Advice to help a feral cat please - Cat Forum : Cat Discussion Forums
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post #1 of 23 (permalink) Old 10-24-2015, 01:43 AM Thread Starter
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Advice to help a feral cat please

I am writing this from Sydney, Australia.

We have a big stray cat population at our work. The cats have been tolerated for a while, but recently it was decided by someone very high up that the cats would all have to go, and they called in the pest guy. One particular adult cat (only about 18 months old herself) had just had her second litter of 6 kittens (the kittens were 5 weeks old). Knowing that their days were numbered, my supervisor and I collected up the kittens 2 days ago and found two very understanding vets who agreed to hand rear them until they were old enough to be re-homed. I understand that 5 weeks is generally too young to remove kittens from their mother, but the vets assured us that given the correct care, they would be ok and were still young enough to be domesticated and re-homed. From what I hear, the kittens are all doing well, and the vets are very positive about their future. The kittens would have been killed if we had not taken them.

Yesterday the pest controller arrived to trap the mother cat. This mother cat had previously been very friendly. She would approach you for a pat when she saw you, eat out of your hand, jump on your lap and even let you pick her up (although admittedly she didn't like being picked up and would growl). Even after we took her kittens, she was still friendly towards us, and I was able to give her flea and worm medicine without any problems.

However, the pest guy was very aggressive when he caught her, and by the time he put her in a cage she was ready to scratch out the eyes of anyone who looked at her. She scratched the pest guy quite badly too.

Because she had been such a lovely cat before, I agreed to take her home temporarily until I could find a "no kill" shelter who would take her. If I had not done this, the pest controller was going to take her straight to the pound where I am quite sure they would have killed her immediately (I checked their policy on their website - they either kill on the spot or give the cat a maximum of 7 days to find a home).

This is where the problem begins. She is far too aggressive at the moment to be kept inside my house anywhere, so I had to put her in my kids' outdoor cubby house. Since she is not desexed/spayed yet, I could not risk letting her go outside to create a new stray population either. None of the "no kill" shelters in Sydney have any space available at the moment. Although I could take her to the RSPCA (this is the Australian version of ASPCA), they also euthanize cats who are being aggressive.

After I brought her home and opened up the cage, she leapt out towards my face screeching. She did not make contact with me luckily, but she is incredibly scared and being very aggressive. She was previously on a hunger strike, but has now eaten a bowl of food. Her aggression is slightly better since yesterday, considering that I am now able to open the door of the cubby house slightly and push in a bowl of food. She only hisses at me when I do this now, whereas before she would have lunged at me.

My question for everyone is whether this cat is a lost cause, or whether this current aggression is just a temporary fear response due to the trauma of being caught? If I leave her in this quiet space for a few days will she calm down and revert to her former sweet temperament? Or will she now always associate me with fear and behave violently?

A rescue sanctuary (who has no room to take her) recommended a product called Feline Tranquil Formula. I am not sure if this is available outside Australia, but she swore by it as a means to calm down an aggressive cat. I have put some in her food, but she has not eaten that bowl of food yet. The ingredients just look like vitamins to me, but as I said, this lady swore by it.

What else can I do to help her calm down?

Any help would be greatly appreciated.
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post #2 of 23 (permalink) Old 10-24-2015, 03:00 AM
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I am not hugely experienced with ferals but we have members who are. IMO I think it's the whole trauma of the pest control guy which has frightened her hugely as cats are so sensitive to situations. I think you should give her time to settle after all where she is now is also new so has no smell of her or the remainder of the colony. Adding the tranquil formula won't hurt her so no harm adding it. It will take time to gain her trust. Take it step by step. If she has food a place to snuggle and sleep and a litter box she should be OK for a while. It will take time though so take it step by step. I hope our feral experts can offer further advice. Thank you for caring so much.
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post #3 of 23 (permalink) Old 10-24-2015, 06:41 AM
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You say this all happened just yesterday. Poor cat needs time to learn to trust you again. In a week or two she'll make great progress - the more time you can interact with her positively with treats and praise the better. If she can safely remain an outside cat at your house, that would be OK, though it would be preferable to bring her in. Get her fixed as soon as possible. Thank you for caring for her. She would have had zero chance at the pound.
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post #4 of 23 (permalink) Old 10-24-2015, 04:18 PM
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Echoing what has been said - time is so important - this should work out.
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post #5 of 23 (permalink) Old 10-24-2015, 05:13 PM
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Absolutely not a lost cause. If she was friendly enough to be pet and even picked up before it's just a matter of regaining trust. She might not even be a true feral but a stray who's been separated from her last family for so long she's returned to being a little wild. Genuine ferals usually won't let you get anywhere near them and tend to come out at night only. So I think you have reason for hope.

Since even seeing the pest controller and then being roughly handled, caged and relocated her world has turned upside down. I think what you are seeing is definitely fear aggression. In her mind she is a prisoner of war not a creature that has been saved from death row.

Is she secure in the outdoor cubby house? I'm not sure what a cubby house is but here we have these plastic little houses for kids to play in. If it is similar I worry that she might dash out the door when it's opened and it might be hard or impossible to trap her again. This will be a problem since you haven't had a chance to spay her yet.

