Pet Care Basics, Shelter and Rescue Resources

How to Help Stray Cats and Feral Felines

Cats are becoming ever more popular as household companions. Most people that have cats as pets have more than one and keep them safe and sound indoors. However, not every cat has a warm, safe home to call their own. So what should cat fanciers do if they encounter an unknown feline outside? Are they lost? Have they been abandoned? Are they feral? Here are some tips on what to do if you encounter a kitty outside and how you can potentially help them.

Caring for a Stray Cat

It’s an unfortunate fact that there are many cats that do not have families to call their own. Feline overpopulation is a harsh reality and communities all over the world have feral populations of cats. Some communities embrace these feral feline populations and revere them while some do quite the opposite. If you encounter an unknown feline outside, the first thing to remember is that safety, both yours and the cats, is the primary consideration.

Some cats outside can be friendly, while others may be scared, injured or both and resistant to capture. If you can safely touch and restrain an unknown cat you find outside, and need to bring it into your house, be sure that you can isolate the cat away from other pets in your house.

What To Do With a Stray Cat that Looks Sick?

If the cat is sick or injured, it’s best to get them to a veterinarian right away so they can get the help they need. A veterinarian can also scan the cat for a microchip and if there is one, can go about trying to reunite the cat and the owner. If the cat is not microchipped and has been treated for any injuries or illness, the next best place to inquire is with local animal shelters or rescues. If someone’s cat goes missing, they often reach out to these organizations to let them know their pet is missing. If the cat is not owned, but is adoptable, these organizations can get them spayed or neutered, vaccinated and potentially adopted out to loving homes.

How to Catch a Feral Cat

If the cat is not friendly or scared and you cannot safely bring it into your house, there are still some things you can do to attempt to get the cat to safety. Some rescue organizations have the ability to set live traps in the area the cat is staying to try and safely capture the cat. Live traps are also available for purchase at farm stores, but live trapping a cat is sometimes difficult, and the trap must be monitored closely and is sometimes best left to the experts.

TNR for Cats

Colonies of cat are somewhat of a different animal. Cats will sometimes gather in groups, which is counter to their nature, mostly in order to utilize resources. It may be in an area that is abundant in resources, or an area that has good shelter and protection. Most cats in this situation are truly feral and not good candidates for adoption, with some exceptions. In order to make sure these colonies do not outgrow their resources, some communities have instituted Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) programs. These programs go out and live trap the cats, spay and neuter them and vaccinate them (mostly for rabies) and then release them back into the area they were trapped. These cats are usually ear-tipped (the very tip of the ear removed surgically) to identify them as being already sterilized. They can then go about their lives in the community. TNR programs are controversial. Some people feel that colonies of feral cats are a nuisance and damage wildlife populations. However, the harsh reality is that these cats are already in their situation due to no fault of their own, and if left to multiply, the resulting population would be a far greater issue.

How Do I Help a Stray Cat Outside?

Finally, if you don’t feel comfortable trying to bring in a cat that may be hanging around outside, and you aren’t able to find a group able to help, simply providing shelter, good food and clean water will go a long way to making the cat’s life a little easier.

If you have cat health questions, call a Revival Pet Care Pro at 800.786.4751.

Picture of Amy Hanson with a kitten

Written by: Amy Hanson, DVM

Amy Hanson, DVM

Dr. Amy Hanson is an associate veterinarian at the Cat Clinic of Lawrence in Lawrence, Kansas. She is a 2010 graduate of Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine. Her special interests include felines, acupuncture and dentistry. Her hobbies include showing cats and she is a judge for the American Cat Fanciers Association (ACFA).

If you need help, call us at 800.786.4751.