Case Study #12: Starling - pregnant, injured feral
Starling had a nasty wound on her foot when we brought her in. We didn't know it at the time, but she is also pregnant and has a respiratory condition.

Starling arrived on August 8th 2016, so this case study is currently in progress and will be updated often. Tune in to Starling's 24/7 livestream to see how she's doing right now.

Starling is worth saving.

The only way to solve the root cause of cat overpopulation is to change perceptions about feral and free-living cats. Starling will introduce thousands of people to feral cats, proving they are worthy of compassion and that they have value. The more we show that these invisible, unwanted cats have value, the closer we get to a society where spaying and neutering is the rule, rather than the exception.

Trapping Starling

I trapped Starling on August 8, 2016. I was actually able to get her to enter a crate using a food trail, because I had been hand feeding her for the last few weeks and she is very food motivated.


  • Even though she would eat out of my hand, Starling was still very fearful and vigilant.
  • I didn't know if she was pregnant, and we needed to find out before we started any treatment for her foot injury.
  • I didn't know for sure whether she was still nursing kittens from her first litter, both about 10 weeks earlier.
  • She is likely to be related to Skye, so I didn't know what additional health issues she might have (taurine deficiency, congestive heart failure).


I set up a room for her and brought a new fern from the forest since the previous fern harvest wasn't enjoying their stay... She also had the usual stress-reducing enhancements - white noise machine, Bin of Safety, Feliway diffuser.

The room had a nest with a guillotine door operated by a string on a pulley so I could keep her in or out of the nest as needed.

I brought in Bill on the same day, thinking they both might benefit from some company for the first few days. Bill was a 2 year old neutered male who had become friendly after a year of daily feeding and interaction at the feeding station. He had a home waiting for him, but needed to stay with us for a few days for flea treatment, an ear infection from mites, to make sure he was going to be happy indoors, and to get vaccines.

Starling and Bill did spend some time mooshed together by the window, but weren't seeking out each others company. Starling doesn't seem to enjoy the company of other cats, so I think she was not affected by his leaving that Friday.


On intake, Starling was initially fairly panicked and struggled to escape the blanket. She settled down pretty quickly, and I was able to apply revolution, clean her ears, trim her nails, and clean/soak/drain her wound.

Her respiration rate was quite high, but she did eat food from my hand after about an hour and she leaned into my hand for more rubbing of her itchy ears. She was quite jumpy and fearful, and exited my lap after about an hour and a half.


On Aug 9, Dr. Ferguson from Mountain View Veterinary Hospital came out to do an exam and ultrasound.

The ultrasound revealed she had 5(?) babies around 24-28 days along. All five had strong heartbeats.

Her heart sounded healthy, but Skye's heart sounded healthy as well (to multiple vets), so we are going to try to do radiographs to check her lungs and hopefully her pelvis, and send some blood in to check taurine levels and FeLV/FIV status.

Her lymph node was enlarged near her right hind leg due to her infected wound, so I started her on Clavamox antibiotics.


Starling gained an average of .13 pounds a day during the first week. She had a very healthy apetite and ate about two large cans of Royal Canin babycat a day, plus Royal Canin Queen kibble. She ate enthusiastically out of my hand.

She was very easy to catch. I was able to wrap her in a blanket and pick her up, put her in my lap and then uncover her to do whatever I needed to do. I was giving meds twice a day for the first week, cleaning ears and checking her wound. I hand fed her at every session.


From day one, I noticed her respiration rate was consistently higher than it should be, even when she was sleeping. Fast respiration is pretty common for ferals during the first several days of their adjustment to captivity, but because of what we went through with Skye, I was concerned that hers might be related to an underlying heart condition.

I wanted to give her a few days to settle in to see if her respiration slowed as she became more comfortable. When it didn't, I took her to Mountain View Vet for rediographs, tests and an exam. The results were not what we were hoping for.

Her radiographs were reviewed by a radiologist, who concluded that her heart was both elongated and enlarged, as was her liver. We ran a test to measure her heart enzymes, which came back very high. Dr. F consulted with the pathologists who created the test, and they said there were a few pregnant cats that had been studied, and that their levels were higher, but not anywhere close to where Starling's were. They felt the elevated levels were due to more than just pregnancy.

Based on that information, we scheduled an appointment with a cardiologist to do an echocardiogram and find out what we were up against. The results were again not what we were expecting. The cardiologist felt that her heart was functionally and structurally normal for a pregnant cat, and that she was not in heart failure and not showing evidence of significant heart disease. He was unable to explain her elevated breathing rate, but was certain it was not related to a heart condition.

This was good news, but left us with questions about what was going on with Starling. There was nothing we could do to further diagnose the problem that wouldn't require sedation, so we had no choice but to continue to monitor her closely, push forward with socialization, and prepare as much as possible for any emergency that might arise.

Starling's Taurine levels came back high, so we were able to completely rule out taurine deficiency as a cause of any of her issues. Skye's Taurine levels were low.


Starling was gaining an average of 0.14 pounds per day. Our average for pregnant moms prior to Starling was around 0.1 pounds per day. She was huge by day ~43, with ~20 days still to go.

Since I was more confident that her heart wasn't going to decompensate at any moment, I decided to do two socialization sessions a day in hopes she would accept me being around her kittens when the time came. It is SO much better for everyone if I can intervene in case of an emergency without causing extreme stress.

By day 17 of her captivity, she was moving toward the food during hand feeding, she was enjoying petting (after getting over the initial fear response), and she seemed overall to be relaxing. She had her first real play session on day 15 overnight, but was too nervous to play with me.

Her fear does seem to be lessening after I reassure her I'm not there to eat her (using food and petting), but her initial reaction when I come in the room is still fear. She is much more fearful than Skye was.

In each session, I feed her by hand, pet her, talk to her, and push her boundaries as much as I can. Pushing boundaries helps me learn what makes her feel safe vs threatened, and it shows her that scary (but enjoyable) things can happen and she won't be eaten.

For example, she is pretty ok with me opening the far door of the nest to feed and pet her, but if I open the door on her end of the nest, she will exit pretty quickly.

I know that when she's had enough she will hiss, but she won't attack. I try to respect her boundaries on that one, so she knows she can tell me to back off and I will.

Starling photos and videos are coming! In the meantime, here's Skye:

Skye drop
Trapping Skye, March 23 2016

Skye 2
Skye in the trap, March 23 2016

Bin of Safety Prototype at 1:27:00

Video of Skye's eye exam and ultrasound

Video of Skye's first purrs, on day 5

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