, cats, and birds–the “normal” pets that most of society tends to keep.
However, this is not so with some of the species of animals we keep–neither our goats, our chinchillas, our chickens, nor our rabbits have the benefit of close-by veterinary care, so basically, we are it (with any help the surrounding homesteading community can give us).
Even if there are nearby vets that will accept an office visit from any of these animals, it doesn’t mean they can do any more than what we are doing here. This was my experience when I sought a veterinarian to consult with for our chinchillas. It is often the case that pet and livestock owners know more about the veterinary care of the animal in question than your local vet does.
Having this kind of experience with veterinary care in exotic pets and livestock has often carried over into the veterinary care of our domesticated pets, which is the case here. This is why we are comfortable with performing some of the basic veterinary care for our dogs and cats, even in light of the fact that our vet is available to do the job.
The difference is that we have somewhere to take our dogs and cats if things don’t improve within a day or two, which is a plus to treating our domesticated friends. (See the bottom of this page for our disclaimer.)
Luke’s injury was pretty large, but didn’t look infected to my eye. Still, Abi (my daughter and lovely veterinary assistant) and I gathered him up and flushed out the wound with hydrogen peroxide. The scads of tiny bubbles all over the wound indicated that there was plenty of bacteria in the wound.
In the past years, I have tended to use hydrogen peroxide to flush wounds, but I have learned in the past year or so that using it can damage tissue and delay healing. In this case, I chose to use it on the first day because I was curious at how dirty the wound actually was. For the following 5 days, I used iodine (Betadine) to flush the wound instead of the peroxide.
I would have preferred to cut off the extra skin from around the wound, but Luke being as uncooperative as he was, I didn’t think that having even a blunt pair of scissors around that area would have been safe. I opted not to remove that skin, and within a couple of days, it fell off.
In addition to the daily flushes, I knew I needed to give him some sort of oral antibiotic to help his body fight off any emerging infection, and possibly a painkiller. I went to researching these things and wasn’t able to find an herbal painkiller that would be helpful enough to remove the pain, just barely dull it. He didn’t seem as if he was in pain that I could see, as he wasn’t protecting that area on his chin at all. I figured the oral herbal antiobiotic was going to be more important in this situation.
I had read before in my Herbs for Pets book and elsewhere about oregon grape root‘s anti-inflammatory and antibacterial/antimicrobial benefits. Since I had some oregon grape root extract on my shelf, I decided to use it in the dosage of one drop of extract (alcohol reduced or removed) 3x per day in at least one half ounce of liquid (I used whole cow’s milk or bone broth, but I would recommend bone broth over the milk due to the possibility of lactose intolerance in cats, which can cause stomach aches and diarrhea).
A Note About Extracts, Tinctures, and Dosages
Most of the time, herbal extracts (herbal extracts made with glycerin) are fine to use, depending upon the whether the herb is a safe one to use for cats. However, the extract that I was planning to use for Luke was still 12-15% alcohol, so I needed to try to reduce the amount of alcohol in the extract to make it safer for him (alcohol can cause anemia in cats). This method should be used when using tinctures for cats as well, or even better, sprinkle dried herbs over cat food or mix it into something yummy to administer the herbs to your kitty.
Calculating dosages for using extracts and tinctures for animals can be tricky, but can be done in the same way it is done to calculate dosages for children, providing the extracted/tinctured herb is safe for cats. I used the method in my Herbs for Pets book, which played out like this (based on dosage recommendations for a 150 lb. human):
Luke is 9.8lbs, which I rounded up to 10lbs.
10lbs/150lbs = .0666666667 (I rounded up to .07)
The recommended dosage for a 150lb human is 14-28 drops 3x per day, so….
.07 x 14 = .98 of a drop (I rounded up to 1 drop)
Because the dosage is 14-28 drops for a human, the dosage for a 10lb cat would be 1-2 drops, 3x per day.
Herbs for Pets recommends starting with the smaller dosage and watching for adverse reactions. Luke had no adverse reactions, but responded well to the (alcohol-reduced) extract, so while I could have upped his dosage to 2 drops 3x per day, I didn’t feel that he needed more than 3 drops per day total. However, since he only came home once per day, I felt the need to give him two drops for the first dosage (at the time of Betadine flush), then keep him in until lunch when I gave him his third drop. If he escaped before the third drop, at least he got 2/3 of the daily dose and the wound flush.
There is also a question of duration of herbal medications. Herbs for Pets recommends a “5 days on, 2 days off” therapy for animals, which will allow pet owners to monitor the animal’s response to the herb and dosage you are using. The book also recommends that if there is no visible improvement in the condition that is being treated after 7 days, it might be time to try another herb. With Luke, we gave him the oregon grape root for 5 days, then stopped. Since he is continuing to improve, I’ve opted to allow his system to take over on the healing process.
I would have liked to perhaps cover the wound since Luke insisted on going back outdoors on the second day of treatment. I was ready to let him out as well rather than sop cat pee out of my carpet and wash my sheets every day. However, since Luke is such an active cat–and wasn’t showing any signs of slowing down at all–I did not choose to cover the wound, as I was afraid it might get caught on something and perhaps injure him further. In the event that the injury was elsewhere on his body, or perhaps somewhere that he could get at it and irritate it further, I would have covered it. I felt my only choice was to flush it out daily and hope for the best. In hindsight, I’m sure I could have made a calendula salve with oregon grape root extract and covered the wound with that, providing extra antimicrobial protection to the open wound. Here is the progression of the healing for the first 4 days. I’ll be adding more photos once I can catch him and get him to cooperate with me for the camera.
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We are thankful for the success that we are having in treating our Luke this way, but please understand we started this with some trepidation, knowing that it may not work out the way we would like for it to. In the cases where we take it upon ourselves to perform herbal wound care for cats, we are always open to visiting a vet if need be. However, with every success we experience in treating our animals at home, we gain more confidence for next time we are up against a situation like this. It’s just another way we learn to be a little more sufficient in our own homesteading skills.
Herbs for Pets by Wulff and Tilford
Removing Alcohol from Herbal Tinctures
Cautions Regarding Herbs, Alcohol, and Preservatives