How to rehabilitate a rescue cat
Cats. We love them. And as a nation, Australians love them, because they’re so full of character and can make perfect family pets. Cats are generally playful, lap-loving, sun-seeking animals who like to sleep, eat and if we’re lucky, give us some affection (not always guaranteed). However, sometimes, a cat doesn’t find itself in a loving home – it could be unwanted, abandoned or surrendered to an animal shelter.
So what is a rescue cat?
A rescue cat is any domestic cat or kitten that has been brought into a veterinary clinic or an animal shelter to be rehabilitated, brought back to good health and re-homed. It may have been a stray. It may have been from a litter of kittens that could not find a home. It may be a well-loved pet that has been surrendered because it has health issues too big for their owner to maintain, or perhaps, their owner has had a change of circumstances themselves (health or financial issues, relocation, moving overseas). If a cat is not desexed, they can produce five to six litters of kittens a year, which can of course, add to a serious problem with unwanted cats in the general population. Most rescue cats have had some exposure to humans, so are generally good candidates for rehabilitation. Feral cats are different as they live in the wild and generally survive without human contact, so it would be cruel to attempt to tame or re-home a feral cat.
How is a rescue cat rehabilitated?
A cat’s ‘rehabilitation’ happens in animal shelters, and sometimes later, with a foster carer. Primarily it involves determining their health and running some tests. One of the key tests is for FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus) which is a viral disease which affects the immune system of cats. If a shelter cat does have FIV, they are more likely to have chronic health problems and may be less likely to be re-homed. Sadly, not all cats will be re-homed and in some instances, they may be euthanased or remain shelter cats for their entire life.
Getting a rescue cat home-ready
After initial tests and treatment for any problems when the cat presents at the shelter (skin infections like ringworm, parasites, worms, fleas, ticks etc), the next steps are to ensure the cat is vaccinated, microchipped and desexed, if appropriate. Once a kitten or cat has had all their vaccinations, and been cleared of all medical issues, they’re ready to be re-homed. They will stay with the animal shelter or with a cat-loving foster ‘parent’ until they find their forever home.
What if a cat is quite nervous or afraid?
Some rescue kittens or cats have never been in a home environment for a long period of time, or may have had a traumatic experience, making them prone to nerves and a little afraid of humans. If that’s the case, the next step is familiarising them with humans. Cats are not overly social animals, and are happy to be alone, but socialising them with humans and creating a bond of trust is something to aim for.
Finding a forever home is the goal
The end goal for rescue cats is to get them healthy, happy and re-homed. Cute kittens are more likely to find homes quicker than older cats that may already have a routine or be a little less adaptable at fitting in with a family. Different breeds of cats go through waves of popularity in animal shelters, but generally, the friendly, social breeds tend to be re-homed more quickly.
Settling a rescue cat in your home
The most important thing to remember when introducing a new cat to your home is to let them take things at their own pace.
●Create a safe place where they can view their new surroundings, adjust and become familiar.
●Set up a litter station with two litter trays per cat. Cats are very particular with toileting, and may be prone to bladder issues such as cystitis from stress.
●Set up a food station straight away in a quiet area, so your new friend knows where to find the important things.
●Cats like their food and water in two separate bowls, placed a fair distance apart as cats prefer not to drink water where there is the scent of food.
●It’s a good idea to let them use their normal play behaviour (such as letting your cat play with a toy on string, lunging and pouncing) before they get their food too.
●Of course, bonding time with your new cat is important, as is grooming and playtime.
How many cats are rehomed each year?
The RSPCA reports that over 32,000 cats were re-homed in Australia in 2017-2018 which equates to around 60% of cats received. 5% were reclaimed, another 7% were still in care, while around 24% were euthanased and a small few were transferred to other shelters.1 Perhaps your new feline family member is at a shelter right now?
At Greencross Vets, nothing is more important than the health and wellbeing of your four-legged friend. If you have any more questions, please reach out to your local Greencross Vets. We’re more than happy to help!