Of Cats and Kittens: Feral, Stray and Pet Cats

stray-cat

Frankly, we are an unfair societypilih kasih, pilih bulu (discriminatory).  But that’s our right, isn’t it?  We have the right to choose and to decide where to place our affection.  And the majority of us choose to love cats and kittens over all other animals and their off-springs.

It is believed that cats have been with us for more than 9,500 years

cat says really

They used to be kept in the house to catch mice.  Nowadays, pet owners treat the cat as a family member, like the toddler of the family.

Really, although a cat is not as smart as man’s best friend, it is smarter than a toddler.  It is so good at cajoling and bermanja-manja with us. 

And the kittens are simply too adorable to resist.

What is the difference between a stray and a feral?

Most of us, even if we do not house a cat as pet, would be inclined to feed the strays or ferals that move in our neighbourhood.

So, what is the difference between a stray and a feral?

According to the American Heritage Dictionary:

a feral is :

1.     a. Existing in a wild or untamed state.
b. Having returned to an untamed state from domestication.
2.         Of or suggestive of a wild animal; savage: a feral grin.

A stray is:

‘one that has strayed, especially a domestic animal wandering about.’

There you go – basically, if the cat or kitten hisses at you and threaten to scratch you to pieces when you are merely trying to pet it or feed it, then assume it’s a feral.

Strays are cats that have no owner but nonetheless allow you to pet it and are generally friendly.

The Statistics

I don’t know the statistics of feral and stray cats population in Malaysia, but in the United States, according to the Humane Society of the United States, there are more than 70 million of them roaming the streets!

That’s more than twice the Malaysian population.

stray cat

High risk of disease

Feral and stray cats have the highest risk of disease due to their unhygienic lifestyles and eating habits. Since the feral and stray cats often carry dangerous diseases, pet owners are urged to keep their pets indoors, to protect them against serious illness.

It is feared that the pets may get into a fight with the diseased feral and stray cats and thereby risk the chance of getting diseases through wounds.

Feral
A FERAL – Image courtesy of Alley Cat Allies

Aside from scratches, the indoor pets would also be protected from infection-spreading parasites, including fleas and ticks.  Compared to house pets that can live up to 15 years of age, a feral or stray cat’s life span is about 3 years.

As the saying goes, prevention is better than treatment, and in the case of a cat once it contracts an illness, it can be very difficult to treat and even minor ailments can suggest major health problems.

Most diseases are preventable by vaccination, but cats that get the disease rarely survive, even with veterinary intervention.

Diseases That Feral & Stray Cat Carries

Among the many dangerous diseases that a feral or stray cat carries are Feline leukemia virus,  Feline Immunodeficiency, Virus Kidney Disease/Renal Failure, Feline Panleukopenia (Feline Distemper) and Feline Rabies (this can be passed to us).

So, if you love your feline pet, you’d better keep it secure inside the house or must get it vaccinated.

Unvaccinated pet that comes into contact with feral or stray cats, may suffer:

