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Feral Went Missing 4 Months Ago, Showed Up Tonight And Something Is Very Wrong - Video Included

moxiewild

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I'm incredibly shaken up right now, sorry for any rambling.

One of our ferals ("Pretty Kitty") ended up going missing in very early May.

This was precipitated by a significant influx of new ferals that we were struggling to TNR because of raccoon interference. There was also a simultaneous and very significant influx of raccoons at this time as well.

We honestly figured Pretty Kitty just had enough, and didn't want to compete for food so much anymore. It was so bad that I would literally set my alarm to get up every two hours (and every 1 hour during the cats' peak visiting times) in the middle of the night to refill the food and change the water since the raccoons/wildlife would clean absolutely everything out.

Tonight as we were feeding our clowder, my boyfriend checked the front porch feeding station and Pretty Kitty was there. What should have been the joyous moment we'd been waiting for all summer, was instead a very frightening and disturbing one.

It was almost immediately clear that something was very wrong.

- He had an extreme head tilt (it appeared more severe than vestibular cases I've personally seen in the past).

- His bodily movement was erratic and irregular, although no clear signs of impaired balance or coordination (staggering, falling, etc) were apparent.

- He was very clearly disoriented, and exhibited inappropriate responses to auditory stimuli (not looking or facing the direction one would expect considering the relative location of the external stimulus).

- His eyes were wide, and at times looked to be darting and moving in otherwise erratic, rapid, and repetitive ways (clearly involuntary).

Once I was certain something wasn't right, I rushed to get a camera to film exactly what was happening...

Unfortunately, my boyfriend is still not used to feral behavior. He also thought, for some reason, PK's tail was missing and wanted a to get a better look. So as soon as I started filming, he tried to get PK's attention and PK did what any normal feral and many cats would do - he ran. (Still so angry he did that!!! :argh: )

However, PK (thankfully?) didn't act completely predictably - for himself or as a feral. Rather than immediately running well out of sight, he only ran just out of the way, which made him partially visible to us, so we were able to get something on camera.

I am so sorry for such a crappy quality video. It's night, the lighting's bad, the camera keeps going out of focus, we're a good distance away, PK is mostly behind a bush, etc. But please stick with the video and try to see him if you can.

I had to split the video in two in order to upload it.

In the second video, PK can just barely be seen behind the bush on the left of the screen. You can see his upper body and head movements. If you pay attention, you can kind of see the erratic nature of his movements (like making big, wide, swinging movements just to look the other way) and the extreme head tilt.

At points it will look like he is intentionally looking at something above him - I assure you, he is not. He was doing the same exact thing on our porch in every direction (at times with accompanying erratic eye movements). It may not look like much from behind a bush, but the abnormality of it was so clearly evident, that even my clueless boyfriend was immediately distressed by it.

Turn the brightness on your screen all the way up and enlarge/fit to screen as much as possible.

View media item 422733
View media item 422734

I am honestly sick with worry right now. All we could do was watch and I felt so unbearably helpless.

Some unique challenges lay ahead of us now.

We have a hard enough time trapping any of the cats around here because of the raccoons, and I'm not sure what we're going to do. PK was trap savvy before... and we have 3-4 more newcomers/interlopers who just showed up this past week and only two traps.

If we set them and happen to only get the new cats (unlikely, but I want to consider this to be prepared), we're going to be left with a really difficult decision -

Do we let a newcomer go and potentially never see or be able to trap that cat again in order to maybe trap PK?

Or do we take them inside to be TNR'd the next morning, effectively delaying trapping PK?

I'm leaning toward prioritizing PK first, but I know that's an emotional decision... not a logical one. I'm not confident I could make any other decision, however.


I'm so utterly overwhelmed. It is ripping my heart out right now knowing he's out there in the state he's in and I can't bear it.

Any advice or general support would be very welcome right now.
 

Leomc123

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Trap the cat and bring him in, if your able to try to get another video of his head tilting before you get him to the vet. He may have some sort of head injury or tumour . I can see in the video that he is constantly tilting his head in very short period of time and it looks uncomforatble for the cat. Please catch him leave some food in the house and door opened so he will go inside the house and trap him. Poor little cat :(
 

shadowsrescue

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Yes, please do whatever is necessary to trap PK. Can you look into a drop trap?

