Stray Cat Feeding and Care

Stray cat

Compassionate cat lovers who find a stray in their yard may want to take the cat inside, even if they already have cats. They should be aware that this can cause serious complications.

Infecting Your Other Cat

Many well-meaning people take in a stray only to end up infecting their other cat(s) with serious diseases such as cat flu, feline immunodeficiency virus, Feline panleukopenia, feline leukemia, and even rabies. Stray cats can also pass along parasites like fleas and ear mites.

Infecting You

Stray cats are at risk for carrying disease and some of these are zoonotic. Ringworms, cat scratch disease, rabies, and toxoplasmosis are diseases you are at risk for.

Cat Aggression

If you have other animals, the new stray cat may become aggressive with them, which aside from injuries from fighting, it can be a way to transmit disease from bite wounds and close contact. On the other hand, your own animals may become aggressive toward that cat which includes both your cat and a dog if you have one. You also run the risk of being bitten yourself which puts you at risk of getting a disease.

Increased Stress to Your Cat

Cats are sensitive animals and the addition of a stray could cause a great deal of stress to the cat you already have. Shyer cats will most likely hide and more confident cats may hide or show other signs of stress such as through their body language and avoidance of the stray.

Legal Liability

On the legal side, some municipalities consider people who feed stray cats the default owners of those cats, and responsible for their care and licensing where applicable. If the stray has come to depend on you for his meals, you run the risk of being charged with neglect or animal abuse if anything bad happens to the cat or if the cat maims or kills another pet owned by your neighbors.

Stray or Feral Cat?

If you decide it is best not to bring the cat into your home but still want to help the cat, there are steps you can take. Before you do anything, you need to know if the cat is a stray or is feral. Stray cats are socialized to humans and probably at some point of their lives lived as a pet. Feral cats have never been a pet and are usually leery of humans. Ferals tend to come out at night when it's safer to hunt, whereas stray cats will be moving around during both the day or evening. You should be very careful around feral cats as they are at higher risk of carrying disease than a stray cat, and some ferals can become aggressive if they feel frightened and cornered, or if they are protecting a litter.

cat looking through fence

Contact Your Local Humane Society

Your local shelter or office of animal control should be contacted as they are often the first place an owner searching for their pet will go.

  • Many people fear calling the shelter because they believe the pet will be taken in and euthanized, but in not doing so they miss a big opportunity to find the owners. Consider that the owners have done the right thing by posting their information at the shelter and must be sick over the loss of their beloved pet.
  • If the cat is a stray, it's possible that the local shelter or animal control office has pictures and a description left by the owners.
  • If you're able to handle the cat, take it to the shelter to have them scan it for a microchip.
  • You can also use a trap to catch it if the cat is fearful of being handled but doesn't appear to be feral. Some shelters and animal control offices have traps that they will rent out to you. If you're in any way concerned that the cat might become aggressive when handled, it is much safer to use a trap.
  • Another way to catch the cat is to leave food in your car and open the door. However, this could be dangerous if you trap the cat in the car and attempt to drive off as the cat may become stressed and feel threatened and attack you.
  • If the cat appears injured or sick, contact your shelter or animal control. They can trap the cat and if it's friendly, provide it with medical treatment and place it up for adoption.

Conduct a Search

You can also conduct a search on your own for the owners.

  • Drive around your neighborhood to look for posted flyers with the cat's information.
  • Likewise, you can make "found cat" posters and place them around the neighborhood.
  • There are also many Facebook groups dedicated to finding lost animals in specific areas of the country. Do a search on Facebook for "lost pets" or "lost cat" and the name of your city, state, or county.
  • Craigslist is another website where people post lost pets that they have found, and some cities have a local neighborhood community site such as NextDoor.
  • The national adoption website Petfinder also has a found pets area of their website to post the cat's information.

If the Cat Is Feral

If the cat is feral and is threatening you or your other pets, contact your shelter or animal control office to inquire if there are any feral cat programs in your area or if they can come and remove the cat. Many cities have Trap, Neuter, and Release programs where ferals are cared for in cat colonies. Local cat rescue groups may also be a source of information on where you can find help for dealing with ferals.

What to Feed a Stray Cat

While you're looking for the cat's home or waiting for animal control to come, it's kind and compassionate to feed the cat in the meantime.

  • You can place a small amount of dry or canned cat food in a dish outside, along with a bowl of fresh, clean water.
  • You want to stay with small amounts in the beginning so as not to overload the cat's stomach which may be weak from starvation as well as possible disease.
  • If the stray is a kitten, choose a dry or canned food made specifically for kittens.
  • Very young kittens will need bottle feeding with kitten milk. Be advised that bottle feeding and caring for orphan kittens is a lot of work and requires dedication of time over the course of a few weeks. Many shelters will take in kittens like this and place them in experienced foster homes who are equipped to care for them. If you still decide to keep them, many shelters and rescues can provide you with advice on how to care for them.
  • If you're on the fence about feeding the cat, realize that the cat may keep coming back if it knows you're a source of food, which may stress out your other pets. On the other hand, it makes them less likely to prey on creatures like birds which is a concern from groups like the Audubon Society.

Caring for a Stray Cat

While you may have the best intentions in taking a stray cat in, sometimes it isn't always the best option for you and your other pets. You can still take care of the cat by looking for its owners, providing food and water and if need be, placing him up for adoption and finding a new, loving home.

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Stray Cat Feeding and Care