Feral cats, unlike strays, are wild cats that have never been owned or that were born in feral mothers' litters. They are creatures of the night, always on the prowl for their next meal. In the process of protecting their resources and territory, they sometimes engage in dangerous fights.
Living on the Edge
Cat fights are common among stray and feral cats. Many times, such cats are fighting for their lives because the community in which they live can support only so many stray or feral cats. There are only so many rodents to go around, only so many dumpsters in which to dive. So when a feral cat finds a place that offers sustenance, he will fight to keep it to himself. Colonies of feral cats comprise many cats living together, but tension exists. Cats use their claws and teeth to injure one another and defend themselves.
Cat bites are dangerous not only to humans but also to other animals. A cat's fangs are curved in such a way as to deliver a quick and painless death to his prey by quickly severing the spinal cord at the neck. The curvature and length of the fangs mean cats pack some impressive weaponry. Because the teeth are so long, wounds inflicted by them are often deep. And since the teeth are curved, the inside of the wound is not directly under the point of penetration; in such a case, a would might heal over topically while underneath, and not where you'd expect it to be, a terrible infection is brewing. This is why it's important to seek medical attention after a cat bite even if it appears that the wound is healing.
Cat Saliva Antibiotic Property Myth
It has been believed that cat saliva and dog saliva contain enzymes that have antibiotic properties; in fact, before veterinary care for companion animals became normal, it was common practice to allow cats with injuries to care for themselves by licking their wounds because of their saliva's supposed antibiotic properties. Most likely, the debriding action of the cat's scratchy tongue was responsible for healing wounds, not any magical properties in the saliva. According to VCA Hospitals, "It is a misconception that cat's saliva is somehow antibacterial or will promote healing of a wound."
The truth is, cat saliva carries nasty bacteria, such as Bartonella henselae, salmonella and other pathogens acquired from flea infestation, eating carrion and rancid or spoiled food.
Depending upon the severity of a wound, feral cats cannot heal without medical intervention. If the wound or injury is relatively minor, a healthy cat may be able to fight off an opportunistic infection. But feral cats are not in the best of health to begin with. They do not have life-protecting vaccinations or annual physical exams to stop any problems before they begin. It's rare for a feral cat to get the nutrition necessary to build a healthy and strong immune system.
Feral cats fight not only with other cats, but with other wild animals as well, risking severe injury from which they cannot rebound. An emaciated, weak cat is no match for a healthy adult raccoon or coyote.
The average life expectancy of a feral cat is two to three years if he lives by himself and five years if he lives in a colony. Meanwhile, the average lifespan of a strictly indoors cat is 20 years or more. The reason for the feral cat's shorter lifespan is largely due to the cat's inability to heal from injuries because of the unstable lifestyle they live. Feral cats, particularly wounded ones, need all the friends they can get.
If you are tempted to assist a feral cat that has been wounded, proceed with extreme care. Feral cats are not used to being handled by people and could inflict some nasty wounds while defending themselves against what they perceive as a threat. Seek expert help from an animal control facility or an experienced feral cat colony manager.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Michelle A. Rivera is the author of many books and articles. She attended the University of Missouri Animal Cruelty School and is certified with the Florida Animal Control Association. She is the executive director of her own nonprofit, Animals 101, Inc. Rivera is an animal-assisted therapist, humane educator, former shelter manager, rescue volunteer coordinator, dog trainer and veterinary technician.