What to Do if You Find a Stray Cat in Your Backyard

July 13, 2017 3 min read

What to Do if You Find a Stray Cat in Your Backyard

During the summer, many people open wide their doors and windows to keep their houses cool. It can be easy for a cat to slip out through an ill-fitting or damaged screen. Domestic animals who wander from home can worry both their frantic owners and the people who find them. Here’s what to do if you spy a stray cat in your backyard.


Don’t give chase.

A cat can almost certainly outrun you unless it’s injured. If you chase after it, the animal could dart into oncoming traffic or into a yard patrolled by an aggressive dog. Should you capture a fearful cat, it may attack, leaving behind painful welts and harmful bacteria.

Instead, determine if the cat is a lost pet, has been abandoned, or is a feral animal.

A cat wearing a collar is obviously a pet. Most cat owners, however, do not collar their pets since these increase the cat’s risk of getting choked or hung. If the cat approaches you with little hesitancy, appears well fed, or tries to come inside, you almost certainly have a friendly but possibly lost housecat on your hands.

A stray animal who warms up after a few distant meetings may be a disoriented or abandoned pet who has been living on his own for a while. By contrast, a terrified, angry, or avoidant cat is likely feral.

Should you feed a stray cat?

If the cat is willing to come inside, go ahead and feed him. If you already have a house cat, however, we advise leaving food outside for the stray animal. Let him stick around while you check the Internet for notices about lost pets in your area. Local vets’ offices or the area Humane Society may be good sources of information, too. A vet can even scan the animal for a microchip. Your diligence could be well rewarded when a grieving person reunites with a previously lost pet.

For long-term strays and feral cats, you can choose to feed the animal outdoors for a few days. Make sure the food is being consumed by the cat and not by the neighbor’s greedy dog or an inquisitive wild animal. Be aware that feral cats live in colonies, though. Feed one and you may soon be serving a plated dinner to a crowd.

What to do do with a feral cat or colony?

If you feed it, a former pet will eventually warm up to you. A feral cat almost certainly will not. Either way, you will want to make long-term plans for the creature, especially if inclement weather is setting in. Never try to handle a feral cat. Call a no-kill animal shelter instead. Talk with their staff. Many of these organizations practice trap-neuter-release (TNR), a humane program that limits the proliferation of feral cats but does not euthanize them.

Without TNR, a feral cat colony’s population can skyrocket with litter after litter of kittens joining the inhabitants. Neutering feral cats will also prevent you from being overwhelmed with their needs. When caring for a cat colony, be aware of your neighbors. Sometimes, feral cats will cause a problem for birds, pets, and gardens. You can learn more about how to help a feral cat by contactingThe Humane Society’s community cats team.

If you choose to adopt a stray cat yourself, be ready for surprises.

In some states it is illegal to take in a stray animal so you will need to check with your local animal control center first. Some animal control facilities are happy to come and pick up the stray.

If you find you can take in a stray, be sure to have the animal checked thoroughly by the vet and to load up on high-quality, vet-recommended cat food. Purchase a litter box, clumping non-clay litter, stainless steel food bowls, and cat toys.

 Do you already own a cat? If so, be sure to check out our Ultimate Guide to Second Cat Introductions. Even if the stray is your first cat, it may take some time to warm up to you or may be skittish around other humans. Just be patient. The wait is worth it.

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