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Baby came from FCSNP clinic with a very bad upper respratory infection.  I set him up in the basement and began to explore how much handling he would tolerate.  If he was very feral there would not be much I could do.

He liked to hide in his carrier. I found that if I disconnect the top of the carrier from the bottom I can lift the top up just enough to reach in and can often handle semi-feral cats while they are in their safe place. I start cautiously with stick, then a golved hand, then my bare hands. Baby was a little squirrley but did let me handle him. Later he got wise to my taking the carrier apart and he would hide behind it. I would just move it then reach back and pull him forward a little.

I gave him:

  • Oral antibiotics by squirting some liquid down his throat
  • Eye antibiotics by squirting some ointment into his eyes
  • Subcutaneous fluids by sticking a needle under the skin on his back and letting fluids drain into him

That was a lot of handling and he was surprisingly calm – as if he knew that it would ultimately help him. I was most impressed that he let me administer ointment to his eyes. This can’t be comfortable. With one hand I scruff him and twist his head to one side. With the other I squeeze out a bit of ointment and then lay that across his eyeball. I then turn his head the other way and do the other eye. If I miss I try to massage it in a little.  Baby allowed all that handling and more.

I was always ready to pull my hands back, especially while giving fluids.  To help cats who are not eating stay hydrated we inject saline solution just under their skin with an IV drip.  As the amount of fluid builds they must feel discomfort or just strange and they start to resist little. Often, once I had the needle out, he would swat but he never got me.

After several days I could see that he was improving.

After several more days I began to rub Baby’s cheek after treatment. Soon after that he began to respond. Each day he was a little more open. Soon he would come out of his carrier and soon he was crawling into my arms. In the end Baby turned out to be just a big Baby.

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Baby was promised to a student house in Ravenna as a garage cat to hunt rodents. Since that time his status changed and he clearly wanted to live inside with people. They were happy to have him and gave him plenty of loving. Never the less I stayed in contact to be sure it was right fit. They said that Baby never showed interest in going out side or hunting anything. Ultimately one of the students adopted Baby as his own.

I recently read a handout from Alley Cat Allies that recommended a pre-exposure rabies vaccination to anyone who handles wild animals (i.e., feral cats). With a mind geared towards minimizing high-consequence risk, I called around to find out more.

The first thing I learned is that there is a distribution problem with rabies vaccine this year and King County Health reports that they “do not have vaccine available for pre-exposure rabies vaccination”. This is to ensure there is enough vaccine available for post-exposure vaccinations.

I turned to my Group Health primary care provider, and she passed on my inquiry to their infectious disease department who provided detailed information about rabies and vaccinations. I gathered more information from the Center for Disease Control website.

The pre-rabies vaccinations consist of a series of three shots taken on day 1, day 8, and day 22 or 29. This series does not eliminate the need for care should you be bitten by a rabid animal, but it does reduce it. I was quoted a cost of $243 per shot, making this ounce of prevention equal to about $729 at Group Health.

Post-exposure rabies treatment with no pre-exposure vaccination includes one dose of immune globulin and four doses of rabies vaccine over a 14-day period (at an estimated total cost of $2,000). Contrary to popular belief, the shots are not given to the stomach, unless that is where you were bitten.

Either way, that’s a lot of money.

The other bad news is that untreated rabies will kill you, but the really good news is that it is 100% preventable if treated in time (once you start to show symptoms survival is rare).

The rabies virus is transmitted via saliva which means bites are the most likely way to get it, although you might also get it if the cat licked its paw/claws just before scratching you.

So, what do you do if you’ve been deeply scratched or bitten by a cat that has not been vaccinated for rabies? First, consider the situation urgent. Wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water. Do this as soon as possible, and, if at all possible, capture the cat so it can be tested and observed for any signs of illness. Also, contact your doctor to make the determination on whether and when to start rabies treatment.

For the time being, I think I’ll pass on the pre-exposure rabies vaccination. It just feels like too much money. We already have solid procedures in place for moving and feeding the ferals as we prepare them for spay/neuter and vaccination (cats are generally not vaccinated for rabies until they reach four pounds).

Instead of the vaccine, I’ll focus my next bit of research on tracking down a pair of elbow-length scratch proof and bite proof gloves and let you know what I find.

We gave him Prozac. Neither of us wanted to put our cats on drugs, but the natural herb route was just not working fast enough. After three of weeks on Prozac, Nelson is so much calmer and so are we.