Check and see if there are cat rescue organizations in your area. These might not have a facility like a cat shelter but be run by volunteers who foster. Some fosterers specialize in socializing/ rehabbing semi-ferals and strays.

If you want to do it yourself we generally use cat cages with brought in strays. They are spayed and neutered and vaccinated and then kept for recovery in these cages. If the cat is deemed possibly homeable then the cat is kept in the cage until it has a chance to acclimate and come to view the cage as a safe area. Then gradually it can be let out in a secure room. If there are places in the room the cat can hide in they will find it and I guarantee they will be an invisible cat that will never give you the opportunity to get close to so I block off anything the cat might use as a hidey hole so they have to use their cage or cat furniture for their hiding.

Getting a scared semi-feral stray to come around can take time. Go slow. Read up on how to socialize cats but whereas with kittens interactive toys (wand toys) are good tools adult ferals don't understand toys and might become frightened by them. You could give her ping pong balls or quiet ball or catnip toys but leave them for her to figure out on her own until she gains your trust.

Again the only way she will calm down is with time. Before you approach the cubby house speak softly to her. If she hears you coming she is getting anxious at least if she hears your voice she will eventually associate your voice with food and won't be on high alert when you bring in the food.

Good luck and please keep us updated!
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post #6 of 23 (permalink) Old 10-24-2015, 05:23 PM
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found I link that I found useful on how to set up a cage for a feral and keep it clean without getting into a conflict with the cat just in case you want to try fostering her yourself.
Neighborhood Cats / Fostering a Feral Cat Safely
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post #7 of 23 (permalink) Old 10-24-2015, 08:26 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks to everyone who has given me some suggestions so far. I forgot to mention that my kids have given the cat the temporary name of Cleopatra. She is a calico cat.

Before I give you all an update, I just want to explain what a cubby house is. I don't know what the name for them is in America, but I am quite certain that you have them. Sometimes cubby houses can be small plastic things, but most of the time they are wooden. Our cubby house is one of the wooden ones. They are small houses designed for children to play in. I suppose they are similar to a club house or a tree house.

This particular cubby house is about the same size as a small shed. Once the door and window are closed, it is completely secure. There is of course a chance that she could make a run for it when I open the door to give her food, but she has not attempted this so far.

To give you all an update, there has been a slight improvement. She doesn't seem to mind my husband going in there anymore, but she still hates the sight of me and is back to lunging at me if I look at her.

She has perched herself up on a high ledge, and a couple of times when I have looked in through the window I have seen her half asleep. Perhaps the Feline Tranquil Formula has calmed her a little, but I would still regard her as quite aggressive and dangerous at this stage.

One of the vets who took some of the kittens has agreed to desex/spay her on Tuesday for free (it is Sunday here in Sydney). I think I am going to have to find a way to sedate her in order to get her back into a cage without traumatizing her further.

I have already checked with all the foster carer type cat rescue places in addition to formal rescue shelters, and none that I have found have any places available. I have also posted on an Australian cat forum to see if anyone can find her a place, but have not had any luck.

So that is where I am right now.

The colleague who helped me catch the kittens is going to take Cleo home after she has been operated on and continue to care for her. I am a bit too scared of her (both for myself and my kids) to keep her here, and my husband's patience for my desire to rescue stray animals has also been exhausted!
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post #8 of 23 (permalink) Old 10-24-2015, 09:25 PM
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It's wonderful that you were willing to save this kitty and that you are still working to get her ready for adoption. I'm not sure what products you have there - is there a pheromone spray? Here, the brand name is Feliway. I spray it in the carrier before taking the cats to the vet, and it really does work to calm them.

It's very kind of this vet to offer to spay her for free, but given her level of fear, it might be easiest to have a mobile vet come, if you have one. It would also probably be far less stressful for the kitty. With two stressful experiences being put in a cage coming so close together, it might take her much longer to trust you.

If there's no mobile vet, would your husband be willing to try to get her in a carrier? Since she's still associating you with a negative experience, and since you're hesitant about approaching her - and rightfully so - the chances that you'll get her into a carrier without much trauma for both of you seems small.
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post #9 of 23 (permalink) Old 10-24-2015, 11:22 PM Thread Starter
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The mobile vet is a good suggestion thanks. We do indeed have mobile vets in Australia, but they tend to be very expensive. With Christmas fast approaching, I don't think I can afford such a cost right now.

I checked, and Feliway spray is available in Australia. It might be a good thing to spray into the cubby house in general to help calm her. I am very scared that she will lunge at me if I try to spray something near her though.

I suspect that she may actually need to be sedated in order to get her to the vet on Tuesday. I am going to discuss this possibility with the vet on Monday. The vet already told me that they have various methods of sedating a cat without touching them, and that some sedatives can be placed into her food as long as the dose is correct. I think this might be the kindest way to get her into a cage without causing additional trauma.

I will let you all know how it proceeds.

Thanks for your help so far.
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post #10 of 23 (permalink) Old 10-24-2015, 11:39 PM
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It's no easy task to get a feral or former feral in a carrier. I have two that have lived with me for four years. They love to be petted, sleep in my bed, will allow all kinds of handling including tick treatments and I can even pick them up a couple of feet off the ground.
But get them in a carrier? Nearly impossible. I scruffed one once and got him in - the other, never. They turn into dervishes.

Please let us know how your story turns out.
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