Veterinarians play a critical role in the humane care of feral cats. By performing the medical portion of Trap-Neuter-Return, you help to improve the cats’ lives. Although feral cats are the same species as the cats who regularly come into your practice, feral cats require a special veterinary approach that takes into account their unique needs and the fact that they are unsocialized to humans. For Trap-Neuter-Return to be successful, veterinarians must be educated about, and comfortable with, the specific methods and procedures necessary to provide appropriate care for feral cats.
Here you will find appropriate protocol and practical recommendations that should be implemented when caring for a feral cat at your practice or clinic. You can also watch a video walking you through a feral cat spay and neuter clinic that demonstrates high-volume, low-cost, and high-quality procedures on our website www.alleycat.org/videos.
If you are a caregiver looking for feral cat veterinary care, keep in mind that not all veterinarians will treat feral cats. To locate a veterinarian or clinic in your area experienced with handling and treating feral cats, request a list of Feral Friends in your area through our Email Assistance Form at www.alleycat.org/response.
If there are no veterinarians or clinics in your area specializing in or experienced with treating feral cats, call your regular veterinarian or other veterinarians in your area and ask if they would be willing to learn. Provide them with the information found here (http://www.alleycat.org/veterinarian), and take time to read information about Working with a Veterinarian online at http://www.alleycat.org/Page.aspx?pid=329.
- Prior to surgery, always sedate a feral cat while in the trap. Feral cats are unsocialized to humans and should be sedated in the trap for the safety of your staff and the cat.
- Make sure you have the appropriate equipment on hand for your safety and the cats’.
An Isolator (aka catacomb or trap divider) is a device that looks like a large pick or comb. Insert the isolator into the top of a trap or cage to force the cat into a small portion of the cage for sedation.
A Feral Cat Den (also known as a feral cat handler) is for use when you must hold a cat for several days for recovery from an injury or extensive surgery to provide a quiet hiding place. This is useful for caring for feral cats, but is not required. The den can be placed in a larger holding pen or large cage where the cat is being held, along with a litter box, food, and water. The cat enters the den by a porthole on the side that you easily slide shut once the cat is inside in order to more safely place food or water or clean the cage. A vertical sliding door makes it easy to transfer the cat to another cage or return the cat to the den for recovery after surgery.
A Spay Board is one tool feral cat clinics can use to hold female cats in the proper position during surgery. Though these are not required, they can make surgery quicker. Humane Alliance (http://www.HumaneAlliance.org) also has other techniques for holding female cats in place during surgery.
Read Alley Cat Allies' spay board design instructions to build your own at http://alleycat.org/Document.Doc?id=333.
Other equipment to have on hand:
• Safety gloves (to protect your hands as you handle traps and to handle emergency situations)
• Newspapers (to replace soiled newspapers in traps while cats are in surgery)
• Cleaning solution in spray bottles (a diluted bleach mixture works well)
• Additional clean towels or sheets to cover traps
This equipment can be purchased from the following suppliers:
Listing these companies here does not in any way imply an endorsement by Alley Cat Allies, nor is Alley Cat Allies responsible for the content of the websites or the utility of the equipment.
Tomahawk Live Trap Co.
P.O. Box 325
Tomahawk, Wisconsin 54487
Phone: 800.272.8727 or 715.453.3550
Animal Care Equipment & Services, INC. (ACES)
P.O. Box 3275
Crestline, California 92325
- Plan your surgery tracking system in advance. When multiple cats are visiting your practice or clinic at one time, it is important to have a tracking system in place—such as matching tags that attach to the trap and the cat’s leg—that will ensure cats are returned to the appropriate trap. Since feral cat traps are marked with their trap location so that cats can be returned to the exact place they were trapped, this can not be overlooked. That same tag can be used to track the cat through various clinic stations and to note the services and medications she received.
- Prepare for vaccinations and other medical care. Rabies vaccines should be administered as mandated by state regulations. Alley Cat Allies encourages using the three-year vaccine for adult feral cats. Other vaccinations, such as distemper, and other treatments, such as for fleas or worms, can be administered at the discretion of the veterinarian and based on the caregiver’s ability to pay. We encourage veterinarians to consult industry leader protocol. For more hands-on information visit the Feral Cat Project (http://www.feralcatproject.org/) and Humane Alliance (http://www.humanealliance.org/).
