Our hearts go out to stray cats, and knowing what to feed a stray cat, if anything, is important. Not all cats that roam free are strays and feeding stray cats has its pros and cons. Caitlin Riffee looks at when and what to feed stray cats in your area.
Stray kitty hanging around your house or neighborhood?
If you’re like many cat lovers, then your first instinct may be to coax the kitty over with the promise of food or treats.
However, there are a few things to consider before offering food to a stray cat or taking in a stray cat.
In this article, we’ll discuss what constitutes a cat or kitten as a stray, what you can do with a stray, how to safely catch a stray, and how to care for a stray, should you decide to keep it.
Is this cat a stray?
Stray cats (cats who are lost or that were abandoned) are unfortunately quite common in most places.
According to a 2015 survey conducted by the British Veterinary Association, cat protection groups find homes for over 140,000 stray cats…and those are only the ones that are reported! There are many more stray cats that remain on the streets.
Some strays may simply be lost domesticated cats, but cats who have been without human contact for some time are usually lean and may have rough fur coats or a generally unhealthy appearance.
It’s important to remember that even though a cat may have the appearance of a stray, a cat with a collar or identification tags is someone’s pet. Even if a cat does not have a collar on, it may be microchipped.
Therefore, it’s important that you determine whether or not a cat that shows up on your stoop isn’t actually someone’s missing fur baby. We’ll talk about how to do that in the next section.
What to do with stray cats
If you’ve found yourself with a stray cat, you should first check with people living close by to ensure that they haven’t lost a cat. Additionally, you might consider posting a picture and description of the cat to lost and found pages on various social media sites in an attempt to locate an owner.
After all, our favorite felines are natural roamers when left to their own devices. It’s not unlike an indoor/outdoor pet cat to occasionally wander a little too far from home.
You might also considering taking the cat to your veterinarian to have it scanned for a microchip.
If you’re unable to locate an owner for the cat and they do not have a collar or microchip, then you have a few options:
- You can keep the cat. This will require that you take the cat for proper veterinary care as well as the necessary items for maintaining a healthy cat.
- You can TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return). This will ensure that the cat cannot contribute to the ever-expanding stray and feral cat population.
- You can find a suitable home for the cat. You may have better luck rehoming the cat if you take it for vaccines, deworming, flea treatment, and/or spaying or neutering.
- You can take the cat to a shelter or humane society to be placed for adoption. This is a better option than leaving the cat on its own, but it’s not ideal.
Animal shelters are often very overwhelmed with kittens that have been dumped because people did not want to deal with them, so it’s important that you make every attempt to rehome the cat before surrendering it to a shelter.
An exception might be made for small kittens, of which need much more attentive care than adults.
Regardless of what you decide to do with a stray, you’ll need to be able to handle the cat. Some strays are afraid of strangers (especially if they were accustomed to one owner at some point in their lives), this could be a challenge.
Refer to the next section for tips on how to safely catch a stray cat that isn’t tame enough to be handled.
How to catch a stray cat
If you’re attempting to handle a stray cat and find that they do not want to be touched or picked up, you’ll need to set a humane trap in order to contain them.
Humane traps are steel cages with a front door that snaps shut behind the animal once they enter the trap in pursuit of the bait (food) inside the cage.
Once you have the trap, set it somewhere familiar to the cat.
It may help to not feed the cat (it’s okay to give them water, though) the day before you plan to trap them so that they’ll be more inclined to pursue the food in the trap.
You’ll want to check the trap often to ensure that the cat doesn’t spend longer than it has to in the trap.
Where to take a stray cat
What to do with a stray cat can be a hard decision to make.
While some people can readily take in a stray because their home is conducive to caring for a cat, others are unable to keep a stray due to their current living situation.
For example, if you already have pets, especially cats that are territorial or dogs that aren’t used to cats, then keeping a stray may be out of the question.
Stray kittens require special consideration before you relocate them.
If you find a litter of unattended kittens that are not old enough to be weaned, do not touch or remove them from the nest. Their mom could be hiding from you, and if you handle her babies, then she may be less likely to return to them.
With seemingly motherless kittens, it’s best to wait a few hours to see if the mama cat returns. If she doesn’t return, then it’s safe to assume that the kittens have been abandoned, at which point, you’ll want to begin bottle feeding them and seeking veterinary attention.
You can buy kitten milk in the same way that you can baby formula:
You can buy nursing kits to enable you to feed tiny kittens properly.
If you’re unable to take in a stray cat or kittens and cannot find a suitable home, then it may be best to take the cat or kittens to a no-kill animal shelter or to your local humane society.
Note that if the animal is injured, then you should take it to a veterinary hospital immediately for treatment. An injured cat won’t be able to protect or feed itself while exposed to the elements.
Please remember to exhaust every option before surrendering the cat to a shelter.
