Admitting Feral Cats for Surgery

by Limerick Feral Cats

Feral cats are liable to are brought in for neutering at any point during your working day. This is because the TNR group are completely at the mercy of the cats, who may or may not chose to co-operate and go in the traps! On occasion there may also be a ‘no show’ where the cats don’t appear at all. This can be a nuisance for the nurses who have slotted in the cats for morning surgeries, but please take it with good grace. The vets themselves know that there is a degree of unpredictability when it comes to trapping. If a cat is admitted during the day, there is no welfare issue with holding them overnight for surgery the following morning. Many vets won’t charge a hospitalisation fee, under the circumstances.

Although ideally the cats would be neutered as soon as possible after trapping to lessen the trauma of being contained, in some ways it is beneficial to the cats. Some of the injectable anaesthetics can induce cats to vomit, so it is better if they are fasted before surgery. (The exception to this rule is paediatric spay/neuter; kittens should only be fasted 2-4 hours before surgery and offered food as soon as the anaesthetic wears off.) In the majority of cases, feral cat groups will know for sure that the cats they intend to trap are feral. Should a tame stray be trapped inadvertently, the overnight stay gives the cat enough time to recover from the stress of capture. A cat that appears very fractious and hostile on admission may just turn out to be tame, once it has had time to calm down.

The TNR groups should have the weight of their traps recorded and labelled on each trap, so the cats can be weighed at reception. Otherwise you will have to wait until you are transferring the cat to a crush cage for injection. Make a note how much your practice crush cage weighs! When feral cats are brought in for surgery, it’s important to move them to a quiet area of the practice as soon as possible, rather than subject them to the noise and bustle at reception. A spare consult room or an empty isolation room is ideal for the cats while they wait for surgery. Line the floor with newspaper to make sardine clean-up easier! Ensure the traps are fully covered over – not only does this calm cats, but the blanket or sheet over every trap will act as a barrier against fomites. Dim the lights.

If the cats are admitted more than 12 hours before expected surgery time, they can be given a small amount of food and water in their traps once they have had time to settle. Cats provided with wet food don’t need to be given water; Limerick Feral Cats can provide foil trays of paté-type wet food. Slowly and quietly lift the end door of the trap a few inches – just enough to slip in the foil tray. The cat should retreat to the far end of the trap, but beware of cats that are restless and eyeing you up – they are considering trying to bolt past you!

Ideally the feral cat group will have a written protocol for treatment that has been agreed with the vet in advance. For instance, they will probably ask that the cats be treated with Stronghold or Advocate if they have fleas, mites or lice and accept that this will be added to the bill. They will also expect that all of the cats will be ear-tipped to signal that they are neutered and provided for. The circumstances under which any of the cats should be euthanised should also have been agreed beforehand. Generally, any serious or chronic illness that causes significant pain or suffering to the cat is grounds for euthanasia, because treatment options for feral cats are extremely limited.

If a cat soils their trap, please move them to a transfer cage temporarily to clean the trap and line it with fresh newspaper. It is hugely distressing to any cat to have to pee or poop where they lie. There is nothing that will make a feral cat lover’s heart sink faster than to be presented with a cat to take home that is sitting on a bed of soggy, smelly newspaper.

Having said that, weigh the probability of stressing the cat against the benefit of having the trap clean and odour-free. Kittens and young adults will probably cope better with this interference than an older cat. In all cases, don’t make direct eye contact and keep your movements slow, quiet and deliberate so as not to startle the cat unduly.

When scheduling the surgeries for the following morning, prioritise females over males. Obviously pregnant cats or cats that are known to be lactating should be operated on first; pregnant cats will need extra time to recover, so they should remain at the practice for as long as possible for monitoring. Lactating females need to be returned to their kittens as quickly as possible – usually no more than twelve hours after surgery. A flank spay is preferable for lactating cats, who will have no difficulty in continuing to nurse their kittens.

Usually the feral cat group will have a very good idea of the gender of most of the cats. Talking to people in the cats’ neighbourhood helps identify which cats have had kittens and are therefore definitely female. Ask the person bringing in the cats if they know the gender. If they don’t know, then schedule in any calicos or torties first. You become adept at recognising the unneutered males by their heavy build and chubby cheeks. Their urine has an unmistakable odour so if they pee in their trap, you will know they are male for certain! You can also check by looking underneath the cat when they are in the transfer cage. They have limited room to manoeuvre and you can move the tail aside with your finger through the bars to feel for testicles, which in an adult feral male are hard to miss!