FIV and FeLV are incurable viruses that only affect cats. Humans cannot catch or transmit these viruses. Not all cats that become infected will develop disease.
Cats who test positive for FIV often live long, healthy lives. Many veterinary spay and neuter clinics do not test feral cats for FeLV or FIV, because most feral cats enjoy excellent health and are no more likely to be infected with disease than owned cats. In fact, owned cats and feral cats contract FeLV and FIV at an equally low rate (about 4%).*
Alley Cat Allies does not support testing feral cats for FIV and FeLV for multiple reasons:
- The percentage of feral cats infected with either FeLV or FIV is low. Studies detected FeLV in 4.3% of cats; FIV in 3.5%. This is similar to the rate in owned cats. Several large-scale spay/neuter clinics in the U.S. report only a 1-2% incidence of FeLV in the early years when every cat is tested.
- Test results can be unreliable and can result in false positives. Cats testing positive should be re-tested at least 28 days after the cat's last possible exposure to the virus.
- Spaying or neutering cats inhibits the spread of the viruses. Since spaying and neutering reduces or eliminates the primary modes of transmission, such as fighting and breeding, infected cats pose less risk to other cats.
- Infected cats are often asymptomatic and can remain healthy with no sign of illness for many years or for their entire life; considering all factors, more cats likely die from having positive test results than die from FIV-related disease.
- And testing can be prohibitively expensive. The cost of testing (and often re-testing because of false positive test results) hinders the success of a spay/neuter program. The goal of the program is to spay or neuter as many cats as possible. Resources are best applied to spaying and neutering more cats. And, increasing the number of cats that are spayed or neutered decreases the incidence of virus transmission
- FIV tests do not differentiate between FIV infection and FIV vaccination. A positive test is likely to result in euthanizing vaccinated cats that are not infected.
Learn more about FIV (http://www.alleycat.org/Page.aspx?pid=457) and FeLV (http://www.alleycat.org/Page.aspx?pid=458).
Alley Cat Allies does not support the euthanasia of healthy cats who test positive for FeLV and FIV. The American Association of Feline Practitioners (http://www.catvets.com/) agrees, recommending against routine euthanasia of healthy FeLV- and FIV-positive cats.
Euthanasia n. The act or practice of ending the life of an individual suffering from a terminal illness or incurable condition, as by lethal injection of the suspension of extraordinary medical treatment. The American Heritage Dictionary.
Learn more about the difference between euthanasia and killing at http://alleycat.org/Page.aspx?pid=399
All cats showing signs of illness or injury should be trapped and taken to a vet for medical treatment.
*"Prevalence of feline leukemia virus infection and serium antibodies against feline immunodeficiency virus in unowned free-roaming cats", JAVMA, Vol 220, No.5, March 1, 2002
Alley Cat Allies promotes pediatric spay and neuter. Kittens can be safely spayed or neutered at eight weeks, or as soon as they weigh two pounds (and are healthy). The Association of Shelter Veterinarians’ (ASV) guidelines recommend that a veterinarian should make the final decision regarding the acceptance of any patient for surgery, but it is just as important to note that the opportunity to neuter an individual animal may not present itself again.
While the traditional approach has been to wait until a cat is at least six months old before sterilizing her, the ASV guidelines recommend neutering before the cat reaches sexual maturity to prevent unwanted litters. Pediatric spay and neuter eliminates any chance of an “oops litter,” since female cats can become pregnant as young as four months.
- Pediatric spay and neuter is safe. Endorsed by the American Veterinary Medical Association and the ASV and in practice in animal control pounds and shelters across the country, pediatric spay and neuter surgery and the anesthesia associated with the surgery show no adverse effects on animals both in short- or long-term studies.
- There are many benefits to cats of pediatric spay and neuter. Veterinarians who perform pediatric spay and neuter report that it is an easier, faster procedure; the patients recover quickly; it is the highest level of prevention of litters; and it produces the most prevention per dollar invested. Research shows that kittens and puppies spayed or neutered before 12 weeks of age have fewer complications from surgery than those over 12 weeks. Also, kittens and puppies rebound much faster after the surgical procedure, with less stress than their counterparts over six months of age.
