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Soup to nuts--figuratively speaking....

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 
Tomorrow Philly Ferals has a spay/neuter clinic scheduled. I volunteer for those clinics, and I also trap for them. Tonight I captured Dana, a female feral who is approximately a year old (I'm guessing--I really don't have the chance to examine her teeth right now). She was captured using a spring-operated racoon trap and a few teaspoons of wet cat food in a can. I spent the last week putting food out along a path I know the cats use; last night I put no food out so they would be hungry (this doesn't always work, as neighbors also put food out). I checked the trap every half hour, and once I saw it was full I immediately brought it in and covered it with a sheet (this calms the cat).

Dana will spend the night in the cage in which she was captured. This is not inhumane, and is less stressful for all concerned than transferring her to a holding cage--that's when most captured cats attempt to escape and all kinds of havoc may ensue. She may eliminate but I doubt she'll eat the rest of her bait, which is good because she'll need to be anaesthetized tomorrow. A cursory examination shows some signs of an upper respiratory infection, which means I may have to hold and treat her longer than nomal post-operative protocols call for. Been there, done that.

One of the volunteers at the last clinic mentioned the availibility of medication/first aid kits which include antibiotics and weight/dosage charts. If I can get one of those I can begin immediate treatment.

Tomorrow I'll describe her passage through the clinic. Stay tuned....
post #2 of 8
Hey, when I trapped my ferals to get them spayed and neutered, they always seemed to get into that trap at night. I just put a blanket around the trap to help keep them a little warmer, but they stayed in the trap. Where was I going to put them that they would be safe????

You did a GOOD job.
post #3 of 8
Thread Starter 
The clinic is held on the second Sunday of the month, but occasionally others can be scheduled (we did one every week in October). It is held at PACCA's (Philadelphia Animal Control and Care Assiociation) facilities--the O.R. is donated but we do pay a fee for the anasthesia. The surgery is performed by veterinary students under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian; all other functions are handled by volunteers. This is potentially good publicity for PACCA--too many people still think Animal Control will round up and euthanize feral cats, despite PACCA's stated refusal to do so. More about that at another time and another post.

The volunteers arrive at about 8:00AM and begin organizing the clinic. The trappers begin arriving shortly thereafter; some, like me, are also volunteers and will remain for most or all of the clinic. The trappers fill out forms specifying whether the cat is to be released or fostered, and whether or not it is to be tested for FIV/FELV; they also leave instructions as to whether or not positive animals are to be euthanized. A volunteer logs the cats in, lables and numbers the paperwork and trap/carrier, and places them in a holding area--at no time is the cat to be separated from the paperwork. Dana was assigned #10.

While the cats are being logged in other volunteers set up various stations: a refreshment table with coffee and food (usually bagels and other baked goods and spreads), an immunization table, a recovery area, and a trap/carrier cleaning station. Other volunteers are assigned to wash and dry towels and blankets or to serve as runners (volunteers often double up on functions--cleaners and laundry workers are usually also runners, but others pitch in as well where needed). At about 9:00 the vets and students arrive and begin to set up in the O.R. Experienced volunteers are often on hand to assist them there by assembling surgical instrument packets and prepping the cats.

The traps and carriers that have been marked are lined up in the corridor leading to the O.R.--males on the left, females and "unknowns" (some cats, especially ferals, cannot be accurately identified as male or female until they're unconscious for any number or reasons) on the right. When the O.R. crew is ready, runners begin bringing the cats in.

If a cat has been determined to be friendly and able to be safely handled it is removed from the carrier and given an injection to tranquilize it; it is then returned to the carrier until it is unconscious. A feral cat who cannot be safely handled (most are in traps) is handled differently. As Dana is a feral, she was in a trap when brought to the O.R. The trap was upended and a volunteer used an isolator--a kind of comb-like device--to pin her to the bottom of the trap; she was then injected through the bars. Once she was unconscious she was removed and a student drew a small amount of blood from her inner thigh. The blood sample was used to test for FIV/FELV; Dana was negative for both so the operation could proceed. Her belly was shaved and she was taken to an operating table, where she was secured in a spread-eagle fashion with light ropes and a gas mask was placed on her muzzle--thus prepared, the student or vet assigned to her performed the surgery.

Males require less prep work; their surgery is pretty simple and quick, although there are more often issues in recovery.

