L.C. has experience working with stray cats and managing their health and overall wellness.
If there is a stray cat hanging around your home or work, you may want to know what you can do to help. It is important to help the cat—contrary to popular belief, cats can not live well on their own outside. They are domesticated animals. If left on their own, they will likely succumb to an early death from disease, starvation, or injury. You can gain a stray cat’s trust, but by following these four steps and practicing patience, you too can help save a life.
- Feed it.
- Move closer and talk to the cat.
- Slowly establish trust.
- Coax the cat into a carrier (see tips below) and take it to the vet.
- Find it a better home (explore your options below).
Step 1. Feed the Cat
Your first priority should be giving the cat access to food and water. The best way to gain a cat’s trust is to give them food. They say, “if you feed a stray it will stay,” but this is only true because it is hungry and you are finally giving it what it needs. Cats depend on humans for care, and even stray cats need food, water, and shelter.
Here's how you should feed a stray cat:
- Start with a bowl of dry food.
- Leave it out and step far away. Wait quietly.
- If the cat is hungry, he or she will tentatively come forward and eat.
When you are feeding the cat for the first time, don’t try to move in closer. Letting the cat know that it has access to food or water without threat is the first step to having it trust you.
If time is not important (if the cat is not in imminent danger), then continue to offer food every day to build trust before proceeding to step two.
Step 2. Move Closer and Talk to the Cat
While you may feel silly doing it, talking to the cat is important. Talk to the animal quietly and calmly, without approaching. You may want to do this while sitting at a distance from the cat or while he or she is eating.
As the cat realizes that you are not a threat, it will get more comfortable with you being closer—so try to take fewer steps back with each feeding.
Step 3. Establish Trust
Allow the cat to approach you. If the cat has been timid, don’t try to reach out and pet it. Allow the cat to come to you.
Eventually, the cat may allow you to pet or even pick it up. But it is important, again, not to move too quickly. When gaining a stray cat’s trust and affection, it is sometimes two steps forward, two steps back.
A cat working to trust you may eventually come and rub your legs or sit near you but just out of reach. Don’t try to force the relationship. It will develop over time.
Step 4. Get the Cat Vet Care
Whether the cat is going to live outdoors or you plan to take it inside (preferable), it needs to get to a vet for examination, vaccinations, and spaying or neutering. It can also be checked for a microchip to see if it is someone's lost pet.
If the cat has been outdoors, it may have been exposed to a host of diseases. The vet can test for communicable diseases such as FLVS and FIV. The cat also needs to get vaccinations such as rabies and distemper.
Whether the cat is going to live indoors or out, it needs to be spayed or neutered. Even an indoor cat can slip outside and reproduce. Countless numbers of cats are euthanized each year simply because there are more cats that need homes than people willing to take them in. Spaying or neutering will also reduce the cat’s tendency to roam and fight, ultimately keeping it safer.
If the cat is already sick or injured, read How to Help Treat a Stray Cat's Wound.
How Do You Get a Reluctant Cat Into a Carrier?
Sometimes you may need to capture a stray cat sooner than it is ready. Here are two ways to capture them:
- If it is very hungry, you may be able to get a large cat carrier and place food in the back of the carrier. This method works very well for younger cats, especially. Once the cat goes in the carrier, you can quickly shut and lock the door.
- If the cat is still wary, your best bet is to rent or purchase a humane trap. Many animal shelters and rescue groups will rent the traps to you. Sometimes vets have them, as well. The trap is easy to use. Place food at the far end of the trap. When the cat steps in far enough, a trigger plate will cause the door to close.
Note: Once the cat has been caught, he or she needs to be transported to the vet as soon as possible.
What to Do With a Stray Cat
Once you have captured a stray, there are a few things you can do, depending on the cat and the situation at hand.
1. Domesticate It (If It's Semi-Feral)
Sometimes, even semi-feral cats can be domesticated (by you or by someone else). If possible, the best place for the cat is indoors. You can place the cat in a secluded room and give it several weeks or months to get used to being indoors.
If the cat has trouble with the litter box, a simple solution is to put a layer of dirt on the top of the litter. An outdoor cat is used to going in the dirt. After a few days, you can return to straight litter. Read How to Litter Box Train a Stray Kitten for more ideas and information. If you find an abandoned or stray kitten, you'll want to read How to Care for Stray Kittens: A Guide to Raising Feral Kittens.
2. Release It Into a Colony
If outside is the only option, there are established feral cat colonies where spayed or neutered cats live and volunteers feed and take care of them. Although the situation is not always ideal and can be controversial, there are valid reasons for these colonies. Well-maintained colonies pose very little problems for the area.
It has also been shown that removing feral cats from an area doesn’t actually fix the problem, as new strays and feral cats will just move in. So maintaining a healthy feral cat community can actually be better for the environment and the cats.
3. Take Care of It in Your Own Backyard
You can also take care of the outdoor cat yourself. Remember that the cat does need to be spayed or neutered and receive its vaccinations. But if the outdoors is the only option, you can still make sure the cat has food and water and place to shelter during bad weather.
