Her team travels around the island to stray animals hotspots and teaches those who care for and feed the animals how to administer basic first aid and identify signs of sickness and injury. In this way, health issues are spotted and treated early, and the pressure is taken off SDF whose rehoming centre is fit to burst with around 700 dogs and 250 cats.
Here’s Regina’s advice for how you can help stray cats in need. This is by no means an exhaustive guide. Remember to always consult a vet if you’re unsure, seek immediate help in an emergency and never put yourself at risk.
Types of cat
So you’ve spotted a new furry friend in the area. First things first, establish what kind of cat it is. Is it a free-roaming ‘outdoor’ cat with an owner? Is it a stray cat with no owner? Or is it feral?
Signs of ownership include a clean, well-kept coat, a collar and a friendly, approachable disposition.
You can establish whether there’s an owner by asking around your neighbourhood and posting in local Facebook groups. You’ll be surprised how quickly word can get around. If possible, check for a microchip.
Where you encounter the cat can also be an indication. Sadly, unwanted cats are often abandoned at temples and beaches, and so if you encounter a cat in these locations, there’s a good chance there isn’t an owner in the picture. Fortunately, these cats often have help in the form of local residents who provide food and basic medical care.
Unlike stray and owned cats who are to some extent socialised to people, feral cats are extremely averse to human contact and are likely to be fearful. You can help them from a distance by leaving out food and water, but rest assured that they are often naturally able to fend for themselves.
Keep a safe distance if the feral cat has kittens; the mother may abandon them if she can smell the scent of a human on them.
If you find a kitten or kittens by themselves, feral or otherwise, wait for the mum to return before taking any further action. She might be off hunting. But if there’s no sign of her in four hours, it’s likely she isn’t coming back.
If a feral cat is in need of veterinary attention, do not try to help it yourself. Contact SDF who can send out professionals to trap it.
Once you’ve identified that the cat is stray and needs your help in the absence of an owner, it’s time to establish its age so you can care for and feed it appropriately.
Kittens under one week old will have their eyes shut, ears flat to their head and pinkish skin. Their eyes will start to open when they’re a week to ten days old but their ears will remain flat. By three weeks, their eyes will be fully open, ears standing to attention, teeth visible and they will be walking (albeit a little wobbly). Between four and five weeks old, they will be more steady on their feet, even able to pounce and leap.
Kittens up to four weeks old should be on a solely milk diet. In the absence of their mother’s milk, use powdered kitten milk replacement formula. Do not give them cow’s milk. Almost all cats are lactose intolerant.
Feeding newborn kittens is an around-the-clock task, as they need milk every three hours.
After four weeks, you can introduce solid foods.
The only ethical and truly effective way to manage the cat population is sterilisation (also known as spaying or neutering). Thanks to SDF’s mass sterilisation programme, under which some 324,000 cats and dogs have been sterilised, the stray animal population in Phuket is under control, and an unimaginable number of animals have been saved from a difficult life on the streets. When a cat comes in to be sterilised, SDF also vaccinates them against rabies and a host of contagious diseases.
You can tell whether a cat has been sterilised by SDF by checking for a small tattoo in their ears. Other foundations, shelters and vets have their own way of marking that the cat has been sterilised, such as clipping the tip of the ear. The cat may also have a scar on its lower stomach.
Cats can be sterilised from the age of four months or when they weigh over two kilograms. You can book an appointment for sterilisation by calling SDF on 076-681-029, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or speaking to your local Community Outreach team. Or you can book an appointment with a local vet.
The procedure itself is fairly straightforward and the cat is likely to be discharged on the same day. Keep an eye out for them in the days after. They might feel a little sorry for themselves for the first 24 hours. If after that they appear lethargic, dizzy or disinterested in food or you spot any bleeding, seek veterinary help.
As you become familiar with the cat, look out for changes in their general coat and appearance, mobility and demeanour. If the cat allows you to do so, run your hands along them from head to tail, including the pads of the paws, and check for lumps, bumps, scratches or missing patches of fur.
There are a number of common health issues that can be treated while the cat is on the streets, but always consult a vet first.
Mange, fleas and ear mites, identifiable by the cat intensely scratching and biting its fur, are surprisingly easy to treat provided they’re not at a chronic stage. A vet will usually prescribe a topical treatment which can be applied without even handling the cat.
Ringworm, a fungal infection that sees bald patches and red circles appear on the body, can also be treated with a topical treatment or tablets/liquid that can be mixed in with food.
Diarrhoea is one to monitor. Mix some water in with the cat’s food to ensure they stay hydrated. If the diarrhoea persists and the cat seems unwell, seek veterinary attention as it could be a sign of a more serious problem.
Serious health issues which require immediate veterinary attention include feline panleukopenia virus (weight loss, lethargy, bloody diarrhoea, vomiting, high fever); feline immunodeficiency virus (weight loss, lethargy, pale gums, vomiting, runny eyes and nose, although not all cats exhibit symptoms); feline leukemia virus (weight loss, lethargy, persistent diarrhoea, poor coat, fever, wobbly gait, enlarged lymph nodes); and cat flu (similar symptoms to human flu and particularly dangerous for kittens).
A cat found with a deep wound should be approached carefully and slowly as they may be in pain and scared. Flush any dirt out with saline solution, apply a pressure bandage if they are bleeding heavily and seek veterinary attention.
Personal hygiene is very important. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling cats and/or their faeces so you don’t catch anything and so you don’t pass infections to other animals.
There are a host of other ways you can help: temporarily fostering cats while a permanent owner is found, as organised through local Facebook groups (such as Rawai Animal Lovers); adopting a cat instead of buying from a breeder; donating to SDF’s Care for Cats Club; donating supplies to SDF; visiting SDF and socialising with the cats and dogs; volunteering for SDF; or becoming a flight volunteer and letting an adopted cat fly with you to its new home. Further information can be found at www.soidog.org
Soi Dog Foundation is located at 167/9 Moo 4, Soi Mai Khao 10, Mai Khao, Thalang, 83110. Shelter hours are Monday-Friday 8am-5pm. To report a sick or injured street dog or cat during these hours, email email@example.com or call 076-681-029. However, if you see an animal outside of shelter hours whose life you believe is in danger unless it receives immediate, emergency treatment, call the emergency hotline on 098-927-9698.