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A stray cat wandering around your neighborhood is one thing. A stray that has seemingly adopted you as its new owner is an entirely different matter. This kind of cat can drive you crazy with constant meowing, following closely as you walk from the door to the car, and generally being a nuisance. So what do you do?
Unfortunately, stray cats are a growing problem, both in Europe and the US. Between people abandoning their cats because they can no longer take care of them and legitimate strays who wander away from home and then cannot get back, cities of all sizes are dealing with more strays than they can manage. And once a stray reproduces, there are feral cats to deal with as well.
Understanding the Stray Cat’s Behavior
When it comes to understanding stray cats, their behavior may seem puzzling. Yet, in reality, their actions often make perfect sense in the context of their experiences and instincts.
Food and Shelter – Basic Survival Needs
One of the most common reasons a stray cat might frequent a particular area or show attachment to a specific person is the search for food and shelter. Just like any living creature, cats are drawn to places that provide them with the means to survive. If you notice a stray cat visiting your backyard regularly, it’s likely because it has found a consistent source of food or a safe and comfortable shelter from the elements. It could be a result of your deliberate actions – such as leaving out food for them – or simply the availability of resources, like a garbage can or a quiet, undisturbed spot under a bush or shed.
Familiarity and Territory
Cats are creatures of habit and are strongly territorial. Stray cats tend to establish a ‘home territory’ – a familiar area where they feel safe, which can span several neighboring yards or blocks. They might show a seemingly fond attachment to a particular person or location within their territory, often because this spot offers a sense of safety or resources.
Socialization with Humans
Although stray cats are wary of people, their interaction with humans largely depends on their past experiences. If they’ve had positive interactions with humans before, they may seek out people, appearing to be particularly ‘friendly’. These cats are often previously owned pets that have been lost or abandoned, as opposed to feral cats that have had limited human contact.
Understanding these facets of stray cat behavior can help you better understand why a stray cat might be showing attachment to a certain area or person, and how to best respond to their presence.
Below is a list of five suggestions for what you can do with a stray cat that will not leave. You will have to approach each suggestion based on your tolerance level. Be prepared that there may be no other solution to your problem other than one that makes you extremely uncomfortable.
1. Take the Cat into Your Home
The first rule of thumb for any animal that hangs around humans is this: animals go wherever the food is. A stray cat that has been hanging out in your neighborhood for an extended amount of time has stayed because it is being fed. Whether you are the primary feeder or someone else is doing it, food is being provided.
This should lead you to ask whether it is appropriate to take this cat into your home. If you own your own home, you don’t have to worry about landlord permission. You do have to worry about who owns the cat, though. Taking the cat into your home will pretty much seal the deal as you being its new owner. Are you okay with not reuniting the animal with its original owner?
You also have to consider how taking the cat in will affect everyone else living in your home. You may have children with allergies or a spouse who absolutely abhors cats, or indeed, animals. Then there are frequent visitors to worry about, too. Maybe your primary babysitter is deathly afraid of cats. You never know.
Health Risks Associated with Stray Cats
Interactions with stray cats can be heartwarming and rewarding, but it’s crucial to understand the potential health risks involved. Stray cats, by virtue of their lifestyle, are more likely to carry various diseases that can be transmitted to humans and other pets. These are termed zoonotic diseases, which means they can jump from animals to humans.
One such zoonotic disease is rabies, a deadly viral disease affecting the central nervous system. Although the incidence in cats is relatively low, strays that haven’t been vaccinated pose a potential risk. In the US, cats are the domestic animal most frequently reported to have rabies, mostly due to their higher likelihood of encountering and being infected by wild rabid animals.
Stray cats may also host internal and external parasites, including fleas, ticks, worms, and mites. These parasites can carry various diseases. For instance, fleas are known to carry the bacterium that causes cat scratch fever, which can cause significant illness in humans. Fleas can also transmit tapeworms to both humans and other pets. Roundworms and hookworms, commonly found in cats, can also infect humans, leading to serious health issues if untreated.
Additionally, stray cats can be carriers of toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection that can be transmitted to humans. For most people, toxoplasmosis doesn’t pose a significant threat, but for pregnant women and immunocompromised individuals, it can cause serious health complications.
