Is It Safe To Take In A Stray Cat? The Truth About What You Should Know

A stray cat can be the most adorable creature you have ever laid your eyes on. What’s more, it’s easy to fall in love with a stray even though you know nothing about it. So what do you do? Do you ignore a stray cat, or do you try to take care of it? And what about providing a home; is it safe to take in a stray cat?

You can search the internet and find lots of information about stray cats. Most of what you will find is information about how to care for a stray. Unfortunately, very few people seem willing to answer the question of whether you should take a stray in. That is what this post does. The question is answered through a series of things you need to know about stray cats.

Before taking in a stray cat, consider the following 10 points:

Challenges and Risks Associated with Adopting a Stray Cat

1. A stray cat might not actually be a stray

2. A stray cat may not have been spayed or neutered

3. A stray cat could be carrying a disease

4. A stray cat could be destructive

5. A stray cat could be carrying fleas

6. Cats cost money

7. Cats come with odors

8. Cats shed

Benefits of Adopting a Stray Cat

9. Cats help control rodents

10. Cats can make for very good companions

1. A Stray May Not Be a Stray

The first and most obvious concern when you encounter a cat wandering your neighborhood is that the cat may not necessarily be a stray. Understanding the difference between stray and feral cats is vital, as misidentifying could lead to significant challenges should you attempt to take in a cat that isn’t suitable for domestication.

A stray cat is, or used to be, someone’s pet. It may have been a pet that inadvertently escaped from its home and then failed to find its way back. Alternatively, it could be a cat that was abandoned by its owner due to various reasons. Stray cats are accustomed to human contact and care. They are usually sociable, often approach humans for food, and may readily enter a home or car.

It Might be Feral

On the other hand, a feral cat is one that was born and has lived its entire life outside of human ownership. An example would be barn cats, born and raised in a barn, living their lives independent of direct human care. These cats, unlike strays, typically avoid human interaction and are unlikely to let you get close, let alone touch them.

The key difference between strays and ferals lies in their behavior around humans – stray cats are often more trusting and open to human interaction, while feral cats exhibit a wild, cautious, and often fearful behavior. Observing a cat’s behavior over some time can often help you determine if it’s a stray or feral.

Now, why does this distinction matter? Primarily because feral cats, due to their lack of exposure and familiarity with humans, may not interact well with humans, particularly when under pressure. They can become frightened and defensive, posing potential risks to those unfamiliar with their behavior. While you might decide to provide a home for a stray cat, taking in a feral cat requires a level of expertise and commitment that many casual cat lovers may not possess.

It Might be Lost

Moreover, a seemingly stray cat could be a lost pet. In many instances, a cat roaming around might be a lost cat trying to find its way back home. In such cases, it’s crucial to ensure we are not unintentionally ‘cat-napping’ someone else’s beloved pet. Lost pets often have a better chance of being returned if they are taken to a local animal shelter, where they can be scanned for a microchip. A microchip is a small device implanted under a pet’s skin that stores the owner’s contact information. Many pet owners microchip their pets as a precaution against them getting lost.

If you believe the cat is lost, consider reporting it to local animal control agencies, posting about it in local online groups, or putting up ‘found cat’ signs in your neighborhood. These steps increase the chances of reuniting the lost pet with its rightful owner.

2. Stray Cats May Not be Spayed or Neutered

Sometimes people abandon their cats because they do not want to pay for spaying or neutering. This is not necessarily a reason in and of itself to not take in a stray, but you do have to be cognizant that your cat may need to be fixed. Taking in a stray might instantly translate into vet bills for spaying or neutering.

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3. Stray Cats Sometimes Carry Diseases

The discussion of spaying and neutering leads us to the reality that some stray cats carry disease. Understand that the longer a stray cat has been without human companionship, the more likely it is the animal is carrying some sort of disease. There is also the possibility that the cat’s shots are not up-to-date.

