What Do Stray Cats Eat – A Spotlight on the Truths & Myths

If a stray cat has been hanging around your home, you might not only be wondering if you should be feeding it but also what the most appropriate type of food to give it would be. What do stray cats eat? Dwell, what to feed stray cats is something that many of those coming across these lost or abandoned pets ponder. At the end of the day, it could very well be the case that you do not want to spend your hard-earned cash on tins of cat food or cat biscuits for an animal that does not belong to you. Before feeding the cat though, you need to ascertain whether it is a stray cat or a feral cat you are dealing with as it makes all the difference.

Is it a Stray or a Feral Cat?

One of the first steps in interacting with a cat that’s been hanging around your home or neighborhood is discerning whether it’s a stray or feral cat. These two categories of cats have different behaviors and levels of socialization, making it crucial to identify which type you’re dealing with to interact appropriately.

A Stray Cat

A stray cat is often a domestic cat that, for various reasons, has ended up living outdoors. They might have lost their way, been abandoned, or are just out hunting for extra food. Stray cats have had prior contact with humans and are familiar with us. This familiarity usually translates into more approachable behavior; they might be shy initially, but with time, strays are likely to accept, and even seek, human interaction.

Notably, a stray cat will typically make eye contact with you and show an inclination towards human voices or movements, displaying behaviors like purring, rubbing against your legs, or rolling over. They might also roam around during the day and show more comfort in open, exposed areas since they have had exposure to human environments.

A Feral Cat

On the other hand, a feral cat is essentially a wild cat. They are born and raised without human contact or have lived outdoors long enough to revert to a wild state. Feral cats exhibit very different behaviors compared to strays due to their lack of socialization with humans.

Feral cats are typically wary of humans, avoiding direct contact. Unlike stray cats, ferals may not make eye contact and tend to conceal themselves during daylight hours, coming out mostly at night. They also usually move in silent, cautious manners, using their body language – such as a rigid posture or flattened ears – to express their discomfort with human presence. Feral cats are more likely to live in groups or colonies and may display territorial behavior.

While feeding a feral cat is a kind act, they are unlikely to approach you willingly for food, at least in the beginning. Unlike a stray cat, a feral cat may not allow you to touch it, even after feeding it consistently over a period.

Identifying whether you’re dealing with a stray or feral cat can provide valuable guidance on how to interact with them. Understanding their differing behaviors can help you offer the appropriate help and respect their boundaries, ultimately ensuring the welfare of the cat.

What Not to Feed a Stray Cat

If a cat has been sniffing about your home, you may get the urge to feed it. You can of course buy cat food if you want to ensure that the cat is getting the nutrition it needs, but you don’t have to go this route if you do not want to.

You may have been raised to believe that cats love milk. If this is the case, then your first instinct may be to put down a bowl of milk. However, while the cat will almost certainly drink it, it is not a good idea as cats do not have the necessary enzymes that allow them to process cow’s milk. It is much better to give the stray some clean water to drink instead.

Although most cat owners would be horrified at the thoughts of offering dog food to a cat, people with little knowledge of cats may believe that it is appropriate to give a stray cat some of their dog’s food. This is not a good idea. Pet food is specifically formulated and created to suit the needs of the particular animal it is intended for. It is made in such a way as to be easily digested by the specific type of animal. As the biology of cats and dogs are completely different, it would be inappropriate to give food that is intended for one to the other.

Although a stray cat that is hungry is highly likely to eat almost anything you put in front of it, it is important to think carefully about what you are giving it. For example, fruit and vegetables by themselves could cause gut problems for the cat – particularly if these are potatoes or tomatoes.

Then there are some foods considered toxic for cats including chocolate, onions, garlic, avocado, and grapes. Avoid giving these types of foods to any cat, including strays.

Cow’s Milk

While kittens are able to digest their mother’s milk due to the enzyme lactase, most adult cats lose this ability as they mature, leading to lactose intolerance. Therefore, offering cow’s milk to a cat may result in gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhea or upset stomach. Providing fresh, clean water is a much safer option.

You might like:  How to Know if a Stray Cat is Hungry

Dog Food

Feeding a cat dog food on a regular basis can result in nutritional deficiencies. Cats require a higher level of protein than dogs, and they also require specific nutrients that are not present in dog food, such as taurine, arachidonic acid, and vitamin A. A deficiency in these nutrients can lead to serious health issues in cats, such as heart problems and blindness.