- Spaying and neutering outdoor cats improves their lives. Spayed and neutered cats lead improved, healthier, and longer lives. Spayed outdoor females are able to enjoy a happier and longer life without the constant stress of endless pregnancies and nursing kittens, and neutered males are calmer and no longer suffer injuries in fights over females and territory. Additionally, spaying and neutering virtually eliminates the chances for mammary and testicular tumors. Even young cats who have been in heat only once have a significantly higher risk of developing mammary cancer.
- Spaying and neutering cats before adoption significantly reduces the number of animals entering animal control pounds and shelters. And pediatric spay and neuter means that animal control pounds and shelters can ensure that 100% of animals leaving their facilities are sterilized. Since compliance rates are traditionally low with spay and neuter voucher programs (where adopters are required to bring the animal back to the agency for surgery), neutering kittens and puppies before they are adopted ensures that there is no opportunity to reproduce. Veterinarians who perform these pediatric surgeries are helping to stop the birth of kittens who are likely to end up in shelters—where more than 70% of cats are killed.
- Research and techniques. Research supporting pediatric spay and neuter can be tracked through the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA), including the JAVMA 2000 article, “Long-term outcome of gonadectomy performed at an early age or traditional age in cats” by L.M. Howe at al. An earlier article in 1987 by L.L. Lieberman, “A case for neutering pups and kittens at two months of age” is often referenced. Veterinarians agree that the procedure does require some adjustment in technique; these techniques are covered in most veterinary literature and in the JAVMA 1993 article “Surgical techniques for neutering 6- to 14-week-old kittens” by M.G. Aronsohn and A.M. Faggella. Contact JAVMA for copies of these articles. For more hands-on information visit the Feral Cat Project and Humane Alliance to see videos and descriptions of surgical techniques.
Pediatric Neutering: A Practical Guide for Veterinarians
In a joint effort, the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights (AVAR) and the University of California-Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine have produced an instructional videotape which encourages veterinarians to perform sterilization surgeries on animals as young as six to 16 weeks of age, thus helping to curb unwanted births. The video provides an opportunity for veterinarians who haven't performed surgery on younger animals to learn about surgical technique, anesthesia, and the benefits of pre-pubertal surgery.
Videos still available on a limited basis through UC-Davis for $15, plus shipping and handling. To order, follow the directions at http://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/products/videos.cfm and download their order form at http://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/products/order_form.pdf.
Spay and neuter surgery for feral cats requires slightly different protocols that reflect their unique circumstances. The following are some protocols you should consider implementing when treating feral cats.
- Require that feral and stray cats come into the clinic in traps. A policy that requires cats to be brought to the clinic in a trap ensures the safety of the staff, veterinarian, and cats and makes it easier to treat the cats.
- Health evaluations should be a part of the pre-surgical process. Feral cats are not often at a veterinarian office or clinic. Prior to surgery, a quick visual examination will ensure the cat is healthy enough for anesthesia. A veterinarian should make the final decision as to whether the cat is accepted for surgery. Veterinarians must weigh the risks and benefits of neutering a cat with mild infections or noninfectious conditions. It is likely the benefits of neutering outweigh these risks when considering feral cats in a spay and neuter program, because the opportunity to neuter any individual cat may not present itself again. Once the cat is under anesthesia, use this opportunity to perform a full physical examination while determining the sex of the cat.
- Anesthesia protocol should involve an anesthesia cocktail called TKX (telazol, ketamine, and xylazine). Using an isolator “comb,” push the cat into one side of its cage to restrict her movements so that you can inject the TKX directly into the muscle.
According to Brenda Griffin, DVM, MS, DACVIM, prepare TKX by reconstituting one vial of Telazol (500 mg) with 4 ml ketamine (100 mg/ml) and 1 ml xylazine (100 mg/ml). Note: this is the concentration of xylazine marketed for use in large animals, not the 20 mg/ml small animal product.
The dosage of TKX is 0.25 ml per cat IM. Do not exceed 0.3 ml per cat. For very small kittens, use 0.15-0.2 ml. This provides approximately 30 minutes of anesthetic time. If additional time is required, isoflurane should be used.
For feral cat spay and neuter programs, where an accurate weight cannot be determined before anesthesia drugs are administered, use readily and safely reversible agents and refrain from the use of drugs that result in marked cardio-respiratory depression.
