If You Feed a Stray Cat Will It Stay?

Have you ever wanted to start a big argument online? Just pose the question of whether you should feed stray cats or not and then step back. You will absolutely get what you came for. The question of whether stray cat should be fed or not is a very emotionally charged one that evokes passionate responses. Here’s another question that gets people revved up:

If you feed a stray cat, will it stay?

In a word, yes. We could end this article right here and be done with it, but that’s not why you’re here. It is also not why this website exists. So for the benefit of all our readers, this article will explain why stray cats will hang around after being fed and why you should think twice about doing it.

hungry cat trying to get into a building
Source: pixabay.com/en/users/focusonpc

A Letter to an Expert

We will begin by referencing a 2017 letter written to Mercury News in San Jose, California. The letter was written by a local resident to one of the lifestyle editors, Joan Morris, who apparently specializes in these sorts of things.

The letter writer needed some advice because she had been feeding a group of feral cats in her local park for quite some time. So used to her daily visits were they, that the cats used to line up by the road anticipating her arrival. She could barely get out of her car before they all started begging for food.

Unfortunately, the woman was placed in a position where she might have to move. She wanted to know what would happen to the cats if she was no longer there to feed them. She also wanted to know if there is a way to slowly wean them from the food she was providing.

To her credit, the editor did not address whether the letter writer should have started feeding the cats to begin with. What’s done was done, she explained. But she did lay out the truth. She explained that those cats would go in search of food if the letter writer stopped showing up. Some of them would survive, others would not.

In fairness, feral cats are distinctly different from strays in a number of different ways. But the one thing they both have in common is survival. Both feral and stray cats – like every other animal on the planet – are programed to do two things: survive and procreate.

Feeding a Stray Cat

Stray cats may be domesticated animals, but they are still animals nonetheless. As such, they do not care about your health and welfare. They care about survival and procreation. If they have to destroy your property to feed and breed, they will. If they have to fight with a neighbor’s cat or dog, they will.

This isn’t to say that you should not feed a stray cat. Perhaps you should, which will be addressed in just a minute. The point of talking about stray cats as animals interested only in their own survival is to help you understand that we are not talking about human beings here. We cannot approach the question of feeding by attaching human rights and characteristics to cats. They are animals.

Whether an outdoor cat is stray or feral, it will search for food wherever it can be found. Furthermore, a stray cat will take the easy way out. It will always accept food from humans rather than going out and hunting by itself – because it is just easier to do.

You and I are no different. There is a reason most of us don’t go out into the woods every weekend in a desperate attempt to hunt for the food that will carry us through the next week. It’s a lot easier to go to the grocery store and fill up a cart. There is no mess, no blood, very little work, etc. Animals are no different.

Feed a stray cat once and you can bet the animal will come around a second time looking for food. If you feed the animal a second time, you are reinforcing the behavior. It will come around again, and again. It will keep on coming as long as food is readily available.

beige cat sitting on steps
Source: pixabay.com/en/users/focusonpc

Why It’s Not Good for Them

Now we get to the tricky part of the answer here. This section and the next will address feeding a stray cat under one of two conditions. The first is feeding the cat with no intention of taking it into your own home or making a real effort to find its original owner or a new home. This is not good for the animal.

Stray cats already have a challenging time hunting because they did not learn to do it when they were young. Remember, strays are former house cats that have either been abandoned or lost. They are so used to human contact and provision that they simply don’t know how to hunt properly.

For this reason, a lot of stray cats are terribly malnourished. But remember an animal’s top two priorities: survival and procreation. A stray cat motivated by desperation will figure out how to hunt one way or the other. If it cannot succeed by killing mice, rats, and other animals, it will seek out sources of garbage on which to feed.

On the other hand, continuing to feed a stray cat continues to exacerbate the problem. Feed one cat and you’ll have a second drop by, then a third, and so on. Eventually you will not have enough food for all of them. You will slowly starve them to death.

Also understand that unless those cats have been spayed or neutered, they will continue procreating. Their kittens will not have enough food either. Now you’ll have adult cats competing with their own kittens for food. The result will not be pretty.

Taking a Stray In

If you do want to feed a stray cat, the humane thing to do is take that cat into your own home. Take the animal to a veterinarian who can confirm it is in good health. Also have the cat spayed or neutered so it does not reproduce. Under these circumstances, a stray cat can make a very nice pet. You will be able to feed the animal, care for it, give it shelter, and even enjoy its company.

If you are not willing to take the animal into your home, you are not helping it by continuing to feed it. You are only making a bad situation worse. Furthermore, you are interrupting the natural course of nature.

As painful as it is to think about, nature has a very effective solution for controlling animal populations. It does not favor cats simply because they are cute and fuzzy. Nature knows no discrimination. And by the way, that’s not a bad thing. Any animal population can quickly become troublesome if it is not controlled. Nature does a very good job controlling things; it’s we humans who step in and mess things up.

Does Your Town Have a Feeding Ban?

Another thing to consider in relation to whether you should feed a stray cat or not is the law. There are plenty of communities throughout the United States for example that have banned feeding both stray and feral cats. The bans are well-intentioned, allowing nature to run its course in order to control cat populations. Unfortunately, the Humane Society explains that feed bans don’t really work.

They explain that feeding bans are nearly impossible to enforce. And while this may seem like a good thing, it actually makes the problem worse. Why? Because there will always be a handful of people willing to feed both stray and feral cats. The cats continue to reproduce, growing their populations exponentially.

Growing cat populations can cause a lot of problems for municipalities. They harm public and private property; they spread disease amongst themselves; they present a danger to other animals.

The point of this is to say that you need to check local ordinances before you choose to start feeding a stray cat. If the law says you cannot do it, then it’s up to you to decide whether you want to break the law. If you are going to do it though, have a heart and adopt the cat as your own.

Trap, Neuter, Release

We have used other articles on this website to talk about a strategy known as trap, neuter, release (TNR). This is a policy followed by the Humane Society and countless other advocacy groups around the country. One of the best things anyone can do for a stray or feral cat is trap it and then either spay or neuter it.

Some communities have groups that actively handle TNR programs. They are just a phone call away. Let them know that you have a stray cat in the neighborhood and they will be out as soon as they can to trap the animal.

In other communities, the sheer volume of stray and feral cats is so large that public authorities and charitable organizations just don’t have the resources to go out and trap. In many cases, they invite local property owners to do the trapping and they are willing to handle the spaying or neutering. It is a community effort through and through.

In Summary

This article has offered you quite a bit of information to help you decide whether you should feed a stray cat or not. Ultimately, the choice is yours. But understand that if you feed a stray cat, it will come back looking for food. That is the way cats are wired. The longer you feed the animal, the more dependent it will become on you for survival.

Also understand that feeding one stray cat is an open invitation to other strays and feral cats in the neighborhood. Not only will the first cat keep coming back for food, it is going to bring other hungry cats with it as well. You could start with one cat and end up having half-a-dozen or more depending on you for food. Do not be surprised if they take up residence on your property, either.

Cats are territorial creatures that are reluctant to leave a given area. If there is absolutely no food around, they will have to leave in order to survive. Otherwise, they will hang around and occupy the same territory for as long as they live. If you are keeping a stray alive by feeding it, be prepared to be in it for the long haul. It is not going to leave any time soon.