Potatoes and Tomatoes

Unripe green tomatoes, potato plants, and raw potatoes contain solanine, a chemical that is toxic to cats. Ingesting these foods can result in gastrointestinal upset, drooling, loss of appetite, decreased heart rate, dilated pupils, and in severe cases, central nervous system depression.

Fruits and Vegetables

While some fruits and vegetables can be safe for cats in moderation, feeding them alone, without a balance of proteins, can cause nutritional imbalances. Additionally, some fruits, like grapes, are toxic to cats and can cause kidney failure.

Chocolate, Onions, Garlic, Avocado

Each of these foods contain substances that are toxic to cats.

  • Chocolate contains theobromine, which cats cannot metabolize effectively, resulting in symptoms like restlessness, tremors, and potentially, cardiac failure.
  • Onions and garlic contain thiosulphate, which can lead to hemolytic anemia, a condition that causes the red blood cells to burst.
  • Avocados contain persin, a fungicidal toxin that can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and myocardial damage.

Table of Foods Toxic/Harmful to Cats

Here’s a detailed table outlining some foods that are toxic or harmful to cats:

FoodHarmful Substance(s)Potential Effects
ChocolateTheobromineRestlessness, tremors, cardiac failure
OnionsThiosulphateHemolytic anemia, gastrointestinal upset
GarlicThiosulphateHemolytic anemia, gastrointestinal upset
AvocadoPersinVomiting, diarrhea, myocardial damage
Grapes/RaisinsUnknownKidney failure, vomiting, diarrhea
AlcoholEthanolVomiting, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, tremors, coma, death
CaffeineCaffeineRestlessness, rapid breathing, heart palpitations, muscle tremors, seizures
XylitolXylitolInsulin release, liver failure, vomiting, loss of coordination, seizures
Raw DoughYeastGas production leading to pain and potential rupture of the stomach or intestines
Macadamia NutsUnknownVomiting, ataxia, weakness, hyperthermia
Cow’s MilkLactoseDiarrhea, gastrointestinal upset
Dog FoodNutrient ImbalanceNutritional deficiencies, gastrointestinal upset
Raw FishThiaminaseThiamine (Vitamin B1) deficiency leading to loss of appetite, seizures, and in severe cases, death
Raw EggsAvidinBiotin deficiency leading to skin and coat problems, neurological issues
Raw MeatBacteria, ParasitesFood poisoning, parasitic infections

This table is not exhaustive. If you’re ever uncertain about a specific food item, it’s best to avoid giving it to a cat until you can confirm its safety with a vet.

Understanding the Nutritional Needs of Cats

Cats, as obligate carnivores, have a biological necessity for a diet rich in animal protein. This diet not only satiates their hunger but also fulfills their complex nutritional requirements. The proteins they ingest break down into amino acids, crucial building blocks for maintaining a healthy body. One such essential amino acid is taurine. Unlike many other animals, cats cannot produce taurine within their bodies, making it an indispensable component of their diet. A deficiency in taurine can lead to a myriad of health problems, including cardiovascular diseases and eye disorders.

Fatty Acids

Just as important are essential fatty acids. Cats require a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which are necessary for brain function, immune response, and skin health. Notably, one fatty acid cats specifically need is arachidonic acid, again something they are unable to produce on their own.

Vitamins and Minerals

Vitamins and minerals, albeit needed in smaller amounts, are just as vital for your feline friends. For instance, vitamin A is necessary for vision, bone growth, and immune function. However, cats cannot convert beta-carotene (the precursor of vitamin A found in plants) into vitamin A, which means it must come directly from an animal source in their diet. Similarly, cats need a specific form of vitamin D, called D3, which they typically acquire from their diet since they cannot synthesize it through sunlight exposure like humans. As for minerals, calcium and phosphorus are key to bone development and maintenance, while others like potassium and sodium help maintain cellular function and fluid balance.

All these dietary necessities emphasize the fact that while cats can, in many instances, appear to be self-sufficient, their dietary needs are quite intricate. A proper understanding of their nutritional requirements can ensure they lead healthier, happier lives. It also underlines why certain foods, especially those high in animal protein and low in carbohydrates, are recommended for cats.

Foods That are Suitable for Stray Cats

When it comes to what do stray cats eat, the answer is anything within reason while trying to avoid everything noted in the above paragraphs. Nevertheless, this does not literally mean giving them whatever you have to hand.

