What to Do When You Find a Stray Cat

stray kitten

Have you found a cat that looks like it doesn’t belong to anyone? Here you can read about what to do in this case, what you should do if the cat is injured, how to find out if the cat has a home and when you would be allowed to keep the cat.

Have you found a homeless stray or is it just the neighbour’s cat?

Cats love to explore their local area looking for mice or searching for adventure. It is nothing out of the ordinary to find a cat prowling around on its own in your garden, in a nearby field or in your front yard. If you often see the same cat, it is probably just a neighbour’s pet passing by your house on its daily walk. Many outdoor cats follow the same route around their territory and pass through the same gardens and down the same roads regularly.

What should you do when an unknown cat wants to come inside?

If a cat is sitting in front of your balcony or back door looking as though it would like to come in, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it doesn’t have a home to go back to. Some cats are extremely curious and want to investigate everything they come across, including the houses and flats in the neighbourhood, especially when there is an enticing smell wafting from inside. Most cats probably wouldn’t say no to an extra portion of food!

Is it a good idea to feed an unknown cat?

Even if the cute kitty looks at you pleadingly, you shouldn't feed it without knowing where it has come from or who it belongs to. In most cases, the cat will belong to a neighbour and will be fed regularly so you could even do it some harm by giving it extra portions of food. Some cats have a tendency to put on weight or have allergies and intolerances to certain foods so can only eat special cat food. If you still want to welcome your furry guest, you can put out a bowl of water but no milk please!

How to tell whether a cat has a home or not

If a cat looks visibly unkempt and unfed, it could of course mean that the cat doesn’t have a home or get fed regularly. Some food would help the cat to regain some strength in this case. But how can you tell whether the cat is really homeless? A thin cat could simply be very old or ill. On the other hand, a seemingly well-groomed cat could have been abandoned and could be really hungry. Unfortunately, there aren’t any clear-cut signs that show whether a cat is a stray or, in fact, has a home. Sometimes, a cat might have a collar with a tag with its name and address, but many owners decide against this due to the risk of injury to the cat. That said, there are a few clues you can look out for that will help you to recognise whether the cat has a family or not.

Clues that the cat has a home Clues that the cat doesn’t have a home
The cat looks healthy and well fed

Its fur seems groomed

Its eyes, ears and claws are clean and well cared for

It has a collar and name tag

It has a microchip - this can be verified by a vet

The cat is extremely thin and emaciated

Its fur is raggedy, dirty and looks very unkempt

There are bald patches in its fur

It might have fleas

It is timid, frightened or aggressive

stray tabby cat

How can I tell whether a cat has been abandoned?

Unfortunately, owners still abandon their pets because they are overwhelmed by the demands and can see no other way out but don’t take up offers of help to home the cat elsewhere from an animal shelter, the vet, a breeder or an animal welfare association. A cat that has been abandoned might not necessarily look neglected at first sight. It might be well-fed and not show any of the above signs that it doesn’t have a home.

The situation will become clearer if you find a cat in the middle of nowhere, for example, in a forest, in a park, in a lay-by or in a car park, maybe even in a cardboard box or a travel carrier. In this case, you can be almost certain that the cat has been abandoned. Can I simply take the stray cat home with me? What should I do when I can’t keep the cat? If you find a stray cat you will have a thousand questions and might be unsure how best to act.

When and how can I help a stray cat?

If you find a cat that seems to be homeless, you should stay calm and not make any rash decisions. Even if the cat looks so cute and is gazing at you imploringly so you would love to scoop it up straightaway to take it home, think carefully about whether you have fully understood the situation. It could be an unknown neighbourhood cat that has passed by your home on its rounds. How does the cat’s fur look? Is it well-groomed? How does the cat behave towards you? If you suspect that the cat has been abandoned, has got lost or is a stray without a home at all, you should, of course, help it. The following five questions will help you make the right decisions in this situation.

Ask yourself these five questions if you find a homeless cat:

  • Is the cat hurt?

Could it be possible that the cat has hurt its paw and is in pain so it can’t get home by itself? If you find a cat you should first check whether it is in good health and doesn’t have any significant injuries. If the cat does have a serious injury, you must take it to the vet immediately or consult an emergency vet, where available. If you decide to take the injured cat to the vet yourself, you should definitely wear thick gloves when handling the cat. An injured cat can behave aggressively, defend itself and seriously hurt you with its claws out of fear. If the cat looks ungroomed and has bald patches on its skin, it could have parasites which could also be dangerous for other animals or for you yourself.

  • Could the cat have recently had kittens?

Before you take the cat away from where you have found it, you should check carefully whether it is a mother cat. Is it possible that she has hidden her babies somewhere? In this case, the mother and her kittens should be left where you found them. Don’t take them home with you and don’t take them to the vet. If you have the impression that the mother cat needs help or doesn’t have a home to go back to with her kittens, you can notify a vet, a local animal shelter or the authorities and ask them for help.

  • How can I find the cat’s owner?

If a cat has wandered to your home, you should check with your neighbours whether someone recognises the cat and knows who it belongs to. Often, you can quickly find out whether the cat is really a stray or is simply the new pet of one of your neighbours. If you don’t have any luck asking door to door, you can then try making posters with the heading “Cat Found” or “Do You Know This Cat?” with a photo of the cat and your phone number. Put these posters up in supermarkets and in the streets in your local area. In addition to this, there are many internet sites where you can report having lost or found a pet. Social networks such as Facebook or Instagram are also ideal for publicising a lost cat. You might be lucky and find the owner of the cat quickly this way.

lost ginger kitten
  • Do I have to advertise the found cat?

Even if you would love to adopt the cat on the spot, you aren’t allowed to take the cat home and keep it. In certain circumstances, you could even be liable for a compensation claim later down the line. If you believe that the cat has been abandoned or can't find its way home, you are allowed to keep it at your house, as long as the search for its owner is ongoing. It is important that you report the pet that you have found promptly to the relevant authorities. Often, this means simply informing the local animal shelter or a vet.

In any case, it is advisable to take the cat to the vet. Not only can the vet examine the cat for any parasite infections or other illnesses, they can also help to find out who the owner of the cat is. Most domestic cats have a microchip. In many cases, vets or animal shelters can find out quickly and easily who a lost cat belongs to with the help of the registered microchip number.

  • Who should look after the cat during the search for its home?

If the cat doesn’t have a collar, a microchip or an identification tattoo which indicates who the owner is, the search can take much longer. Once you have reported the lost cat to the relevant authorities or the vet, you can take it home on a temporary basis. You must be sure that you have the means to take care of the cat during this time. If you work full-time everyday, leaving the cat alone in an unfamiliar environment will be frightening for the already unsettled creature. In this case, it might be best for the animal to stay in a rescue centre temporarily.

Furthermore, you should consider that having an unknown cat in your home could be very strenuous. After all, you don’t know what the cat has been through that might lead it to exhibit some behavioural problems, such as, scratching the furniture, urinating inside or meowing constantly at night. If you have experience looking after cats and have the time to take on this stray, you can welcome the cat into your home temporarily and help it through this difficult time with lots of love and patience.

When is keeping a stray cat permitted?

If you have decided to look after the cat temporarily at your home, you should be aware that you will have to give up the cat as soon as its legal owner is found. Even if saying goodbye is difficult, the cat’s original family probably missed it so they will be very happy that you have reported finding the cat and have taken such good care of their pet in the meantime. It might be possible to stay in contact with the cat’s family and visit every so often. If no owner comes forward, you can keep the cat.

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