Reversal (if needed) is achieved with yohimbine (2 mg/ml; 0.5 ml/cat IM or IV). An additional dose of yohimbine may be given after 30 minutes if results are inadequate. The cat should be returned to the trap immediately after reversal.
After TKX has been administered, leave the cat in her trap until she is fully unconscious, with trained observers monitoring her continually. Conscious feral cats should never be taken out of traps for the safety of the cat and the clinic personnel.
- Dissolvable sutures must be used to eliminate the need for a follow-up visit to remove stitches. Sutures requiring additional follow-up put the cat at risk in her outdoor environment; additionally, a second trapping to have sutures removed is a stressful endeavor that should be avoided. Use high-volume, low-cost, high-quality surgical techniques that can reduce the number of sutures required and reduce the size of the incision to eliminate the need for internal sutures, which have the propensity to become infected. For more detailed surgical information, visit the Feral Cat Project (http://www.feralcatprojtect.org) and Humane Alliance (http://www.humanealliance.org).
- Learn more about high-volume surgical approaches. Feral cat spay and neuter surgery can be quicker, allowing one surgeon to neuter more cats if high-volume techniques are employed. These techniques include using stations to perform different services for cats and making smaller surgical incisions. View our Feral Cat Clinic Procedure video to see a high-volume technique called the Modified Miller’s Knot at www.alleycat.org/videos.
- Practice standard procedures for controlling potential infectious diseases. All equipment that has direct patient contact should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected between cats. Use cleansers known to destroy common veterinary pathogens. Staff, volunteers, and veterinarians should wash and sanitize their hands between patients or gloves should be worn by all. Veterinarians spaying female cats should perform proper hand and arm scrubs with appropriate cleaning agents before performing surgical procedures. Single-use surgical gloves should be used when performing surgery.
- Learn safe techniques to spay pregnant or lactating females that can mitigate the risk of complications. Because it is difficult to retrap a cat, Alley Cat Allies believes that the benefits outweigh the risks when spaying pregnant or lactating females. After spaying a pregnant female, administer 150 ml subcutaneous fluids before returning her to her trap. Be sure to keep her warm while recovering. If the kittens are near-term, euthanasia solution should be injected into the uterus after it has been removed. While the decision to spay a pregnant female is a difficult one, remember that the goal of a spay and neuter program is to reduce the number of kittens.
- Establish emergency readiness and clinical policies and incorporate them into your consent forms. Consent forms should be used for all patients and clearly explain the risks of infectious disease exposure, anesthesia, and surgery. Consent forms should also give authorization for surgery and capture client contact information, including an emergency phone number. Create a policy that clearly states how your clinic handles the euthanasia of very ill cats and how pregnant and nursing females are treated. Make certain that all clients are aware of your policies by posting them in a visible location or including them with the intake paperwork and requiring a signature.
- Consider the weather and seasons when treating feral cats. Because feral cats live outdoors, their treatment in particularly hot and cold weather must be taken into account. For example, in cold weather groomers should shave less fur for surgery preparation. Learn more about what feral cat caregivers must consider when working with a veterinarian by reading our Colony Care Guide at http://www.alleycat.org/Page.aspx?pid=329.
- In the event of a cat dying, the caregiver should be notified and a necropsy should be performed by a third party to establish the cause of death.
For more information on surgery preparation, anesthesia protocols, spaying and neutering feral cats, watch Alley Cat Allies’ Feral Cat Clinic Procedure Video at www.alleycat.org/videos. Also visit the Feral Cat Project (http://www.feralcatproject) and Humane Alliance (http://www.humanealliance.org).
Eartipping is an effective and universally accepted method to identify a spayed or neutered and vaccinated feral cat. It is the removal of the distal one-quarter of a cat’s left ear, which is approximately 3/8 inch, or 1 cm, in an adult and proportionally smaller in a kitten.
This procedure is performed under sterile conditions while the cat is already anesthetized for spay or neuter surgery. There is little or no bleeding, it is relatively painless to the cat, and the eartip does not significantly alter the appearance or beauty of the cat.
Eartipping is the preferred method to identify spayed or neutered and vaccinated feral cats, because it is difficult to get close to feral cats, and therefore the identification must be visible from a distance. Feral cats may interact with a variety of caregivers, veterinarians, and animal control personnel during their lives and so immediate visual identification is necessary to prevent an unnecessary second trapping and surgery.
