By Dr. Sara Smith Most of us have had a stray cat hanging around our properties at some point. It may belong to a neighbor down the road, or have been “dumped off” in the country, or truly be homeless and looking for food. Many opinions on cats exist — some view them as vermin, some use them as “mouse patrol” on their farms — but I believe they are wonderful, smart creatures that can provide an invaluable bond, whether they have an indoor or an outdoor home. Cats have been domesticated over time for human companionship, and should be treated as such. Overpopulation has been a major issue with the feline species, and it is up to all of us to battle this problem and stop the spread of more stray cats. Feline overpopulation is one of the top complaints I receive from my clients. Many people want to blame a neighbor or someone else for all of the cats that call their property home, and do not want to take on the responsibility of their medical care. Unfortunately, if you feed cats on your property, and no one else claims them, you might as well call yourself their owner. Shelters and rescue organizations are at their maximum cat capacity and often have no more room. This is your opportunity to help control the cat population. Taking responsibility is the first step in their well-being. You do not need to rush them all to the veterinarian at once if your finances don’t allow. Just start with one cat or work together with a group of neighbors if possible.The next step is talking with your veterinarian about basic healthcare recommendations for outdoor cats, and developing a plan to keep your population free of diseases and parasites. Kittens and adults should be tested for Feline Leukemia and FIV, both feline-only viruses that affect the immune system and are ultimately fatal. In order to stop the transmission of these viruses, positive cats should not be allowed to remain in multiple cat populations. Surgery to prevent pregnancy should be performed for both females and males. Spaying surgery, otherwise known as ovariohysterectomy, is the surgical removal of a female’s ovaries and uterus. It is performed under anesthesia, and requires a hospital stay for most of a day. Recovery is complete in under two weeks, during which time the patient should be confined to a space where she will stay clean, and not be able to jump or climb. For patients that are difficult to catch in a carrier, or must be trapped, dissolvable sutures can be placed in the skin to avoid a return visit for suture removal. Yes, we have ways to sedate “wild” cats safely and effectively, too.Neutering surgery, or orchiectomy, is the surgical removal of a male’s testes. Anesthesia and hospital stay are similar to their female counterparts. Recovery is more rapid, since the surgery does not require entering the abdomen, and no external sutures are present. Removing the source of a male cat’s sex hormones also him less likely to roam, urine mark, and fight (and show aggression to people). These procedures are vital to controlling your cat population and have the benefit of making both males and females better pets.Vaccinations not only protect your cats — they also protect your family, especially the rabies vaccination. Rabies is present in certain wild animals in Ohio, and encounters between cats, opossums, raccoons, and coyotes are not uncommon. Other core vaccinations for cats include the feline “distemper” vaccine (mostly viruses that cause upper respiratory illness), and the feline leukemia vaccine. Vaccinations should be started in kittens as early as 6 to 8 weeks of age.Testing for intestinal parasites or routine deworming are important to the health of your cats and your family as well. Roundworms and hookworms are just two intestinal worms that can be transmitted to people through fecal material or infected soil. Parasites can cause failure to thrive, and even be fatal to kittens.Finally, flea and heartworm preventatives can be costly for a large group of cats, but having a flea-free environment outdoors and indoors is very worthwhile. Flea eggs can find their way into the house on your shoes and clothing, and begin their life cycle on your indoor pets. These pests also transmit the blood parasite Haemobartonella to cats, which can lead to severe anemia, and even death.Talk to your veterinarian today to discuss a spay/neuter and healthcare plan for your outdoor cats. If you allow your cats to multiply so you will always have some to control the mouse population, look into obtaining unwanted kittens from others in your community. Believe me, there will not be a shortage anytime soon.Dr. Sara Smith is an associate veterinarian at Delphos Animal Hospital.