The best food group choice for a starving cat when you do not have cat food available is protein. 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.

Taurine Requirements

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.

Most of us have a tin of tuna in the cupboard, and this is usually a good option in terms of tempting a stray cat to come and eat. The smell of the fish should encourage the cat to come for food. Even so, although tuna is a good initial choice if there is nothing else appropriate to hand, it is not suitable for regular feeding. This is because most tins of tuna, especially those in brine, contain too much salt for the animal to handle over an extended period.

Other types of suitable protein include beef, lamb, and chicken. Boiled rice is another good choice if you want to bulk up a plate of food for the cat. You can chop up plain boneless meat and add it to boiled rice for a great nutritional meal for the stray. Cooking the meat is preferable to giving it raw as although the cat is likely to eat the raw meat, it could contain bacteria that might make it ill.

You might like:  Stray Cats Eating Dog Food - This Is What Really Happens

Start With Small Amounts of Food

It is best to give the cat a small amount of food initially. Starving cats may eat more than their stomach can handle, which could then cause them to become ill. Furthermore, if you are giving a stray cat food that it is not used to, it could upset its stomach.

Furthermore, it is best to avoid processed foods. Some people assume that because the cat is a stray, it will be able to digest absolutely anything; this is definitely not the case. Actually, processed foods can cause stray cats to become quite ill.

All in all, if you are going to feed a cat that has been hanging around outside, think carefully first.

There are some foods that you might not ever consider giving to a cat but that are entirely okay if served with some meat or fish. Think blueberries, bananas, cucumber, asparagus, and even eggs. Most people would never even think of eggs, but a plate of unseasoned scrambled eggs will provide protein while being completely safe. You can even add some cooked sweet potato or pumpkin, which will aid digestion and calm an upset stomach.

Table of Foods a Cat Can Eat

Here’s a detailed table about the best foods a stray cat can eat:

Food TypeExamplesBenefitsPreparation Tips and Notes
MeatsChicken, beef, lamb, liverHigh in protein, which is essential for cats. Also a great source of taurine, an amino acid critical for cat health.Ensure the meat is cooked thoroughly to avoid potential bacteria or parasites. Avoid seasoning or marinating the meat as some spices and additives can be harmful to cats.
FishTuna, salmonGood source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids which support heart and eye health.Should be served cooked and deboned. Limit tuna due to high mercury levels and potential for causing a vitamin E deficiency if fed in excess.
EggsChicken eggsHigh in protein and also contain a good amount of essential vitamins and minerals.Should be fully cooked to kill potential bacteria. A good option when meat or fish isn’t available.
Certain VegetablesPeas, cooked carrots, cooked green beans, cooked broccoli, cooked asparagus, cucumber, pumpkinLow in calories and high in vitamins and fiber. Can aid in digestion.Cook before serving to make them easier to digest. Always serve with a protein source as cats cannot thrive on a vegetable-only diet.
Certain FruitsBlueberries, bananas, melon without seeds, peeled applesCan provide hydration and certain essential nutrients.Should be given in moderation due to their high sugar content. Serve them chopped up and always alongside a protein source.
Dairy ProductsCheeseContains protein and calcium.Should be given sparingly due to most cats being lactose intolerant.

Note: This table is not exhaustive. It’s always best to consult with a veterinarian before deciding what to feed a stray cat, especially if it becomes a regular routine. Most importantly, commercially prepared cat food is best for providing a balanced diet suitable for cats.

Handling and Feeding a Stray Cat

Approaching a Stray Cat

Dealing with a stray cat isn’t quite the same as handling a pet cat. If you spot a stray feline near your home and decide to help, it’s important to approach the situation carefully. Start by observing the cat’s behavior from a distance. Does it seem calm, scared, or aggressive? Remember, safety should be your utmost priority; you don’t want to scare the cat or get scratched or bitten. Stray cats can often be wary of humans, so your approach should be slow and gentle. Avoid direct eye contact and crouch down to their level to seem less threatening.

Timing and Feeding Etiquette

When it comes to feeding time, mornings and evenings tend to be the best. These are the times when cats are most likely to be active and looking for food. Initially, you might want to keep some distance and not attempt to touch the cat. Leave the food and step back, allowing the cat to eat undisturbed. This will help them associate you with positive experiences, ultimately building trust.