No other method of identification has proven to be as safe or as effective as eartipping. Alley Cat Allies and other humane groups across the country do not support the following methods:
- Tattooing is not effective because the tattoo is not visible until cats are trapped and anesthetized.
- Eartags are ineffective because they can cause infection, drop off, or tear cats’ ears.
- Collars are not safe or practical for feral cats, because: as the cats grow and gain weight, the collars will tighten and could strangle them; the collars could get caught on something and severely injure or kill the cats; and the collars could also fall off leaving the cats unidentified.
- Microchipping alone is not effective because it does not allow for visual identification. It is only effective once cats have been trapped and taken to a shelter or clinic that uses a scanner to find implanted microchips. It does not prevent unnecessary trapping.
Watch a veterinarian eartip a cat in the slideshow in the right hand column.
While the cat is still under anesthesia, right after surgery:
- Place a straight hemostat across the tip of the left ear exposing no more than 3/8 inch for an adult cat and proportionally less for a kitten.
- Use a straight blade or scalpel to cut the tip off, leaving the hemostat on the ear.
- Apply a small amount of styptic powder to the cut edge.
- Keep the hemostat on the cat’s ear until just before returning the cat to its trap, to reduce bleeding. A small amount of blood may appear, but it will not need further attention.
Feral cats should not be handled when conscious and therefore require special care when recovering from spay or neuter surgery and the affects of anesthesia.
Refer caregivers to the “post surgery” section of our How to Conduct Trap-Neuter-Return guide at www.alleycat.org/TrapNeuterReturn for their instructions after the cats leave your care.
While still in your care:
- Provide a safe heat source for cats after surgery. Limiting contact with cold surfaces by providing protected contact with surgical tables and other cold surfaces will help the cat retain heat. Warm air, a carefully monitored heat lamp, or circulating warm water can help ensure adequate body warming during recovery. Cats should be allowed to recover on a secure, level surface. Recovery areas should be clean, dry, warm, and all noise should be minimized.
- Post-surgery and after cats have been through the other stations (which could include vaccination and grooming stations), return the cats to the exact traps they entered in. Traps should be clean and have fresh newspaper in them. Leave the cats in the traps or carriers at all times and cover the traps with a sheet or towel leaving only enough open so that the cat can be carefully monitored as she regains consciousness. Do not try to touch or otherwise handle the cats. Do not open the trap door.
- Once cats regain consciousness and their eyes are no longer glassy, they can be handed over to the trapper or caregiver for further recovery. Ensure that whoever is holding cats for recovery keeps the cats indoors in their covered traps in a location that is dry, temperature-controlled, and away from loud noises or dangers such as toxic fumes, other animals, or people. When the cats are recovering from anesthesia they are unable to regulate their body temperature. It is important that the recovery location is temperature-controlled to keep the cats from getting too hot or too cold. A basement or bathroom will usually do the trick.
- Ask caregivers to look in on the cats every hour to check their progress. The cats will be groggy as they recover from anesthesia. The anesthesia could have hallucinogenic effects and cause the cats to overreact to normal stimulation or to become aggressive. The anesthesia will wear off after about four to 24 hours. There should be no signs of bleeding.
- Caregivers leaving the clinic with cats should receive clear, written instructions and contact information. Make sure that caregivers know what to look for in a cat recovering from surgery. Provide them with veterinary contact information if a cat is found to be bleeding, vomiting, having difficulty breathing, or not waking up after many hours.
Let caregivers know when cats can be fed. Alley Cat Alleys suggests that kittens four months old or younger can be fed immediately after waking up from anesthesia. Adult cats should wait to eat until at least eight hours after surgery.
Provide specific “return” times for each cat depending on their surgery to caregivers. Cats usually can be returned to their outdoor home within 24 hours after surgery, depending on recovery speed. Male cats and often females can be returned to the trapping site 12 to 24 hours following surgery, as long as they are fully awake and do not require further medical attention. In some cases, females may need 48 hours of recovery, depending on their specific circumstances. Caregivers may return nursing mothers as soon as possible, once they completely regain consciousness so they can get back to their kittens. Make sure caregivers know how soon each cat can be returned to his or her outdoor home based on the type of care you provided to them. Cats should be fully conscious, clear-eyed, and alert before release.