Once the cats have been removed from their carriers or traps, a runner takes the latter to the cleaning station. Food, feces and other dirt is removed (sometimes a power-wash is required) and the carrier/trap is lined with newspaper for males and absorbent padding for females and then placed in waiting near the recovery area.

The recovery area is a section of floor covered in cardboard (the general clinic area is PACCA's indoor loading area); an L-shaped layer of sleeping bags, blankets and quilts is set up on the outer edge. A bin with various supplies and equipment and a baby scale is placed in the center. On the L; electric heating pads are placed and covered with quilts.

When Dana's surgery was complete, a runner took her and her annotated paperwork to the immunization table; she was wrapped in a soft blanket and placed upon the table. The O.R. staff placed a strip of tape with her number on her head. An experienced volunteer--usually but not always a veterinary technician--then administered three injections. FVRCP vaccine was injected subcutaneously into her right leg, a rabies vaccine was injected into similarly into her left leg, and a post-surgical antibiotic was injected subcutaneously into her upper shoulder (I actually got to do those injections on other cats today!). As a feral who is to be released, her left eartip was cut off and the wound was electrically cauterized. Her paperwork was annotated and she was rewrapped and carried with her papers to the recovery area.

The procedure is the same for males, but they do not get the antibiotic injection unless the O.R. staff recommends it.

The cat is weighed on the baby scale and then placed upon a heating pad still wrapped in its blanket. Anasthesia causes a cat's body temperature to drop considerably; so as it recovers external heating is often required. During the recovery volunteers monitor heartrate and temperature. The heartrate is monitored by stethoscope placed under the cat's forepaw (it's not easy to find an unconscious cat's heartrate, but unmistakeable once you do). Heartrate should be about 200 beats per minute; the listener counts for fifteen seconds, multiplies by four and then notes the figure and time on the paperwork. Temperature is taken rectally and should be as close as possible to 100 degrees Farenheit; this is similarly notated. The cat's ears are then cleaned; when needed medication for ear mites and eye infections are administered. If a cat is to be fostered its claws are trimmed.

Recovery workers watch for any distress signs from the cat and respond accodingly. The most common ones are shivering (the cat needs more direct heating) and excessive bleeding from the surgical wounds (the cat may need pressure applied or may even need to be returned to the O.R.--males seem paricularly prone to this and one today went back twice). They also watch for signs of consciousness. As a cat comes out from under anasthesia it will be groggy and disoriented--there's often a "bobble-head" effect. Some also stay under for a longer than usual time and need to have temperature and heartrate rechecked. Once a cat begins moving around, the tape is removed from the head and it is placed in its prepared carrier. Dana was originally brought in a trap, but a carrier was brought for her for recovery purposes--more about that later.

The students and volunteers operate the clinic like an assembly line; senior volunteers (many of whom have medical or veterinary credentials and experience) supervise the operation and handle complications as they arise. They rely upon other volunteers to spot and report those complications, and unless a clinic is especially busy they also train volunteers to perform more complicated tasks. Today was a light day, so I received training in both immunization and recovery.

As the surgeries are completed and the cats begin fully recovering, medical certificates are created for each cat and the trapper/owner is contacted to pick up the cat. As the cats are removed the clinic is systematically dismantled and supplies/equipment are packed away for the next clinic.

Dana returned home with me in a small carrier. For at least the next 72 hours she will be in recovery with me prior to release. Details of her recovery will be described in the next post--I'm tired, my feet are sore and I'm just about ready for bed--tomorrow's a work day....
post #4 of 8
That was awesome!! I've been on the trapping and recovery side of this, and basically understand the protocals but haven't witnessed the entire process. I look forward to hearing about her recovery time! I recently donated my recovery cage to someone who is more active with trapping ferals than I am.
post #5 of 8
Originally Posted by KittenKiya View Post
Hey, when I trapped my ferals to get them spayed and neutered, they always seemed to get into that trap at night. I just put a blanket around the trap to help keep them a little warmer, but they stayed in the trap. Where was I going to put them that they would be safe????

You did a GOOD job.
Alley Cat Allies recommends that if you plan to take the cat to the vet the next day, to keep the cat in the trap overnight...just make sure you remove it from the area you trapped in and place the trap in a room such as a bathroom.

post #6 of 8
Thread Starter 
After the trauma of capture and the seemingly chaotic yet purposeful bustle of the clinic, recovery seems...anticlimactic. And it is. But it's as important as anything else that takes place prior to it. Often the cat's health depends upon it.

