Monday, 21 November 2011

Caring For A Stray Cat

Years ago my aunt, a huge animal lover, started to receive late night visits from a gorgeous ginger stray cat. Due to disgusting abuse by his previous owners he had no teeth or claws left and was very under nourished and extremely frightened. My aunt being very sensitive to animals saw that he was so hungry that his fear was overridden by a desperate need for food. He would let no one else near him except for her and if food was left out by someone else, he would know and leave it to go stale. She really had an amazing gift with animals.
Eventually he trusted her enough to allow her to stroke him, but nothing more. He was content to live a wilder life if it meant he was safe from humans. We really are a disgrace to this planet.

So how do you help stray cats? How do you gain their trust?

First of all you need to know the difference between a stray cat and a feral cat. It’s not always easy to tell because in time a stray cat will revert back to its natural instincts, which is the same as a feral cats behaviour.
Obviously a stray cat will have been abandoned by their owners or may have got lost. They might have a collar, but if not you should be able to tell by the quality of their coats if they have recently become strays, rather than being a feral cat. If you can, take a photo of it and check with your local vets if anyone has lost their cat. Don’t just assume you can take someone else’s cat, in a lot of areas it is illegal. Also there could be a very good reason for them getting lost and there may be a family trying to find them. Usually you can take responsibility and become a stray cats owner after about two weeks of notifying the local animal shelters, vets etc.

A feral cat will be much less inclined to engage with you and will be more likely to show you aggressive, wild behaviour. You’re also less likely to see them for any length of time, as any sign of a human and they’re off. Can’t blame them for that!
Feral cats have been born into the wild from either feral parents or stray cats that have become pregnant. They tend to live together in casual family colonies and are able to survive in urban and rural areas. They aren’t always popular as like other wildlife they will rummage through your bins for food. So be warned, your neighbours may not take kindly to you starting a feeding programme for them.

So, if you want to help a stray cat the first thing to do of course is feed them.

An adult stray that is under nourished will build up quickly on kitten food. However switch back to adult food as soon as you see an improvement. They will need the nutrients from adult food once they have initially recovered.
Try wet food as well as dry. See what their preferences are.
Buy new cat bowls as they won’t like the scent of other pets.
Always provide fresh water every day.
Feed them at night to start with, but leave dry food out in the daytime in case they start to gain courage and come to your garden more often. They need to feel they have a safe place to come to.
After a while try to be present when you know the stray is going to turn up. Place the food down, step back and speak in a soothing tone. Don’t attempt to stroke the cat. Let it feed and leave if it wants to. The main point is to slowly gain trust. You know you can never rush a cat.
On the next occasion offer some food from your hand. They may or may not take it, persevere and try again next time.
If no one claims the cat and you decide to rehome this stray then capturing it in the most humane way is your next step. You may not be able to do this, so it’s a good idea to contact your local animal shelter and they may be able to send someone to help.
Once you’ve done that go straight to the vets for a thorough check up. Deworming, flea and ear mite treatments and neutering must all be done.
If you have other pets keep the new cat in one room until they’ve settled down and slowly introduce them.

Once you’ve taken responsibility of a stray cat and brought it into your home, be prepared for the settling in period to take some time. You don’t know what they’ve suffered, be patient. They will probably want to stay by your side as much as possible. In time this should calm down but remember they may be a little apprehensive of this new home.
Pamper them with new cat toys, cat bed and stand. You may want to try using a feline facial pheromone spray or diffuser to help calm their nerves.

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