Also, with raccoons, the best advice is to never leave food out during the night. Feed in the morning and again late afternoon/early evening. Food should never be left out overnight. The raccoons, possom, skunk and other critters will be attracted to it. If you pick the food up each night, the raccoons will eventually leave.

Please update on PK. This is so sad. She really needs immediate vet care.
 
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moxiewild

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Leomc123 Leomc123 We won't be able to do it that way :( We have 10 cats and 2 dogs in the house already. Plus, we wouldn't be able to control it if one of the other ferals, pet cats who come around, or raccoons, opossums or foxes tried to come in... it's pretty much a guarantee the raccoons would, haha.

We managed to be able to catch him on our feral cam last night a few times (unfortunately it wasn't out last night because we had brought it inside a couple of days ago to upload everything on the computer to clear the memory... figures).

The head tilt was captured on both video and still. He seemed balanced and coordinated (as he could be with a severe head tilt, at least). Disorientation wasn't obvious from what recordings we have, however (it records for one minute after sensing motion).
 
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moxiewild

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shadowsrescue shadowsrescue I always mean to invest in a drop trap, and then I never do! Our indoor motion sense camera (that is connected to our phones and we can set to notify us as soon as motion is detected) would make it extremely easy, especially if we had a remote controlled drop trap.

We talked about making a makeshift one, but the logistics (without it being remote controlled) would be difficult. We'll continue to brainstorm on it, though.

The first thing we did was pick up the food at night. But several of the cats refuse to come during the day.

I tried everything to tempt them, catnip, stinky food and fish, freeze dried treats, etc... one never came, and the other two would randomly only when these things were out - and they would only eat the treats, not the actual food, or just roll around in the catnip. Then our camera would catch them coming to our stations to look for food 3-6 times a night per cat. :(

We tried to stick it out hoping they'd learn/adjust, and made two more attempts again later on, but we just haven't been able to get them to do it. The other cats always adjust after a couple of days, or they otherwise come during the day anyway.

We've also tried all sorts of things for raccoon proofing, and constructed a few things that didn't work out for various reasons.

We recently tried something in particular that failed, but we're confident we can make it work once we recoup some money (just spent $3,000+ on hyperT cat's radioiodine and complications from it, and we still have the follow up bloodwork, urinalysis, ultrasound, xray, and echocardiogram).

For now, what's worked best is adding more food to the back porch feeding station, and also leaving food on the front porch (which we'd rather not do since it risks catching HOA attention).

This has done surprisingly well at keeping wildlife and the cats separate, except for the lazy opossum who won't climb the stairs to the back porch for some reason. But opossums aren't a high vector species like raccoons and foxes, aren't as much of a danger to the cats as a fox, and don't eat remotely as much as the raccoons, so for now it's okay.
 

shadowsrescue

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It is not too difficult to teach the cats to come during the day light. Establishing a regimented daytime meal-feeding routine is key to management. Just pick a regular time that’s daylight year-round and convenient to you – morning, afternoon and/or early evening – and put food out for them to eat. Do this at the same place and time every day. When you’re unavailable, make sure you have a substitute because consistency is critical to training the cats.

If you call to them and shake a food container, they will learn to come. If you pick up the food before bed each night, they will learn that food is only out during certain hours. Now is the time to try this as it is warm outside and they can hunt for food if needed. By leaving food out at night, you are asking for more problems from the wildlife. They can become aggressive over time and this can just lead to problems for your cats.

It is very difficult to outsmart raccoons. If they smell food, they will find a way to get to it. Your life will be so much easier if you can get rid of feeding the wildlife.
 

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The woman who runs The TNR Project out here has ferals trained to a dog clicker. They hear the clicker and come for food, seemingly catching on pretty quickly.

I do understand your situation as I have cats who come only at night and I am positive of this. One who is on my trapping list I have never seen in daylight. It is a problem I am trying to resolve as well as I have a few raccoons around here as well.

To answer the question you asked though, trapping PK is vital. You are doing a tremendous job with all your cats and are trying to apply logic to this situation, and fairness, but this cat needs to be evaluated and helped. Closest guess I can make from experience is hit by something like a car given the symptoms.
 
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moxiewild

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shadowsrescue shadowsrescue Trust me, I am very aware of all of this. My job is wildlife rescue, so I am also acutely aware that this is even more detrimental to the wildlife.

Although, raccoons are far more likely to be aggressive toward each other than to cats. I'm exponentially more concerned about foxes in that regard, who are luckily much less common.