It’s crucial to mention that while these health risks exist, they should not deter us from helping stray cats. They’re merely a reminder of the importance of approaching this situation responsibly, with a balanced perspective on compassion and health safety. Always remember to wash your hands thoroughly after handling a stray cat and consult with a veterinarian for the best practices to mitigate these risks.
2. Take the Cat to a Shelter
Another option is to take the cat to a local shelter. This may be a lot more difficult than it sounds. Why? Because animal shelters in most major metropolitan areas constantly run at capacity. You may call a local shelter only to find that they have no room. They might be willing to take the cat for a day or two, but then they might put the animal down if no one claims or adopts it.
The upside of taking the cat to a shelter is the very real possibility that it will be adopted. As long as your shelter is not at capacity, they might be willing to care for the animal for 30, 60, or even 90 days. An adoption would guarantee that the cat finds a new home without you having to supply it.
Before you consider taking the cat to a shelter, you might want to think about the following statistics from the ASPCA:
- Approximately 3.2 million cats are received by animal shelters every year
- Some 860,000 cats are euthanized rather than claimed or adopted
- Approximately 1.6 million cats are successfully adopted each year
- About 90,000 stray cats annually are eventually returned to their original owners.
When you combine the adoption and return numbers together, it is obvious that the number of cats surviving temporary shelter care is less than half the total number the shelters take in. In other words, if you take a stray cat to a local shelter, there is more than a 50-50 chance the animal will either be euthanized or spend the rest of its life at the shelter.
Legal Aspects of Dealing with Stray Cats
It’s important to be aware of the legal considerations that come with handling stray cats. While our first instinct may be to help these felines, we must remember that laws governing their care can vary significantly by region.
Understanding Local Laws
In many places, once you start to regularly feed a stray cat, the law may consider you its owner, which comes with certain responsibilities and obligations. This could mean you’re legally required to provide the cat with proper medical care, including vaccinations and sterilization. So, it’s vital to understand the regulations in your area before you decide to feed or care for a stray cat.
Feeding Bans and TNR Programs
In certain municipalities, feeding stray cats might be illegal due to concerns about overpopulation and disease spread. At the same time, many of these places support Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs as a humane way to control the stray cat population. TNR involves trapping the cat, having it neutered or spayed and vaccinated, and then returning it to where it was found. Participation in such programs may be voluntary or mandatory depending on the jurisdiction.
Stray Cats and Property Laws
The laws about trapping stray cats can also be complex. While you may be trying to help, capturing a stray cat could potentially be seen as theft if the cat has an owner. Furthermore, in some places, if a stray cat has chosen to dwell on your property, they might be legally considered a part of that property.
To avoid unintentional legal consequences, it’s crucial to educate yourself about local laws and regulations. This can typically be done by reaching out to your local animal control agency or a nearby animal advocacy group. Knowledge is key when navigating the legal aspects of dealing with stray cats.
3. Make a Point of Ignoring the Cat
You may be in a position of being unable to take a stray cat into your home, yet you still don’t want to see the animal taken to a shelter. A third option is to make a point of simply ignoring it. As strange as this sounds, this might be your best option.
Earlier we discussed the fact that stray cats hanging around neighborhoods for extended periods of time are likely being fed. You may be one of the people feeding the animal. If so, stop. A stray will not continually bother you if there is no benefit to doing so. The animal will focus its energies on those who are feeding it.
This strategy may be beneficial to the cat inasmuch as it encourages the animal to go elsewhere. The cat may find another family in the neighborhood willing to take it in. You win when the cat finally decides to leave you alone; the cat wins by finding another family willing to provide for its needs.
Note that ignoring a stray cat goes above and beyond just not feeding it. You should also not provide shelter, pay attention to it by picking it up and petting it, or do anything else that gives the animal the impression that you are source of comfort. Animals are driven by instinct. If their instincts tell them you will not make provision for their needs, they will go elsewhere.
Collaboration with Local Community
In many instances, managing the local stray cat population involves more than individual efforts. It calls for a collaborative approach within your community, which can yield more effective and sustainable results.
Why is community involvement so important, you may ask? It’s simple – stray cats are not a one-person problem. They are a community-wide concern. These animals roam freely around neighborhoods, and their well-being impacts everyone, from the cat lovers who feed them to those less enthusiastic about their presence. Therefore, collective action can lead to more comprehensive solutions.
