Trapping pregnant feral cat - good idea or not?
May 25, 2010 10:13 PM   Subscribe

Is it a bad idea to trap a pregnant feral cat so that she can give birth indoors, the kittens can be socialized, and she can be fixed so there's no more kittens? This seems like a no brainer, but recent events have me worried.

I live in a small town in northern New Mexico - there is no feral cat group here, and the shelter is over worked at the best of times. There's a colony of about 10 feral cats on my block. I've been feeding them, and as I can, trapping them to be fixed. We've already had a litter that I know about, and all but one (now living inside with me) was killed by stray dogs. A month or two ago I realized that one of the females I hadn't trapped yet was looking pregnant. I found a foster mom that was willing to keep her through the pregnancy and weaning, until we could find homes for the kittens and get the mom (and later the kittens) fixed. I trapped her a couple weeks ago, and took her to the foster mom. A week and a half ago she gave birth to three kittens. A few days later, one of the kittens died. The foster mom thought the other two were doing ok, but another died last night. She moved the last one away from the mom and tried bottle feeding, but he died this afternoon. On top of all of that, the mother cat isn't acting very responsive, and now we have a vet appointment for her tomorrow.

I'll be the first to admit I don't know a ton about cats. I'm still trying to get my colony stabilized, but its possible another female could get pregnant before I'm done. In that case, and with the disaster this has been in mind, should I leave her alone? Sorry if this is rambly - I feel like I've done something terrible, and heartbroken that I've killed the litter and possibly the mother by my meddling.
posted by korej to Pets & Animals (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'd think that the feral mother cat's poor nutrition, health, and exposure to disease and parasites early in the pregnancy (before you trapped her) would have a bigger effect on the kittens' viability than any stress from being kept indoors for a couple of weeks. So I would not blame yourself -- you did all that you could to give the mother cat and kittens a safer, healthier environment than they would have had otherwise.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:21 PM on May 25, 2010 [4 favorites]

There's a reason we vaccinate our pets against cat flu and feline enteritis. I strongly doubt that this cat's health problems are your fault.
posted by flabdablet at 10:23 PM on May 25, 2010

I have a good friend who is a crazy-cat-lady and does this all the time. She has several people who send her young kittens and pregnant moms from colonies in the area. I know it cost her quite a bit to get the kittens free of parasites and infections (eye infections are common it seems), and tons of other things. And she has a special deal with a vet.

Sometimes the babies die anyway, and each time she gets very depressed and says she will never, never do this again. Then she doesn't -- until someone has some more kittens that need help.

What you are doing is giving those kittens, and the moms too (even if your are only spaying and releasing them), a better chance then they had before. And that is to say nothing of the kittens that do survive, are petted into tameness, and find homes.
posted by Some1 at 10:41 PM on May 25, 2010

You should see if you can find a vet who will spay pregnant female cats, if you can; if not, trying to bring her inside again is still the best idea. Kittens, especially kittens of feral mothers, can get infected with all sorts of things that will kill them very easily, indoors or out -- but outdoors they can get killed by stray dogs and cars and the like as well as whatever disease that most cats can survive but a kitten or a weakened cat with a litter cannot. It is highly unlikely that you did anything that caused the death of any of these animals, and you are doing a good thing, taking care of feral kittens.
posted by jeather at 10:50 PM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

You did what you could, please don't feel guilty. I've had TNR training, and in your circumstances would have done exactly the same thing. You can find some excellent online workshops and educational resources here:

The New York City Feral Cat Initiative

Neighborhood Cats: the Feral Cat Experts
Alley Cat Allies

Good luck, and thanks for helping these sweet creatures!
posted by aquafortis at 10:50 PM on May 25, 2010

Thanks guys. I think deep down I knew this, but its been a rollercoaster, and I'm a bit of a wreck and should probably go to sleep. In the morning I'll see what else I can do, and for now, I'm really very grateful for the outside perspective.
posted by korej at 10:53 PM on May 25, 2010

This isn't your fault. You did a good job of trying to help, but what Jacqueline said is very true, the worst dangers came before your involvement and were largely out of your control.

