What should you do when you find a stray cat? Should you take it in? How should you care for the stray cat or kitten?
There are several things you must do to help a stray cat before you take it in. These are important steps to take when you find a lost or abandoned kitten or cat, as the cat could be injured, abandoned, or not friendly.
Check the stray cat for injuries
The first step is to take a look at the cat for injuries. If it appears injured, check the type and severity of the injury. If you notice blood or wounds, then they could be severe and you should seek immediate veterinary care. The best thing to do is find your nearest vet and call them or their out-of-hours emergency care phone number straight away.
If the cat is afraid of you, try and cover them with a blanket before picking the injured cat up. It will help protect you from their claws.
Many outdoor cats suffer from cuts and scrapes, so if there are no serious wounds, try and clean up their cuts and scrapes with a clean towel or cloth. Do not use ointments, gels, disinfectants, or any other chemicals on the wound (unless advised by your veterinarian), as they might impede its healing. It will then be worth taking the cat to the vet the following morning.
If the stray cat is injured or sick, the 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.
Try to identify the cat
If there are no obvious signs of injury on the stray cat, give it a gentle examination to see if you can notice any other clues as to why it is outside. Check for tags, a microchip, or any other ways of identifying it. If you know the stray cat is an indoor cat, then there must be some reason why it was outside (e.g., if it normally lives indoors but got out or was perhaps locked out).
If there are no injuries and you find no way to identify the stray cat, take a look at its overall health, age, and any other identifying features. This will be important to note later when you consider if the cat is suitable for you to take in or not.
Using this information, check lost and found websites and Facebook groups in your area. Ask around in your local community for any information or sightings of where the stray cat has come from. It’s important to call all nearby veterinary clinics and cat shelters to check if anyone has reported the cat as missing. I would also advise for you to then follow up a week or two later in case the cat was reported missing after your call eg. if someone came back from work or holiday and found that their beloved cat hasn’t come home.
In 2014 alone, Cats Protection was able to reunite 3,000 cats with their owners after they were identified as ‘stray’
If there are no injuries and you notice no tags or distinguishing features, then there is a chance it may be an abandoned cat. Other signs that the cat was abandoned include it being thin (malnourished) or dirty (looks like it has been living outdoors for a while).
Taking care of the stray cat
While you are looking for the cat’s owners or waiting to take it to the vet or a cat shelter, it’s important to take care of the cat to ensure it remains healthy and uninjured in your care.
If you can’t keep the cat in your house, don’t worry. Make every effort to provide a refuge for the stray cat. A large sturdy cardboard box (and a blanket) should be enough for one night. Give the animal plenty of food and clean water.
Be sure to stock up on some cat food and/or cat litter. Either from a local pet shop or speak to a few neighbours or friends to see if they can help.
Can I adopt the stray or abandoned cat?
If you’ve gone through all of the above and still can’t find a home for your cat, it’s possible that they’re a stray. Cats are sometimes abandoned by their owners and are not welcome in their original homes in some circumstances.
If you would like to keep the cat, you usually can. As long as the cat is safe and comfortable in your home and happy to make it theirs, there should be nothing stopping you from keeping the stray.
If you choose to keep a cat, be sure you’ve given it plenty of thought. You should be able to cover any medical expenses as well as their food and care, and they should be microchipped to avoid being lost again.
What to do if you don’t want to keep the stray cat?
If you are unable to find the owner of the stray cat, check with your local vet if it’s possible to keep the cat there until someone claims it or they have room in their boarding cattery (if applicable). The vets should be able to advise you on what application form they require you to fill in for this.
If the vet doesn’t have room, then you’ll need to consider finding a place for it to stay. If there are no shelters available that can take the cat, then check out boarding catteries where they will also provide food and litter. You could also ask local friends or family if they would like a cat, as maybe they would like to help and take it in.
If you do not want the cat anymore and you cannot find anyone else who wants to take care of it, then you will need to contact your local council (municipality) and ask if there is a way they can help you rehome it. They may be able to find a cat shelter with adequate space or emergency rehoming services.