- If it is necessary to hold a cat longer than 24 hours after surgery, make sure caregivers have proper accommodations. Traps should be cleaned once to twice a day and cats should be fed and provided clean water. Caregivers should have a cage with litter box and feral cat den.
Holding a spay and neuter clinic is the best way to improve the lives of as many cats as possible. In assembly line fashion, stations help guide a cat from trap to anesthesia and through surgery to other necessary treatment areas. Stations can include: check in/registration, anesthesia, prep, surgery, vaccination, grooming, and discharge/recovery. The following outlines Alley Cat Allies’ approach to running a clinic, but there are many different approaches to a successful spay and neuter clinic.
This clinic walk-through can be viewed in our Feral Cat Clinic Procedure video at www.alleycat.org/videos. Also there, learn more about why high-volume techniques are important by viewing our Spay and Neuter Day Demonstration, and hear testimonials from veterinarians describing the effectiveness of the techniques and how they can be applied even in their regular practices in Veterinarian Testimonials.
When trappers or caregivers bring feral cats to the clinic in traps, assign each cat her own number, and print that number on two tags. Secure one tag to the trap; the other, called the cat tag, will be tied to the cat’s paw (a rubber band works great) after she is anesthetized, so tape the cat tag to the trap to be used after anesthesia kicks in.
- Anesthesia Station
Once a cat is deemed healthy enough for surgery based on their physical state, take them to the anesthesia station. Use an “isolator,” (an object that looks like a large comb) to crowd her toward one end of the trap. This restricts the cat’s movement so that the licensed veterinary technician can inject an “anesthesia cocktail” called TKX (telazol, ketamine, and xylazine) directly into the muscle.
After TKX has been administered, leave the cat in the trap and monitor her until she is fully unconscious. Then, carefully take her out of the trap and attach the cat tag to her paw.
The cat tag must stay with the cat through every clinic station, and every medication administered to each cat is recorded on the cat tag. Also record the amount of TKX administered in the Anesthesia Log.
Express the cat’s bladder carefully and evaluate the sex and health of the cat. Check off “male” or “female” on the cat’s tag. The veterinarian will complete a full physical exam once the cat is under anesthesia.
- Prep Station
At the Prep Station, the veterinary technician injects Metacam, a pain killer, subcutaneously, or ‘just under the skin,’ and records the dose on the cat tag.
Because cat’s eyes may dry out under anesthesia, apply a lubricant to keep them moist.
One technique for holding females in place for surgery is the use of spay-boards. These are special boards that hold the female cats in the correct position for surgery. Learn how to build your own spay board using Alley Cat Allies' spay board design instructions here: http://www.alleycat.org/Document.Doc?id=333.
Shave the female cat’s surgical site and sterilize the area with betadine and alcohol. Administer betadine and alcohol alternately three times starting from the point where the incision will be made and moving out in a circular pattern, purposefully never doubling back over the incision site.
- Waiting Area
If the prep station gets ahead of the veterinarians completing surgeries, the cats wait in the order in which they were prepped for surgery until a veterinarian is available. This ensures that veterinarians are never waiting for patients and takes full advantage of the veterinarians’ time.
In the waiting area, volunteers should closely monitor each cat’s breathing and level of sedation to ensure the cats are comfortable.
- Surgery Station
When the cat is on the operating table, the surgery assistant opens a sterile spay pack containing a gauze, drape, and instruments. A new sterile spay pack and materials should be used for each cat.
Spay Surgery Instruction – A Step-by-Step
The surgeon takes a standard mid-line approach with a one-inch incision in the caudal half between the umbilical scar and the pubis.
The initial incision is always small: ½ to ¾ inch, as it can be enlarged if necessary. The veterinarian uses a spay hook, which makes it easier to work with a small incision.
The veterinarian exteriorizes the ovary by cutting the ovarian ligament.
Instead of double ligating the uterine artery, the artery is ligated on itself using the same technique used for a neuter.
The surgeon ligates the uterine body using a modified Miller’s knot. Most cats only need a single ligature. Very pregnant cats or those in heat may be double ligated.
