Cats that have been lost, run away, or abandoned are known as strays; it is not uncommon for such animals to appear out of the blue at homes, especially as they are used to human contact and have been brought up to rely on humans for food. Stray cats are often quite friendly, as opposed to feral cats that have been born in the wild and have had little to no contact with humans.
If you find a stray hanging around your home, you may be wondering what you should do with it. Should you feed it and care for it? Should you contact your local animal rescue center? If you are considering feeding the cat, you may be wondering what do stray cats eat besides cat food. After all, unless you have cats of your own, you are unlikely to have a tin of cat food or some cat biscuits handy.
What Foods are Suitable for Stray Cats?
If a cat has appeared outside your home and is crying for food, you may want to give it something, particularly if it appears to be underweight. Although there are many different foods that cats can eat, what most people do not realize is that all cats are classed as obligate carnivores. This means that cats need to have meat in their diet.
Cats require a protein-rich diet, which they typically get from meat, but there are other sources. If you do not have cat food, there are many common foods suitable for stray cats. Meats such as chicken, beef and pork, and fish like tuna or salmon are all suitable.
Cats need an amino acid known as taurine, but because they are unable to produce this themselves, they fulfil this requirement through eating meat. However, cheese and eggs are also suitable if there is none of the above-mentioned meats to feed the cat with.
When it comes to drink, water is the best choice. You may find that a cat will lap up a bowl of milk very quickly because it likes the taste; however, in reality, milk is a poor choice as it contains lactose. Lactose can cause diarrhea or vomiting in a stray cat – especially so if the animal is not used to it.
There are certain fruits and vegetables that cats can eat but know that there are also varieties that are toxic and should be avoided. Cats should not be given garlic, onions, or chives as these can lead to anemia. Avocados can cause vomiting in cats while green tomatoes and potatoes can lead to gastrointestinal issues. Furthermore, it would be best to avoid grapes and raisins due to the risk of sudden kidney failure.
The best foods for a stray cat include, among others, the following:
- Skinless chicken
- Deli meats such as ham or chicken
- Cooked eggs
- Cooked carrots
- Cooked green beans
- Cooked broccoli
- Cooked asparagus
You can give a stray cat the following foods as a snack, but keep them to a minimum:
- Mashed sweet potatoes
- Melon without seeds
- Peeled apples
How to Tell if a Cat is a Stray or Feral?
If a cat has been hanging around your door, you may instantly assume it is a stray cat and, if you are an animal lover, your first instinct may be to try to coax it for food. Nevertheless, not all cats that hang about looking for food are strays.
As previously mentioned, stray cats are typically lost or abandoned but they will have had an owner in the past. If a cat is feral, it will have been born in the wild to another feral cat and will have had very little, if any, human contact.
Unfortunately, while stray cats are common, there are also many feral cats about too, so it helps to know the difference. A stray cat will have been used to having its needs met by a human. Feral cats must learn to fend for themselves and are usually quite lean looking with a rough fur coat. If a cat has been recently lost or abandoned, it should still have a relatively healthy appearance.
You should also bear in mind that if a cat is hanging about your home, it may still have an owner out there looking for it. Some cats have not actually been abandoned; they may just have wandered too far from home and are unable to find their way back.
If a cat has a collar on, it is almost certainly someone’s pet. However, even cats that do not have collars may belong to someone else. It is therefore recommended that you take the cat to the nearest vet (if you have some way of transporting it there) so it can be checked for a microchip.
What to Do with a Stray Cat
If it is ascertained that the cat does not have a microchip, you may want to post a picture of it on social media to see if anyone has lost their pet. You might also have success in finding the cat’s owner if you post a photo in your local area (think lamp posts, local shop windows, etc.); the chances are the cat has strayed from not too far away.
If you are unable to find the owner, you have the option of keeping the cat. You may find that you quickly develop an attachment to this furry visitor and if so, you could consider adopting it. If you do this, you should find out all you can about how to care for a cat (if you have no experience of doing so, obviously). This will mean making sure you are providing an adequate diet and that you are taking it for regular veterinary checks.
If you are unable to keep the cat, could contact your nearest cat rescue center to see if they can take it in. The problem that many people find however is that most animal shelters are unable to keep up with demand on their services. They are regularly left with animals that have been dumped by owners that bought them and then decided they were unable to keep them. Shelters will be reluctant to take an animal if there is any other option, so you may want to see if you can find someone to take the cat before you contact the shelter.
What if You Find a Stray Kitten?
Sadly, some people will dump pregnant cats and will drive the animal far from their home and abandon it on the roadside. These cats must then deal with the fact that not only have they been abandoned but also that they are due to give birth to a litter of kittens.
Occasionally, people will come across stray kittens who appear to be without their mother. If you hear kittens crying near to your home and you go to investigate, you may find them alone. This could be because the mother is hiding from you or because she has gone to find food. If you do find a litter of stray kittens without a mother, it is best to just wait for an hour or two to see if mom returns.
If you try to handle the kittens, the mother may be reluctant to return to them. If after a few hours, there is still no sign of the mother, you can intervene. What you should realize though is that stray kittens will need a significant level of care.
So when we go back to our original question of what do stray cats eat besides cat food, the answer is different when it comes to kittens. For example, kittens unlike older cats, will still be reliant on milk. In the same way that it is possible to purchase baby formula milk, you can find milk replacer that is suitable for kittens. You may also be able to find a kitten nursing kit in your local pet store.
If you believe that you can care for the kittens and this is something that you want to do, you can take them to your home and begin bottle feeding them. If, on the other hand, you do not want to or otherwise feel that you are not equipped to care for them yourself, it would be better to contact your local cat rescue service or animal shelter.
Even if you are thinking of taking care of the kittens yourself, it is important to get them checked by a vet. Remember, stray cats are much more likely to have diseases or be infected by ticks or fleas. They will require worming medication and may also need to be vaccinated.
The decision to rehome a stray cat is one that you should not take lightly. Before you consider adopting a cat that you have found, you should do your homework about what is involved in being a responsible pet owner. You should only do this if you feel confident that you can provide a loving home for the cat.