One powerful tool for community collaboration is neighborhood outreach. Communicating with your neighbors about the issue can help foster a shared sense of responsibility. You might consider organizing a meeting or distributing informational flyers to raise awareness about the importance of spaying or neutering pets and not abandoning unwanted animals.
Organized Neuter/Spay Programs
Another critical approach to consider is organized neuter/spay programs. These are often known as Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs. TNR involves humanely trapping stray cats, having them neutered or spayed, and then returning them to their territory. Not only does TNR prevent the proliferation of strays, but it also promotes healthier cat communities by reducing the spread of diseases and diminishing aggressive behaviors linked to mating.
It’s important to note that many communities already have TNR programs in place. You can help by volunteering your time or resources, or even by learning how to safely trap cats for the program. If there’s no such program in your community, you might advocate for one, and consider approaching local animal welfare organizations, vets, and the municipality for support.
Through community collaboration, it’s possible to address the stray cat issue in a compassionate and humane manner, and to work together towards a neighborhood that’s safe and comfortable for everyone – humans and cats alike.
4. Adopt the Cat as an Outdoor Cat
While adopting a stray cat as an outdoor cat can be a beneficial approach for those unable or unwilling to bring the cat inside, this choice comes with its own set of potential risks and challenges that need careful consideration.
Exposure to Weather and Predators: Outdoor cats are exposed to all kinds of weather conditions — harsh winters, hot summers, and heavy rains can take a toll on a cat’s health. Providing an insulated shelter can mitigate this, but it won’t completely eliminate the risks. Predators such as dogs, foxes, or coyotes can also be a danger to outdoor cats. Even though a shelter might offer a degree of protection, outdoor cats are more vulnerable than their indoor counterparts.
Health Concerns: Outdoor cats are more likely to encounter parasites like fleas, ticks, and worms, or contract diseases such as feline leukemia or feline immunodeficiency virus. Regular vet check-ups and preventative care are crucial, but exposure to these health risks will be substantially higher than for indoor cats.
Potential for Accidents: Outdoor cats are at a higher risk of getting injured in traffic accidents or by hazards in the environment, like harmful substances they might ingest. In rural areas, they might also get caught in farm equipment or traps set for wildlife.
Interaction with Other Cats: Your outdoor cat might attract other felines, leading to potential fights, injuries, and the spread of diseases. It could also inadvertently contribute to the area’s stray cat problem if not neutered or spayed.
Feeding Issues: While feeding the cat might seem straightforward, it can attract other animals like raccoons, possums, or rats. This not only can lead to the food being stolen but also increases the likelihood of dangerous encounters for your adopted cat.
Neighbors’ Reaction: Not all neighbors might appreciate your outdoor cat or the potential increase in wildlife attracted by its food. There might be complaints or, in the worst case, attempts to remove or harm the cat.
Emotional Attachment and Loss: Forming an emotional bond with an outdoor cat can be challenging when their life tends to be more unpredictable and potentially shorter due to the hazards and risks they face.
Despite these challenges, adopting a stray as an outdoor cat can still be a rewarding and humane choice, as long as you’re willing to provide the necessary care and attention. Make sure you understand your local laws about caring for stray animals, and consider reaching out to local animal welfare organizations for advice and support.
How to Socialize a Stray Cat for Adoption
When deciding to adopt a stray cat, one of the most important and rewarding challenges is socialization. This involves guiding the cat to feel comfortable, safe, and happy in its new environment. A structured approach, patience, and a little love can go a long way in creating a strong bond with your new feline friend.
Start Slow and Be Patient
Initially, your stray cat might be anxious or scared. It’s vital to start slow, allowing the cat to get familiar with its surroundings. Find a small, quiet space, like a bathroom or spare room, where the cat can retreat to for the first few days. Over time, gradually introduce the cat to other parts of the house. Remember, patience is key. Some cats may take days, or even weeks, to start exploring their new territory.
Provide Essential Comforts
Make sure to provide the essentials such as food, water, a litter box, and a comfortable bed in the cat’s space. It’s crucial to make the cat feel secure and to associate its new home with positive experiences. A predictable feeding schedule can help the cat adjust and feel safe. Fresh water and a clean litter box should always be accessible.
