Seven Ways to Help Your Community Cats Thrive

7. Establish A Routine

Cats love routine! With regular mealtimes, the cats have a better chance to get a full meal than if food is placed randomly throughout the day or left out for any animal to find. Leaving food out all day can attract undesirable insects and wildlife and is not allowed by Animal Services. County Ordinance says food should only be placed for 3 hours within a 24-hour day. When the cats come to you on a schedule, you will be able to keep an eye on them and spot any signs of concerns like illness or injury and it becomes much easier to trap the cats if ever the need arises.

6. Provide Appropriate Food in Clean Dishes

According to County Ordinance any person who accepts the responsibility of feeding community cats is expected to provide proper nutrition. This means the food a caregiver provides must meet all the dietary needs of cats. Leftovers and table scraps are often inappropriate for cats and those few human foods which may be acceptable (such as cooked chicken or fish) should only be a supplement to a balanced diet. No matter your budget, a cat food is considered nutritionally complete if it bears the AAFCO statement “complete and balanced.” Rest assured that if cats eat an adequate amount of cat food with this label, then they are getting all the essential nutrients they need.

Ordinance also requires that food be placed in clean dishes or containers, which serves two purposes. First, if the food is scattered, strewn, or laid directly on the ground, there will inevitably be remnants left behind to attract pests and wildlife, which should be avoided. Second, the ground is a prime source for germs and contamination of all sorts that the cats would be ingesting with their meal. Dirt, grass, and cement can harbor a multitude of common microorganisms that can infect a cat through ingestion like giardia, coccidia, and intestinal worms. Attracting wildlife, as mentioned above, further increases the risk of spreading illnesses like these. Dishes should be cleaned regularly.

5. Provide Fresh Water, Always

While we’re on the subject of invisible contaminants, water is a prime source as well. There are bacteria, protozoa, algae, and insect larvae which can grow and thrive in a dish of stagnant water. It is best to fully replace water daily and clean bowls regularly. Doing so will keep you in compliance with County Ordinance and help your kitties stay healthy and hydrated.

4. Treat for Fleas

Fleas can become a terrible nuisance affecting not just the cats but you and your other animals as well. Flea bites can even become inflamed and irritated, causing open sores and hair loss. A very bad infestation can cause a cat to become anemic from blood loss, and fleas have the capacity to transmit infection. Flea dirt (flea poop) which ends up in the cat’s fur, can carry the source of “ cat scratch fever ” which can cause serious illness if the offending bacteria infects someone through a cut or a scratch.

There are numerous products to combat fleas, divided broadly into topical treatments, oral treatments or environmental solutions.

Topical: If you are able to touch your community cats in order to apply a topical flea treatment, you have several options. Some can be purchased at a pet store or online, such as Frontline, Advantage, or Cheristin. Some require a prescription from a vet to be purchased in the U.S., such as Revolution and Bravecto. There are overseas suppliers where some of these can be ordered, such as Canada or Australia, but be aware that these suppliers are not regulated by U.S. standards and should be selected with caution. Revolution is a popular choice for flea treatment in cats because the active ingredient also impacts mites, which can cause ear infections and mange. Whatever product you choose, make certain that the product specifically states that it is for cats! Some products are not safe for cats.

Oral: If you cannot touch the cat to apply medicine, you may be able to provide an oral treatment. There are a couple of medications that can be given this way. Nitempyram, the active ingredient in Capstar, can be placed in food and will kill all the adult fleas present on the cat. It is often paired with Lufenuron , which halts development of flea eggs. Oral options come with some challenges. When there are several cats, you’ll need to control which cat eats the medicine and ensure they consume a full dose but only their own dose. Natural remedies often consist of a combination of vitamins and supplements that deter biting insects. These often require daily administration but do have the advantage of working against biting insects in general, including mosquitos. Flea Free is a liquid supplement that is added to the water dish, and Flea Away is a tablet that can be crushed into food.