Closure is a two-layer process. The first layer begins at the cranial end of the incision. The suture tag is left long and is clamped to keep it out of the incision. Using a simple continuous pattern, the vet sutures the abdominal wall closed. After the caudal knot is made, only the loop is cut off. A bit of tissue that is deep to superficial is then pulled up to start the second layer. A simple continuous pattern is maintained in the subcuticular layer. At the cranial end of this layer, the final bit of tissue is taken in a superficial to deep pattern. This strand is tied to the long tie left at the beginning. This process buries the knot.
In the event of a large incision, the top layer should be tacked to the bottom layer once or twice during the subcuticular closure, or a third layer should be put in (but the surgeon must remember to end the subcuticular layer at the long strand so the knot can be buried).
Following surgery, the cat’s left ear is tipped by placing a straight hemostat 3/8” from the tip of the left ear and removing the tip with a scalpel. The hemostat is left in place until the cat arrives at the vaccine station or is just about to be returned to her cage to reduce bleeding.
The cat then receives a subcutaneous rabies vaccination on the right hip. There is an extremely low occurrence of rabies in outdoor cats, but this vaccination will protect them if they happen to come in contact with a rabid animal. Alley Cat Allies does not recommend testing for FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus) or FeLV (Feline Leukemia Virus) because the percentage of infected cats is low, sterilization contains the spread of these viruses, infected cats can be asymptomatic, there can be false positives, and testing is costly.
All surgical information, particularly anything unusual that may have occurred, is then recorded in the Veterinarian’s Surgery Log and on the cat tag. Then transport the cat to the vaccine station.
- Vaccine Station
At the vaccine station, remove female cats from the spay boards and take the hemostat off their ears. If there is any bleeding from the eartip, apply styptic powder to stop it.
Other vaccinations can be administered at the discretion of the veterinarian and based on the caregiver’s ability to pay. For example, some clinics vaccinate for distemper using the FVRCP vaccine at this point in the clinic. Because there are parts of the United States which are not prone to distemper, some clinics choose not to vaccinate so that they can spend that money to neuter more cats. It costs $2-3 to vaccinate and when added up over the hundreds of cats a clinic neuters, the cost can multiply. One consideration may be to ask clients to shoulder the cost if they choose to have the vaccine administered.
Record all medications administered on the cat tag.
- Grooming Station
Gently comb the cat for fleas and matted fur, and shave away serious mats. Some clinics administer flea treatment for a flea infestation. Often this treatment is an added cost which is itemized for the client. Because flea treatments do not last long and will likely be the only one a feral cat receives, the costs may outweigh the benefits of providing the treatment.
Do not cut the nails of feral cats.
Under certain circumstances—cold weather, pregnancy or lactation, or under vet recommendations—administer subcutaneous fluids.
Record every treatment on the cat tag and then transport the cat to recovery.
- Recovery/Discharge Station
When the cat arrives at the recovery station, remove the tag from her leg and record all information on it in both the Medical Record and Intake/Discharge Log.
Compare the cat’s tag number with the tag number on the trap so that she is returned to the same trap she came to the clinic in, which has been cleaned and lined with fresh newspaper. Cats who received fluids should be positioned in the traps so that as little fluid as possible leaks from the puncture site.
At the recovery station, arrange the traps in numerical order and by colony for proper caregiver matching. Cover the traps so that the cat has privacy but can still be seen from the front so that trained observers can monitor the cats constantly while they are waking up from anesthesia.
To find a spay and neuter clinic or a veterinarian that treats feral cats in your area, request a list of Veterinary Feral Friends at www.alleycat.org/response.
Alley Cat Allies’ Feral Cat Spay and Neuter Clinic Video at http://www.alleycat.org/Page.aspx?pid=492
Feral Cat Spay/Neuter Project's Our Clinic Model at http://www.feralcatproject.org/ocm/ocm.aspx
Working with Feral Cats in Veterinary Practice Video at http://www.alleycat.org/Page.aspx?pid=470
Humane Alliance's High-Volume Surgical Technique Videos at http://www.humanealliance.org/HA2/surgical_tech.htm
The American Humane Association's The Case for Early Neutering: A Tool for Companion Animal Population Control Video at http://www.americanhumane.org/site/DocServer/web_catalog0507.pdf?docID=4861
Feral Cat Management by Julie Levy, DVM. Excerpt from Shelter Medicine for Veterinarians and Staff reprinted with permission. Please email ACA at firstname.lastname@example.org
to obtain a copy.