For your information, here is a list of the diseases you should be most worried about:

  • Rabies – A stray cat can contract rabies by coming into contact with another animal that has it. You could contract rabies from the cat. This is a potentially fatal disease if not treated.
  • Cat Scratch Fever – This disease is actually a bacterial infection you can develop after being scratched or bitten by a cat. It is generally not serious for most people, but you could get seriously ill from it if you have a compromised immune system.
  • Tapeworm – Although it is rare for human beings to get tapeworm after coming in contact with a stray cat, it’s still possible. The best way to prevent tapeworm is to wash your hands after every interaction.

Most of the other diseases a stray cat could carry are a danger only to the cat or other animals you might have in the house. Should you decide to take in a stray, your first task is to get the animal to a veterinarian for a thorough check-up.

4. Stray Cats Can Be Destructive

The next thing to consider is that stray cats can be destructive to personal property. When they are, it’s not because they are evil or angry. Most animals lash out when they feel threatened. Cats are no different. If you should take in a stray cat that seems to be especially nervous, you may be taking in an animal that is very easily threatened. This could present problems.

Also consider that the cat could be destructive in your home just because it has spent too much time living outdoors. For example, cats like to scratch things. If the stray living in your yard has spent enough time outdoors to get used to scratching trees, it may come inside your home and start scratching your furniture. It’s something to think about.

5. Cats Can Carry Fleas

Strays that spend a fairly decent amount of time outdoors are good candidates for fleas. The good news is that the condition is very easy to treat. With a topical treatment and a good flea collar, you can get rid of fleas before bringing a stray cat into your home. As such, the risk of fleas is probably not sufficient enough to prevent you from taking in a stray. With a little bit of time and money, you can eliminate a flea problem completely. Just do it before you take the cat in.

6. Cats Control Rodents

Not everything about stray cats is negative. In fact, taking in a stray cat could be advantageous for you and your family in unexpected ways. For instance, cats have a well-established reputation for being excellent controllers of rodents, and there’s plenty of evidence to support this claim.

Cats have been used for centuries as natural pest control. Historical records, for example, indicate that cats were invited aboard ships specifically for their rodent-catching prowess, helping to keep rat populations in check and prevent the spread of diseases. Even today, numerous barns and farms employ “working cats” to control rodent populations.

Scientific studies also validate cats’ effectiveness in controlling rodent populations. Anecdotal evidence further corroborates these claims. Many cat owners share stories of their pets presenting them with “gifts” of caught mice or rats. While this behavior might not always be appreciated by their human companions, it undeniably demonstrates their proficiency as hunters.

In addition to rodents, cats are also adept at managing other pests, including large insects. This could make them a useful addition to households suffering from frequent pest invasions.

However, while cats can be an effective natural form of pest control, it’s also essential to ensure that they don’t become a nuisance themselves. Proper care, training, and attention are necessary to ensure a positive coexistence with your feline friend. In this way, you can benefit from their natural abilities while also providing them with a loving and comfortable home.

7. Cats Can Make Very Good Companions

One of the key benefits of taking in a stray cat is the potential for companionship that these furry friends can offer. Cats can make extraordinary companions, enriching the lives of both humans and fellow animals with their presence.

Senior Companionship

Seniors living alone could find the companionship of a stray cat to be particularly heartening. Cats are low-maintenance and independent creatures, making them an ideal pet for those who might find the physical demands of other pets overwhelming. Their soothing purrs and calming nature can alleviate feelings of loneliness and provide a sense of comfort. A study published in the Journal of Aging and Health found that owning a pet can have a significant positive effect on mental well-being for older adults, leading to lower levels of depression and loneliness.

Companions to Children

Moreover, cats can also serve as wonderful companions to children. Beyond the joys of playtime, pets can impart crucial lessons on empathy, responsibility, and compassion. Furthermore, scientific studies have indeed illustrated the psychological benefits of growing up with pets. For instance, a survey published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Science discovered that young adults who had a deep pet attachment were more likely to have stronger social relationships and connections.

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Companions to Other Pets

Additionally, cats can be excellent companions for other pets, such as dogs, within the household. Cats and dogs can form close bonds, providing each other with companionship and engagement, particularly when their human companions may be too busy to provide constant attention.

