Skittish stray cat is injured. We love him.
July 12, 2018 8:25 AM   Subscribe

A scruffy-looking stray started visiting our backyard daily, starting about 2 weeks ago. Our existing cat loves him. We feed him and named him Jeremy. He didn't show up all day yesterday, and when he came by this morning he had a head wound. I'd like to take him to the vet, but he's skittish and won't let me get within 5 feet of him. Is there a way to do this without losing his trust? We'd love to adopt him.

Photos here, including one of today's head wound.

We love this cat, and he's been hanging out in our backyard all day, most days. I don't know where he goes at night.

We've been planning on checking whether he has a microchip once we've earned his trust, to make super-sure he doesn't have a family already. Photos posted on local lost-pet forums have gotten no response, and we haven't seen any "lost cat" ads with his description.

We were hoping to wait until we've earned more of his trust to visit the vet and check for a microchip, because he won't let us within 5 feet of him (3 feet if there's a food bowl present). But now that he's presented with a head wound, am I right that we shouldn't wait until we gain his trust?

What should we do?

This is in Vancouver, WA.
posted by mnemonica to Pets & Animals (24 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Don't wait. You can go to an animal rescue place and get a humane trap baited with food to bring him to the vet. He may (or may not) thank you later.
posted by *s at 8:33 AM on July 12, 2018 [14 favorites]

You’re right. Save a life first, bond later. *s has it with the borrow-a-humane-trap strategy.
posted by armeowda at 8:56 AM on July 12, 2018

Best answer: Even if he has other family elsewhere, he's picked you as his family now. I wouldn't wait any longer to get him to a vet and properly checked over. A humane trap will probably work well because you've been feeding him and he's comfortable with that behavior. If you are really that super concerned about losing his trust in you specifically, you could ask a good friend to be the one to check on him in the trap and take him to the vet and stuff, so he only sees you once he's back and safe. But that's not a guarantee or anything - he could still respond poorly to the trauma regardless. I absolutely think it's worth the added time working back up to your current relationship in exchange for his health, don't you? As an added concern, if he continues to socialize with your current cat he could be carrying all sorts of nasties that could be transferred and a vet will be able to get those dealt with.
posted by Mizu at 9:04 AM on July 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

Two tips:

1) As soon as he's in the trap, cover it with a large towel or blanket. Being in a dark small space will be calmer for him than being exposed but unable to run away.

2) Bonding through play is really powerful. The most sure-fire play we've found is a shoelace or cord moved back and forth on the ground (never leave unattended string with a cat, just play with it while you are holding it), or a small stick. Start with your hand far away from the cat for security, then you can slowly move your hand closer.

Some cats are more compelled by chasing/play than by food. It works really well.
posted by amtho at 9:10 AM on July 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Please update when you've resolved the cat situation! What handsome fellows they are - I hope everything works out well.
posted by Frowner at 10:02 AM on July 12, 2018 [10 favorites]

Just a note to assist you with catching the cat! STOP FEEDING HIM NOW. Don't give him any food unless it's in the trap. He'll be much less likely to balk at a weird trap/feeding situation if he's hungry. The more you feed him pre-trap the less likely he is to get in it. I've successfully used one of those traps to capture a completely feral cat but it would have gone way smoother/quicker if I hadn't fed her first. Probably wouldn't have gotten her at all if she hadn't been a nursing mother. Good luck! Go get your baby.
posted by possibilityleft at 10:10 AM on July 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

That looks like a bite wound from a fight with another cat. It'll quickly turn into an abscess unless he gets some antibiotics. Cat abscesses are gross beyond belief. He will get over being in a trap pretty quickly, I'm sure.
posted by essexjan at 10:14 AM on July 12, 2018 [4 favorites]

Yes, absolutely get a humane trap and get him to the vet. Aside from the head wound, which is an obvious concern and should be checked out ASAP, if he's coming into contact with your cat, you want him checked out and up to date on vaccines (especially if he's possibly getting into fights with another cat or other wildlife).

Do you have a room you can keep him isolated in after the vet visit? If it turns out he needs to be on antibiotics, you may want to consider temporarily keeping him inside so you can make sure he gets his meds. It's worth at least talking with the vet when you bring him in to see what they say. (i'd be concerned that after the trauma of being brought into the vet, he may go hideout for a little while, making it hard to give him antibiotics if that ends up being needed.)
posted by litera scripta manet at 10:53 AM on July 12, 2018

Hi, we adopted our kitty as a two year old feral adult after he had a similar wound that led to the vet staff calling him (somewhat unkindly, we thought) ink spot, and he was indoor-only for 8 years and a lovely cat who was fixed at age 1.5-2.5 and learned how to use the litter box at the same time. So it can work out. Good luck!
posted by arnicae at 11:06 AM on July 12, 2018

If you can't borrow a trap from a local shelter or rescue, they are sometimes rented (for a very small, reasonable cost) at feed stores.
posted by ereshkigal45 at 11:10 AM on July 12, 2018

If you need more incentive to run for the vet, one of mine disappeared for a day and came home with a similar head wound. The resulting abscess so close to the brain, despite prompt treatment, meant fits, eventual blindness in one eye and general neural degeneration. She's quite fine now but it took three years of kitty rehab with a neurologist.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 12:14 PM on July 12, 2018

Response by poster: Update: I've contacted the local humane society, and they've told me where I can rent a trap. I can bring him in for his medical needs ASAP, and they'll check his microchip and try to contact his family, if he has one. Otherwise, we can be first in line to adopt him. <3

I'll keep y'all posted on how trapping goes.
posted by mnemonica at 12:16 PM on July 12, 2018 [22 favorites]

Response by poster: The trap is set. Jeremy walked over to it for the food, and circled it a few times, before deciding to fall asleep under the patio table instead of entering. I'm watching from inside the house.

