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What to do if You Find a Stray Cat

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If you find a stray cat and feed it, it will stay

If you find a stray cat and feed it, it will stay

Quite often our feline friends enter our lives in the most unexpected of ways.

Most people acquire cats from retailers, advertisements for re-homing, or from breeders, while some cats are strays that befriend us.

Some homeless cats are just lost and not strays at all.

If you are wondering what to do if you find a stray cat, there are several things you should do.

The first is to decide whether or not it is actually a stray.

Cats tend to roam in quite a wide area away from their home base, especially tom cats around females on heat.

They say that cats choose people, and a lost or stray cat chose your backyard to make itself known.

Cats frequently 'wander on through' other people's properties.

Look for a cat collar

Look for a collar around its neck, and if you can catch it, see if it has a name plate with perhaps a phone number engraved on it.

A quick phone call later and you could be reassured that the cat has a happy home, or not as the case may be.

Just because a cat is not wearing a collar, does not mean it is homeless.

If you see this cat around the same area day after day, the chances are it belongs to someone who lives locally.

If it has suddenly appeared in your yard or at your work-place and keeps re-appearing, it may be a stray.

A fairly obvious sign is seeing a cat raid a garbage bin or bird table for food scraps.

While no cat ever refuses the offer of food, even well-fed cats, it is unusual to see normally fussy cats steal scraps not intended for them.

How do I find out if a cat is a stray or just lost?

The first and most obvious thing if you find a stray cat is to find out if someone is missing a cat of the same description.

You can do this by:

  • scanning the small ads in the local press
  • checking shop window notices
  • word of mouth (ask around - neighbours, friends)
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If there are no results, consider placing an ad yourself, perhaps in a local store window.

I'm assuming you would want to care for the cat meanwhile, so by all means, feed it and make sure there is water for it to drink.

If the cat is willing to enter your home, you may find it never wants to leave, so don't take it in unless there is the possibility that you could re-home it.

Otherwise, leave it outside but make sure it has food and water.

Most cats are nervous around strangers, and it may not want to approach you. In this case, just leave out some food for it in a safe area away from traffic.

Make yourself scarce and the cat will come and eat if it is hungry.

Be warned, however, that cats tend to keep returning to the area or person that has fed it, so don't make a habit of feeding it if you are not going to keep or re-home it.

Can I keep the stray cat?

If no-one claims it, and you have not tracked down an owner, then yes you can.

Before bringing the cat into your home, you might like to check it over for signs of illness or infection, especially if you have children or other animals under your care.

Assuming you will have noticed if it has anything obviously wrong like a limp, check for sticky eyes, ear mites and fleas.

All of those things can be treated while the cat remains outside.

Remember to wash your hands after handling.

If you are unfamiliar with basic cat health care, you might like to take the cat along to your local veterinary surgeon for advice.

Assuming all is well, bring the cat indoors and allow him to get used to the sounds and smells of your home.

Start feeding him indoors and he will stay!

Most cats that have been strays will use a litter tray, but are happier going outside to do their business.

Consider installing a cat flap to allow it free access.

What if I don't want to rehome the cat?

If you can't re-home your new feline companion, take the cat along to your local stray cat re-homing centre, if there is one.

If not, ask around - friends, neighbours, workmates. Someone always wants a cat, especially if it is friendly.

Cats are great for keeping vermin out of houses, as well as being delightful balls of purring fur to curl up beside you on the sofa when you are watching TV.

stray cat, taken through a window with telephoto camera lens

stray cat, taken through a window with telephoto camera lens

My stray cat

I have a new stray cat in my backyard at the time of writing this.

I called him Jackson until I realised he was probably a she, so now I call her Mississippi in honour of the book I was reading at the time (The Help by Kathryn Stockett).

Mississippi is a half-wild stray, who has perhaps never been shown human kindness before.

She's been appearing on and off in the garden over the past few months, but she's so big and healthy-looking I assumed her to belong to a neighbour.

Having asked around, all I hear is "Oh, I've seen that cat." No-one knows where she lives, but she seems to spend a lot of time under a hedge in my yard.

It was when I saw her skim up the pole that holds the bird table, to eat three-week-old mouldy scraps, that I realised she was a stray.

So now I feed her, every day, but I can never get near her.

She is terrified of everything. Even the seagulls scare her off!

So this is one cat that likely will never have had, nor will have, a home.

She will never go hungry, that's for sure.


IzzyM (author) from UK on April 15, 2013:

Sounds like a beautiful cat! I have no doubt they can interbreed, and doubt if she will make a good pet with all those wild genes flowing through her. Might be kinder to just leave her where she is.

