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How to Approach a Stray Cat or Dog Safely and Carefully

Updated on May 5, 2013
They look so sweet, it would be hard to walk by and not help if they seem to be lost.
They look so sweet, it would be hard to walk by and not help if they seem to be lost. | Source
Picture of our neighbors lost kitty... I hope they find her soon, she's so pretty!
Picture of our neighbors lost kitty... I hope they find her soon, she's so pretty! | Source

"I've Got Cat Class, And I've Got Cat Style" ~ The Stray Cat Strut

When Your First Thought Is "What If It Was My Pet Lost Or Injured?"...

Many people have a soft spot in their heart for a stray cat or dog, especially if they own either cats or dogs or have ever owned them. As a pet owner, you know how important animals are to you and your family. Other pet owners usually feel the same way. From your own experience, you know that pets become like a much-loved member of the family. If you see a stray, and if you're like me and your first thought is "what if it were my cat or dog?" you might find yourself in the position of wanting to help the animal.

First, it's good to look at the animal to see if he or she has a collar and a tag. This at least lets you know whether they belong to someone. Then again, if they are like our two cats, they don't wear a collar or tag because they freak out of you try to put a collar on them. But if they do have one, you can at least look at it to see if there's a phone number you can call, if you're able to catch the animal safely.

To Approach A Stray Cat Or Dog Safely....

The problem is, how do you approach the stray cat or dog safely? You certainly don't want to risk being hurt just because you are trying to be helpful to them. There are some basic things to remember and things you can do to approach them safely, for your own safety and for theirs.

First of all, try talking to them in a calm and soothing voice, try to coax them to come to you. If they are fearful of you, or if you don't think they will come to you, you can begin to approach them slowly and take small steps. It is best to try to make yourself appear as small as possible to them so you don't look like a big predator. Continue to talk to them in a calming and reassuring way to try to convey the message that you are not there to hurt them. They may be frightened and mistrustful of people, especially if they are feral and have never known the love of a good home.

Some animals are friendly right away and it's pretty obvious that they are someone's pet and they are used to being around people. Others, however, may really be feral animals and that calls for the use of extra caution when approaching them. Once you are near the cat, try to hold your hand out, preferably palm down, and try to let them sniff your hand ONLY if they seem friendly.

Do NOT touch the top of their head. They may not like being touched there and may even see it as a sign that you might be aggressive. Never approach an animal in an aggressive way. A frightened animal probably WILL bite or scratch.

Let them sniff your hand, then if they seem to be friendly, it may be OK to pet them, but give them a gentle pet on the shoulder to start with. Try to stay as calm and reassuring as you possibly can. Give them the time they need to see that you are not there to hurt them, but to help. If they seem to enjoy being petted and talked to in a calm and soothing voice, do that for a few minutes to try to get them somewhat used to your presence and to your scent.

Stay calm and reassuring and be sure that you don't make direct eye contact with either a stray dog or cat. Eye contact, especially when it is prolonged, is communicated to them as being aggressive. You surely don't feel aggressive towards them, but they don't know that. In their world, direct prolonged eye contact is a bad thing. So, look towards them but not directly into their eyes. Keep talking in a calm voice, or use soft clicking sounds or other soothing sounds.

And a very important thing to remember is, if a dog or cat starts to come toward you in an aggressive way, or if they growl, hiss, bare their teeth or show any other type of aggressive behavior, back up slowly. Do not be foolish and ignore these warning signs they are trying to give you.

Get to a safe spot, and call for help if you don't feel you can handle the situation. You can call animal control or a pet rescue service. If you already know you are a pet rescue type of person, have these numbers programmed ahead of time into your phone. You'll be glad you did if you ever need these numbers.

If the cat or dog does seem to be friendly and receptive to you, and if you happen to have food or treats with you, you can try using those to win them over. Sometimes when people know that they have the personalities of rescuers and absolutely cannot go past an animal who appears to be a stray, they will carry a kit with them. Especially if they are in the car when they see the animal by the side of a road. Sometimes they will have a special rescue kit with them in the car just in case. In this rescue kit, they may have blankets, pet dishes, a bottle or two of water, some pet food and a couple of leashes.

Most people, however, won't be quite that prepared. You may come across a stray dog or cat while you're out walking in the neighborhood. The reason I even considered writing this is because right now, outside by our community mailboxes, we have a picture of a pretty tabby cat posted on a bulletin board there with the word "lost" along with a description.

Seeing something like this just tugs at my heart, because one of our cats was a stray that was rescued. Our son and daughter in law actually rescued her and took her in and fed her and cared for her. Then they called us and asked if we could take her in to be a "sister" to our other cat, Dixie.

She was found on a college campus, and from what we could figure out, the kids who owned her before had left to go home for the summer (it was May when she was found, cold, wet and hungry). We figured they had just had her for the school year and let her out when school was over for the year. What people sometimes don't realize is that taking an animal into your home and heart is a commitment. You wouldn't let a child out to fend for themselves, why do it to an animal? At least that's how I feel about it. I just think it's the wrong thing to do.

If the animal is a much loved house pet and darts quickly out of the house and becomes lost and frightened, that's another thing entirely. That is like the cat we have here in our neighborhood. That poor cat is probably frightened someplace and hoping her owner will find her again. You can tell by this picture near the mailboxes that she is a family pet and much loved. I just hope she is found soon.