The Right Food in the Right Way

The kind of dish you use matters too. Shallow dishes are preferred as cats do not like their whiskers touching the sides of the bowl. When serving food, try to keep wet and dry foods separate and always provide fresh water in a clean dish. Remember, while cats appreciate consistency, feeding the same thing every day may lead to nutritional imbalances. So, rotate the foods to ensure they receive a variety of nutrients.

Over time, as the stray cat gets accustomed to your presence, it may allow closer interaction. Always let the cat guide this process and remember that patience is key. After all, every small step towards trust is a victory.

Signs of Malnutrition in Stray Cats

Understanding the signs of malnutrition in stray cats is crucial in order to identify when they might need extra care and attention. Malnourished cats often exhibit visible signs of their condition. Below are some of the tell-tale signs you should look out for:

Unhealthy Coat

A cat’s coat is often a clear indicator of its overall health. In a healthy cat, the coat should be shiny and smooth. However, malnourished cats often have dull, brittle hair that may also appear patchy due to excessive shedding or hair loss. If you notice such changes in a stray cat’s fur, it’s a potential sign of malnutrition.

Visible Bones

Weight loss is a common consequence of malnutrition. If a cat is severely underfed, you may be able to see its ribs, spine, or hip bones. While some cats are naturally thin, it’s not normal for a cat’s bones to be prominently visible.


Just like humans, cats require a balanced diet for their energy needs. Malnourished cats might seem unusually lethargic or inactive. If a stray cat shows signs of low energy or is less responsive than usual, it could be suffering from a lack of adequate nutrition.

You might like:  Revealing the Truth About What Stray Cats Drink

Bad Breath and Gum Disease

Poor nutrition often leads to oral health problems in cats. Bad breath could be a sign of an underlying health problem and often goes hand in hand with gum disease and tooth decay. If a cat shows signs of oral discomfort or has noticeably bad breath, it could be due to malnutrition.

Should You Rehome a Stray Cat

Now that you know what to feed a stray cat, you may be wondering what to do with it. The answer depends on whether you believe the cat has been well cared for by another person or whether it has been abandoned. It will also depend on whether you are willing to rehome the cat.

If the cat is in good health, it may be that it has wandered far from home and is unable to find its way back. Alternatively, perhaps it is a cat that has wandered from a nearby home and is just ‘visiting’ you for extra food. If so, it is probably best to check for an owner.

Scan for a Microchip

If the cat is allowing you to handle it and you are in a position to take it to a nearby vet, you could take it to be scanned for a microchip. Most responsible pet owners will have their beloved pet microchipped so that they can be reunited with it in the event that it is lost or stolen.

You could also consider putting up some signs or posting on social media to see if you can find the owner. You may find that someone is searching for their lost cat.

If the cat appears to be underweight and/or in poor health and you are unable to find an owner, you may want to consider rehoming the cat yourself. After all, if you have been feeding it for some time, you are likely to have developed a certain attachment to it. If this is the case, then rehoming the cat could improve its life dramatically.

Consider the Cat’s Needs

If you have never had a cat before, it is important to consider the needs of the animal before you make your decision. The good news is that cats are relatively easy to care for. They do not need to be taken for walks and they do tend to clean up after themselves, unlike dogs.

A cat can be a playful and affectionate pet provided that it is cared for probably. Ensuring that the cat has adequate food and water is important, but you will also need to interact with the animal. Most cats like to be groomed and petted.

If you have decided to re-home the stray and believe that you can take care of it properly, you will also need to take the cat to the vet to be checked over. It may be the case that it will need certain vaccinations. It is also a good idea to have it microchipped and registered to ensure that it will be returned to you if it gets lost.

Steps to Take If the Stray Cat Is Injured or Sick

Encountering a sick or injured stray cat can be a heart-wrenching experience. However, it’s important to approach the situation with care and caution, as a distressed animal may behave unpredictably. To aid the cat effectively, it’s essential to follow some specific steps.

Identify Signs of Distress

Begin by carefully observing the cat from a safe distance. Signs of injury or illness in cats can be subtle. Look for visible wounds, limping, changes in gait, or a hunched posture. Signs of sickness could include unusual discharge from the eyes or nose, excessive scratching, coughing, or unusual lethargy. If a normally active cat is hiding or avoiding contact, this could also be a sign of illness.