When interacting with the cat, sit or lie down to appear less intimidating. You can extend a finger towards the cat to mimic a feline nose-touching greeting. If the cat sniffs your finger and stays calm, that’s a good sign you’re gaining its trust.
Using Toys and Treats
Interactive toys can be useful to stimulate the cat’s natural instincts to play and hunt, thereby facilitating the bond between you two. Treats can also be a helpful tool. However, never force the cat to come out of hiding to receive a treat or to play. Let it approach you on its own terms.
Slow Introduction to Other Household Members
Introduce the cat to other family members or pets gradually and under controlled conditions. Maintain a calm environment during these interactions. If you have other pets, make sure they are properly socialized and can handle the new addition.
With time, patience, and the right approach, even a stray cat can become a loving and cherished member of your family. But remember, every cat is different, and what works for one might not work for another. Observe your cat, understand its unique personality, and adapt your socialization techniques accordingly.
5. Try to Find the Cat’s Owner
Before embarking on a search for a cat’s potential owner, it’s crucial to determine whether the cat is a stray or feral. As mentioned, a stray cat is a domesticated cat that has gotten lost or been abandoned, while a feral cat is born and raised in the wild, or has been abandoned or gotten lost and turned to wild behavior in order to survive. The approach to each type differs greatly.
Understanding Stray Versus Feral Cats
- Behavioral Characteristics: A stray cat is generally more comfortable around humans. They may approach you or your home, looking for food or shelter. They may be cautious but will typically warm up to human touch and interaction eventually. Feral cats, on the other hand, will avoid human contact. They hide during the day and come out primarily at night. They are more likely to run away when approached by humans.
- Physical Appearance: Stray cats, having had human care at some point, may appear healthier or better groomed. They may also be seen attempting to groom themselves. Feral cats, with little access to regular meals and healthcare, might look dirty, scruffy, or thin.
- Social Behavior: Stray cats are likely to live alone, whereas feral cats may be part of a colony. If you observe a cat consistently interacting with a group of cats, they may be feral.
- Body Language: Feral cats, when they cannot avoid humans, will often hiss or spit as a defense mechanism. Stray cats, while initially nervous, generally won’t react this way and may even make friendly gestures, like purring or rubbing against your legs.
Finding the Owner of a Stray Cat
If you’ve determined that the cat is a stray, then it may indeed have a worried owner looking for it. Here are some more tips to locate the owner:
- Check for Identification: Check the cat for a collar or tag that may have the owner’s contact details. Some cats may also have a microchip implanted. Vets or animal shelters can scan for this chip and contact the owner.
- Use Social Media: Post a clear photo and description of the cat on your social media pages and ask your network to share the post. Local community or pet groups on platforms like Facebook can be particularly useful.
- Pet Finding Websites and Apps: There are numerous online services, such as Pawboost or Petfinder, designed to reunite lost pets with their owners. Post a found notice on these platforms.
- Local Vets and Pet Stores: Visit local veterinary clinics and pet stores with a picture of the cat. They can keep an eye out for any missing cat reports that match the description.
- Flyers: Distribute flyers around your neighborhood with the cat’s picture and a contact number.
- Hold On: Continue to provide temporary care for the cat while you search for its owner. The owner may be looking for their pet and might come across it in your care.
Remember, patience and persistence are key in your attempts to identify whether a cat is stray or feral, and to locate a potential owner.
Post-Adoption Support and Resources
Adopting a stray cat can be a rewarding experience, filled with plenty of purring and playful antics. However, it can also come with challenges. It’s important to remember that help is available, and there are many resources for post-adoption support.
First and foremost, your local veterinarian should be your primary resource for medical concerns. Regular check-ups are essential, especially in the early days of adoption when stray cats might need vaccinations, de-worming, or treatment for any other medical issues. If you’re concerned about the cost, look into pet insurance or low-cost vet clinics in your area.
Cat Behavior Specialists
At times, you may face behavioral issues such as aggression, inappropriate urination, or refusal to eat. When these arise, a cat behavior specialist can be an invaluable resource. These professionals are trained to understand feline behavior and can provide targeted solutions for your specific situation. You can find certified behavior consultants through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants or similar organizations.