It doesn't always have to end this way; a feral cat gave birth under our house last year, and the kittens are all thriving in good homes. So don't give up hope, in case you have more opportunities to help in the future.
posted by davejay at 11:04 PM on May 25, 2010

Mr. Llama's mom does a lot of this as well. For a while I think they were trapping pregnant moms and letting them live in their garage or basement, then spaying everyone (babies included when they were old enough) after the fact. In all seriousness they get a bulk discount rate at the vets' for shots and spayings.

They've now cut a hole in the garage door so the cats can come and go. They're relatively safe in the summer time here, I think, so they've loosened up the security level.

They also have a heated water dish, heated cat tent, and an ongoing cat food buffet on the deck.

Despite this Mayo Clinic level cat set up, many of the kittens die whether they're born inside or out. I think overall the health level of the population is rising and the population is stabilizing or falling, but as you know -- it's a lot of cats to work through and the going is slow.

Not your fault -- feral cats are a hard population to serve.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:45 AM on May 26, 2010

I rescued a pregnant cat last year and had her stayed/aborted. I did it bc I could not have handled having a litter in my studio apt (which already has a permanent kitty resident who was unhappy about one interloper). But the vet said the kittens probably wouldn't have been healthy, given how skinny mom was. You did a good thing and shouldn't feel at all guilty. For the future, find a vet who will spay a pregnant cat. It would probably be easier on you than having to go through something like this again. Plus, there are always too many cats.
posted by Mavri at 3:13 AM on May 26, 2010

I'm glad you stepped up, and nthing that it's not your fault. Diseases are common in the feral cat communities, and ferals have an average lifespan of three years. It's unlikely you could have done anything to save them. (Anecdotally speaking, our cat was a socialized stray we literally rescued off the street, and it took weeks of medication and a few hundred dollars in vet bills to get him healthy enough to be neutered - and we're lucky that everything he had was treatable.)

Alley Cat Allies is a good resource. Additionally, I follow a few blogs written by people who regularly foster kittens (because who doesn't love kittens?) and although there are many success stories, not every rescue can be nursed back to health. You might get some reassurance and understanding by reading about some of their challenges. (I really like this blog, and although I don't want to say "hey talk to this person I don't know," I emailed her once with a kitty question and her reply was very helpful and understanding.)
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:39 AM on May 26, 2010

From one who just buried a kitten born of a feral mama--thank you. I didn't know these problems were so common.

I think what I'm hearing is that whether one traps or not, nature takes its course with the precarious health of the kittens. It seems the better choice to spare mama a few weeks of danger and malnutrition, to give the kittens a decent, safer shot at the first few weeks, and to spare your neighborhood any future litters. Good on you, and good luck.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:44 AM on May 26, 2010

I'm working with a pretty decent rescue organization here, Independent Animal Rescue. I've never done anything as involved as you've done, but I have been lucky enough to have a wonderful case manager to advise me. Would you like me to see if someone in the organization would be willing to advise you? They're not vets, but there are some experienced and compassionate (to both cats and humans) members in the group. I can't promise anything, but I think there's a decent chance someone would love to advise you.

Failing that, you might have luck talking to a local vet and asking him or her to advise you.
posted by amtho at 5:46 AM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

I really wish people who dump their cats to "live free in the wild to hunt for food, they'll be ok" could see what happens to them--they and their descendants often lead short, unhappy, malnourished lives. It's heartbreaking. And those cats that do survive are a environmental problem for the local bird populations.

You did the best that could be done; feral cats are often very unhealthy, and the mama and her kittens probably would have died in much less comfort than you were able to give them.
posted by emjaybee at 8:26 AM on May 26, 2010

And I really wish people did spay-aborts more often.
posted by rhizome at 9:33 AM on May 26, 2010

I guess its a sign of how little I knew about cats, but until now I didn't really know spay-abort was an option. Certainly how I'll proceed in the future. Hopefully the vet can save the mama this afternoon, and thanks again all for the words of encouragement.
posted by korej at 9:50 AM on May 26, 2010

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