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Should You Help or Ignore Stray Animals?

I have owned cats for over 60 years. Between them and their vets, I have learned a great deal about how they tick.

Is it safe or good to help out stray animals? Learn all about that here.

Is it safe or good to help out stray animals? Learn all about that here.

What Should You Do About Strays?

I have seen stray or abandoned animals ranging from an angora cat to a yellow duckling. I even saw a baby bunny that was obviously an Easter gift since it still had a ribbon on its neck.

I was horrified to see these poor things. Many were skinny, dirty, obviously hungry, and/or injured. I couldn't just stand there or walk by without doing something. But what should I do? I had no clue. I wasn't an animal program expert. I didn't know any of the available groups that could help. I certainly wasn't going to shell out my good money to feed them, was I?

Well, actually, that was just what I thought I needed to do: shell out money to give them food.

The Usual Strays: Cats and Dogs

The two strays that are most often seen are cats and dogs. People get them as babies and are then overwhelmed by vet and grocery bills. That is usually when the grown-up version is tossed out on its ear in favor of another cute and cuddly little one. The animals, having been fed and kept warm and comfortable during their baby years, don't know how to survive outside. They can't hunt and don't know how to fight for shelter. They are basically left to die. That is a horrible death for any creature.

Unusual Strays

Other types of strays are even sadder. Most domesticated feed animals lack the knowledge and instincts they need to survive in the wild. They only know they are cold and hungry. I once saw a baby rabbit sitting just outside of my fenced garden. I didn't touch it because I thought the mother would be close by and would soon lead it away. However, when the baby remained for more than a day and night, I knew it had no mother. Okay, what now?

This is Salty.  His mother was also a stray I helped.

This is Salty. His mother was also a stray I helped.

Should We Help Strays?

The instinct for survival in dogs and cats is strong, and some can adapt. But feeding them now and then only encourages them to remain nearby to acquire easy food rather than seeking it for themselves. Cats will often 'mark' a home where someone feeds them to warn off others. Dogs will fight (to the death on occasion) because you set out scraps for them now and then. Any outside animal that finds a food source will remain near that source. This means they will not seek better shelter, they will not seek aid elsewhere, and they may die because they are trying to remain near a source of food.

This scenario means animals could be abused by neighbors who don't want them around. It means the animals could be injured by traffic. They could freeze without proper shelter. They may grow weak and become the victim of other animals. They may be shunned by their own mates or families because they acquire a different smell from eating near humans.

This is Cocoa.  His mother was taken in by a neighbor.  She gave the neighbor seven kittens.  But isn't he a beauty?

This is Cocoa. His mother was taken in by a neighbor. She gave the neighbor seven kittens. But isn't he a beauty?

If You Feed Them, Can Stray Animals Become a Danger to Humans?

Yes because stray animals pick up diseases of all types. They get parasites like ticks, worms, and fleas. They can contract rabies. They may have other diseases that can be transmitted to humans or to your own pets. You can pass diseases on to your pets if you touch a stray or something a stray has marked in some way (usually with their urine). Your pets might fight you, or each other, because they can smell a stray on your skin, clothing, or a bowl used to feed the stray. Believe me when I tell you that I often found it too hard to see an animal suffering and not want to help, and my animals let me know all about my wrong ideas. (But I usually found some way to help anyway.)

You could use a humane trap to catch the animal so you can take them to a vet. These traps catch the animal without harming them.  Be sure to check often so the animal doesn't fall prey to other animals in the area.

You could use a humane trap to catch the animal so you can take them to a vet. These traps catch the animal without harming them. Be sure to check often so the animal doesn't fall prey to other animals in the area.

So What Should You Do for the Cats and Dogs You See?

There are ways to help that won't cause problems depending upon the animal and your help. For instance, helping a stray cat might cause the cat to mark your doors (so they now smell of strong urine) in an attempt to keep other cats away. You can usually avoid this by feeding the cat far away from your door. Also, if you plan to feed the cat(s) on a regular basis, you will need to do a few things to protect yourself and your family and, of course, the cat.

One step would be to use a humane trap for the cat so you can get the cat checked by a vet and treated for parasites, diseases and so on, as well as getting the cat fixed to avoid marking and mating issues (and more kitties). Also, create a shelter for the cat near where you feed it. A dog house will work, just as a styrofoam cooler that has a hole cut in one side will work. Put a rock or two on top to keep it from being blown away by the wind. Put hay, not blankets or any type of cloth, inside. Cloth will absorb water from the air and will freeze in the winter. If you wish to help a stray dog, the steps would basically be the same.