Online Resources and Communities
There are also countless online resources dedicated to cat care, from informative websites like the ASPCA or PetMD, to online forums where you can connect with other cat owners, like TheCatSite or Reddit’s r/Cats subreddit. Here, you can find articles on common cat behavior issues, dietary needs, grooming, and more, as well as ask questions and share your own experiences.
Local Cat Rescue Groups
Local cat rescue groups can also provide post-adoption support. Many of these groups have experienced volunteers who can offer advice or direct you to appropriate resources. They often have relationships with local veterinarians and may host informational sessions or workshops for new cat owners.
In short, you’re not alone on this journey. Remember that it’s perfectly normal to seek help and advice when you need it. With a bit of patience, the right support, and a whole lot of love, you and your new feline friend will figure out this new life together.
Caring for a Stray Cat During Different Seasons
Caring for a stray cat requires a fair amount of diligence, patience, and a dash of seasonal awareness. Cats, like all creatures, adapt their behavior and needs according to the seasonal shifts.
Spring and Summer Care
During the spring and summer months, water becomes a primary need for stray cats. Hydration is key as temperatures rise, so it’s important to provide fresh water regularly. Also, cats tend to shed more during these months, making them more susceptible to fleas and ticks. Therefore, if you’re providing care, consider safe flea and tick prevention methods. Warm months are also peak breeding season for cats, so liaising with local animal shelters or vets about spay/neuter programs could prevent further increase in the stray population.
Autumn and Winter Care
As the climate cools in autumn and plummets in winter, stray cats need extra help to stay warm. Insulated shelters are a great way to offer protection from the cold. These could be homemade or bought from pet stores. Be sure to position shelters in quiet, unobtrusive places and line them with warm blankets or straw. During these months, calorie requirements for cats increase to help them maintain body heat, so offering extra food can be a lifesaver. Wet food, however, can freeze, so dry food is often a better option during cold snaps. Lastly, remember to check under your car before starting it, as cats often crawl into the engine bay for warmth.
In all seasons, regular feeding, fresh water, and a safe, warm place to rest can make a world of difference to a stray cat’s life. Always remember, these measures are interim solutions while you work on finding a permanent home for the cat, or connect with a local TNR program to prevent overpopulation. Stray cats may be independent, but a little human help goes a long way across the changing seasons.
Things You Should Not Do
Let’s close out this guide by talking about a few things you should not do. All the things listed below are about your safety and the safety of the cat. If you have a stray cat that will not leave, DO NOT:
- Take the animal in until you have it checked. You should never take a stray cat into your home before having it checked out by a veterinarian. While it is rare, cats do carry certain diseases that can make both you and your family very sick. You can never be too careful.
- Adopt the cat and then change your mind. One of the worst things you can do for the cat is to take it into your home and then change your mind a few weeks later. The cat has already been through enough. Getting used to your home and then being sent away soon thereafter only makes a bad situation worse.
- Capture the cat to give it to someone else. You may be totally enamored by the stray cat hanging around in your garden; your family members and friends may not be. Do yourself and the animal a big favor by avoiding the temptation to capture the cat and give it to someone else. And unwanted cat is not much of a pet.
- Use violence to chase the cat away. There is never an excuse to use violence against an animal that won’t go away. Doing so is cruel, unethical, and illegal. If the cat is so bothersome that it’s causing problems, call animal control. They can come out and remove it.
Just about every major city in the world deals with a stray cat problem. If you now have a stray cat that will not leave, know that you’re not alone. Also note that there are plenty of resources out there to help you figure out what to do. A good place to start is your local animal shelter. You can also check with the ASPCA (or similar in your country – the RSPCA in the UK, for example), local veterinarians, and even pet stores. Somebody will have the information you need to figure out your best option.
Alternatives to Adoption
While taking a stray cat into your home may be the first solution that comes to mind, it’s important to remember that there are alternative ways to help without necessarily adopting the cat. These methods can be equally effective in ensuring the cat’s welfare, and they can also contribute to the broader effort to manage the stray cat population in your community.
