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Stray cat: What you should do if you find a stray cat

White and grey stray cat

What should you do if you find a stray cat?

© IMACI - Shutterstock

Have you found a stray cat and don't know what to do? Cats are intrepid explorers, but they can sometimes wander too far. Here's what you can do to help.

By Zoë Monk

Updated on the

It's common for cats to roam around the area where they live. But from time to time, they can find themselves roaming too far and getting lost. You will likely encounter a stray cat on your travels. After all, there are around 250,000 stray cats in the UK

Stray cats are often a product of accidental litters, abandoned by their owners or strayed away from their homes and survive by scavenging food. So, what should you do if you find a stray cat?

Is it OK to pet a stray cat?

Some stray cats will be so relieved to have some attention and human affection that they will be happy for you to stroke them. But approach with caution, especially if the cat is injured, sick or appears very nervous. They may be wary and even become aggressive if scared. Cover them with a blanket to protect yourself from their claws if you need to pick them up.

What does it mean when a stray cat comes to your house?

If a stray cat has begun visiting your home regularly, they are likely looking for somewhere safe that has food, water and perhaps even a little TLC. However, while there is nothing wrong with giving the cat some strokes, a warm, dry place to sleep and some food and water, doing so could encourage it to keep coming back for more. And keep in mind that your new feline friend could be someone's beloved pet that has lost its way home.

So, before you do anything, it's a good idea to establish whether the cat is a stray or somebody's lost pet. You may also want to check the cat over for fleas, worms or mites before letting them into your home, especially if you have other pets.

What do you do with a stray cat?

It's common for cats to be mistaken for strays or feral cats. A homeless stray cat may look a little lost or disorientated but may be approachable and become more friendly with time. However, ferals behave like wild cats and are unlikely to come close to you, even with the encouragement of food or affection.

How to identify a stray cat

If the cat appears healthy, well-groomed, and in reasonably good condition, then there's a good chance they have an owner somewhere near. Even if the cat is hanging around your home looking for food, they could still have a home nearby, so you must be sure that they really are homeless before taking it to a cat shelter or adopting it yourself.

  • Check to see if they have a collar with the owner's contact details.
  • If the cat isn't wearing a collar, ask around your local area to see if anyone has lost a cat. Word travels quickly, and if the cat does live locally, the news will hopefully reach the owners.
  • Check bulletin boards for lost cats to see if any descriptions match the cat.
  • Spread the word on social media and ask your friends and followers to share the photo and details of the stray cat with their contacts.
  • Check lost and found pets groups on Facebook to see if there's one in your area and post about your found stray cat.
  • Put up 'found' posters of the cat in your area.
  • Pet rescue shelters and charities such as Cats Protection often have lost and found registers, so check with them too.

If this isn't successful, and you can transport the cat, then your next step is to take the cat to the vet or your nearest Cats Protection rescue centre to check if the cat is microchipped.

What should I do with a sick or injured stray cat? 

If you find a sick or injured stray cat and they are approachable, take them to a vet as soon as possible. If that is not possible, get in touch with a local animal welfare charity or call the RSPCA's 24-hour helpline 0300 1234 999.

I've found a stray cat with kittens. What should I do?

If you spot a mother cat and kittens, you should keep your distance and not disturb them. If they are in a safe place and not sick or injured, then it's better to leave them be. You should only move them if they appear vulnerable or in danger. Otherwise, you could be putting the kittens' safety at risk.

Don't forget, there may also be an owner close by looking for her, so it's best to leave them where they are. But you can help to reunite the little feline family with their owner by posting about them on social media groups in your area and speaking to your neighbours to see if anyone recognises the cat and knows who the owner is.

If you cannot find the owner and you think the mother cat is a stray, then it's a good idea to contact a local animal rescue for advice. In the meantime, you can put out some water, food and something for them to shelter in. If you are concerned about the health of the mum cat or her kittens, then contact a local vet for advice as soon as possible. If you have to move or transport the mother cat and kittens, make sure you keep them all together.

What should I do if I can't find the cat's owner?

If you cannot find the cat's owner, you can ask a local animal charity such as Cats Protection for help with rehoming it.

You could also consider adopting the cat. But keep in mind that adopting a cat is a huge responsibility. You must be prepared to take responsibility for feeding the cat, getting them microchipped and taking them to the vet for neutering, vaccinations and any other healthcare needs they may have. If you are concerned about the financial implications of adopting a stray cat, your local RSPCA rescue centre may offer welfare assistance.

Should I take in a stray cat?

While you are looking for the cat's owners, you must take care of them as best you can. If you can't take the cat into your home, try to create a shelter for the stray cat to keep them warm and dry. A rigid cardboard box with a blanket will suffice. Make sure the cat has plenty of clean water and some food.

If it feels safe, approach the cat and speak to it in a soft, calm voice. Hold out your hand and call to the cat softly. Offer the cat some food, water and shelter if possible. But don't force it. If the cat gets frightened, you could end up being bitten or scratched.

What to feed stray cats

There's no need to feel guilty about feeding stray cats. But do keep in mind that you are effectively training it to return to your home by doing so. Unless you have a cat, it's unlikely that you will already have some cat food in your cupboards that you can give a stray cat. However, alongside a bowl of clean, fresh water, you can also try giving them:

  • Some boneless cooked meat such as beef, lamb or chicken on its own or with cooked rice or scrambled egg.
  • Tuna that's not in brine or oil (this should be treated as a one-off and not as a regular main meal).
  • Plain cooked rice and scrambled eggs.

Do not give a stray cat (or any cat):

  • Dog food
  • Milk and dairy
  • Fruit and vegetables

If you have stumbled across a cat that you think is a stray, you should first try to find its owner as they may have a home. It's common for cats to wander, and they may have a loving family nearby looking for them. But if you've not been able to find the cat's owners and are cannot adopt them yourself, contact your nearest animal welfare shelter or Cats Protection branch, who will do their best to find the cat's owners or a new loving home.

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