What to do if You Find a Stray Cat
Quite often our feline friends enter our lives in the most unexpected of ways.
Most people acquire cats from retailers, advertisements for re-homing, or from breeders, while some cats are strays that befriend us.
Some homeless cats are just lost and not strays at all.
If you are wondering what to do if you find a stray cat, there are several things you should do.
The first is to decide whether or not it is actually a stray.
Cats tend to roam in quite a wide area away from their home base, especially tom cats around females on heat.
They say that cats choose people, and a lost or stray cat chose your backyard to make itself known.
Cats frequently 'wander on through' other people's properties.
Look for a cat collar
Look for a collar around its neck, and if you can catch it, see if it has a name plate with perhaps a phone number engraved on it.
A quick phone call later and you could be reassured that the cat has a happy home, or not as the case may be.
Just because a cat is not wearing a collar, does not mean it is homeless.
If you see this cat around the same area day after day, the chances are it belongs to someone who lives locally.
If it has suddenly appeared in your yard or at your work-place and keeps re-appearing, it may be a stray.
A fairly obvious sign is seeing a cat raid a garbage bin or bird table for food scraps.
While no cat ever refuses the offer of food, even well-fed cats, it is unusual to see normally fussy cats steal scraps not intended for them.
How do I find out if a cat is a stray or just lost?
The first and most obvious thing if you find a stray cat is to find out if someone is missing a cat of the same description.
You can do this by:
- scanning the small ads in the local press
- checking shop window notices
- word of mouth (ask around - neighbours, friends)
If there are no results, consider placing an ad yourself, perhaps in a local store window.
I'm assuming you would want to care for the cat meanwhile, so by all means, feed it and make sure there is water for it to drink.
If the cat is willing to enter your home, you may find it never wants to leave, so don't take it in unless there is the possibility that you could re-home it.
Otherwise, leave it outside but make sure it has food and water.
Most cats are nervous around strangers, and it may not want to approach you. In this case, just leave out some food for it in a safe area away from traffic.
Make yourself scarce and the cat will come and eat if it is hungry.
Be warned, however, that cats tend to keep returning to the area or person that has fed it, so don't make a habit of feeding it if you are not going to keep or re-home it.
Can I keep the stray cat?
If no-one claims it, and you have not tracked down an owner, then yes you can.
Before bringing the cat into your home, you might like to check it over for signs of illness or infection, especially if you have children or other animals under your care.
Assuming you will have noticed if it has anything obviously wrong like a limp, check for sticky eyes, ear mites and fleas.
All of those things can be treated while the cat remains outside.
Remember to wash your hands after handling.
If you are unfamiliar with basic cat health care, you might like to take the cat along to your local veterinary surgeon for advice.
Assuming all is well, bring the cat indoors and allow him to get used to the sounds and smells of your home.
Start feeding him indoors and he will stay!
Most cats that have been strays will use a litter tray, but are happier going outside to do their business.
Consider installing a cat flap to allow it free access.
What if I don't want to rehome the cat?
If you can't re-home your new feline companion, take the cat along to your local stray cat re-homing centre, if there is one.
If not, ask around - friends, neighbours, workmates. Someone always wants a cat, especially if it is friendly.
Cats are great for keeping vermin out of houses, as well as being delightful balls of purring fur to curl up beside you on the sofa when you are watching TV.
My stray cat
I have a new stray cat in my backyard at the time of writing this.
I called him Jackson until I realised he was probably a she, so now I call her Mississippi in honour of the book I was reading at the time (The Help by Kathryn Stockett).
Mississippi is a half-wild stray, who has perhaps never been shown human kindness before.
She's been appearing on and off in the garden over the past few months, but she's so big and healthy-looking I assumed her to belong to a neighbour.
Having asked around, all I hear is "Oh, I've seen that cat." No-one knows where she lives, but she seems to spend a lot of time under a hedge in my yard.
It was when I saw her skim up the pole that holds the bird table, to eat three-week-old mouldy scraps, that I realised she was a stray.
So now I feed her, every day, but I can never get near her.
She is terrified of everything. Even the seagulls scare her off!
So this is one cat that likely will never have had, nor will have, a home.
She will never go hungry, that's for sure.