Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
We have a feral cat who has been injured. Looks like something took a big bite out of his neck. We cannot get him to a vet; he’s still very wild. He will allow my husband to pet him and come to him, but we can’t pick him up. What can we do for him? I tried to spray some peroxide on his wound, but that’s it. I’m sure he’s tried to lick it off. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Hate to see him in pain and die from the wound. He lives in our garage in the winter on a heated bed and we feed him, but that seems to be all we can do for him.
Siouxsie: Kathleen, thank you for caring so much about this feral cat and doing all you can to keep him warm, safe and healthy. Because of his injury, he obviously does need to be taken to a vet, and we have some tips that we think will help you to get him there.
Thomas: First, call your vet and tell him or her that you have an injured feral cat. Describe what you see, and your vet will tell you whether or not he needs treatment. The odds are very good that they will say he does need to see a vet.
Dahlia: Then ask them whether they have experience handling feral cats. Special tools and protocols are needed because feral cats will obviously be terrified of being around people. If your vet clinic doesn’t have the necessary equipment and experience, they can refer you to one that does.
Siouxsie: This groundwork is especially important because you’re going to need to trap your feral guy in order to get him to the vet. Once you do have him trapped, he’ll need to be seen pretty quickly, since hanging out in a trap for a long time will severely stress him.
Thomas: The way to trap a feral cat is with a humane trap, sometimes called a Havahart® trap. Your local animal shelter, your veterinarian, or animal control officer might have one you can borrow. If not, they can be purchased at home supply stores and other such outlets.
Dahlia: Once you get the trap, be sure to assemble and/or prepare it in a place where he won’t hear the noise and commotion. Be sure you know how to use the trap and that you’ve got it set properly. Line the bottom of the trap with newspaper to protect his paws, and then place it in a secluded location.
Siouxsie: In your case, since you’ve been feeding your feral cat, we’d recommend that you put the trap where his usual feeding station is. Instead of putting out his usual food, bait the trap with about a tablespoon of a very tasty treat.
Thomas: Alley Cat Allies recommends smelly foods such as tuna in oil, sardines, or baby food (without onions). You can also drizzle some of the juice from the food in a zigzag pattern along the floor of the trap toward the entrance. (Here’s a detailed guide on how to trap a cat.)
Dahlia: When the cat goes into the trap, he’ll (hopefully) step on the trigger plate, which will close the door of the trap behind him. However, some cats can be quite clever and get the food without tripping the trigger.
Siouxsie: Be sure you keep track of the trap from a distance. Check it every 15 minutes to half hour. You don’t want the cat to be sitting in the trap for too long because of the stress level and the fact that he won’t be able to find shelter if it’s cold or rainy.
Thomas: Once you’ve trapped him, put a cover over the trap (this will lower his stress and make him easier to handle, call your vet, and get him to the clinic as soon as you can. It’s normal for feral cats to thrash around inside the trap, and this sounds a lot worse than it actually is. Don’t open the trap or try to pet him.
Dahlia: While the cat is at the vet for treatment, have them check to see whether he’s male or female, and have the cat vaccinated against rabies and spayed or neutered if necessary. He should probably also be tested for feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and feline leukemia (FeLV).
Siouxsie: When the cat is under anesthesia, your vet may also snip the top off one of the cat’s ears to show that although he’s feral, he has been fixed and vaccinated. This is called “ear tipping,” and it’s a standard procedure in feral cat trap-neuter-return (TNR) operations.
Thomas: During the course of treating this cat for his injury, you may find that what you’ve got on your hands is a scared stray, not a feral cat. We think this may be the case because this cat will let your husband pet him and will go into your garage to sleep and eat. Very few feral cats would let a human touch them at all.
Dahlia: Learn more about how to tell the difference between a scared stray cat and a feral cat with Alley Cat Allies’ comparison of the behaviors of strays and ferals.
Siouxsie: If this cat turns out to be a stray that’s had no human contact for a long time, you may be able to acclimate him to a life indoors.
Thomas: Here’s some information on how to soothe a scared stray and help them relax into an indoor environment.
Dahlia: If your vet is interested in learning more about the protocols of feral cat care, Alley Cat Allies has a whole section of its website devoted to information for veterinarians.
Siouxsie: Good luck to you and your cat, Kathleen. We hope he turns out to be a scared stray who can eventually have a good life in a home — perhaps even your home! And if he is feral, we’re glad you and your husband care enough to take good care of him and keep him safe and healthy.