When Dana was initially captured she was frightened and a bit frantic, which is to be expected from a feral. My initial observation of a snotty discharge around her muzzle suggested a possible respiratory infection, so this was something I'd watch for as she recovered. There would be other things to watch for as well, and time to watch for them.

As a rule, I allow males 48 hours recovery and females 72 hours (probably a little longer during periods of inclement weather, but it hasn't really turned cold yet). Claudia was an exception, as it was discovered in the O.R. that she was lactating and had to be flank-spayed; she also had to be quickly released as her kittens could not be found and she was their best chance for survival. That's with healthy cats--sick ones requiring medication or other follow-up treatment and recuperation take much longer and can create logistical problems--more about that later.

Feral cats, when not agitated, tend to be quite passive. They find a comfortable and apparently safe place and just sort of quietly crouch there most of the time. This is normal. But they do need to eat, drink and eliminate, and one should watch those activities.

Upon immediate recovery from anasthesia a cat will seldom if ever be hungry, and immediately feeding it is pointless and not recommended until it is at least fully awake and alert. It will, however, be thirsty, so provide water and make sure it rehydrates--most will. After about twelve hours feeding can be considered, but don't expect the cat to eat immediately.

Dana was given a private suite--sort of. She was placed into a carrier with a cleal plexiglass guillotine door in front and a sliding circular door on the side as she began to come to. The carrier, with her in it, was placed in a large dog crate and the side door was opened. A sheet was draped over the crate after it was stocked with food and water. She had a quiet, dark "room" and a "hidey hole", but could easily be observed.

It was a day or so before I saw that she had eaten, but it was quickly obvious that she was drinking. On the second day wet and dry food was mixed together to make eating more attractive. No feces yet, but I really didn't expect that. A feral cat in captivity will hold it in as long as possible to reduce vulnerability--sometimes for several days. Dana was no exception.

As I stated earlier, I thought I saw signs of possible illness. None were observed post-surgery. No labored wheezy breathing, no discharge, and no lethargy (not to be confused with alert immobility), so even if she has an infection it's a mild one and nothing to worry about. She hasn't injured herself trying to escape--I've seen ferals with bloody paws and torn nails that came from clawing at traps and cages. In short, she appears quite healthy and is recovering nicely.

Sick or injured cats are much more difficult to recover; most require treatment from veterinarians. An upper respiratory infection can be treated by a non-vet with antibiotics such as Clavomox or Amoxicillin, provided the cat's weight is known and a dosage chart is followed. Anything more serious should not be attempted, and a cat showing more obvious symptoms than a wheeze and some discharge should get immediate professional medical attention. And they should not be released until medically cleared. This takes time and space; the latter is in short supply for most trappers (especially urban ones) and a recuperating cat can slow down trapping/releasing activities as well as being an added expense. And most such expenses will be out-of-pocket--be prepared for that.

Fortunately, Dana is not such a cat. The weather will be quite nice for late November, and she'll be released tomorrow night....
post #7 of 8

Will you be back to talk about her release? The story wouldn't be complete without it!!

I know they usually just run off and hide, but sometimes it is interesting to see how they react to the open cage and where they run to first.

Thank you SO MUCH for sharing this story!!

post #8 of 8
Thread Starter 
Dana was with us about 72 hours before she was released; during that time we observed her habits--she ate, drank (mostly), urinated and defacated. Her stool was solid and looked healthy, and no wheezing was heard.

Post-surgery, cats need to be recovered. Males have less invasive surgery and recover faster--the standard for them is 48 hours unless there are complications. For females it's 72 hours. The point of this is to give the incision time to heal and to watch for complications.

The most common complication with feral cats is upper respiratory infections. A cat with a URI cannot be released into the colony as such infections are highly contagious and devastating to young and weak cats. They must be held and given a course of antibiotics; this can take up to two weeks, depending on the size of the cat and the severity of the infection. Antibiotic treatment must be completed, even if the cat appears to have recovered--the last thing we need are resistant disease strains.

Dana was kept in a carrier inside a large dog crate; the carrier was her "hidey hole". It also made it easier for me to extract her from the crate. I took her to the lot where she was captured and opened the carrier, making sure to stand behind it. Dana shot out like a cannonball and disappeared. I'm sure I'll see her again as I feed the colony, but she'll no longer have kittens and no longer provoke fights among the unneutered males.....
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