Lastly, the psychological benefits of owning a pet extend to all ages. Pet ownership has been linked with lower stress levels, improved mood, and better overall mental health. Some studies show that people who owned a pet had better emotional, psychological, and physical well-being than non-owners.

Hence, welcoming a stray cat into your home can offer you more than just a new friend; it can provide multifaceted psychological benefits that enrich your life and the lives of those around you.

8. Cats Cost Money

Next on my list of things you should know is this: cats cost money. Even after you get past the vet bills and any medical treatments necessary to bring a stray back to health, you are going to have to pay for daily necessities like food and cat litter. Those are ongoing costs that will continue for as long as the cat lives.

Depending on where you live, you may have to license or register your cat. And of course, there will be annual check-ups at the vet – and that’s provided the animal does not get sick the rest of the year.

If all of that is not enough, you are probably going to need a couple of other things around the house. You may need a scratching post, a handful of cat toys, a brush, and a crate if you plan to travel with the cat at any point in the future.

9. Cats Come with Odors

Did you know that cats come with odors? They may be among the cleanest animals on the planet, but what they leave behind is not necessarily pleasant. There are two things to be concerned about, beginning with cat litter.

No matter how you slice it, cat litter stinks. And unfortunately, there is no way to have an indoor cat without also having cat litter in the house. So be prepared for the odors. You can buy certain kinds of cat litter that cut down on the smell, but you will never eliminate it completely.

The second thing to consider only matters if you do not have the cat spayed or neutered. Unfixed cats tend to mark their territory by urinating. Even indoor cats do this. So if you don’t want to get the cat fixed, you’re going to have to deal with territorial marking.

10. Cats Shed

Finally, you should be aware that all cats shed at least some hair. The only exception to this rule are Sphynx cats (because they have no hair). What does this mean to you? That depends on your tolerance for cat hair.

People who are allergic to cats simply cannot deal with the hair and dander. If someone in your home has allergies, taking in a stray cat might be out of the question. You could let that person spend time with the cat outdoors just to see if the allergies are triggered. If not, that doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t be triggered in the future.

Allergies aside, you should be prepared to find cat hair all over the house should you decide to take that stray in. Long-haired cats leave the most hair behind, but short-haired cats still shed too. If the presence of cat hair bothers you, either do not take in the stray or be prepared to vacuum on a regular basis. Cat hair is just part of cat ownership.

Steps to Socialize a Stray Cat

Socializing a stray cat can be a rewarding, yet challenging process. It requires patience, compassion, and an understanding of feline behavior. Here are some essential steps to guide you on this journey.

Establish Trust and Security

Stray cats, particularly adults, may have had limited or negative experiences with humans, so establishing trust is crucial. Initially, give the cat some space and let it adjust to its new environment at its own pace. Gradually start spending time around the cat, speaking to it in a calm, soft voice. It’s not unusual if the cat doesn’t respond or seems to ignore you at first; persistence and patience are key here.

Provide a Safe Space

Providing a safe, quiet space for the cat to retreat is essential in making it feel secure. A small room, like a bathroom or a spare room, equipped with a comfortable bed, litter box, food, and water can work well for this purpose. Avoid direct contact initially, allowing the cat to familiarize itself with your scent and presence.

Introduce Play and Interaction

Once the cat seems comfortable in its space and around you, slowly introduce interactive play. Toys that allow distance, like a wand with feathers or a laser pointer, can be particularly effective. Keep in mind that each cat is unique, and what works for one might not work for another. Therefore, try a variety of toys to discover the cat’s preference.

Gradual Introduction to Other Household Members

When the cat starts showing signs of comfort and curiosity, begin the introduction process to other members of the household, including other pets. Keep these introductions brief and stress-free. Reward positive interactions with treats to encourage good behavior.

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Remember, socializing a stray cat is a process that may take weeks or even months, and every cat’s journey will be unique. Some cats may become cuddly and affectionate, while others may always remain somewhat independent. Regardless, every step towards socialization will contribute to a better quality of life for your new feline friend.

