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You step outside to retrieve a package from the porch when suddenly you hear what sounds like a cat meowing. Then, out of the corner of your eye, you spot her: the most adorable little cat you have ever seen in your life. You wonder who she belongs to.
A half-hour later you notice the cat still on your porch. Now you’re starting to think she’s a stray. You decide it’s your moral and ethical responsibility to take the cat in and care for her until her owner can be located. But do you know what to do? A lot of people don’t, and it leads to problems for the cats.
Taking care of a stray cat isn’t something to be taken lightly. If you find yourself in such a position, do plenty of research through reputable sources like the Humane Society. Your local animal shelter can also be a great source of information. Without further ado then, here are my suggestions for taking care of a stray cat:
1. Determine If It’s Stray or Feral
The first thing to do if you want to help a stray cat is to determine whether the animal truly is a stray or not. There is a big difference between stray and feral animals. According to the Humane Society, a stray cat is a “pet who has been lost or abandoned, is used to contact with people and is tame enough to be adopted.” That’s simple enough to understand, right?
On the other hand, a feral cat is not a pet. It is an animal that lives apart from humans and is, therefore, not used to human contact. Why is this important? Because a feral cat can pose some level of danger. It can carry disease, or it could suddenly attack without warning if it feels threatened.
You can get a good idea of whether a cat is truly a stray or not just by observing its appearance and behavior. If the animal looks dirty, unkempt, and somewhat gaunt, there’s a good possibility you’re dealing with a feral cat. If the cat is groomed and appears well fed, it’s probably a stray. Also note how the animal reacts to you. Stray cats do not tend to be afraid of people where feral animals are.
2. Feed with Care
One of the first things you are likely to think of is feeding the cat. That’s fine, just feed with care. Don’t put a huge bowl of food on the porch along with an equal amount of milk or water. Cats, like other animals, will eat more than they should if you give them the opportunity.
It’s best to put out a little bit of food a few times per day. Some experts suggest putting out no more than the cat can consume in about a half-hour. Do that two or three times a day spaced out over 12 to 16 hours. If the cat stays around long enough, she will eventually be waiting by your door at feeding time.
Any food left over after feeding should be disposed of. Don’t leave it on the porch unless you are willing to attract other animals along with neighborhood insects.
3. Create a Shelter
Assuming you are unable to find the cat’s owner in a reasonable amount of time, you might consider building a shelter for the animal. Put it in a quiet, safe place if possible. A cat shelter should be 18 to 24 inches tall and at least a couple of feet long. It should be large enough for the cat to occupy comfortably but not so large that it doesn’t insulate. The opening only needs to be 8 to 10 inches wide – just wide enough to get through without allowing too much heat to escape.
You can put straw or something similar in the floor of the shelter. This will help create a dry and warm space for the cat to sleep in. Also do your best to keep the shelter off the ground. If you can put it on your porch, great. If not, put it on top of crates, large stones, or something else that will elevate it slightly.
Providing Emotional Support
Interactions with stray cats require a blend of patience and empathy, as they have often experienced stress and uncertainty. One of the most important things you can do to support these cats is to provide emotional support, establishing trust and making the cat feel safe and loved.
To build trust with a stray cat, it’s important to respect their space and let them set the pace of interactions. Initially, refrain from making direct eye contact, which cats may perceive as a threat. Instead, try the ‘slow blink’ technique – look at the cat, then slowly close your eyes and reopen them. This communicates that you are not a threat and can be a crucial first step in building a relationship. Regularly speak to the cat in a soft and calm voice, as this can help soothe their fears and get them used to your presence.
Creating a Safe Environment
Creating a safe environment involves setting up a specific area for the cat that’s quiet and removed from the hustle and bustle of household activity. You may want to provide hiding spots like boxes or cat trees where the cat can retreat when it feels threatened or scared. Remember to keep food and water separate from the litter area, as cats prefer to keep these areas distinct.
Showing Love and Affection
Showing love to a stray cat can be a gradual process. Start by simply being present, sitting quietly near them without trying to touch. Once they seem comfortable with your presence, try extending your hand slowly and let the cat come to you. Some cats may enjoy gentle petting along the back or under the chin. Remember, it’s important to follow the cat’s cues and not force any interaction they seem uncomfortable with.
