Signs of illness/injury in a stray cat and what you should do

Love Kuching Project gave a talk for volunteers of NTU Cat Management Network on Saturday on signs of sickness in cats.
Many cat rescuers would seek their gut instinct to determine if there’s something wrong with our community cats. But on occasion, gut instinct might not be enough; no matter how well we speak Cat, they can’t tell us directly when they feel sick.
So, here’s some of the signs we covered (and some other tips we gave):
1) Behavioural changes
Cats are not creatures of habit, but you can trust your community cat to be consistent; they will behave in a set manner.
Thus, behavioural changes can be easily detected in a cat, provided if you know the cat well. If your community cat is sleeping most of the time and you chance upon it sleeping – that would be normal behaviour; but if the cat is usually active and you find it lethargic, there might be a problem.
Aggression may also be a sign. Sickness is weakness – and cats in nature will tend to hide such weaknesses by protecting itself against enemies and predators. A sick cat may hence be more aggressive. If, for example, the cat is usually very shy or feral, then aggression may be a usual occurrence.
The same applies for shy cats – if a cat is usually shy, hiding would be part of its usual behaviour. There may be something wrong if a cat that is usually friendly becomes shy. 
2) Visible third eyelid

Scooter, one of Love Kuching Project’s resident cats, in 2010. The white part is a visible third eyelid. 
The third eyelid is present in cats – but it is usually hidden and invisible. When the third eyelid is visible on the inside corner of the eye, it is protruding, and a sign of sickness. The membrane may also be visible when a cat is resting or has just woke up from anaesthesia. In these cases, the eyelid will usually retract when they are alert or startled.
3) Dehydrated
Dehydration often occurs when a cat is unable to eat or drink due to pain in the mouth. It may also be because of more serious illnesses, such as kidney failure.
The pinch test is used to determine if a cat is dehydrated. A healthy cat’s skin will go back to normal when the skin is pinched and released; but a dehydrated cat’s skin will remain ‘tented’:
4) Conjunctivitis


Teo Heng, a former Love Kuching cat. Teo Heng suffered from flu, which caused severe conjunctivitis.
Conjunctivitis is when the eye is inflamed and produces discharge. The discharge may be clear, or pus-life. It usually indicates cat flu, which can be dangerous for young kittens and senior cats – as well as those who are immunocompromised (like cats with FIV). 
Cats with cat flu will also sneeze and be feverish.
5) Fur loss and scratching
Fur loss, presenting itself as bald patches of fur – coupled with scratches on those bald patches – may indicate a skin condition. Most common skin conditions include allergic flea dermatitis and mites; which can be cleared by Revolution – medication that destroys fleas and ear mites.
6) Lameness


Ah Niu, a cat who suffered from a spinal fracture. Ah Niu could not walk or rest on his hind legs.
Limping indicates injury – and cats who limp may have had a bad fall, or it may have had some sort of accident or trauma. The cat may also be unable to move one or both of its hind legs – this might be caused by slight paralysis from a spinal injury.
7) Drooling
Drooling is almost always a sign of gum disease. Like humans, cats with bad teeth and gums will also have bad breath. Gum disease can be treated either with medication or surgery – but if the cat is immunocompromised, gum disease will be chronic and require long term medication.
8) Flesh wounds
Flesh wounds can look like open wounds or bleeding puncture wounds, swollen abscesses (filled with pus) or large torn skin ‘holes’ in the cat skin, exposing flesh underneath. A wound that is not tended to can turn into an abscess – and if the abscess bursts, the cat’s skin will tear, requiring surgery to stitch it back together. As such, it is important that a cat with an open wound be treated for its wound as soon as possible, to prevent the wound from getting infected and turning into a abscess.
Swollen lumps can indicate other illnesses as well, such as tumours and hernias.
9) Colour of gums
If a cat is close enough to you and allows you to touch its mouth, checking the colour of the gums may also provide a good indicator of disease.
Here’s how you check a cat’s gums: 

Take note when handling the cat around the mouth, however – if the cat has gum disease, it might feel pain and retaliate.
Here’s what you can do if you find a sick or injured community cat:
  1. Find out if the cat has a caregiver. If you find the caregiver, inform them that the cat is sick, and ask for more information regarding its behaviour.
  2. If you have a fosterer for the cat, or if you can foster the cat, you can ask for our assistance via the Emergency Rescue Fund. If not, Love Kuching can only take the cat in if our cattery has the space.
  3. You can then trap the cat and bring it to the vet (ER Fund consultations are to be made at the Animal Clinic only)

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