Should You Feed Stray Cats?

If you’re a cat lover, what would be your reaction to seeing a stray kitty? You would want to entice it with food and treats, which is understandable, given the cuteness of these furry critters.

Nonetheless, don’t jump straight to feeding. Did you know that in some areas it is illegal to feed strays? Yes! You could get fined or even arrested!

Besides breaking the law, do you know if the food you’re going to give is safe for our feline friend, considering its living conditions?

Do you know exactly what to do if you find a stray cat?

The answers to all of these questions are discussed below, so keep on reading

Image of a stray cat illustration

So Should You Feed Stray Cats?

If there’s an ordinance in your area that says you can’t, then the answer is a resounding NO. In other cases, our answer to the above question is NOT a resounding yes! This is a controversial issue and there are numerous people both for and against feeding strays.

Many animal welfare organizations would instruct you not to feed stray cats, and they’re not completely wrong.

Your reasons for feeding are very simple- you just don’t want the kitty to be hungry. If you feed the cat, it’ll be happy and thankful, and you would feel great too! However, you have to look at the bigger picture.

One popular reason to discourage the feeding of strays is that it will encourage strays to breed out of control, which can lead to bigger social issues. The counter-argument to that is the cats can breed out of control whether you feed them or not. The healthier the cat is, the higher the chances of reproduction.

If they reproduce, the kittens are not going to lead a happy life either. They will potentially live a life of starvation, just like the other stray cats that we see around. In the place of one stray cat today, you’ll have to feed five tomorrow.

Another reason to discourage the feed of strays is that any uneaten leftovers may attract other wildlife like raccoons, rodents, and possums, etc. You can remedy this by knowing the correct food to put out for the cats, and by not throwing the food onto the ground.

Everything depends on whether you want to contribute to the problem or want to be a part of the solution, with the solution being adoption or letting a local animal shelter take care of the cat.

pat on the back of a stray cat and giving food

Before Feeding a Stray Cat

It is worth considering if the cat is truly a stray cat. If the cat is owned by someone nearby, then they may not wish for you to feed it. Before putting out any food for the cat, ask your neighbors if it is their cat and if they mind. They might be trying to get the cat to lose weight, it may be diabetic or it may have a disease like a kidney disease, which requires a very specific diet.

Therefore feeding a cat which is owned by someone could actually be very detrimental to their health and in the end, the welfare of the cat should be above your need for having a lovely cat around.

If you are confident that the cat is not locally owned, and it is in need of some food, then continue reading this article for some options.

What To Feed Stray Cats?

To responsibly feed strays and avoid other wildlife, you can put out dry food or canned cat food.

While you can give canned tuna, your best bet is still to go for dry food or canned cat food. But why? These kinds of food don’t normally bring out other wildlife.

Since free-roaming cats are naturally nocturnal, you can safely put out canned cat food at night. Don’t forget to leave lots of fresh water out for our fluffy friends!

While these cats are definitely starving and will eat anything you put out, our feline friends would ordinarily hunt in our natural environment.

What To They Usually Eat In The Wild?

While outdoors, our feline friends mostly prefer to hunt small rodents and birds. These include mice, rats, sparrows, and robins.

To be truly full, cats will munch on anything they can catch, even insects and reptiles. Lizards, spiders, and grasshoppers contain vital nutrients. For drinking water, strays favor natural rainwater that can be found in potholes and puddles.

Felines have a higher sense of smell than humans- 14 times higher to be exact, so preservatives found in most water are irritating to them.

Cats also like to feed on fresh prey. Felines eat up everything, including their prey’s skin, feathers, organs, and even bones. Note though that out in the wild, cats refrain from eating plants such as grains and vegetables, although they may enjoy munching on some kinds of grass.

girl feeds a stray cat on street

Taking In A Stray Cat

Like most cat lovers, by now you have grown accustomed to your furry stray friends. If you have exhausted all your efforts but are still unable to find the owner, then consider adopting, surrendering it to a humane society, rehoming, or TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return).

  • Adopting

Prior to adopting strays, consider scheduling a trip to your vet first before letting the cats into your home. This is an excellent opportunity for the vet to check whether the cat has a microchip which would be registered to an owner.

Since these felines were outdoors for a while, it is highly possible that they have picked up fleas, ticks, and other creepy crawlies. The vet can prescribe some anti-parasite treatment, and give the cats deworming medications and vaccinations at the same time.