Remember, every stray cat is different, and what works for one might not work for another. Adjust your approach based on the cat’s reactions, and over time, the bond between you will grow stronger. In providing emotional support for a stray cat, you’re giving them an invaluable gift: the chance to experience trust and love.
4. Seek Medical Care
Hopefully your stray cat will warm up to you over time, to the extent that you can pick her up and pet her. This is the time to consider seeking medical care. Taking the cat to the vet will do a couple of things. First, she will get a thorough examination along with any care she requires. Second, the vet may be on the lookout for her after being informed by her owner that she has gone missing. The vet may be your key to reuniting the cat with her owner.
Assuming the cat passes the medical exam with flying colors, you’re good to go for the time being. But do not just assume good health moving forward. Remember that a stray cat is a lost family pet. She may not have any practical experience defending herself against other animals. She may arrive for her next feeding with a wound or two after tangling with another animal. The point is to just keep an eye on her in case she’s injured or shows signs of illness.
Identify Signs of Illness
Familiarizing oneself with signs of potential health issues is vital when caring for any cat, particularly a stray. Stray cats can encounter a myriad of health concerns, ranging from minor ailments to serious conditions. An understanding of the common signs of distress can aid in prompt identification of health issues, thus ensuring swift action is taken.
Change in Behavior
Change in behavior is one of the most noticeable signs. A typically playful and active cat might become unusually lethargic, or a normally independent cat might suddenly become clingy. Look out for any abrupt alterations in their routine or demeanor. Unusual aggression or excessive hiding could also be indicative of discomfort or illness.
Loss of Appetite
Loss of appetite is another critical signal. Cats are creatures of habit, and an unexplained shift in eating patterns should be cause for concern. The refusal of food, especially over extended periods, could be an indication of dental problems, gastrointestinal issues, or even more severe health conditions.
Vomiting, while occasionally normal in cats due to hairballs, can also signify underlying problems if it occurs frequently or is accompanied by other symptoms such as lethargy or change in appetite. While a single episode of vomiting may not require immediate veterinary attention, repeated or violent vomiting, or vomiting combined with other symptoms, certainly warrants a prompt veterinary consultation.
Other signs to look out for include excessive drinking or urination, sudden weight loss or gain, difficulty breathing, and unusual discharge from the eyes, nose, or ears.
If you notice any of these symptoms in your cat, it’s crucial to consult with a veterinarian immediately. While it might be tempting to diagnose and treat these symptoms on your own, it’s always safest and most effective to get professional advice. This guidance ensures the best possible care for the stray cat, helping them recover and thrive under your care.
5. Introducing to Other Pets
The process of introducing a stray cat to existing pets in your home can be a delicate dance of fur, tails, and varying temperaments. Here are some guidelines to make this transition as smooth as possible:
Step One: Keep Them Separated at First
It’s important to understand that your new arrival and your existing pets need time to adjust. A good starting point is to keep them separated initially. Establish a safe space for the stray cat that’s separate from the rest of the house and pets. This allows for indirect interaction such as smelling and hearing each other without any physical contact. This kind of phased introduction can help reduce the stress for all parties involved.
Step Two: Swap Scents
Cats communicate largely through scent. Swap bedding between the newcomer and the resident pets so they can get used to each other’s scent. This familiarization phase allows your pets to understand that the newcomer is not a threat, but rather a part of their shared territory.
Step Three: Controlled Meetings
The first face-to-face meeting should be under controlled circumstances. A baby gate or a door cracked open just enough to allow visual contact but prevent full access can be useful here. Feeding your pets on either side of the barrier can also help create positive associations with the presence of the other pet.
Step Four: Supervised Interactions
After several successful controlled meetings, they might be ready for supervised interactions. Maintain a calm environment during these interactions and have treats ready to reward positive behavior. Be patient, as it may take several weeks or even months for your pets to fully adjust to one another.
Conclusion: Take It Slow
In conclusion, remember that the key to introducing a stray cat to other pets is patience and a slow pace. Rushing the process can lead to territorial disputes or even fights. Every pet is unique, so it’s essential to tailor your approach to suit their individual personalities and comfort levels. Don’t be disheartened if progress seems slow, as slow progress is still progress!
