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PATIENT STORIES

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Smudge

1 yo, Domestic
Male, Entire
Condition(s): FIV +ve, fear of unfamiliar people, unable to examine
Family: None
Fur family: None
Lifestyle: Outdoor, unowned

I thought the rule was NOT to feed stray cats?

Unowned AND pet cats pose a unique challenge to society and environmental eco-systems. They breed proficiently, with queens being able to fall pregnant from as early as 4 months old! In fact, a 2021 report released by the RSPCA states that desexing before puberty [4 months old] offers many advantages. And yet, it is common place for a pet cat to have one 'accidental litter' prior to desexing.

Overpopulation of cats is a huge concern, with there being a distinct grey area between 'feral', 'street', 'inbetweener' and 'pet' cats all contributing to Australia's loss of wildlife and destruction of our unique ecosystems. If you're thinking 'my precious Fluffer-nutter isn't a hunter!' then think again. A 2020 parliamentary report found that Australia’s almost 3.8 million pet cats kill up to 390 million animals every year

Outdoor cats are at risk of predation, infectious disease, motor-vehicle accidents, cat-fight wounds/abscesses, trauma and many other conditions that are difficult to manage, monitor and/or medicate. However, not all outdoor cats can be managed similarly. In a perfect world, all cats would become confined to appropriate properties 24/7 (with adequate provision for their environmental and emotional needs of course!). However feral, street and even some inbetweener cats become severely distressed by confinement and proximity to humans, and need to be managed differently, as recommended by our friends at icatcare.org.

This author would argue that it is everybody's responsibility to befriend and help humanely manage local cat populations and colonies via 'Trap, Neuter, Return' strategies through to cat-friendly rehoming.

icatcare cat lifestyle infographic

Smudge's story

Initially, due to Smudge's minimum flight distance (a distance at which an animal will run away when approached) and was seemingly impervious to calming medication, we believed him to be a street cat. This would mean that Smudge would not become a pet and we would need to handle him very carefully. Smudge would not approach a food bowl unless completely alone and under the cover of night. We thought that Smudge would be very unlikely to adapt to an indoors environment without an unacceptable level of stress. For approximately 10 months, we were able to feed, but not pet, Smudge as we worked on gradually shortening his flight distance.

Management - making changes to the environment and interactions to accomodate for Smudge's stress

Modification - making changes to training and the environment to encourage alternative, confident behaviours

Medication

​Examples

  • Always allowing Smudge a 'way out' when approaching

  • Letting Smudge dictate the pace and timing of interactions

  • Patience

  • Sitting silent & motionless at the front door with the food bowl just outside Smudge's flight zone

Threat perception by the brain triggers a cascade of neuro-hormonal changes within the brain and the body i.e. anxiety. Medication aiming to help build resilience to these changes was implemented at high doses with apparently no effect.

It was patience, building trust, and then Smudge's diet was switched to a calming diet, his progress accelerated. Food lures could then be used to try and encourage Smudge through the front door and eventually into an isolation/confinement room; all at his pace.

Why this was important

Once Smudge chose to enter the house, we could humanely acclimate him to a cat carrier to use as a bed, then for fear-free transport purposes. Smudge was presented to our friends at Melbourne Cat Vets for a low-stress check up, blood tests (including FIV screening) & desexing experience.

Once under anaesthetic, it was discovered that Smudge had been suffering severe dental disease, requiring multiple extractions. 

Without respectful, patient interactions, we may never have been able to address Smudge's painful condition.

Smudge is now living his best life... 

... as an indoor cat with a catio fit for royalty

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