Should You Try to Help Other Animals?

Some animals, no matter how much you would like to help, would be better off left to fend for themselves. Squirrels, birds, wild dogs, and chipmunks are examples of animals you should leave alone. These animals are much more likely to have diseases or parasites that are dangerous to humans. Of course, specific wild animals like horses, crocodiles, lizards, snakes, and turtles to name a few should definitely be left alone.

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Read More From Pethelpful

If the animal appears to be in distress, or is not local to the area, calling the animal control officer will be your best choice. They will know what to do for such animals. Calling animal control is especially important if the animal is threatening your family in any way. If you don't know the number, call 911.

Contact your local animal control officer. They will know exactly what to do. They can also give you advice on how to care for a stray and where to find local vets. Medicine can give you information about diseases animals can pass on to humans.


  • Never try to feed or put a leash on a dog that is growling or baring its teeth.
  • Never approach any animal that appears to be ill, is foaming at the mouth, or appears to be mean.
  • A growling cat for instance would not be one you should approach.
  • Teach children not to approach or touch animals that are not family pets.
  • Leave birds and loose feathers where you find them because birds have parasites that could be dangerous to humans.
  • Always remember that though it is tough to leave them alone, the law of the animal kingdom is 'survival of the fittest.' So please think twice before attempting to help a wild animal by yourself. If you feel they need help, call animal control.

So Can You Help? Should You Help?

I always help if at all possible. To find help, I have called local shelters, used the internet, called my vet, and called local animal hospitals. At the very least, you can call the local animal control officer to see if they will come out to get the animal. Sadly, most animal control shelters euthanize strays after three days. I don't like that, but I think it is better than freezing or starving to death. They can also put you in touch with shelters in the area that have a no-kill policy or deal with unusual strays like skunks or birds.

So should you help? Dogs and cats can be helped (just make sure the vet sees them before the family or your animals do). They can be helped inside or outside, depending on which you choose to do. If you can't help them every day from now on, don't help at all. That way, the animal will instinctively seek another source of food and shelter. It gives them a better chance of survival.

As for the other animals, sometimes survival of the fittest is the way to go. If the animal isn't badly hurt or isn't foaming at the mouth, then calling someone to help would be your next step. Sometimes the animals become food for other animals trying to survive. This is the way of the animals which is sad but true. So with unusual animals, if you don't know, call and ask your locate animal control officer. They can tell you if you should help and how.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2017 Cheryl Simonds

Please leave a comment or share a photo.

Cheryl Simonds (author) from Connecticut on February 20, 2020:

Thank you Anonymous, I was trying to show how dangerous things can get with animals and how they behave after being abused.

Anonymous on February 19, 2020:

Good job for letting the world know about what bad people do.

Cheryl Simonds (author) from Connecticut on August 11, 2018:

Lsn, thank you for the compliment. I am glad my article helped you with your situation. Good luck with the kittens, Cherylone.

Lsn on August 07, 2018:

Amazing article. I have some cats and kittens near my apartment whom I feed everyday.. so it’s a great intuitive understanding on how to move forward. Lovely article. Regards

Cheryl Simonds (author) from Connecticut on January 20, 2017:

FlourishAnyway, thank you so much. I love each and every one of my cats. One of my daughter-in-laws once told me that I "grew the cats big". I am glad to see there are others out there helping when they can. I know that if we don't feed them they will eventually find something else, but I'll bet you feel better knowing that they are safe in your haven (I know I do). Thanks for your comment and your feline assistance.

FlourishAnyway from USA on January 19, 2017:

Your cats are beautiful.

Helping is an essential part of my makeup. I wouldn't have any pets if it weren't for the lovely strays who have come into my life over the years. I am a spay/neuter advocate first so that is the very first thing I do, along with testing and vaccines, etc. We have a low-cost clinic in a nearby city that has fixed 100,000 animals since it's been opened. I often fix animals that aren't mine so that there won't be more to feed, and I also feed a small feral colony that is well managed and protected from the elements. I've been doing that since 2002 and never miss a day. When the last cat died at the colony in 2014 (we had to get him euthanized at the emergency vet), I kept on feeding because I knew other feral cats would come, and they did. This is my contribution to making the world better. I cannot help every animal, but there are some I can help every day with a dependable source of food, gentle chatter, water, and medical care when they need it.

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