6. Brush the Cat’s Hair
According to the Petful.com website, it is a mistake to believe that self-grooming is adequate for cats. It’s not. Cats shed too much hair for self-grooming to take care of it all. The solution is to brush the animal on a regular basis. This will prevent matting and unnecessary dirt build up.
Long-haired cats should be brushed at least once per day. Cats with shorter hair can get away with a brushing one to three times per week. It’s important to brush more frequently during the spring, as that happens to be heavy shedding season for cats.
There is some debate over whether you should brush with or against the natural direction of a cat’s coat. Some say brushing against the natural direction pulls out more shedding hair than going with it. On the other hand, cats don’t necessarily take kindly to such brushing. You may find that your stray cat attempts to bite or scratch you if you brush in the opposite direction.
Training and Socialization
Adapting to a home environment can be quite a change for a stray cat. That’s why, when bringing a stray into your home, it’s crucial to keep a few essential training techniques in mind.
The first step in training a stray cat is patience. Remember, they’ve likely spent a good part of their lives on their own, so any form of training will take time.
Basic Training Techniques
Positive reinforcement is a simple yet effective training technique. It involves rewarding the cat whenever they exhibit a desirable behavior. Rewards can range from verbal praise, petting, or favorite treats. So, if your cat uses the litter box correctly or responds to its name, immediately praise it or give it a small treat. This positive reinforcement helps the cat associate that action with a positive outcome.
Another training tip involves handling negative behavior. If a stray cat displays undesirable behavior, such as scratching furniture, it’s essential to correct it gently and constructively. Do not yell or punish your cat as it can lead to fear and resentment. Instead, try diverting their attention or introducing alternatives. For instance, if the cat scratches the furniture, provide a scratching post and encourage its use.
When it comes to socialization, especially with other pets or kids in the house, gradual introductions are key. Start by allowing the stray cat to adjust to its own space in the house. Once the cat appears comfortable, slowly introduce other family members or pets, one at a time, to avoid overwhelming the cat.
Keep initial interactions short and always supervised. Look for signs of stress in the cat, such as hissing or cowering, and if these behaviors occur, give the cat space and try again later. Remember, this process may take weeks or even months, so patience is of utmost importance.
Involving children in the care of a stray cat can be a great learning opportunity. Teach them how to interact gently with the cat, respecting its boundaries, and understanding its body language.
Through patience, positive reinforcement, and a gradual approach to socialization, a stray cat can adapt to a home environment and become a beloved family member.
7. Help Her Fight Fleas
If you never reach the point at which your stray cat is willing to come into your home, you still want to help her fight off fleas. That’s one of the dangers of a cat living outdoors. Thankfully, there are a lot of commercial products available to choose from. Ask your vet or the local animal shelter what works best in your area.
Flea treatments are sold as medications, spot treatments, or collars. The flea collar is probably the least effective. It is also the least expensive. As for spot treatments, they come in multiple forms as well. You can buy them as shampoos, dusts, sprays, liquids, or gels.
Part of helping a stray cat fight fleas is to do regular flea checks. So while you are either feeding or brushing, take a few minutes to inspect the cat’s fur. You are looking for tiny, black specks bouncing around among the hair.
What do you do if you find fleas? First, comb the animal from head to tail with a metal flea comb. You can buy these combs at any local pet store. Also note that you’ll have to comb her several times a day while you are treating her with a medicine or spot treatment. By the way, combing removes adult fleas and eggs simultaneously.
A severe enough flea infestation might require the cat be dipped. This may not be a pleasant experience for either you or the cat. So if you’re uncomfortable doing it yourself, another trip to the vet will be in order. The good thing about flea dips is that their effectiveness is long-lasting.
8. Be on the Lookout for Owners
As difficult as it might be for cat lovers, an indispensable part of caring for a stray cat is to do whatever is necessary to reunite the animal with the family it belongs to. So be on the lookout for the owners of your cat. Check the telephone poles and trees in your neighborhood for signs advertising a missing cat.
Call your local animal shelter to see if anyone has reported a cat missing. Check the newspaper for classifieds, local stores where signs may have been placed, etc. The best thing you can do for your new friend is help her find her way back home, if possible.
You might also post signs or take out ads yourself. The more opportunity for people to know and talk about the stray cat, the greater the chances of a reunion.