What to feed stray cats
Feeding stray cats is a subject of controversy.
Some people say not to feed strays because they will come back to where they were fed, possibly attracting other strays in the process, thereby creating a nuisance in the neighborhood.
Unless stray cats are specifically causing a problem in your community, there is nothing wrong with feeding them.
However, feeding a stray is only the first step in improving the cat’s life as well as its chances of survival.
How would you like to be lost and scavenging for food? What if you were used to your food being brought to you and you didn’t know where to find food for yourself? I imagine that you’d appreciate someone giving you something to eat.
What do stray cats eat, anyway?
When their diet isn’t being regulated by humans, cats are predators that hunt for mice, birds, fish, lizards, insects, rabbits, squirrels, and any other small animals that they can find.
That doesn’t mean that you have to feed them “off the hoof,” so to speak.
Actually, feeding strays regular cat food or canned tuna prevents them from killing too many of the local small animal population that we mentioned previously.
You can start feeding a stray a little bit of cat chow or canned food and plenty of fresh water.
Stray kittens who are old enough to be weaned can have small amounts of kitten chow or canned food as well as fresh water.
Taking in stray cats
Stray cat wants to come inside? If you’re like me, then you’ll have a hard time turning away from an adorable face and hungry meows.
The struggle is especially real if you’ve been unable to find the cat’s owner…assuming they were owned by one person in the first place.
Even if you have the means of keeping a stray, there are a few things to consider before bringing the cat or kitten into your home.
First of all, a stray cat most likely has fleas, ticks, and other creepy crawlies that they’ve picked up while roaming the wild.
Secondly, they may be overdue for worming medication (especially if they’ve been outside and without human care for some time) as well as vaccinations.
Furthermore, if the stray is a tom cat, then you’ll want to have him neutered before bringing him into the house or letting him continue to roam your property. And if the stray hasn’t been kept indoors for some time, getting him or her adjusted to “pet life” (using the litter box, not scratching his claws on your furniture, etc.) may be harder than you think, especially if the cat has been on his own for a long while.
Long story short, you should be prepared for a trip to the vet, for socializing the cat with other cats and/or people (perhaps again), and for reintroducing the cat to confinement.
Adopting stray cats
If you’re prepared to adopt a cat that was a stray, then some of the veterinary care and socializing that we mentioned in the previous section may have already been done for you by the shelter or humane society that you’re adopting from.
However, you’ll still need to be prepared to acclimate your newly adopted cat to living inside (or inside/outside) and in your particular home, just as you would if you were adopting a thoroughly domesticated cat.
Taming stray cats
Like any animal that isn’t used to human contact, a stray cat will require time and patience before they warm up to you…IF they warm up to you.
Some cats will eventually come around after you’ve been feeding them for a while. This may be the case for strays who were previously pets.
If a stray seems apprehensive of you but isn’t acting aggressive, then taming it might involve continuing to feed it while increasing the amount of time that you spend with the cat.
So for instance, you could sit near the cat while it eats. Eventually, the cat may become curious and approach you once they’re done chowing down. If the cat reacts in this way (as opposed to running off as soon as they’ve swallowed the last morsel), then you might attempt to pet the cat.
It may help if you attempt this while feeding the cat in a somewhat enclosed area, such as an open garage or on your front porch.
It’s also important to note that as soon as the cat shows signs of fear, retreat to where you were when the cat was last comfortable with you, then repeat the process until the cat accepts your presence and touch.
Unfortunately, some cats have been away from humans for so long that they cannot be tamed no matter how much time you spend near them or approach and retreat, as described above.
Case in point – my neighbors took in a cat not knowing that she was pregnant. She had her kittens in my horse barn, so we were able to handle them fairly often, but not without getting spit on or batted at pretty frequently.
Even after consistent handling, only one of the five kittens eventually became friendly toward people.
What to feed a stray cat or kitten – a summary
Determining what to feed a stray kitty is just one of several steps necessary for ensuring their best possible life.
Feeding a stray kitten or cat may help to prevent them from hunting local wildlife, but strays often need more healthcare than a supplemented diet.
Before doing anything else with a stray, you’ll want to ensure that they’re not someone’s beloved pet. You may also consider having them vet checked at this point in the process.
If an owner isn’t found, you’ll have to decide if you want to keep the cat, rehome it, surrender it to a humane organization, or trap and neuter/spay it before releasing it.
Although each of these options has a unique set of challenges, they all ensure that the cat will be better off than it was before.
Your Amazing Cat!
We are so excited to share our new book with you!
If you have enjoyed your visit to The Happy Cat Site we think you'll love The Happy Cat Handbook.
Written by the founders of this website including the author of the hugely successful Happy Puppy Handbook, it's packed with cat care information and fascinating cat facts.
Grab your copy today!