Stray cats

What do you do when you find a stray cat? When a cat comes to your window, meowing for food and water, what steps should you take?
Cat sitting on ground
Cat sitting on ground
Cat sitting on ground

Identify the cat (if you can)

Cats often wander away from their families and sometimes cannot find their way back. Sometimes, they are simply out for a stroll and plan to return to their family in some time—but that some time could be days. Meanwhile, there is a family on the other end of this situation searching for their cat with no idea what may have happened to them.

Do not assume, then, that the cat you have found is a stray. If they look healthy and well groomed, it is likely they belong to some family. Here are a few steps you can take to try and identify the cat.

1. If the stray cat is friendly, approach them and check to see if they are wearing a collar. If they are, this collar should have the contact details of their family on it.

Cat rubbing against a tree

2. If they are not wearing a collar, try and ask around to see if anyone in the neighbourhood has lost a cat. Word travels quickly. If the cat belongs to a home in the local area, news may travel back to the family.

3. If there are no easy and visible signs of identification or if no family comes forward to claim them, then you will need to take the stray cat to a local veterinary clinic or to another organisation, such as the nearest Cats Protection branch. The cat could have a microchip. Your nearest local veterinary clinic or organisation will be able to scan the microchip to learn details of the cat’s family and reunite them with their owners.

Finding the owners

If there are no visible signs of identification, this does not mean that the cat does not belong to somebody. Cats are free spirits and like to wander. In 2014 alone, Cats Protection was able to reunite 3,000 cats with their owners after they were identified as ‘stray’. Your next step is to do everything you can to find your stray cat’s owner and return them to the family.

Look at bulletin boards for lost cats and see if any of the descriptions match the cat you have found. Check local newspapers and listings to see if anyone has posted a similar cat missing.

You can also be proactive. Print posters of the cat you have found and place it around your neighbourhood. Spread the word. Social media tends to be very effective for this, Twitter especially. Followers can retweet the picture of the stray cat.

You can also consult a lost and found register. For example, call the National Helpline on 03000 12 12 12 for details of your nearest Cats Protection branch, which will likely have a lost and found register.

Taking care of the cat

While you are hunting for the family, it is important to try and take care of the cat to the best of your ability. If it is not possible to have the cat in your home, do not worry. Try your best to create a shelter for the stray cat. A strong cardboard box (and a blanket) should usually suffice. Provide the cat with food and clean water.

Sometimes, the cat you have found may be injured or sick. In such cases, approach the cat with caution. They are likely to be wary and may be aggressive if they are scared. Try and cover them with a blanket before picking them up—it protects you from their claws.

If the stray cat is injured or sick, best practice is to call the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) on 0300 1234 999. They have an agreement with the British Veterinary Association regarding care for sick or injured animals. If the injury is serious, you should take the cat to the nearest vet. Obtain prior permission from the RSPCA before undertaking any course of action.

‘Can I adopt the stray cat?’

If you have followed all the steps above and still have not located a family for your cat, then they may be a stray cat. In some cases, cats are sadly abandoned by their owners and may not be welcome in their original home.

If you would like to keep the cat, you usually can. As long as the cat is comfortable in your home and happy to make it theirs, there really are no restrictions.

Make sure you have carefully considered the decision to keep a cat, however. You should be able to pay for any veterinary treatments they need, as well as for their food and wellbeing, and you should get them microchipped to prevent them becoming lost again.

This article has outlined the steps you should take if you have found a stray cat. Remember, cats are inclined to wander and may already belong to a family. If you have failed to find a family and cannot adopt them, give them to the nearest Cats Protection branch or animal welfare shelter. These organisations will do their best to find the owners or find them a new and loving home.