Care for street cats during lockdown and Ramadhan

While keeping ourselves safe and healthy during this stay-at-home period is of prime importance, spare a thought for Oman’s street life; bin cats still need to eat and drink. I had a word with Senior Nurse Sarah at Al Qurum Veterinary Clinic and we talked about the basics of providing food and water for stray animals in the environment.

Some residents may have been influenced by false fears that animals can carry the coronavirus. In general there has been no research to show that COVID-19 affects or is transmitted via stray cats and dogs. However, during this time these animals are indirectly suffering as a result of the closure of restaurants, beaches and local parks where they would normally eke out a living, feeding on picnic scraps or left-overs at the end of a working day.

“Since lockdown we have seen dramatic rises in the admittance of emaciated, starving animals. It’s very sad when this happens to helpless, innocent animals. Luckily, kind members of the public bring the animals in and are willing to contribute to treatment”.

Sarah went on to explain, “Owing to the lack of food available, the animals become very weak and then are more susceptible to dangerous infectious diseases like feline panleukopenia (FPLV) which is a fatal disease in cats and kittens. Dogs become more exposed to canine Parvo-virus and Distemper”.

Sarah suggested ways to help stray animals in a safe and effective way: “Recycle your takeaway dishes or plastic containers; make them usable to put food and water freely for the animals to use. Stray animals are not fussy when it comes to food, they are happy just to have food in their bellies. Feed left-overs from dinner, raw or cooked cuttings from meat and fish. If you wish to purchase cat food they will appreciate any brand, wet or dry! You may wonder where to put the food down; it can be placed anywhere in stray cat or dog populated areas. If it is a residential area, simply place the dishes by waste bins where people are less likely to be”. But be sure to come back later to clear up and throw the left-overs in the bin!

Some people may be worried about contraction of COVID-19 when trying to feed the strays. The vets at Qurum Clinic responded, “It is highly unlikely you will come into contact with COVID-19 as you feed the animals. Simply wear masks and gloves and use hand sanitiser as you would if you were going out for necessities. They advise not to touch the animals as you are not aware of their temperament, and they can be dirty from climbing in bins or resting in sand”. During Ramadhan, there tends to be plenty of good quality food left over from iftar, and by sharing it with needy animals the message of generosity would be upheld as well as minimising unnecessary food waste. Animals tend to hide and sleep during the heat of the day too, so as long as there are water sources available they will become accustomed to waiting until well after dark for food.

On the issue of the ever expanding stray animal population in Oman, the safest and easiest way to control reproduction is TNR (Trap, Neuter, Release). This is when the animal is either castrated or spayed by veterinary professionals in a safe and humane operation.

Most veterinary clinics in Muscat support members of the public and charities (such as Tail of the Tiger or Omani Paws) trying to control the overpopulation of stray animals. Most Veterinary Clinics provide humane traps for rent to catch the animals safely, and offer discounted rates for neutering strays.

It should be stressed that Veterinary Clinics in the capital have been able to remain open during this sensitive time by following the recommended safe practice guidelines and distancing.

Furthermore, most Muscat clinics do have enough medication for their patients during this period, contrary to fears, and supermarkets have maintained their normal stocks of pet food, tinned and dry. So during this unprecedented experience of Ramadhan in the time of coronavirus, we can still take care of our urban co-habitants with little or no cost, nor threat to our own well-being.