Jan 5, 2011 12:36 PM by Bonnie Markoff, DVM

Caring For Feral Cats

Janice has asked about a feral cat named Heckel who has something wrong with her lower jaw.

Caring for feral or "wild" cats can be extremely frustrating. We find cat colonies developing in many areas in our county. Quite often, a good samaritan feeds the cats, but usually the cats will not allow human contact. This means that providing medical care, including vaccines, requires trapping the cats.Illness in these colonies can be very distressing.

It can be very difficult to decide whether or not to trap and care for a feral cat. The process of trapping is very stressful for the cat. Handling the animals can be dangerous for the people involved. Follow-up care such as daily medications or suture removal, can be nearly impossible. Many people believe we should treat cat colonies like wild populations - no human intervention and allow "nature to take its course." But those who feed and watch over these cats develop relationships with them and cannot bear to watch them suffer.

The cat I referenced above had been trapped in order to be spayed, and then released back into the colony. She now is drooling and there is a green color to the drool. If Janice gives her antibiotics (I assume being put into food or water), the problem improves greatly, but is back within just a few days when the medication is stopped. Janice has asked if it safe to give antibiotics daily forever. In this particular situation, I think it may be the best choice we have.

Normally we try to avoid the long-term use of antibiotics. We rarely see significant side effects from the antibiotics and quite often they effectively fight the infection for years. However, on occasion we can see "bad" microbes take over in the body. Women may develop vaginal yeast infections, which is not a significant problem for our pets. Instead we can see a change in the bacteria in the intestinal tract, which can lead to diarrhea and other GI upset. We can also see the development of bacteria that are resistant to the antibiotic we are using. This can lead to superinfections that are hard to treat.

I am concerned that Heckel has either traumatized her jaw or has a tooth abscess or tumor in her mouth. If we were to trap her, treatment may be very extensive, which would not only be costly, but very stressful for Heckel. There would be a high likelihood that she would need to stay in the hospital for follow-up care, adding to Heckel's stress. If daily antibiotics are helpful, that may be the most humane thing to do. It is unlikely that lifelong daily antibiotics will be harmful to Heckel.

So Janice, go ahead with daily Fishmox and we wish you the best of luck. Let us know if we can be of further help.



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