THE CAT: A Complete Authoritative Compendium of Information About Domestic Cats, by Muriel Beadle (Simon & Schuster, $9.95) is definitely the pick of the litter for those who have been at the mercy of their vets for understanding the basic biology of felix domestica. From the physics of skeleton and claws to the reasons why a cat's peculiar susceptibility to leukemia (no link yet established to humans), to the fact that a cat can only give you 76 communicable diseases, whereas Fido transmits 116, this is a scholarly, comprehensive and very readable book.
THE BOOK OF CATS, edited by George MacBeth and Martin Booth (Morrow, $25) and THE LITERARY CAAT, by Walter Chandoha (Lippincott, $10) are two volumes that combine literary testaments to the feline character with a handsome selection of cat art. The Book of Cats is both more attractive and more expensive, combining excerpts from writers like T. S. Eliot, Henry Fielding, Edgar Allan Poe, and Mark Twain (including Keats's immortal line: "Cat! . . . How many mice and rats hast in thy days / Destroy'd?") with both photographs and reproductions of art work over the ages. The Literary Cat juxtaposes a more contemporary group of excerpts with black-and-white photographs, making a very pleasing composite of text and images. Both collections include Rudyard Kippling's graceful and evocative fable, "The Cat That Walked by Himself."
THE EVERLASTING CAT, by Mildred Kirk (Overlook, $8.95) is a sort of Golden Bough of cat lore. Tracing the sociological and antropological role of the animal in world civilization, from the time that the first furry paws crept into the first granary, Kirk goes back to the origins of the relationship between man and cat - which is a long time, since excavations have revealed pawprints of a cat which were made 4000 years ago. From Aesop's fables and the middle ages to the legendary connection with witches and the devil and the role of the cat in modern thought, this narrative is a learned and very readable account of the curious partnership between man and cat.
MY CAT'S IN LOVE: Or How to Survive Your Feline's Sex Life, Pregnancy and Kittening, by Frank Manolson, D.V.M. (St. Martin's, $7.95) is a practical, if somewhat chatty, guide to understanding the pressures nature has put your kitty under. Manolson is less than enthusiastic on the subject of spaying females, and those who are convinced that we are already faced with a feline population catastrophe may not find his discussion wholly convincing. Still, the book is pleasant and informative, and provides interesting professional insights into the practice of veterinary medicine.
YOU CAN TRAIN YOUR CAT, by Jo and Paul Loeb (Simon & Schuster, $8.95) makes a convincing case for a very dubious proposition. The Loebs have trained cats for television comeercials and movies, and demonstrate a number of techniques (requiring only common household goods like keys, a magazine and white vinegar) which will allegedly produce prodigies of behavior - including the use of the flush toilet. The authors admit that "You can't force cats to do anything: you must encourage by reward or discourage with something they don't like." While it is doubtful that the cat will ever replace the domestic dog at such chores as herding sheep or carrying small brandy kegs, anyone who has ever wished that his cat would come when called, or walk sensibly on a leash, will want to look this book over.
THE CONCISE DICTIONARY OF CATS, by Janet Bloomfield (Funk & Wagnalls, $9.95) is a handsome identification guide for finding out what breed of cat your neighbor has just brought home. The color photographs are very attractive, and illustrate some rare and spectacular breeds like the Blue Cream Long-Hair, the French Chartreux, Pallas's Cat and the European Wild Cat which, frankly, are so attractive that they may make your beloved pet look like a dust mop.
PET MEDICINE: Health Care and First Aid for All Household Pets, by Roger Caras and eight contributing veterinarians (McGraw-Hill, $14.95) bids fair to be the best all-round volume for the "multipet family," as the authors call such a menage . Introductory essays on the multipet family and how to choose a veterinarian are followed by comprehensive sections on the dog, the cat and - to some amazement - the skunk, which the authors note "has come into increasing vogue as a household pet in the past decade." And admittedly, the chapter makes the skunk seem reasonably attractive, and less trouble than you might expect ("It is not necessary to train skunks to walk on leashes . . . The more lethargic skunk is quite willing to amble along peaceably at your side.") Later chapters treat fish, various sorts of reptiles (alligators included), birds, frogs, toads, small rodents, rabbits, squirrels and chipmunks, chickens, ducks and geese. Helpful black-and-white drawings accompany the explanatory decriptions of such maintenance problems as tic removal, beak trimming, bunny-bone splinting and - in extremis - mouth-to-mouth artificial respiration for cats.