Contact Professionals

If you suspect the cat is injured or sick, the next step is to reach out to professionals. Contact your local animal rescue organization, animal control agency, or a nearby veterinarian. Provide them with as much information as possible about the cat’s condition and location. It’s typically best not to attempt to move an injured cat yourself, as this could cause further harm or stress to the animal.

Provide Comfort and Safety

While waiting for help to arrive, ensure the cat’s comfort and safety as much as possible. If it’s safe to do so, provide a warm, quiet place for the cat to rest, away from traffic, other animals, and loud noises. Offer fresh water and, if the cat is willing to eat, small amounts of easily digestible food.

Remember, it’s always crucial to let professionals handle the situation when dealing with an injured or sick stray cat. Your role is important in notifying the right people and ensuring the cat is comfortable and safe until help arrives.

Interacting with a Stray Cat Over Time

Stray cats, despite their independent nature, often grow accustomed to the presence of certain humans over time, especially those who show kindness and compassion. Even if you do not plan to rehome the cat, building a rapport with it can be a gratifying experience for both you and the cat. It is important to remember, however, that patience and respect for the cat’s comfort are key.

Building Trust

When first attempting to interact with a stray cat, your approach must be slow and cautious. Start by making your presence known from a distance. Sit or stand still and allow the cat to observe you. Over time, gradually decrease the distance between you and the cat, always being mindful of its reactions. If the cat appears agitated or frightened, give it some space and try again another time.

When feeding the cat, try to be present but not intrusive. Let the cat see you place the food down and then step back. It is important not to force interaction; let the cat approach you when it feels comfortable to do so.

Playtime and Enrichment

Once the cat seems comfortable in your presence, you can introduce some playful interaction. Toys such as a feather wand or a laser pointer can be a great way to engage a cat and further build trust. These toys allow you to interact with the cat from a distance that feels safe to them, while also catering to their natural hunting instincts.

Regular Feeding Habits

Feeding a stray cat at the same time each day not only improves their overall health but also encourages them to trust you. Cats are creatures of habit, and knowing when they will be fed can create a sense of security. Make sure to place the food in the same location each time to create a familiar and comfortable feeding area.

Building a relationship with a stray cat over time can be a rewarding endeavor, as you will have the opportunity to provide comfort and support to an animal in need, and in return, enjoy the companionship and affection of your feline friend. Remember to always respect the cat’s boundaries and comfort levels to ensure a positive interaction.

What Do Stray Cats Eat – Conclusion

In conclusion, feeding a stray cat requires some careful consideration of their nutritional needs and potential health issues. It’s important to avoid certain toxic foods and opt for protein-rich meats and fish, along with some suitable vegetables and fruits. Patience and respect for the cat’s comfort are also key when building trust and rapport with a stray. If you suspect the cat is sick or injured, it’s best to contact professionals and let them handle the situation. With proper care and attention, you can make a positive impact on the life of a stray cat and even potentially provide them with a new home.

Key Takeaways

  1. Stray cats require careful consideration when it comes to their nutritional needs and potential health issues.
  2. Offering cow’s milk and dog food to a stray cat is not recommended, as these may cause digestive problems.
  3. Some vegetables and fruits can be given to cats in moderation, but should always be served with a protein source.
  4. Cheese can be given sparingly as it contains protein and calcium, but most cats are lactose intolerant.
  5. Shallow dishes are preferred for feeding cats, with wet and dry foods kept separate and fresh water provided.
  6. Malnutrition in stray cats can be identified by visible signs and requires extra care and attention.
  7. Building trust and rapport with a stray cat requires patience and respect for their comfort.
  8. Interacting with the cat gradually and letting it guide the process can lead to a playful and affectionate pet.


Please be advised that all images, designs, and creative content on this page are the exclusive property of Stray-Cat-Advice.com and are protected under international copyright laws. The images may not be reproduced, copied, transmitted or manipulated without the written permission of stray-cat-advice.com.

Unauthorized use, distribution, display, or creation of derivative works of any images contained on this site, is strictly prohibited and can lead to legal penalties. We actively monitor for, and enforce, our copyright interests.

If you wish to use any of our images, kindly contact us to seek permission. Respect of copyright is not merely a legal requirement but also an acknowledgement and support of the hard work and creativity that goes into producing them.

Thank you for your understanding and cooperation.

© 2023, stray-cat-advice.com. All Rights Reserved.

Scroll to Top