Remember when you do see a stray animal and decide to help, keep these important safety tips in the back of your mind to keep yourself from harm. When you find the animals owner and see that joyful reunion, or when you rescue that stray animal, you could very well be saving their life. The world is full of dangers for little stray animals and you could be the one who comes along just in time and saves their life.


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    • KathyH profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Waukesha, Wisconsin

      Thanks so much, GeoJo! So glad you found this to be helpful! :) And thank you for following as well! :)

    • GeoJo profile image


      7 years ago

      Great Tips....I have a Stray Cat roaming around that I see every day. Your tips will be helpful. You have a new follower...Me!

    • KathyH profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Waukesha, Wisconsin

      Thanks so much Beckie! :) Your sister in law is doing a GREAT thing! Just one cat that isn't fixed can produce SO many kittens who may end up homeless! Thanks for your comment! :)

    • shiningirisheyes profile image

      Shining Irish Eyes 

      7 years ago from Upstate, New York

      Very important useful tips. I never knew a prolonged stare was a bad thing.

      My sister in law traps stray cats and has them neutered. She then finds homes for them

      Fine write.

    • KathyH profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Waukesha, Wisconsin

      You're welcome, Ruby! Thanks for visiting and for your nice comment! :)

    • KathyH profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Waukesha, Wisconsin

      Thanks so much Dianna! :) I've seen stray cats in the town of Laughlin near the casino's there. It was sad to see them, it made me want to feed every one of them as well. I bet the cats around the mall will appreciate the extra kindness! :) Thanks so much for commenting!

    • KathyH profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Waukesha, Wisconsin

      Thanks so much, Pages-By-Patty for your very well written and thought out comment, it is excellent advice for anyone who finds a stray. You are doing a good thing helping these animals. :) Great addition about posting pictures in social media, vets offices and the Humane Society as well. Thanks so much for commenting! :)

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      7 years ago from Southern Illinois

      A great and caring hub. Thank's for sharing..

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      7 years ago

      Oh, this is a great post, Kathy. I can see how making yourself seem small to a cat would help them to accept you as friendly. I will remember this next time. I often see them wild around the mall. People do put food out for them on occasion, but sometimes I have a leftover with me and just want to feed them. This will help.

    • Pages-By-Patty profile image


      7 years ago from Midwest

      Yes, approaching a lost dog does take some finesse. Most are skittish and scared so being prepared with food/treat & a slip lead is a must.

      I travel with a lost dog kit in my car and stop for any dog that needs assistance regardless of it's appearance, my schedule or the neighborhood, I just don't know how people drive past an animal in need. If it was a child, there would be a public frenzy within minutes!

      If you are unsuccessful in capturing the animal-at-large, taking a picture and posting it to your local humane society's website, vet clinics or a Facebook page with the pertinent details (time & local) is a way to immediately help. Or scan the lost dog ads online and alert anyone looking for a dog with the same general description. Remember that dogs can travel far from their point of origin and what may appear to be a husky breed to you may actually be a shepherd. So, keep the description vague (i.e. black dog with thick hair) and that should be enough to interest anyone truly looking for his/her lost dog.

      Thanks for the tips for stray pets and good Samaritans...they need all the help they can get!

    • KathyH profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Waukesha, Wisconsin

      Hi Faith! Sounds like you had a friendly and funny visitor for sure. And that would be my first reaction too, to protect the babies! :) I've heard that Jack Russell's are extremely smart dogs, he was protecting no doubt about it! :) Thank you so much for your great comment and for the up votes as well! :)

    • KathyH profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Waukesha, Wisconsin

      I'm so sorry your daughter got hurt, rebeccamealey. Sometimes cats seem to panic and use those claws when they are in panic mode. I got scratched trying to put our first kitty into a carrier one time to take her to the vet... she was just terrified, not doing it to be mean or anything. Hope this helps for next time if there ever is a next time! :)

    • KathyH profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Waukesha, Wisconsin

      Wow, what a neat story, Jackie! I've heard that cats can do that! They'll travel for miles to get back to their familiar place. Thanks so much for reading and for your interesting comment! :)

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 

      7 years ago from southern USA

      Excellent hub Kathy! We recently had a huge dog come to visit us when our granddaughters were up in the backyard. I immediately wanted to protect the grands, but my husband just reached out his hand and let him sniff it and then the visitor dog just made himself at home lying in the grass scratching his back. He was so funny. Then our little Jack Russell, who really wanted to be friends with the big beautiful dog, but when the visitor dog came close to any of us, our dog just charged at him and finally made him run off. She was just in protect mode no doubt. Voted Way Up

      God bless. In His Love, Faith Reaper

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 

      7 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      What a well thought out and helpful Hub! My daughter got her hands torn up last spring trying to rescue a cat. Great info to know! I will share this!

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 

      7 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Cats are really not bad to get lost so if you find them they probably have been turned out or dropped off. I gave a cat away once to a lady who live about 30 miles away and that cat got back to me in a couple weeks, having to cross numerous highways. Of course I kept her after that!

      Great advice. ^

    • KathyH profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Waukesha, Wisconsin

      I know what you mean, billybuc! :) If they even seem like they might be aggressive I tend to back away. But holding out your hand is such a non-threatening thing that I think it would usually work! :) Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      7 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Very good suggestions! I have found the best way is to stay still and hold out my hand; let them come to me and sniff. Usually that works...usually. :)


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