Preparing Your Home for a Stray Cat

There are a few preparatory steps to take to ensure a smooth transition for both you and your new feline friend.

Creating a Comfortable Space

The first thing to consider when preparing your home is creating a quiet, comfortable space for your new cat. A small, enclosed area like a spare room or bathroom would work well. Equip this space with basic cat essentials like a cozy bed, a litter box, and some toys. This designated area allows the cat to adjust to its new surroundings without feeling overwhelmed.

Choosing the Right Cat Food

Nutrition plays a key role in a cat’s health and well-being. When choosing cat food, ensure it’s a balanced diet, rich in proteins and other essential nutrients. You can start with the food that the cat has been eating—if known—to minimize digestive upsets. Gradually transition to new food if needed. Also, provide fresh water at all times.

Assembling Essential Supplies

Alongside food and water, there are several other supplies to prepare for your new pet. A litter box and cat litter are essentials. Scratching posts are useful too, helping satisfy your cat’s natural urge to scratch and saving your furniture in the process! Also consider getting some interactive toys that will keep your cat entertained.

Preparing for Health Care Needs

Plan a visit to the veterinarian soon after bringing your stray cat home. They can guide you on vaccinations, deworming, and any other medical care the cat might need. Having a pet first-aid kit on hand can also be useful for handling minor injuries.

Lastly, remember that patience is key. Your new feline friend might take some time to adjust to its new home and to trust you. But once it does, the bond you’ll share will make all your efforts worthwhile.

What to Do If You Cannot Keep a Stray Cat

There might be various reasons that lead you to the conclusion that you can’t keep a stray cat. Maybe someone in your family has an allergy, the cat doesn’t get along with your other pets, or your life circumstances simply can’t accommodate a new feline friend. It’s a tough situation, but it’s important to remember that there are still ways you can help the cat.

Local Shelters or Rescue Groups

Consider getting in touch with local animal shelters or rescue groups. These organizations are equipped to provide care for homeless animals, including stray cats. They can offer the cat medical attention, food, and a safe place to live until it finds a forever home. However, keep in mind that resources at these facilities can often be stretched thin. Always call ahead to ensure they have the capacity to accept another animal.

Foster Programs

Some organizations run foster programs that provide temporary homes for animals. If you’re unable to make a long-term commitment but still want to help, fostering could be a suitable option. It’s a rewarding experience, where you can help a stray cat adjust to living in a home environment while it awaits permanent adoption.

Trap-Neuter-Return Programs

For feral or semi-feral cats that aren’t suited to domestic life, Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs might be a viable alternative. These initiatives humanely trap stray cats, provide them with necessary medical care and neuter or spay them to prevent further reproduction. The cats are then returned to their familiar outdoor habitat. TNR programs contribute to reducing the population of stray cats over time and ensure that they can live out their lives comfortably in their natural environment.

Remember, although you might not be able to provide a permanent home, any assistance you can offer a stray cat can greatly enhance its quality of life. In the end, every small action contributes to a much bigger impact on the welfare of these animals.

Is it Safe to Take in a Stray Cat – Conclusion

I have given you 10 things to consider before taking in a stray cat. How does this answer your question? By helping you weigh the realities of cat ownership against your desire to take in a stray. If you go through each of these things and are still able to see taking in that stray as a good thing, then by all means go for it. If you don’t think you can deal with the negatives listed here, taking in a stray is probably not the best idea for you.

Key Takeaways

  1. Before taking in a stray cat, consider if it is lost and try to reunite it with its owner.
  2. Stray cats may not be spayed or neutered, and taking one in may result in vet bills.
  3. Stray cats may carry diseases, and their shots may not be up-to-date.
  4. Some cats may be nervous and easily threatened, presenting potential problems.
  5. Fleas are a risk associated with taking in a stray cat, but they are easily treatable.
  6. Cats can be skilled pest controllers and make good companions for seniors and children.
  7. Cats come with odors, shedding, and territorial marking, so owners need to be prepared for the maintenance required.
  8. If unable to provide a permanent home, fostering or supporting animal rescue organizations can greatly enhance the quality of life for strays.


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