I've never had trouble feeding cats during the day only before, or switching them when someone else had been leaving food for them at night. It's a general rule I have always abided by for my own colonies.

Pretty Kitty is actually the one who never came during the day. I've literally never seen him in daylight on camera or in person since he showed up last November/December. He actually went missing during one of our day-only attempts - although I attribute it far more to the overcrowding at the feeding stations that preceded this, and I think that was just the straw that broke the camel's back for him.

The other two are buddies, they are almost always together. Like I said, they will only come during the day when I lure them with stinky food, treats, and catnip. But it's inconsistent (1-2x a week), and they never took a single bite of the real food when they did come, except for one, once.

I went more than three weeks before, and they didn't show up at all - even at night - that last week or so. I gave in and ended that attempt because I was worried about them. It took them nearly two weeks to come back - they had both lost weight, their coats were in poor condition, and one was injured.

So I stopped trying after that and switched my focus to raccoon-proofing instead. We have longer term plans for fox-proofing.

I always use a call when I put out food. It used to work for Pretty Kitty, but only at night. He never responded during the day. Aside from him, a few others seem to respond pretty well (at any time of day).
 
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moxiewild

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fionasmom fionasmom I just commented in a thread yesterday about having a lot of experience with clicker training. I use it for fosters and cats at my work to help increase their confidence and visibility at adoption events. I also use it to tame and socialize ferals. I have also used it in colonies in several instances.

I think a big issue might be the unusualness of my location.

We're on the outer part of a moderately sized suburban neighborhood, which the front of our house faces. But we're literally right on the outskirts of the rural part of our town. That is basically my backyard - a huge greenbelt, woods, and then the boonies.

From experimenting with our cameras, it appears most of them spend their time (especially during the day) very spread out and at least half a mile away from the house. They won't even use our shelters in the winter unless they're about a mile out.

The ones who stay reasonably close by are the ones who already come during the day, and/or will come when called at any time.

All of the long distance kitties only come at night and never respond to calls. However, most of them adjust when I switch to day-only feeding.

Afterward, they start hanging around closer to the property full time and most of them begin responding to calls. Once I feed at night again, they go back out toward the boonies and stop responding.

So I assume any far out kitties are less able to hear me. I tried a whistle for a while, but that just drove the neighborhood dogs crazy, which then scared off my close proximity cats, likely deterred the others, and probably annoyed the neighbors.

The stubborn three are among our long distancers. They are also some of our most "feral".

I can only assume they feel safer coming around when the neighborhood has quieted down at night. We have an elementary school in our neighborhood and it's close to my house, so it can be quite busy during the day.

Honestly, this entire "colony" is different from any other I've cared for or helped to care for.

They are not a typical cohesive, or mostly cohesive, colony. Other than the two buddies, none of them are ever anywhere near each other, aside from at meal times. They all appear extremely solitary from personal and recorded observation.

So I think the huge discrepancy, but close proximity, between the busy suburban area and the quiet rural area must be the root of the issue. I've never had this problem when the entire area was urban, suburban, or rural. Even rural cats tend to colonize and stay reasonably close.

I really don't know what else it could be.
 
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moxiewild

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No sign of Pretty Kitty since 4 a.m. this morning.

We've had traps out all day, all night so far. Rebaited several times, just put catnip out earlier.

We've had really low activity today. It was unbearably hot and humid - like it drains you the moment you step outside hot and humid.

Even the raccoons haven't trapped themselves. Two of the babies came to the back porch for water, but they didn't even bother checking the front for food after there was none there.

We never have luck trapping when the weather's like :(
 
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moxiewild

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Pretty Kitty didn’t show up at all last night :(

I did however, manage to trap one of the newer cats a little before 7 A.M. - just in the nick of time to take him to our spay/neuter clinic! So at least something good came from it.

A few of the rescuers I know, who are far more seasoned than myself, said PK’s symptoms sounded like panleuk.

(((To clarify, PK was one of our two trap savvy cats, having witnessed the raccoons trapping themselves several times over. So he is not vaccinated (and the other trap-savvy cat has since been taken care of now lives inside with us).)))

I had only very briefly considered that before but wrote it off since - as far as I know/have seen - neurological symptoms from FPV are a lot more rare, and when present, mostly involve a lack of coordination.

