Dealing with Stray Cats

The first step in dealing with a stray cat is to make sure that it is simply stray. The cat may otherwise be a pet that is allowed outdoors, a recently lost pet for which the owner is still looking, or a cat that has gone wild or feral.

Companion cats are usually friendly and respond quickly to affection. If it looks well-fed and well-groomed, it is probably being cared for. Be careful though, a feral cat, used to being on its own, may look neater than a recently lost pet, not used to being outdoors for long periods.

A feral cat, having adapted to living on its own, will usually choose to run when approached. If it feels cornered or threatened, it may show aggression, baring its teeth, hissing, growling or arching his back. They may accept food from you, but will not show signs of affection like a pet will.

To find out if he is an outdoor cat that someone else is caring for, try putting a phone number in a note on the collar (or putting a collar on first and attaching the note). If someone else is caring for it, they can call, especially if it is their pet and not just a stray they were helping out.

Check with the police, your local paper, or neighborhood veterinarian to see if someone has recently reported a cat missing. A vet or the police should be able to scan the cat to see if there is a microchip identifying it. With the newspaper, you might take out a free or inexpensive classified seeking the owner. These extra steps are sure to be appreciated by the rightful guardian if they are located.

Feral cats like being wild and are not about to become a pet again just for a bowl of milk. You can feed it, even leave a box or dog house to protect it from the elements. However, unless it is a real threat or nuisance, it is probably best to leave a feral cat on its own. It will never make a good companion and if taken to a shelter, it will probably be euthanized if it is determined to be unadoptable.

Whether feral or domesticated, food is always appreciated by a hungry cat. If it proves to be domesticated, it might be a good idea if you can foster it in your home until you can find someone to adopt it. If you cannot foster, a shelter may be necessary. You might try finding one of a growing number of “no kill” shelters which will not euthanize animals within a week like conventional shelter will.

There are groups which seek to help feral cats without euthanizing them, by having them sterilized and containing their feeding areas. One such group, Alley Cat Allies can be contacted at