You should have the cat neutered or spayed as well. More than just the trip to the vet, you should also be ready to help the strays adjust to living inside or outside your home, including using the litter box and socializing the adopted strays with other cats and people.

  • Surrendering to a humane society

Although you may try to contact your local shelter, most shelters are unfortunately already housing too many animals. At times, shelters are forced to euthanize strays because there just aren’t enough available homes. However, they will hopefully be able to place your stray up for adoption.

  • Rehoming

If you’re not ready to adopt, then consider rehoming your stray. This, of course, would be after taking them to the vet to check for a microchip and their general health.

The safest option is to find a suitable home for your strays yourself. You can ask around with friends, family, or co-workers who might be looking for a cat. You can also check with rescue organizations as they might know others who may be able to help you.

Aside from these, you may also opt to advertise locally or through the internet. Bear in mind to carefully screen people when rehoming and never offer your cat for free. It is not ethical for you to be making a profit from a stray cat, but a small price will cover the costs for your veterinarian trip. In doing this, you’ll be able to screen out people who sell pets for animal fighting, bait or who wish to sell on to make a profit.

  • Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR)

When adopting and rehoming is not possible, find out if your community or vet is involved in TNR. This strategy requires humanely trapping outdoor cats, spaying or neutering, then returning it to its area.

Take note that before returning the strays to their natural habitat, these felines should have been given a health check and proper vaccines.

Spaying and neutering at the right age are also necessary so that these cats are no longer able to reproduce. TNR also considers the level of socialization of each cat. Socialized felines and kittens are allowed to be adopted, while adult feral cats are brought back outdoors.

Eventually, the stray colony size will decrease. You can recognize sterilized or TNRed cats through their clipped ears. Ear clipping makes it easy for caretakers to identify sterilized cats and avoid re-doing surgery.

How Do You Differentiate Stray And Feral Cats?

If you want to know how to recognize the kind of cat that you came across, here are some pointers:

Stray cats refer to cats that were once domestic pets, but for some reason have become abandoned or lost. These are socialized cats, however, once they lose their homes they also lose human contact and dependence.

In contrast, feral cats are wild animals who have had no human contact. These cats survive by hunting food in their environment and are usually born in the wild.

Both cats typically may appear disheveled, unhealthy, and have rough fur. The difference lies in how the feline interacts with people. A stray cat will probably come near people, houses, porches, or cars while feral cats will avoid doing this.

As stray cats were once house pets, they will similarly move and walk like one. You might observe these felines walking with their tail up, which is its gesture of friendliness. Additionally, you might notice that these cats make eye contact and in time may allow you to touch them.

Fearful feral cats can be seen crawling, crouching, and generally staying low to the ground. It is likely to protect its body with its tail, and avoid eye contact and touching.

When it comes to other cats, a stray cat is prone to solely live on its own and not likely to join a group, whereas you’ll see feral cats will usually belong to a colony.

Stray cats generally roam around during the day, while feral cats are commonly nocturnal, and rarely go out during the day.

It may be difficult to recognize these two once trapped or scared. Frightened strays will need time to relax to show its degree of socialization.

You may be asking yourself why is it important to differentiate? It’s important because stray cats can re-adapt to living with people and afterward be adopted as house pets or companions, in case you want to do more than just feeding stray cats.

Unfortunately, adult feral cats cannot be adopted. It is better for these felines to live outdoors than be brought to shelters, where it will most likely be euthanized. Fortunately, feral kitties can still be socialized at an early stage and may possibly be adopted as pets.

What’s the Bottom Line?

Knowing the proper food to feed strays enables you to avoid drawing out other unwanted wildlife.

While providing food alleviates the stray’s condition, these felines need more help than that.

Once you have confirmed that the strays you have are not someone’s pets, then consider your next step. You can opt to adopt, surrender to a humane society, rehome, or lastly TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return). Before you do the first three options, it is best to visit your vet for vaccines and other proper treatments.

Every one of the given options is not easy. You will most likely encounter many challenges in doing them, however, taking any step is better than taking none at all. Ultimately, it is essential that our furry little friends are able to live their best life possible.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Hi. There is a cat that visits our home daily. She has beautiful, clean fur and is in a healthy condition. I suspect she belongs to the neighbors but I am not sure. Me and my roommate feed her daily and give her attention so she kind of bonded with us. However I don’t know what to do now-should I encourage her by letting her at our house, feeding her and spending time with her, even though we can’t afford to take her in? (even if we wanted to do that we don’t know if she has another home or not). Should I re home her if she’s a stray? Thanks

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