We (meaning me, my partner Matt, and his parents) have had something of a fumbling start getting the local feral cat colony into a "managed" state, but things are getting better. Sometimes I look out into the feeding area and see no less than eight or so cats -- all sleek, clear-eyed, glossy-coated, and ear-tipped (indicating their TNRed status).
We've still got a ways to go, however, and I know of at least three unspayed females -- all of whom had litters in April or May of this year. I've thus far seen two solid grey babies, three black ones, and two tiny tabbies. There may have been more but either they didn't survive or are still being hidden by their mothers. It is also hard to tell which kittens belong to which mama -- this is common in feral colonies, though, as female cats (especially sisters or mother-daughter groups) will trade babysitting duties.
Unfortunately, despite the cooperative mothering that can occur in groups of outdoor cats, sometimes kittens still get abandoned. We suspect that to be the case with the kitten below:
This little guy's name is Jack, and in this photo (taken this past weekend) he is resting on the sofa with Matt's mom. We think he's maybe 8 - 10 weeks old, but he could be older -- he is very underweight. When I held him it felt like his backbone was about to poke through his skin.
Matt's mom (with help from 10-year-old niece Julie) managed to catch him pretty easily in the back yard without even employing a trap; this is not a good sign, as a feral kitten that can't move fast enough to run away generally isn't a very healthy kitten. We'd been seeing him around for a while but he never seemed to be "with" the other kittens -- rather, he sort of hung around on the periphery, and has always (since we started noticing him) been much smaller than the rest.
Of course Jack will be taken in for neutering eventually, but right now the priority is getting him well. One reason for his alarming skinniness became apparent to me when I happened to peek under his tail: Jack's got tapeworms. Big time. Or rather, he had tapeworms -- hopefully the medication has worked by now. Various worms are capable of infecting cats, and roundworms are more common than tapeworms, but tapeworms have a pretty distinctive, um, style, and thanks to Shadow's tapeworm adventure when he was five months old I got a very effective lesson in recognizing them.
Cats get tapeworms either from fleas (which are a necessary element of the worm's life cycle) or infected rodents. I am fairly certain Shadow got his from a flea, but whatever the vector, I am quite vigilant these days about not letting anyone's monthly topical parasite treatment lapse. I learned the hard way that just because a cat stays indoors all or most of the time doesn't mean they can't get cooties. Fleas can hitch-hike in on your clothes, for instance, especially if you spend any amount of time around groups of cats, and given my feral-colony dealings I try to be mindful of this.
But back to tapeworms. The first sign of Shadow's wormage was the little pile of what I initially believed to be sesame seeds in between my sofa cushions. Which was odd to begin with, considering I couldn't recall having eaten anything with sesame seeds on it at any point in the preceding months. Later that day my uneasy feeling was validated when I noticed that Shadow had a number of what looked like grains of rice stuck to the fur under his tail.
I fleetingly hoped that he'd just, you know, sat in a bowl of rice or something -- but then I saw that the "rice" was moving.
Thankfully, two doses of praziquantel took care of the beasties that had set up shop in my (then) little black cat. Everyone else got dosed too, of course, just to be on the safe side, and the only side effect I observed was (in Cora's case) "excessive salivation", which resolved on its own within a few minutes.
Praziquantel is available under several brand names but the stuff I got was simply labeled "tape worm tabs". I've seen it at pet stores but it's generally ridiculously expensive there; I ended up buying it online and only spent a quarter of what I would have locally.
You can't just use regular wormer (e.g., the piperazine stuff easily found in grocery stores) because that will usually only get rid of roundworms. Tapeworms are essentially like those monsters in video games that can regenerate themselves indefinitely until you get to the source, and the praziquantel does something chemically to permit the head to be digested and passed uneventfully out of the body.
In any event, the point of all this is that if you live or work with cats, I highly recommend having tapeworm meds in your stock of Kitty First Aid supplies. Because I had two whole bottles left over from Shadow's wormisode, Jack was able to get treated without delay. Yay! Now hopefully he will start gaining some weight. He's still got a stuffy nose (hence the slightly open mouth in the photo above) and might need a vet trip for some antibiotics, but he is definitely looking more alert these days.
I will be sure to get another picture when I next visit, and of course if anyone local reading this blog has been looking for a kitten, please feel free to inquire! One area I would like to improve upon in terms of colony management is that of removing adoptable kittens and finding them permanent homes. Outdoor, unsocialized cats can of course lead perfectly happy lives (so long as they've got ample access to food, shelter, etc.) but it really makes it MUCH easier to care for those that cannot be adopted when colony populations are kept on the small side.