Levertis Steele from Southern Clime on April 14, 2013:

I was browsing when this hub caught my eye. A stray cat came to my house about a week ago. She is black and yellow striped with a complete yellow ring covering most of one side. I have never seen one quite like her. Her eyes are green, I think. I do not want a cat, so, I think I will take her to the animal shelter if I can get someone to cage her. She looks pregnant, and I am worried that she will deliver before I get her away. I am not a cat lover nor do I hate them.

Not many months ago a strange looking gray cat came around nearly every day. It was a little larger than most house cats. Its tail was bobbed. There are bobcats in the woods nearby. I was wondering if house cats breed with bobcats. If so, I believe that the gray is a possible mixed breed. Hopefully, it won't come back.

IzzyM (author) from UK on February 14, 2013:

I don't think I have ever met an aggressive cat! That would be interesting :) Cats that are injured or frightened might hiss and become threatening if you go near them, but they won't attack unless they are zombie cats or something!

Chen on February 14, 2013:

So cute. I always want to help them but them I'm always afraid of aggression and diseases so I don't know what to do. Interesting hub!

IzzyM (author) from UK on December 24, 2012:

Thank YOU for adding in those important issues!

Brian Leekley from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on December 22, 2012:

Thanks for this good advice hub. Some additions:

* Lots of pet cats these days have a tiny identification microchip implanted under the skin on the back of the neck. Every animal control official, vet, etc. has a gadget that reads such chips.

* There are websites devoted to reporting lost and found cats. I don't know how efficient they are, but using any and all one can find wouldn't hurt, in addition to the steps you recommend. Of course be sure to remove the information when outdated.

* Providing a home for a cat includes the responsibility for getting it neutered or fixed if it has not been and for rabies shots.

* Some localities have volunteer foster homes for stray cats. For instance, Google on: felines and friends new mexico

Up, Useful, Interesting, and shared with followers and on social networking sites.

IzzyM (author) from UK on November 02, 2012:

Fit a cat-flap in the door. That way she can come and go as she pleases.

aHappierLife on November 02, 2012:

Thats so cute!! This fluffy cat I found, she is coming in now, and wants to sleep inside, she has done it 2 nights in a row, not much socializing, but sleeping a lot, but she wants to go out around 4 am again, so I have not slept much lately!

I have to find a solution!

IzzyM (author) from UK on November 01, 2012:


Looking at these photos, Mississippi has put on a lot of weight since they were taken. (Hope she isn't pregnant!) She comes round every day to get fed, and comes when called, but still won't let me near her.

aHappierLife on November 01, 2012:

This is an awesome hub, it has been really useful for me, there has been a stray cat outside my door for days, now I know what I have to do, and these photos are so cute, thanks Izzy!

IzzyM (author) from UK on October 14, 2012:

@Will, well done you! It's such a shame when people abandon domesticated animals and expect them to fend for themselves. A pure white cat would be something to look at too!

@DDE, yes I agree with feeding stray animals, but only when the intention is to re-home them. Otherwise it is another form of cruelty as well-fed strays breed more, which brings yet more stray animals into the world.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on October 12, 2012:

Amazing story great idea to feed stray animals somebody has to show them love and care

Will Apse on October 11, 2012:

I took a snow white, stray kitten from a restaurant a few months back. The staff said she had turned up a few days beforehand and wouldn't go away. She was both emaciated and irresistibly cute.

A couple of months later in the same restaurant I noticed her mother walk by (snow white). We asked around a little and apparently there was big family of white cats living in a nearby garden. The 'owner' let them stay but never fed them, hence the emaciation.

So technically I stole the cat.

Did I feel bad about that? Of course not. If a cat is in bad condition the owner deserves to lose it. Snowy is now a in pretty shape.

IzzyM (author) from UK on October 08, 2012:

Three strays? Wow, that is a lot! Yes they are very nervous creatures when they have been without human contact for a long time (maybe never?) and as you say, patience is definitely a virtue when dealing with stray cats. Good luck with them, and let me know how you get on!

Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on October 08, 2012:

I had to read this article. It started off with one and now there are three: Two long hair Persian adults and a Tabby youth hanging around waiting for the food. Feeding them is no problem. Getting them to the vet is posing a challenge. I want them to be tested for Feline Leukemia and get their normal vaccinations but they won't come near. Patience.

IzzyM (author) from UK on October 07, 2012:

Thanks Joyce, and I hope your stray eventually becomes part of your household. I'd love if mine did, but I can't see it - she is too nervous and no-one can get near her. You can see from the top photo how she comes in for the food at a crouch!

Joyce Haragsim from Southern Nevada on October 06, 2012:

Like you I'm feeding a stray cat that's looks like a ginger tabby. I just call Kitty and he comes running.

Great hub loved it.

Voted up useful and very interesting, Joyce.

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