If you’re contemplating taking in a stray cat, it’s vital to be aware of the legal implications that might accompany your compassionate act. While the laws regarding stray animals can vary from region to region, there are common regulations you may encounter.
Reporting Stray Animals
In many places, it is required by law to report a found animal to your local animal control or shelter. This is to ensure that, should the animal have a worried owner searching for their lost pet, there’s a central location where they can check. In a sense, this step safeguards the original pet-owner relationship and offers an avenue for reunification.
Generally, you cannot legally claim ownership of a stray cat immediately. There is usually a ‘holding period,’ often around a week or so, during which the original owner can reclaim their lost pet. If this period passes with no one stepping forward to claim the cat, then you can proceed with the adoption process.
Microchipping and Licensing
If you do decide to adopt the stray cat after the holding period, another consideration is the necessity for microchipping and licensing, which is mandated in certain regions. This not only helps track your pet but also serves as legal proof of ownership.
9. Think About Spaying or Neutering
In a perfect world, your stray cat would be reunited with her original family and life would go on. That might not happen in your case. If a significant amount of time goes by without finding the cat’s owners, it might be time to think about spaying or neutering the animal.
Spaying and neutering will prevent one stray from producing multiple litters of, what could end up being, feral cats. Though it may seem cruel, it is in the best interests of the animal to have this done. Your vet can handle it for a pretty reasonable cost.
Adoption and Fostering
If the stray cat’s owner cannot be found, a warm and rewarding possibility that opens up is to officially adopt the cat, making it a part of your family. Adoption is a lifelong commitment, and it’s a path that should be considered if you are ready to offer a permanent home to the cat. The process usually involves applying through an animal shelter or a local rescue organization. They will guide you through the necessary procedures, which often include completing an adoption application, meeting the cat, and paying an adoption fee. These fees are typically used to cover the costs of vet checks, vaccinations, and spaying or neutering procedures.
However, adoption is not the only route. If a full-time commitment seems daunting, or if circumstances aren’t quite right for a permanent addition to your household, fostering is a wonderful alternative. Fostering involves taking the cat into your home temporarily while a suitable permanent home is sought. This provides the stray cat with a safe and loving environment in which to thrive until the right family is found.
Fostering: A Temporary Haven
Fostering is a crucial part of the animal rescue world. Not only does it give the cat a chance to socialize and grow accustomed to a domestic environment, it also frees up space at animal shelters, allowing them to rescue more animals. Foster families provide care, love, and socialization for the cat, while the shelter or rescue organization typically covers the medical expenses. During the fostering period, the organization will continue to seek a suitable adoptive family for the cat. This process can take a few weeks to several months, depending on the cat’s needs and the availability of adopters.
Adopting: A Forever Home
Adoption, on the other hand, is a long-term commitment that comes with a lot of rewards. When you choose to adopt a cat, you provide it with a forever home. This level of stability can be especially beneficial for stray cats, which have often experienced considerable upheaval in their lives. Once you adopt a cat, you become its legal owner, responsible for its health and well-being. This includes providing regular meals, necessary healthcare, and a safe and stimulating environment. Most importantly, it includes giving the cat the love and affection it deserves.
Remember, whether you decide to foster or adopt, both paths offer a life-changing opportunity to the cat, and often to the human, too. It’s an act of kindness that can make a significant difference, and the rewards are immeasurable: the companionship, affection, and unique personality a cat brings can enrich your life in countless ways.
How to Take Care of a Stray Cat – Conclusion
Caring for a stray cat is no small undertaking. Yet there are cat lovers across the country who do it all the time. The point is that caring for strays is possible if you are willing to put the time and effort into it. Just remember that there is a significant difference between a stray and feral cat.
You may find that taking care of a stray means you end up with a new pet of your own. There are plenty of cases of stray animals never being reunited with their original owners. Instead, they are adopted by the people who find them. You may have that experience yourself. But you may not, so be prepared to reunite the stray cat with her owners should they be found.
Finally, the day-to-day practice of caring for a stray cat is all about meeting her needs. Make sure she is fed, sheltered, brushed, and treated for any injuries or illnesses. If her owners come looking for her, you will have helped both them and her in the interim. And if not, you have gained a new furry friend.
- Taking care of a stray cat is a serious responsibility that should not be taken lightly.
- Creating a safe environment for the cat is important, with spaces for hiding and separate areas for food, water, and litter.