If he doesn't attempt the trap in the next hour, I'll miss the cutoff time to take him to the vet today. Do y'all think his wound is severe enough that I should try to get close to him and pick him up before the cutoff time, so he can see a vet today? It's risky because if it doesn't work, I worry he could get spooked and not want even food from us.
posted by mnemonica at 4:42 PM on July 12, 2018

I would wait rather than spook him. You may find him in the trap in the morning.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:22 PM on July 12, 2018

Response by poster: No luck tonight. I left water out; we'll see if he's hungry tomorrow.
posted by mnemonica at 6:19 PM on July 12, 2018

Any updates on Jeremy?????
posted by yoga at 9:50 AM on July 13, 2018

Bait the trap with something irresistible like tuna instead of regular cat food.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:17 AM on July 13, 2018

Response by poster: Update TL;DR: not yet.

Late yesterday evening I went out to the backyard, and Jeremy planted himself on the porch, between me and the back door, and stared at me. Then he curled up to wait. I opened the door and he skittishly walked inside and ate some of Sansa's dry food! I didn't let him eat too much b/c I want to make sure he'd be hungry enough the next day to attempt eating from the trap.

This morning, as my partner left for work, Jeremy was waiting on the porch, booped noses with Sansa, and howled at my partner when it was clear that he wasn't getting fed. So far so good.

He's been camped out on the porch until about 9:45am, at which point he disappeared. I think he'll still come around for food at 1:30 today when I bait the trap again.

If the trap doesn't work this afternoon, I'm going to try letting him in the house again, closing the door, and (gently) grabbing him and putting him in a carrier. I'll have towels and leather gloves for protection.
posted by mnemonica at 10:54 AM on July 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Bait the trap with something very smelly like tuna or mashed up sardines.
posted by Stewriffic at 11:05 AM on July 13, 2018

Agree with all the above! You’re awesome for helping this kitty. Yes, you need something really stinky to use for bait. you have any catnip? I once trapped a very wary injured cat with a pinch of the good stuff next to the stinky food.

Also, if you have raccoons in your neighborhood, don’t leave the trap unattended all night! When I have to trap, I sleep where I can hear the snap of the closing door, and then move kitty in covered trap to an isolated interior spot. A trapped cat is vulnerable to raccoon attacks. We won’t discuss how I know this,. A trapped cat can also injure itself within the cage if it’s panicked. Once trapped, you want to keep him in a safe, dark, quiet spot until you take him to the vet. Do keep him isolated from your cat.

Also: put something plastic under the trap, including during transportation. Some cats will urinate from stress in the car. You don’t want that in your upholstery.

Good luck!I believe you’ll be successful. Bonus tip: for socializing skittish cats, I’ve found reading aloud to cats (while not looking at them) helps get them used to me.
posted by Nancy_LockIsLit_Palmer at 12:31 PM on July 13, 2018

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice. I am definitely not leaving the trap out when I'm not around to monitor it: if he's in the trap, I need to be able to get him to the humane society ASAP, in my opinion. I really don't want to stress him out longer than absolutely necessary.

People keep mentioning stinky food. We're baiting the trap with stinky tuna wet food. Please tell me if you think I need to up my stinky game more than that.

RE: plastic, etc: I have towels, blankets, and plastic bags in my car, ready to transport him. I'll make sure the carrier/trap is not directly on plastic, but rather, on a folded blanket that's on top of a plastic layer.
posted by mnemonica at 12:41 PM on July 13, 2018

Your stinky tuna food should work if he’s hungry. But some cats are more attracted by cooked chicken. If you have some, you could add a little.
posted by Nancy_LockIsLit_Palmer at 3:21 PM on July 13, 2018

Response by poster: Update: we got him, and he's safely in the care of the humane society as they try to find his family (if any) and give him medical care.

What happened:

I went out with the baited trap and set it in the shade. He walked up to it, sniffed it & me, and trilled a bit. He wouldn't go inside, but as I coaxed him he kept coming closer. He even let me touch his face! But he wouldn't go in. Eventually he turned his back and took a nap 10 feet away.

I waited inside for a couple hours but he wouldn't go near the trap. As it got later in the day, I decided to try to get him in the house instead.

I walked softly over to him with a bag of treats, and held one in my outstretched hand. He ate it! I brought my hand closer to my body and he ate another out of my hand. I then walked to our back door and he came in to eat Sansa's food. After that, we were able to get him into a carrier.

The first thing the admitting vet tech said was, "you look like you have FIV! ❤️" which we'll be thinking about over the weekend b/c it makes adoption complicated. They also immediately noticed ear mites.

They said I could call again on Monday to see how he's doing, so we'll see from there. Thank you everyone for your advice and encouragement!
posted by mnemonica at 6:10 PM on July 13, 2018 [21 favorites]

Not to freak you out, but is your other cat "Sansa" FIV+? If not, wash that food bowl ASAP. I don't think FIV+ cats are supposed to share food/water bowls or litter boxes with non FIV cats, but there's conflicting info out there and I'm not 100% sure. Good luck, you are good people for stepping up and helping this kitty!
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 4:59 PM on July 14, 2018

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