In my experience, feral cats tend to be very healthy. In fact, it is one of the characteristics that helps me distinguish between a stray and a feral when a new cat shows up (which hasn’t happened in a long time).
It may sound counter-intuitive, but if you think about it it makes sense. They were born and raised as feral cats by feral cats. They know the ropes. Stray cats, dumped or lost, don’t have the same advantages.
Think of it this way. If you were suddenly dropped off in the wilderness alone, or maybe your plane crashed there, after a week what kind of shape would you be in compared to someone from a tribe that made that wilderness their home for generations?
That being said, feral cats can and do sometimes develop health problems.
The very thought is something you worry about if you care for them. If you’re like me you can’t help but think about what you will do if something happens and they require medical care when they are so wild you can’t touch them. That is where the various stages of taming can go a long way.
When you establish trust with wild kitties, amazing things happen. They know you are there to help long before they are willing to let you touch and pet them, or even really approach them, just because you want to. And when they need help, and you offer it, they will often do things you never thought they would.
For instance, when Gorgeous was still very stand-offish, he got very sick with a kitty cold. We think it was feline herpes, but we weren’t able to get him into a vet for diagnosis. The standard treatment is L-Lysine, and the smart thing to do is dose all the cats who could be exposed. So, adding it to the shared cat dish was the thing to do, but it was very important that he get his dose and you can’t really dose everyone separately when they share a communal dish.
So, he wouldn’t let me get near him, but when I put the medicine on the food and told him it was for him and backed away from the dish, he would go straight to it and eat his dose of lysine off the top. The other amazing thing? The other cats always waited for him to do it.
Another example. I spent six years trying to gain Mr. Tom’s trust before I could touch him. When he finally did let me touch him, he was sneezy. I was giving him Lysine, with the vet’s approval considering that I couldn’t just take him in, but it wasn’t working. I was planning to take him in for an exam after we spent more time in that space where he was fully lovey-dovey and it wouldn’t undo the progress, but then he got to sneezing bloody snot and I knew I had to go ahead and take him in. It turned out that his teeth were rotten! He had 8 teeth pulled and it fixed him right up. And, he wasn’t freaked out by it. He didn’t run off, avoid me, or stop being my buddy after that experience. I think he decided to try letting me pet him in the first place because he knew he needed help.
Regular Feeding Times
Regular feeding times go a long way. They mean that the cats know when to expect you and you know when they will show up. This gives you a much better chance of giving meds in food. It’s very helpful with cats you can’t touch, and with those who you can only touch when there is food involved.
If it’s a cat you can touch some, and you need to catch them and take them to the vet, the feeding schedule guarantees a time you can catch them. Regular feeding times will also help with trapping, if that’s what you need to do.
Trapping works great for TNR (trap-neuter-return), but for a health crisis it is not so reliable, since you need to act fast. However, it can work when you have no other options, and especially if you just have one or two feral cats hanging around.
Never make assumptions! Prior to Gorgeous’ nosectomy, he was not OK with being inside the house with the door closed. He totally freaked out! When he had his surgery, one of the big things was that he could never go outside again because sun exposure would cause the cancer to come back.
All we could do was hope for the best. We didn’t think he was going to accept being a full-time indoor cat. We didn’t even think he would tolerate it for the full recovery time, but we were going to do whatever it took to keep him in while he healed, and then we would have to consider quality of life vs health. Boy were we wrong! He discovered the joy of couches and beds real fast. After the first day home he was over trying to get outside.
Playing it by Ear – Scientific Evidence is not Required
So, if you’re one of those people that poo-poos anecdotal evidence and requires scientific proof, you won’t find much comfort in this post. But that’s the thing with real life, and definitely with feral cats. All the data and statistics in the world can’t tell you how it’s going to play out with an individual’s behavior. The most helpful advice is often gleaned from the experience of others, even if it’s contrary to the numbers.