Some of this is from reliable sources, some of this is my opinion and experience.
Not a lot is known about how to go about health care for ferals. The inability to touch them limits just how much we can do for them. In fact, the way to know just how sick a feral is, can be if it lets you pick it up. That either means that they have given up and are asking you for help, or they know that their end is near and are asking you for help in ending their suffering.
Before getting to that point, there are preventive measures you can take:
Of course, spay and neuter and vaccinate, flea treat and deworm. An unhealthy colony will improve dramatically once it is neutered. And, while there are differing opinions on how long vaccinations last, the outdoors are beyond our control and very different from deciding not to vaccinate our indoor cats, so the ferals should get starter vaccinations at the very least.
Always feed quality food. Look at those ingredients and try to keep meat as the first one. It can be expensive, but so will be any vet bills as you try to determine just what is wrong with the cats, when they just might be malnourished. Ferals are living longer with the excellent treatment they are receiving and just like our indoor cats, we are seeing the effects of food dyes and high-grain foods. Even if you give the cats table scraps of beef, chicken, shrimp, whatever, be sure that most of their diet comes from balanced cat food. These foods have been created with all the micronutrients that play a huge part in a cat’s physical well-being.
Try to offer water. It is really tough for ferals to get good, clean water. If you are feeding a diet of dry food, it is extra important. I know a lot of people who make special dinners for their ferals, composed of leftover chicken, etc., mixed with canned food – take the time to up the moisture content, too.
Neighborhood Cats has a wonderful piece on nutrition and I defer to them.
Should one of your ferals fall ill, it can be quite possible to treat them. It requires trapping them, housing them in a dog crate with a box for them to hide in to reduce their stress, having a canned food that they just go insane for, and a lot of patience. The possibility of having to medicate a feral is a good reason to treat them to canned food occasionally – they are creatures of habit and if all they ever get is dry food, very likely that is all they will want to eat when they are sick. Very hard to try something new at such a stressful time. Luckily, the antibiotics don’t seem to taste as nasty as they used to – or smell as bad! Watch out, once you make a feral feel better, they can decide that the inside life ain’t so bad! Know when to call it quits, too. A true feral will be miserable indoors and should be released as soon as possible.
In the past year, Feral Fixers has done a couple dentals and three eye surgeries for our ferals and friendlies, besides treating Upper Respiratories and bizarre diarrhea and vomiting! Eye infections were rampant this year, let’s hope it was a one time thing!
Wishing you and your ferals a Happy and Healthy New Year!