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A guide to manage community dogs and cats

Follow some rules when caring for stray animals—get them vaccinated and feed them at a designated space and at a fixed time of the day

Milk and biscuits are not appropriate food for strays.
Milk and biscuits are not appropriate food for strays. (Unsplash)

As a child, my love for animals developed from interacting with stray dogs and cats in my locality. Community dogs and cats are pretty much a way of life in our country. However, there is still a gap in understanding and caring for them correctly.

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For instance, dogs are territorial pack animals. If properly cared for, they can offer security to the entire neighbourhood. As we enter the festive season, street animals are negatively impacted. As a veterinarian, I have seen many horrifying instances of mistreatment, with firecrackers being used to harm stray animals. Animal lovers need to ensure that these strays have a sheltered space during such times.

One way is to persuade the residents in your neighbourhood to celebrate in a way that is smoke- and noise-free. This benefits both home pets and street animals. Another option is to have a designated area for such festivities so that the neighbourhood strays can steer clear of it. Care should be taken when placing electrical points and lighting so that no animal gets injured. Keep in mind that cats frequently take cover under cars or atop the wheel when startled by firecrackers and noise. So, always inspect your vehicle before you start it.

Anyone who chooses to take care of these animals owes it to them to make sure they receive the right medical attention. Keep important contacts handy, such as a veterinarian, the local animal hospital, and animal ambulance. Get strays vaccinated to protect them and yourself from dangerous illnesses like rabies. It’s also advisable to get them neutered by partnering with a private hospital or an NGO.

Street animals commonly suffer from maggot wounds, especially during the monsoon. Flies lay eggs on their skin, and maggots that consume flesh create enormous wounds, which, if untreated, can be fatal. While sprays like Topicure and D-Mag can temporarily keep flies away, the maggots must be removed by a vet.

Protect your stray from ticks and fleas too. There are many medications available in the market, like spot-ons, tick and flea collars, powders and even tablets. Consult a vet, however, if the animal is not eating well.

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In the case of minor wounds or bruises, apply topical antibiotic ointment; turmeric powder can help stop minor bleeding. Exercise caution, however, when addressing injuries on strays. Avoid handling a stray too much if it isn’t eating and has swelling on one of its limbs; it will be in agony. To transport it to a vet, try to coax it into a crate.

Unfortunately, a lot of people tend to medicate street animals themselves, which makes things worse. Ivermectin is a medicine that is used too frequently. There are cases where ingestion has led to death and seizures in cats, while causing blindness in canines.

I also see a lot of cases involving vehicular accidents resulting in fractured limbs, broken spines, and air in the thoracic cavity, which causes permanent disability. Ensure the street animals you take care of wear reflective collars so that they are visible to drivers at night.

Considering how extreme our weather conditions are getting, make sure that stray animals have access to enough water, provide shelter during rains and put out some old blankets in winter.

The general tendency is to feed street dogs milk and biscuits. These are inappropriate. Feed them commercial cat or dog food if possible. Dogs can be given meat and rice. To reduce animal-human conflict, however, feed at certain times, preferably early in the morning and late in the evening, and in specific locations that are far from playgrounds. The Animal Welfare Board of India can create IDs for anybody who wants to feed stray animals. Always pick up after yourself to avoid polluting the environment.

Where possible, adopt or volunteer; where you can’t, educate. Find like-minded people in your neighbourhood so you can provide the best care for your street cats and dogs.

Dr Nameeta Nadkarni is a practising veterinary soft tissue surgeon and pet blogger from Mumbai, who loves to play the piano in her free time and is ruled by her whimsical cat, Catbury, at home.

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