PK had erratic movement but I wouldn’t describe it as uncoordinated (although with a severe head tilt, I would expect it, so it wouldn’t be all that indicative regardless). The camera footage we got of him that night showed him being pretty steady on his feet, too.

I also did not observe any of the more common panleuk symptoms.

Of course, there are many I have no way of knowing about, like vomiting, but nothing like nasal discharge appeared to be present. And we caught him, on camera and in person, eating and drinking all night (4 times total).

So in conjunction with those things and the fact that a head tilt and rapid eye movements are fairly distinct symptoms of vestibular syndrome (and to a lesser degree, brain parasites), it seemed odd to me that all four immediately jumped to FPV.

They are usually always right, having rescued for decades compared to my few years, and I usually always defer to them and their knowledge... but I feel so doubtful of this?

Have any of you seen similar presentation with distemper?

It’s obviously a concern because of the other ferals, especially the few who I’ve yet to trap/vaccinate (they mostly share the same bowl currently).

But it’s also that worry about tracking it into my own house - I have mostly seniors (the eldest/sickest of which I do not vaccinate) and one kitten who isn’t through with her vaccinations yet.

Whether I trap PK or not, I’m just not sure how much precaution I should take given the presentation. I know anything’s possible, but what do you guys think?
 

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Can you get a drop trap from a TNR group?
I get one when I go to trap I just leave a deposit and they return the money when I return the trap, I'm new to drop trap but I have found it is easier.
all my Ferals that have been TNR'd already ate out of the drop trap.
The one Im needing to trap is so random, he doesn't show up sometimes
I think if he does show up he will eat from the drop trap.
 

fionasmom

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I understand about your property. My previous house was near the Angeles National Forest and while the house faced a street, the immediate back area was what is called in real estate terms "the urban wildlife interface." It really does change the game entirely.
 
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moxiewild

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W walli I do not have a drop trap! I always intend to get one but most of the time I can borrow them from where I work, so it isn’t usually an issue.

All of their drop traps are lent out to a rescue group right now undertaking a mega colony TNR effort (and they retain one for themselves that they won’t loan out).

The other rescue groups have either loaned them to that same group, or they require you to take a course that’s only offered 1-2 times a month. I might call county AC.

My partner and I are taking our post-radioiodine hyperthyroid cat to her one month follow up. Depending on how that goes, we’re going to discuss placing an order for a drop trap tonight.
 

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Hope it goes well, I'm so into the drop trap now! I may purchase one some day, as I have to drive about 30 minutes on my lunch break to go get it.
they only give them out on Wednesdays and Fridays @ 11:30-12:30
and then I have to return it the following week same time!
kind of inconvenient but it's all I got! They do great work - Feral Cat Coalition in San Diego!
 

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I have an old candlestick that has a bell on it. Since the cats never caught on to clicker training, I decided to try this. Normally they know when the food will be here but if they're in the back smelling flowers or whatever they do behind the garage, I ring the bell and in 10 to 15 minutes later they're here. Unless I ask Treasure to get them in which case he'll chase them to the food bowl. lol
 

IndyJones

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You mention pests such as raccoons in the area, was he vaccinated for rabies? It is possible he may have contracted an infection from a raccoon or fox. Distemper can also affect the nervous system. Ticks can also carry some nasty diseases like Lyme disease. Try to be very careful if you intend to trap the cat. It sounds like something neural might be going on.
 
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moxiewild

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fionasmom fionasmom I am actually relieved to hear you say that! Part of me thought I must be crazy because no other caretakers seem to understand what the issue is!

I
didn't even understand until we went on a full out investigation over it, haha. I kept thinking eventually they would get to the point of staying in our yard, using the shelters, etc. Nope!

I’ve been caring for most of the ferals for over a year, yet have never stepped foot outside with most of them (aside from when they’re trapped). The only exception being the 3-6 or so who respond to calls (either regularly, or when day-only feeding), since if I wait, they'll slink under the fence.

All but two run away once they see me, though. Some even learned to wait until they hear the door close - I only know this from deliberately testing it.

There are about another 6 or so I've never seen without having to look through a window.

With other colonies, ferals have/do stay close to the area, mostly together, and most of the time. It gives them a chance to always see me, smell me, hear me, watch me provide food, etc.

But it’s impossible to be build trust or get them on schedules when they’re always playing wild cat way off on their own.
 
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