If you have been feeding and caring for feral cats, you probably will notice any changes in their behavior or eating habits. Sudden major changes are often an indication that something is wrong, but sometimes the signs of a problem are more subtle. Pay attention to your feral cat's behavior to determine if a trip to the veterinarian is in order.
Common Signs of Illness
Sick cats often experience fever and fatigue, which aren't easily detectable with feral cats. If your cat seems to have lost her appetite, is losing weight, suffering from diarrhea and vomiting, seek veterinary care as these symptoms can indicate anything from a basic gastrointestinal issue to life-threatening distemper.
Feral cats who refuse to eat might be suffering from gum disease, which can make it difficult for them to chew.
Upper respiratory infections are particularly common in feral kittens but can affects cats of all ages. Upper respiratory infections can have many underlying causes but often present as sneezing, runny or itchy eyes and heavy breathing.
Some serious illnesses such as feline infectious peritonitis often present symptoms similar to an upper respiratory infection. These symptoms are often accompanied by weight loss and loss of appetite and should be treated as soon as possible.
Other External Signs
While skin diseases might seem mild compared to other issues, some are highly contagious and can lead to serious problems. For example, if you observe hair loss, intense scratching and scabs, your cats could be suffering from a flea allergy. A flea infestation can lead to anemia, especially in kittens.
Feral cats also can suffer from ringworm, which can be passed on to humans.
What To Do
If you notice a cat is sick, the best thing you can do for him -- and the entire colony -- is to get him veterinary care. Special humane traps can be used to trap feral cats and transport them to the nearest vet. These traps are available for sale -- or sometimes as a loan -- from local humane societies and rescue organizations.
If you suspect a cat is sick, trapping him as soon as possible will prevent the disease from spreading and infecting other cats in the colony.
When dealing with stray animals, keep in mind that some diseases that feral cats harbor are zoonotic, and may be highly contagious to your own cats. Feline leukemia, for example, can be passed to other cats through saliva and close contact. So while touching infected animals won't harm you, you might end up taking the virus to your own home and cats. To avoid bringing these diseases home, always wear rubber gloves -- and wash your hands after taking them off -- when dealing with animals that might be sick, and disinfect the area if you discover sick animals.
Tammy Dray has been writing since 1996. She specializes in health, wellness and travel topics and has credits in various publications including Woman's Day, Marie Claire, Adirondack Life and Self. She is also a seasoned independent traveler and a certified personal trainer and nutrition consultant. Dray is pursuing a criminal justice degree at Penn Foster College.