the difference between feral and stray cats:

A feral cat will not approach you. It will wait until you leave before approaching food. It will be silent, well groomed, and more active at night.

If the cat is not feral it would be skinny. Does it meyow? Is it dirty and thin? Open a can of food near the trap and see if it comes near it. Put your hand carefully near the trap and see if it will smell your hand. Does it hiss, is it vocal?
Do not open the trap.

Resources in the Southeastern PA - Delaware area:

The most practical and humane way to control feral colonies is to vaccinate and neuter the cats, and then return them to their own territory to survive without increasing the population.

LILA age 7 months, with three of her kittens


When we were searching for advice about treating UPPER RESPIRATORY INFECTION in cats we wanted to know more about how a course of treatment might run. This story briefly outlines our experience treating Java with a classic URI, and Grace who has a much more complicated condition which has taken time to diagnose and treat, and still continues. In addition to treatment with a course of antibiotics, in the case of Gracie with a severe ailment, the administration of oxygen was essential to ease her struggle so she could heal.

FELINE INHALER with ALBUTEROL: not her favorite activity

Recently someone fostering a litter of kittens told me about losing one to an upper respiratory infection, so common in feral litters. It occurred to me that if an inexpensive cylinder of oxygen had been available at the critical time the kitten might have pulled through. Gracie’s troubles continue, but she has been a fighter once she passed those overwhelming odds.


Saturday, June 28 we found a skinny stray cat hanging around the parking lot where we regularly feed a couple of feral cats. She was friendly but afraid, and too hungry to have been feral. Typically feral cats learn how to manage on their own and remain distant, while an abandoned cat may be poorly groomed but friendly.

On Monday July 7 we trapped her after several attempts and took her to Dr Spancake at Lenape Veterinarian Clinic. He estimated that she was around 7 months. He gave her shots, she tested negative for FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus) and FeLV (Feline Lukemia Virus), gave her a dose of Strongid for worms, and she received a microchip. Then the doctor pointed out something surprising: she was lactating and somewhere in that big woods she had been nursing a litter of kittens. We would have to release her again right away to take care of them and try to find the kittens.

Once a feral cat has been trapped, it is unlikely she will enter a trap again. But we had no choice. We let Lyla go at the same place we had caught her. One sign that she had been tame was that she didn’t immediately run away. Feral cats we have released leave the cage like a cannon shot and never look back.

For two days we followed Lyla after feeding her in the evening, with only insect bites and brush scratches to show for it. On the third day she led us to her kittens. The nest was close, just on the other side of a fence enclosing the dumpsters. Logical. Why were we looking deep in the woods! I had read that you could just reach into the nest and pick up the kittens. Kyung picked one up and it fought like a pint size tiger, screaming, scratching, biting. She held on and we brought the kitten home in a carrier. Of course Lyla the mother cat, came running and the other kittens scattered. It took another 11 days to catch the other four as well as Lyla, which confirmed my suspicions that she might have been an abandoned cat.

UPPER RESPIRATORY ILLNESS upper respiratory infection in cats

JAVA male age 6 weeks

On July 17 kitten number 4 had a fever of 103º at his first visit to the veterinarian. He was prescribed Clavimox antibiotic (Amoxicillin with clavulanic acid). He is much smaller than his siblings, weak and won’t eat on his own. I fed him AD (Hill’s prescription Diet, a/d feline critical care) by hand and kept an eye on him. He would eat from the end of the feeding syringe while making biscuits with his paws.

Java eats Hill's a/d from a feeding syringe

Meanwhile Mother Lyla is living in our house and wants nothing to do with her children. She is young and fearful, and it will take her a long time to socialize again, poor girl. But her coat is now smooth and glossy and she doesn’t yowl mournfully anymore like she did in the wild.