- It takes time to gain the trust and affection of a stray cat, and gradual steps should be taken to show love and affection.
- Introducing a stray cat to existing pets should be done slowly and carefully, with separate spaces and supervised interactions.
- Positive reinforcement techniques can be used for basic training, and veterinary advice should be sought for effective flea control.
- Stray cats may need medical attention and should be provided with shelter, food, and care.
- Consider contacting reputable sources like the Humane Society or local animal shelters for guidance on caring for stray cats.
- The process of taking care of a stray cat can be rewarding, and may lead to a permanent furry friend.
Q: How can I tell if a cat is a stray or a pet? A: Stray cats often appear dirty and underfed, while pets are generally well-groomed and healthy-looking. A stray cat may also be wary of humans, whereas a pet cat is likely to be more comfortable around people.
Q: What should I feed a stray cat? A: You can feed stray cats with commercial cat food, both wet and dry varieties. Avoid giving them milk as adult cats can have trouble digesting it.
Q: How can I make a stray cat more comfortable around me? A: Patience is key. Approach them slowly and gently. It’s also helpful to spend time with them without making any physical contact. Over time, the cat should become more comfortable with your presence.
Q: What if the cat is sick or injured? A: Seek veterinary help immediately. Stray cats often carry diseases or may have hidden injuries that require professional medical attention.
Q: How can I help a stray cat adapt to living indoors? A: Start by providing them with their own space where they can feel safe. Gradually introduce them to other areas of your home, ensuring they always have access to a litter box and fresh water.
Q: How can I introduce a stray cat to my other pets? A: Slowly and carefully. Introduce the stray cat to your other pets one at a time, and always supervise their interactions until you’re sure they get along well.
Q: Is it safe to bring a stray cat into a home with children? A: Yes, as long as you educate your children on how to behave around the cat. They should know to be gentle and to give the cat space when needed.
Q: Should I spay or neuter the stray cat? A: Yes, spaying or neutering not only prevents the birth of more stray cats but can also eliminate many behavioral issues.
Q: Can stray cats carry fleas or other parasites? A: Yes, it’s common for stray cats to carry fleas or other parasites. Consult with a veterinarian for the most appropriate treatment.
Q: How can I help the cat deal with flea infestations? A: Regular flea checks and treatments are essential. Your vet can recommend the best type of treatment for your specific situation.
Q: How can I help locate the cat’s owners? A: Look for local missing pet reports, post in local online groups, and consider reporting the found cat to local animal shelters.
Q: What if I can’t find the stray cat’s owners? A: If you’ve made a genuine effort to locate the owners without success, you may consider adopting the cat yourself or finding a suitable home for it.
Q: How can I help a stray cat during winter? A: Providing shelter is the best way to help a stray cat during cold months. Ensure the shelter is insulated, waterproof, and raised off the ground.
Q: Can I train a stray cat to use a litter box? A: Yes, most cats have a natural instinct to bury their waste and will use a litter box if it’s provided. Remember to keep the litter box clean and in a quiet, accessible location.
Q: What kind of shelter is suitable for a stray cat? A: Any shelter that provides protection from the elements is suitable. It should be insulated, waterproof, and have enough space for the cat to move around. The opening should be small to conserve heat.
Q: How often should I feed a stray cat? A: Ideally, you should feed a stray cat once or twice a day. Leaving out too much food at once can attract other animals.
Q: Is it necessary to groom a stray cat? A: Yes, regular grooming helps prevent matting, reduces hairballs, and allows you to check for parasites or skin issues.
Q: How should I approach a stray cat? A: Approach slowly and quietly without making direct eye contact, which cats can interpret as a threat. Let the cat sniff your hand first before attempting to pet it.
Q: Can I let a stray cat roam freely in my house? A: Initially, it’s best to restrict the cat to one room until it adjusts to being inside. Once the cat seems comfortable, you can gradually introduce it to other areas of the house.
Q: How can I get a stray cat to trust me? A: Consistency is key. Regular feeding, calm and gentle interactions, and giving the cat space and time to adjust can help build trust.
Q: Can stray cats transmit diseases to humans? A: While rare, certain diseases can be transmitted from cats to humans, including toxoplasmosis and rabies. It’s always advisable to have a vet check a stray cat for any potential health risks.
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