Remember to take up any extra food in the evening to prevent scavengers such as raccoons or possums to move in and eat the food (and possibly harm the cat). Read How to Set Up an Outdoor Cat House for Pets, Strays, and Ferals for tips.
Dos and Don'ts of Gaining a Stray Cat's Trust
Talk quietly to the cat.
Try to approach a cat that is hissing or angry.
Offer canned food.
Leave food out overnight.
Immediately take to vet if captured.
Leave stray cats to fend for themselves.
Remember to Be Patient
Stray cats take time to adjust to those who are trying to help them. They aren't used to people, and any defensive behavior stems from fear. With patience, you can gain the cat’s trust and even affection.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Millytonin on July 24, 2020:
I know this is really old and you probably won't respond, but I have a long story.
So, I had this black cat named Chester. We were going to move out and my dad, a legit animal hater I swear, wanted to leave him there with nothing to eat but rat droppings. My mom managed to convince him to go back and get Chester, because that's cruel as hell. So, basically, my dad eventually kicked him out. He visited sometimes, but soon he just stopped.
A couple months later, a cowprint female appears, with kittens. They're definitely Chester's. They're usually hanging around near our house, in our garage.My question is, is there a way to do the things here without my dad knowing? I know he'll put an "end" to it immediately after finding out. He's threatened to kill our stray cats multiple times, and I know very well he'll do it. This is the same guy who kicks my dog in the face when he's blocking a walkway.
Amy Smith on October 14, 2019:
I have recently adopted a feral cat and i feed it every day and leave it water and take care of it.
amycatlady on May 23, 2019:
So there's this stray cat who comes into my garden, I've fed her and shell come right close to you but won't let you touch her. We think she has been mistreated in the past so wants love but is also too scared. How can I get her to trust me and feel safe and loved?
email@example.com on October 16, 2018:
Hi, I have a stray kitten on the street of my neighborhood she came up to me yesterday and meowed and me softly she rubbed against me too you I fed her and gave her water but she won't drink what should I do?
Patricia Anne O'brien on October 08, 2018:
Thank you for your response and information on my ???'s
L C David (author) from Florida on January 27, 2014:
You may want to call a rescue group and borrow a trap to try to get the kitten inside before the storm hits. Best of luck.
winter savior on January 27, 2014:
There is a kitten in danger of a winter storm. I hope this information works to save him from hypothermia.
L C David (author) from Florida on April 22, 2013:
iguidenetwork--she has obviously picked you guys as her family! Sounds like she is friendly. Do you plan to keep her or will you try to find a home for her with someone else? If she is that friendly she will probably make a great pet for someone. Cats need people! Glad you are feeding her. Good luck.
iguidenetwork from Austin, TX on April 22, 2013:
Now there's a cat in our garage that is staying all day long. She's not apprehensive whenever we go out of the house, she's always meowing. We give her food sometimes. She feels as if she's our pet. There are some cats like that when they've gotten used to staying in one place.
L C David (author) from Florida on April 20, 2013:
Thanks moonlake. It's so nice to know how many good people there are out there caring for cats and other animals in their time of need.
moonlake from America on April 20, 2013:
We have two strays living in our house. Here we also had to make sure they were warm before they would come in our house. Thank goodness we had a barn they could go in. Voted up.
L C David (author) from Florida on April 20, 2013:
Thanks for stopping by Cresentmoon!
Cresentmoon2007 from Caledonia, MI on April 20, 2013:
Very useful information here. I loved it. Thanks for sharing.
L C David (author) from Florida on April 19, 2013:
Lucky Cats: Thanks so much for this. I care so much about these babies and currently have five strays that I've taken in---my oldest is 15 and coincidentally, Lady Guinevere is named Merlin. The last one I caught using the methods described in this hub. Thanks to both of you also for caring about those innocents who didn't deserve the fate they got.
Debra Allen from West By God on April 19, 2013:
I have a cat that I have been feedimng for about a year now and still as soon as we look at each other he takes off. I call him Merlin because I know not where he comes or where he goes. He just seems to appear for nowhere. I do with that I could at least get a picture of him to send you but not yet. I talk to him but he is so far way when I do. He does actually run away now he kind of mosies.
Great tips here in this hub and I will share it.
Kathy from The beautiful Napa Valley, California on April 19, 2013:
Liked on FB, Too. Thank you.
Kathy from The beautiful Napa Valley, California on April 19, 2013:
Wonderful instructional hub about helping the feral and dumped, abandoned cat population. I love that you've taken the time to teach us how to properly introduce, handle and care for cat(s) who show up. You've written a loving and comprehensive hub, LCDWriter, and I thank you for it. This is very important information....I wish everyone would take the time to help the lost kitties who need our help. This is a life mission for my friend Al and me....so, seeing this hub warms my heart and gives me hope. Thank you. UP Useful Awesome Interesting and Beautiful because you care!!