Cats are curious things that love to wander. So, it’s not always easy to spot if a cat is a stray, feral or simply lost.
However, if you’re becoming concerned about your new feline friend, it’s important to look out for a few things. You also need to know what to do just in case they are lost and can’t find their way back home.
After all, a stray cat will once have been owned. So while they may now be on the streets or sleeping in your outbuilding, they will likely benefit from having a home.
If you find a stray cat
Deciding whether the cat is owned or not will determine how you handle the situation. If the cat is friendly and approachable, it will have been owned at some point, so you can take the necessary steps to get the word out.
Post about the cat on social media (local Facebook lost & found groups, NextDoor app) and contact local vets in case any matching the description has been reported missing.
You can also try to scan the cat. A microchip scanner will pick up a microchip and allow you to contact a vet and check the database for their owner. Unfortunately, some cats can end up in delivery vans, postal vans and even just ordinary cars, resulting in them being miles from home.
Local animal charities can have a microchip scanner, as can vets. It is best to ask somebody local, like a rescuer, to come to you though. This will save you the need to get the cat into a carrier. Microchip scanners can also be bought for a good price, which may be easier if this is a regular occurrence or you have pets of your own.
You could also try a paper collar. These are commonly used if you need to communicate with a possible owner. Anybody who is also feeding the potential stray could also see the collar.
The RSPCA also have a template missing poster on their website, which can be pinned up in the local area to get the word out.
Do I feed a stray cat?
It’s natural to want to feed an animal that seems uncared for but it’s best to avoid feeding them unless they are clearly underweight. The cat may well have an owner that’s feeding them and is worried about their whereabouts. Feeding the cat will encourage them to keep coming back to you rather than returning home.
Cats may also have medical issues which mean certain foods are out of the question. You don’t want to make them ill. If they are underweight, give them some food and then take the necessary precautions above as opposed to feeding them regularly.
Again, a paper collar here could help. While they are used mostly by owners to ask potential feeders to stop, they can also be used in a reverse manner, asking an owner if they are safe and cared for.
If the possible stray is not approachable, it could be a feral cat.
Feral cats will never have had owners, being born to a stray on the streets. If it seems healthy, you can try feeding it and seeing if it starts to become friendlier. An outdoor cat shelter of some sort could really help it out in winter.
Feral cats are used to living outside and avoiding human contact, so if there are no concerns about their weight and the condition that it’s in, then it may be best to simply leave it be.
However, if it can be contained, take it to the vet for neutering, vaccinations and a checkup. This could potentially save its life (and prevent further strays). A local charity could help you here if you think a trap would be required.
Feral cats can occasionally also become used to human companionship over time. They may not curl up on your knee but can live in a home where it is safe.
What to do with an underweight feral cat
If the feral cat is injured or malnourished then contact your local RSPCA or other reputable animal shelters in your area. It may need to be treated as an emergency. In the meantime, try and create some kind of shelter and warmth for the cat – such as a blanket filled cardboard box – along with some food and clean water.
Rehoming a stray cat
It’s always best to continue trying to locate the owner while the cat is being cared for by yourself or the vet. However, if it has been a few weeks and nobody has been in contact, then rehoming the cat is the next best option.
If you’re thinking of adopting the cat yourself, then check out our cat care guide to make sure you’re fully prepared. If you can’t house the cat, then try your local trusted animal shelters.
To get more advice and support, you can ring the Cats Protection’s National Information Line on 03000 12 12 12.
We hope this information has been useful in helping you decide what the next step is.