Sponsoring a Cat at a Shelter
One such method is sponsoring a cat at a shelter. Animal shelters and rescue groups are often stretched to their limits, both financially and in terms of space. By sponsoring a cat, you provide the funds needed for its food, shelter, and medical care. This is typically done on a monthly basis, and it allows the shelter to extend its resources further to help more cats. You might not get the joy of having the cat in your home, but you’ll know that you’re making a real difference in that cat’s life, and potentially many others.
Supporting a TNR Program
Another powerful way to help stray cats is by supporting a TNR program. These initiatives aim to humanely trap stray and feral cats, neuter or spay them, and then return them to their environment. This method doesn’t just prevent the birth of more stray kittens, but it also helps to keep the existing cat population healthier and less prone to spread diseases. Your support for a TNR program could involve a financial donation, but it could also mean volunteering your time or helping to raise awareness in your local community.
In the end, it’s crucial to remember that every little bit helps. Whether it’s adopting a cat, sponsoring one in a shelter, or supporting TNR initiatives, your contribution matters. Even if you’re not able to bring a stray cat into your home, these alternatives offer meaningful ways to make a difference.
Myths and Misconceptions About Stray Cats
When it comes to understanding stray cats, it’s all too easy for myths and misconceptions to proliferate. Let’s shed some light on these often-misunderstood creatures by debunking a few common myths.
Myth 1: All Stray Cats Are Feral
One common misconception is that all stray cats are feral, which is not accurate. The term ‘stray’ typically refers to a pet cat that has been lost or abandoned, while ‘feral’ cats are those that have lived their whole lives without human contact or have reverted to a wild state. Stray cats are often receptive to human interaction, while feral cats tend to be wary of people.
Myth 2: Stray Cats Spread Diseases
While it’s true that stray cats can carry diseases, it’s important to note that the probability of transmission to humans is quite low. Rabies, for example, is often associated with stray cats, but cases are rare. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the majority of rabies cases in the U.S. come from wild animals like bats and raccoons, not cats.
Myth 3: Stray Cats Will Always Be Strays
Many people believe that once a cat is a stray, it can’t be domesticated. However, this isn’t the case. With patience, care, and socialization, many stray cats can become wonderful pets. Remember that these cats were likely pets at one point in their lives, and with time, they can re-adapt to a home environment.
Myth 4: Feeding Stray Cats Encourages Overpopulation
It’s a common belief that feeding stray cats encourages overpopulation. While it’s true that feeding alone won’t solve the issue, it’s also a critical component of humane strategies like TNR, which effectively helps control stray populations. So, if you choose to feed stray cats, consider also getting involved in TNR programs in your area.
Busting these myths helps us to better understand and empathize with stray cats, ultimately leading to better strategies for their care and control. Always approach information with an open and inquisitive mind, especially when it comes to these often-misunderstood creatures.
What to Do with a Stray Cat that Won’t Leave – Conclusion
Dealing with a stray cat that won’t leave can be challenging, but it’s important to understand their behavior and basic survival needs. Providing food and shelter to a stray cat is an act of kindness, but seeking professional veterinary help is crucial to ensure their well-being. It’s also important to be aware of the laws related to trapping stray cats and to take a slow approach to introducing them to other household members or pets. Flyers and social media can be helpful in locating a stray cat’s owner, and adopting a stray cat can be a rewarding experience. Ultimately, patience, persistence, and empathy are key in responding to the presence of stray cats and promoting ethical and compassionate stray cat management practices.
- Stray cats are a growing problem due to various reasons such as abandonment, wandering away from home, and poor management.
- Understanding the behavior of stray cats is crucial in dealing with them, as it is linked to their experiences and instincts.
- Food and shelter are the primary needs that may draw stray cats to inhabit specific areas and become attached to certain individuals.
- Taking a stray cat into your home should be carefully considered, as legal ownership may be unclear and there may be health risks associated with the cat.
- Stray cats may carry diseases that can be transmitted to humans, but the transmission probability is relatively low.
- It is crucial to seek professional veterinary help when caring for stray cats to ensure their safety and well-being.
- Avoiding violence towards stray cats and calling animal control if necessary is the ethical and legal approach to dealing with difficult situations.
- Changing your mind about adopting a stray cat soon after bringing them home can cause added stress and trauma to the cat.
- Promoting awareness and compassionate stray cat management practices are necessary to mitigate the increasing problem of stray cats in communities.
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