Tiger By The Tail – Use Care In Handling A Stray Cat

A couple of weeks ago, a badly injured, bloodied man walked into our animal hospital holding a cat inside a coat. This poor gentleman had multiple lacerations to his face, chest, stomach and arms, bite marks on his BACK and his hands, and a tear so deep in one of his fingers that was very nearly halfway through. Amazingly, and to his credit, the man was still holding his attacker.

We gingerly took the cat from him, placed it in a kennel with some food, water, and a litter box, and displayed a kennel card with a warning in big, red letters … Wild Cat! … Do Not Touch!… Be Careful When Opening Kennel! We told Mr. Good Samaritan to go immediately to the hospital, and we quarantined the cat for the next 10 days for rabies observation.

Why did the man pick up the cat in the first place, you ask? He was trying to do something nice. He saw the cat in a ditch, it looked injured, and he felt compelled to help it. I don’t know that I would have held onto the cat after the ripping-to-shreds he got, but it’s a good thing he managed to. If the cat had gotten away, he probably would have had to undergo rabies prophylaxis injections. I called to check on Mr. Good Samaritan a couple of days ago to see how he was doing. He said he had just been released from The Hand Center at Jewish Hospital in Louisville a couple of days before, but that he was healing nicely.

I tell you this frightful story for a couple of reasons. First, Spring is right around the corner, and another breeding season is about to begin. Obviously, not all of those kittens will be finding a loving home. (Will you humor me a moment while I interject a little public service announcement? … Please be a responsible citizen of our community and get your pets spayed or neutered!… Thank you.)

Some of the little, wild ones will be fed by kind strangers, and may even be picked up and taken home. But mostly, they’ll have to hunt for their food and fight for their lives. Some of them will end up at the animal shelter. Some of them will get adopted, and many of them won’t. The second reason is because not all strays are like that one cat, and they all deserve a chance at the good life. I know there are a lot of Good Samaritans out there, so I want you to know how to safely bring a stray into your home. However, it would be irresponsible of me at this point not to remind you that cats are Predators. They have sharp teeth and claws, they will hurt you badly if that is their intention. Approach all stray cats with caution!

If the cat seems friendly and amenable to you picking it up, try to confirm ownership. Most cats don’t wear collars, so check to see if the cat is intact, that is, if it has not been spayed or neutered. If it is obviously nursing kittens, or if it is an intact male, chances are it’s a stray, or belongs to someone who hasn’t spayed or neutered it for some reason. If you’re not sure, take it to your veterinarian who will probably be able to determine if the cat has had surgery, although it’s not always easy to tell on females.

Also, as a courtesy to a potentially distraught owner, post Found Cat signs around your neighborhood, and contact local veterinarians and the animal shelter in case someone is looking for it.

If your efforts at touching the cat have been unsuccessful, try to earn it’s trust by meeting its basic needs – food and water. Whether or not the cat warms up to you will depend a lot on whether it was socialized to humans as a kitten. If there was no socialization at all, the cat is considered feral, and is probably not a good candidate for adoption. Be patient with a stray. It may take weeks or even months before you even touch it.

Food is usually the best way to begin interaction, and anything that creates a safe environment from the cat’s perspective is going to be helpful in speeding up the amount of time for bonding to develop.

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