Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
I have been feeding a stray cat for about four months now, so am guessing that she is about 7 months old. I have an open appointment at my local vet to take her in for spaying, shots, etc., but I haven’t been able to grab/catch her.
I have read about an oral contraceptive for cats. Is this available as a short-term measure that would give me some breathing space as I try to tame her?
One more question about cross-infection with other cats: I also have three other cats; one is 18 years old and the others are an 8-year-old brother and sister pair I adopted at age 3 from a cat shelter. All have recently seen the local vet, had shots, blood tests, etc.
The 8-year-old neutered male seems to have adopted our feral kitten. He is now showing signs of hair loss. I have researched this online and learn that demodecticosis (mange) is more prevalent in Burmese and Siamese cats. Can you please give me any more information on this? My cat is seeing the vet this week; however, I’m now feeling some panic about introducing infections (possibly including feline leukemia) into my feline household.
Siouxsie: First of all, Claire, we’d like to thank you for your work in rescuing this poor stray cat. People like you remind us that our belief in humans as decent creatures is not at all misplaced.
Thomas: It is very hard to catch a stray or feral cat, because they generally have little trust for people. But it can be done and there are many organizations all across the world that do this work.
Dahlia: The easiest way for you to catch this kitty is with a humane trap. A humane trap, shown at right, is a small, narrow cage with a door that closes behind the animal when it steps on a plate.
Siouxsie: You’ll want to set the trap in a location where the cat won’t hear unfamiliar noises, bait it with some very tasty and good-smelling food (tuna is an excellent choice for most cats) and place it in a location where the cat will feel safe, such as under a bush or in another concealed place.
Thomas: Alley Cat Allies, a feral cat advocacy program, has an excellent step-by-step guide on how to conduct a trap-neuter-return program in feral cat colonies. You can use their advice, which has been refined by many years of experience, to trap your stray kitten in preparation for her trip to the vet.
Dahlia: Unfortunately, we’re pretty sure that you won’t be able to get the kitty birth control pill into this cat. Most cats will not eat pills, even if they’re placed in delicious food. In addition, some pills are really nasty-tasting, and if the birth control pill is one of those, you may cause her to stop eating the food you put out for her.
Siouxsie: Pregnant cats can be spayed, although the procedure is much more risky than a normal spay due to increased blood flow to the uterus.
Thomas: We know many humans have moral or ethical objections to terminating pregnancies and may prefer not to exercise this option. If your cat is pregnant by the time you catch her and you don’t want your vet to abort the kittens, you’ll need to foster them until they’re weaned (8 to 12 weeks) and then work with your humane society and/or your vet to find good homes for them.
Dahlia: Now, on to your other question. It is appropriate to be concerned about the spread of disease or parasites from the stray cat to your cats. However, you don’t need to panic about it. All you need to do is use some simple precautions.
Siouxsie: It is possible for contagious illnesses to pass between cats. Mange (or demodecticosis), a parasitic infection, is easily transmissible between cats. However, it is definitely treatable, even if that treatment can be rather labor-intensive.
Thomas: Of course, cats can also pick up fleas from other cats, too, so it would be a good idea to make sure you give your three current feline residents a monthly spot-on flea prevention product such as Frontline or Advantage.
Dahlia: It’s pretty unlikely that your cats will get leukemia or FIV from the stray, if she is positive for either illness, unless they engage in fighting or sexual behavior. Even if your cats are bitten by an FeLV-positive cat, as long as their FeLV vaccinations are current the odds are very good that they would not be infected. FIV infection would be a bit more likely, but even a bite from an FIV-positive cat doesn’t mean that your cat would inevitably be infected.
Siouxsie: Thomas and I had the unfortunate opportunity to be in fights with an FIV-positive cat. Both of us got bitten, more than once, but when we were tested for FIV a couple of months later, we were both still negative.
Thomas: The message here is that healthy cats that receive regular veterinary care and are up-to-date on their vaccinations are at less risk of contracting potentially fatal viral illnesses than their stray/feral or unvaccinated peers.
Dahlia: The best practice when taking in a new cat, particularly if it’s a stray, is to isolate that cat from your current residents until the newcomer gets a full health screening and treatment for any parasites or other illnesses it may have.
Siouxsie: Isolation of the new cat will also help your current cats cope with the introduction of another feline. You’ll need to prepare a special room for the kitten; this room should have a door that closes firmly and should be thoroughly cat-proofed (remove all potentially toxic plants and hazardous or breakable objects; cover up electrical cords so they don’t get chewed; make sure the strings on the blinds or curtains are arranged in such a way that the cat won’t get trapped in them, etc.) before the kitten takes up residence there.
Thomas: One of our past columns goes into the details of how to prepare an isolation room for a feral kitten and the steps you can take to socialize this kitty. (Don’t be surprised that this page looks a lot different from the one you’re seeing now; it’s a very long and arduous process to take all of our old columns and get them into this new format.)
Dahlia: Good luck to you, Claire. Please keep us posted on how things go with your stray kitten.