  1. Feline Leukemia Virus : spreads through urine, nose discharge and saliva, cats can catch the disease through bites, sharing food and water bowls, and from simply living together (from mother cats to their kittens).  Can result in a number of conditions, including system-wide infections, diarrhea, skin infections, eye disease, respiratory tract infections, bladder infections, infertility, anemia and cancer. Any severe chronic illness can be a sign of feline leukemia.
  2. Feline Immunodeficiency Virus : primarily spreads through bite wounds, outdoor cats and territorial tomcats are most susceptible to infection.  FIV is terminal, and because it targets the immune system, cats that have the disease run an increased risk of enlarged lymph nodes, ulcers of the tongue, inflamed gums, progressive weight loss, poor coat and skin disease, diarrhea, anemia, eye disease and cancer.
  3. Virus Kidney Disease/Renal Failure :  Causes for kidney disease include age, genetics and environmental factors such as access to ingesting poisonous substances. Renal failure in cats can take two forms: acute (a sudden stop of kidney function) and chronic (progressive deterioration of kidney function).  A number of symptoms can show up as a result of kidney disease, including excessive urination, increased thirst, nausea, a grinding or cracking sound in the jaw, vomiting, dehydration, constipation, loss of appetite, weight loss, halitosis (ammonia smell) and lethargy.
  4. Feline Panleukopenia (Feline Distemper) : a highly contagious viral disease in cats and usually fatal to kittens even if given treatment.  It can spread through bodily fluids, faeces and fleas, and is usually transmitted by contaminated food and water bowls, litter trays and clothing.  Cats suffering from the disease are likely to experience diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration, malnutrition and anemia. Symptoms include depression, loss of appetite, lethargy, and tail and back leg biting.  And I thought only humans faces depression.
  5. Feline Rabies : feline rabies is one of the most dangerous cat diseases, because it doesn’t infect just cats — it can be passed along to humans, too.  Symptoms include poor coordination, conjunctivitis, yowling, drooling, fever, strange behavior, depression and weight loss. There is no treatment or cure for feline rabies.

Very frightening, right?

Five Diseases Which Can Be Transmitted From Cats To Humans

As for us humans, the United States Public Health Service has identified five diseases which can be transmitted from cats to humans.

These are of special concern for people with compromised immune systems.

The list includes:

  • Salmonellosis: A bacterial infection that causes diarrhea
  • Bartonellosis: Also known as cat scratch disease
  • Cryptosporidiosis: Causes diarrhea
  • Toxoplasmosis: Spread to humans via contact with cat faeces
  • Campylobacterosis: Another diarrhea causing organism

These diseases are spread in faeces, so common-sense hygiene practices such as handwashing and wearing gloves should be followed when managing the litter box of a newly-acquired stray cat or feral kitten.

A cat enthusiast with a compromised immune system should firstly discuss pet ownership with both their physician and veterinarian prior to deciding whether to adopt a cat.

However, in my experience with family cats, there has not been any health complication due to cats although we let the cats roam outside the home grounds.

Feral-Cat-Coalition
Pic credit: www.feralcat.com

Trap , Neuter and Release

I know there are efforts by the local SPCA across Malaysia to raise public awareness on TNR (Trap , Neuter and Release) to control the population of feral and stray cats.

Here are some info on the processes involved in trapping, neutering and releasing the feral and stray cats.

Trapping Cats: How to Trap an Entire Colony

Looks like lots of work, right?  And, I have conducted a search on the internet for cat traps in Malaysia, and am quite disappointed as supply is almost non-existent.  And the price plus postage of a feral cat trap on Ebay runs to hundreds of ringgit.  And the cost of neutering a cat is between RM50 – RM150 each.

After the operation, you may need to care for the cat for a few days before it is fit to be released.

In short, to practice TNR in Malaysia will require a capital of at least RM300 and costs of at least RM100 per cat (inclusive of food, lodging/litter box and transportation costs).

In the US, there are organisations operating TTVAR which stands for trap, test, vaccinate, alter and release in an effort to manage stray cat populations.

I think, the cooperation between local councils, SPCA, vet clinics, vet schools and the public in Malaysia could make it happen.

If you should choose to rescue feral kittens, this instructional video could help you in taming the dear little frightened things.

and some more info on raising feral cats:

Currently, there are many differing opinions on the way to ‘treat’ feral and stray population, aside from TNR and TTNR, such as starving them to death, euthanasia, aborting a pregnant feline, shoot to death, planting plants that are poison to cats around the garden, etc.

Though they may sound cruel, there reasons are, among others, to protect the other species such as birds from extinction due to their ‘unnecessary murder’ by feral and stray cats.

If you would like to read the general opinion, you can read the comments to the article in fox59.com HERE.

What do you think – would you feed a starving feral or stray cat?

– Of Cats and Kittens: Feral, Stray and Pet Cats

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