Environmental: If none of these options are sufficient in your battle against fleas, you may also want to use products around your yard or where the cats eat and sleep. Diatomaceous earth (food grade) is a powder which will kill insects that come in contact with it, yet non-toxic and safe enough to apply directly to your pet’s coat. If your community cats allow you to touch them, you can sprinkle a little on their fur or even rub it in - base of the tail, haunches, scruff of the neck. Otherwise, you can distribute it throughout your yard or in the cat’s sleeping area. Avoid producing too much airborne dust when applying the powder - it can be an irritant when inhaled. Check out a few more pet-safe, flea solutions for your yard in this article . Vet’s Best also offers numerous safe and natural insect repellants.

3. De-Worm

Intestinal worms are prevalent among community cats in Florida. These are typically classified as roundworms, hookworms or tapeworms. Yuck! It’s widely known that worms will cause an animal to suffer from malnutrition and even starvation, but did you know that they can also weaken the immune system, making a cat susceptible to further illness? That several types can be passed via pregnancy and nursing? Did you know that hookworms consume a cat’s blood and that an uncontrolled infestation can kill by blood loss, tissue damage, and even organ failure? This is treatable and preventable!

There are a variety of different treatments available for intestinal worms; some will only treat a single type of parasite, some will treat for several. Pyrantel is the most common choice for both roundworms and hookworms and is safe enough to use as a monthly preventative. It is available over the counter as a generic liquid as well as under a few different brand names, such as Strongid, Nemex, and Drontal. If you choose to use a liquid form of pyrantel, it can easily be mixed with food, but it is recommended that you consult a vet first. You'll need to calculate the dose for each cat based on weight and take into account the strength of the chosen product, because this differs.

Drontal is a tablet which can usually be purchased at local feed stores, is easy to measure dosage at one pill per cat, can be added to food, and has the added benefit of containing an additional medication to treat tapeworms, praziquantel. Praziquantel can also be purchased on its own , or as a generic, and can be mixed into food to treat for tapeworms. Because a cat gets tapeworms after ingesting fleas while grooming, controlling fleas should also control recurrence of tapeworms.

2. Have a Plan for Illness or Injury

By choosing to become a community cat caregiver, you are accepting responsibility for providing adequate food and water and for humane care in general. According to Pinellas County Ordinance , this specifically means that a cat should never be allowed to suffer. To observe a cat with significant illness, injury, or distress and to make inadequate efforts to help, can be considered neglect. Even with proper care, problems beyond your capability can arise, so it’s important to keep a few things in mind before that happens. How will you contain the cat – will you need to borrow a trap? Will you be able to take the cat for vet attention on your own? If you prefer to treat the cat and bring it back to your colony, are you prepared to contain the cat for a period of recovery before release? Will you be comfortable surrendering the cat to a vet, shelter, or agency so they can choose the best course of action?

If you plan to seek vet attention directly, it’s a good idea to chat with a few vets ahead of time, to find out who is willing to see a feral, community cat, how difficult it will be for them to see a cat on short notice, and what their rates are. If you anticipate challenges to securing vet attention on your own, you’ll want to have an idea of where you may find support or resources. Do you have any neighbors or friends able to help? Feel free to contact MEOW Now at info@meownowfl.org with any questions about the resources we may be able to offer. Our organization isn’t set up to respond to emergencies though, so if you find yourself faced with one, we advise contacting an emergency vet or Pinellas County Animal Services .

1. Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return!

The number one way to improve the health of your community cats is to have them neutered and vaccinated! Vaccines protect the cats from a variety of transmissible illnesses, including distemper, a few respiratory illnesses, and rabies. Protecting the cats protects the community as well. TNVR confers protection from illnesses through spay and neuter as well as through vaccines. FIV and FeLV are cat-specific viruses spread by fighting and mating; both behaviors are dramatically reduced or eliminated after cats are fixed. Reduction of fighting helps prevent wounds and injuries which could become infected. Neutered cats also roam less, which reduces exposure to dangers such as traffic and unfriendly animals. The metabolism of an unaltered cat invests a fair amount of energy into simply maintaining fertility. This energy expenditure is no longer necessary once the cat is spayed or neutered, and community cats often demonstrate improved health afterward. If you need help with TNVR for your community cats, get started by registering at catstats.org/meownow and then selecting “colony help.” We would love to get you scheduled!