Gracie's beautiful heart

Gracie's story

Gracie was that first kitten that Kyung struggled so hard to take from Lyla's nest. The one with the heart on her left shoulder. Around the time that Number 4 was feeling better, Gracie started coughing. The skin around her eyes became red. By July 30 we realized she was in distress and took her to the vet. They prescribed Clavimox and Oxytetracycline ointment for her eyes. If a respiratory infection is caused by a bacteria such as Chlamydia or Bordetella there should be some relief fairly soon. But more commonly it is caused by a virus like feline calicivirus or feline herpesvirus an antibiotic can only treat the secondary bacterial infections that can occur simultaneously.

misting to keep her
airway moist

She was coughing and restless and Kyung sat up with her all night. By Friday morning Gracie was definitely getting worse. When she wasn’t coughing she seemed to struggle to get her breath. Dr. Spancake referred us to Longwood Veterinary Center for a more precise x ray. Dr. Wendy Freeman thought that Gracie may have pneumonia in addition to her URI and prescribed Azithromycin as well as Clavimox. She explained how to confine Gracie to a carrier or cage for 15 to 30 minutes with a vaporizer nearby several times a day to keep her airway moist and help her cough up mucous that accumulates in her lungs. You can also keep the cat in a bathroom with a hot shower running if you do not have a vaporizer. Coupage is difficult on a kitten but helpful to break up mucous in the lungs and help her cough it up. You cup your hand and clap it against her chest. There are videos on You Tube. Gracie didn’t like this.


She struggled all weekend with little improvement in spite of two courses of antibiotics and vapor therapy. So early Monday August 4th we returned to Longwood Vet. Dr Freeman had already consulted with a radiologist about Gracie and told us that they were concerned because Grace has an unusually narrow trachea, which is already pretty thin in cats. She referred us to Hope Veterinary Specialists.

Dr. Gary Puglia at Hope V.A. confirmed from x-rays that Grace’s trachea was abnormally narrow. The prognosis wasn’t very good. She may have been born that way, or she may have a collapsing airway due to incomplete development (hypoplasia) or abnormal developent (displasia) which allows the trachea to collapse when inhaling because the bone structure is not developed well enough to hold it open.
Positive diagnosis is made with fluoroscopy which shows a real time moving x-ray of the trachea as the cat breathes, revealing the abnormal condition. Surgical treatment is to insert a stent into the trachea to hold the airway open. We decided to treat her at home with Azrithtomycin, Theophylline (bronchodialator) and Prednisone (for inflammation) and kept praying for a miracle.

breathing oxygen

The next day I had to drive down to Virginia and didn’t get home until late. Kyung woke me up in tears to say that the kitten might not live through the night. We rushed Gracie back to Hope at 2AM and paced the waiting room floor all night as Gracie rested in an oxygen cage getting intravenous fluids.

That afternoon we had an earnest consultation with Dr. Puglia about treatment options. He told us that a stent was probably the only option for a collapsing trachea. Because tissue might tend to grow around it, the stent becomes permanent and cannot be removed in the event of later complications. In dogs they have been known to become dislodged or even to break.

We chose instead to treat her at home with an albuterol inhaler, vaporizer therapy, and oxygen. She doesn’t like the inhaler at all and struggles to avoid the mask. When she wasn’t coughing she would pace around taking raspy rumbling breaths. Every once in a while she would struggle to inhale with a wheezing sound. During the day we put her inside a rigid carrier with the vaporizer nearby, which didn’t please her very much. She had a good appetite and loved to play with the other cats. But strenuous play started a fit of coughing.

As soon as I brought an oxygen cylinder home and we managed to get her to sit still, she started to improve. Her nose got bright pink. After a while she had periods of almost normal breathing. She seemed to improve so much that we allowed her to play with her brothers. That night she kept Kyung awake all night with bouts of labored breathing.

I'm feeling better now.

We ran out the oxygen and got two more tanks. This time we kept her quiet and stayed close to her. She got through the night without any of the major distress that had been disturbing for the past ten days. In the morning she had improved dramatically. It looks like she might have passed the crisis of her respiratory infection. Once she is free of infection, we will have to see how she can survive with her narrow airway, weather it will grow with her or she will adapt. She loves to play and it remains to be seen if that will help her ability to take deep breaths.

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We are so blessed to have rescued Gracie and to have made the right decisions about her care. She is fine now. August 15 was the first day she was able to breathe normally. We are keeping this kitten because there is always the danger of another respiratory infection complicated by her tiny windpipe. And as for Gracie, she is playing wildly with her friends right now, like nothing ever happened. And mother Lila has also emerged into a happier world. In just a few weeks she has socialized with her children and the other cats. No more hissing. I don't think anyone ever played with her, but after a few play sessionss she can chase a string without becoming afraid. And she chases the other cats and lets them chase her. It is a gift to win the trust of an animal, especially a cat restored from the wild into a loving home.