One of the most challenging aspects of caring for feral/stray cats is keeping them safe. Almost all of the cats actions are out of my control. Depending on where you live, the dangers can be health related, human related, predator related or environmentally related. Fortunately, feral and stray cats do adapt to their surroundings and each have multiple locations they go to for safety. Yet during times of crisis, it is very difficult to know what is the best way to help feral/stray cats.
Health related issues often materialize out of thin air. I have had a few of my ferals develop upper respiratory infections with sneezing, weeping eyes, runny nose and fever. There is very little I can do other than keep a close eye to be sure they are eating and drinking. When cats are congested and their sense of smell is diminished, they often do not want to eat. A cat usually will not eat what it cannot smell. The key is to get the stinkiest food possible. Some suggestions are small amounts of canned tuna with some of the juice or very smelly wet food with added low sodium or no salt chicken broth. It is helpful to warm the food slightly to provide even more of an aroma. Sometimes you can call a vet clinic and explain the situation to the vet and they may prescribe something in extreme circumstances.
This fall I had an issue with my feral, Shadow. He was acting as though he had a hairball. He kept coughing/choking over and over but nothing came out. This went on for a few days. He didn’t get any better or any worse. I tried a few hairball remedies, but nothing made a difference. He did continue to eat and drink. Of course this happened around the Thanksgiving holiday and I was to be out of town. I had a pet sitter lined up who would check on him 2x a day. He began to wheeze and breath with an open mouth. I was very worried about him. He slept a lot. I tried calling my vet, but they had closed for the holiday. I realized there was little I could do. He did fine while I was gone, but I worried about him. When I returned home, he was still choking/coughing, but the wheezing had stopped. It did continue for a few more days and then just left. I have no idea if he had a hairball, had something stuck or had a virus. It was a struggle to decide whether to trap him and take him in for care. I felt that I have to pick my “battles” carefully. I do believe Shadow would go into a trap now, but once he went in, it would be a very long time before he ever could be trapped again. I wanted to be sure it was worth trapping him. I decided since he was still eating and drinking to just watch and wait. It was the unknown that was so worrisome.
There are also worries of the cats being poisoned either intentionally or unintentionally. They could easily find rat poison, antifreeze, or other chemicals. There is also the chance they are bothering other neighbors. I try my best to keep a low profile about my caring for feral cats. Not everyone likes cats and not everyone wants cats in their yards. Fortunately my two do not go far, but I realize they still make the rounds to a few houses. I do my best to tell them over and over that they need to stay close to home. Shadow is pretty much a home body, but Stellar is more of a free spirit. He likes his time out and about especially when it is warm.
Predators are always a worry. In my area we have coyotes, fox, raccoons, other cats and of course cars and humans. Since Shadow has been in my care, I have seen 4 coyotes in my yard. It is frightening to see. On one occasion, Shadow had been watching some birds in the yard one warm spring morning. I was watching him play. All at once, you could see the fur bristle on his back and he ran up his favorite climbing tree. He always made me nervous when he climbed too high. I was just about to go and see what he was doing when a bunny came tearing through the yard with a coyote on its tail. Shadow had sensed the danger and scurried to safety. Who knows how many other times the coyotes have been in the yard and I haven’t noticed them.
We also get fox which I have heard are not really predators to cats, but if the fox was very hungry, it certainly would try. I have had 2 of them on my deck during the night and too many to count come through the yard in the night during the spring and summer. I prefer that they just keep their distance.
Cat fights are another issue. Shadow has been bitten twice, Stellar once and Marvin once. Shadow’s first bite was very traumatic. It took me almost an entire day to find out what was wrong with him. He finally relented and came inside the house. I was able to clean the wound, apply medicated ointment, give him Rescue Remedy. I also used homeopathic remedies. Fortunately, the wound did not abscess. I cleaned it twice daily and Shadow cleaned it almost continuously for 2 days. It did heal without needing any veterinarian care in about 2 weeks.
Marvin was attacked while he was still living on my deck. He was ambushed during the night, by another cat. I had the entire event on my cameras. Poor Marvin was on the losing end of the fight. He had a large wound on the top of his head. I was able to clean it a few times, but he was still leery of me. I used Rescue Remedy and homeopathic remedies on him as well.
Environmental factors such as snow, wind, bitter cold, rain, tornadoes and even extreme heat are all battles here in Ohio. We have had back to back bitter cold winters and more snow than normal. We always have numerous thunderstorms in the spring and summer with heavy rain, lightning and wind. Fortunately we have not had a tornado, but we did have an usual weather event called a derecho a few years ago. A large tree in my neighbors yard fell onto our deck and awning. During this event, Shadow was my only feral. For some reason I had a bad feeling about this storm. The sky looked very odd. I was so lucky and I was able to get Shadow into the house just minutes before the storm hit. There were trees down every where. I don’t know what I would have done if Shadow had not been in the house. It certainly was a stroke of luck.
I find that caring for ferals is a daily worry. There is always something that could happen to them and most of the events are out my control. Each night when I go out to pick up their food and tell them good night. I always say “No bumps no bruises, no cuts no scrapes. Mommy loves you move than the moon and the stars and the sky above. Be safe babies.” Some how I feel that they know what I am saying and I hope I will find them safe in the morning.