What to Do with a Stray Cat and How to Help

Sarah Sharkey
Written bySarah Sharkey
Sarah Sharkey
Sarah SharkeyInsurance Writer
  • 7+ years writing insurance and personal finance content

  • Contributor to top media, including USA Today

A passionate personal finance advocate, Sarah’s writing has graced the pages of many of the personal finance and insurance industries’ top web publications.

Featured in

media logomedia logomedia logo
Danny Smith
Edited byDanny Smith
Photo of an Insurify author
Danny SmithHome and Pet Insurance Editor
  • P&C license candidate in Massachusetts

  • 4+ years in content creation and marketing

As Insurify’s home and pet insurance editor, Danny also specializes in auto insurance. His goal is to help consumers navigate the complex world of insurance buying.

Featured in

media logo

Updated February 22, 2023 | Reading time: 7 minutes

Advertiser Disclosure

At Insurify, our goal is to help customers compare insurance products and find the best policy for them. We strive to provide open, honest, and unbiased information about the insurance products and services we review. Our hard-working team of data analysts, insurance experts, insurance agents, editors and writers, has put in thousands of hours of research to create the content found on our site.

We do receive compensation when a sale or referral occurs from many of the insurance providers and marketing partners on our site. That may impact which products we display and where they appear on our site. But it does not influence our meticulously researched editorial content, what we write about, or any reviews or recommendations we may make. We do not guarantee favorable reviews or any coverage at all in exchange for compensation.

Why you can trust Insurify: Insurify’s expert insurance writers and editors operate independently of our insurance partners. As an independent agent and insurance comparison website, we make money through commissions from insurers. But that does not influence any editorial content, including reviews. Learn more.

You aren’t alone if you’ve seen stray cats around your house. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) estimates that tens of millions of stray cats roam the United States.[1] It’s common for them to hang around in the same location for extended periods of time.

If you want to help a stray cat, it’s important to follow some best practices, like keeping it separate from your other pets and seeking medical care. We’ll explore what steps to take if you encounter a stray.

How to tell if a cat is a stray

The first step in helping a stray cat is determining whether it’s actually a stray.

Most cats found outside with no clear owner are generally considered either feral or stray.[2]

Stray cats often have some level of socialization with humans. In many cases, they’ve been abandoned or accidentally lost their home. Stray cats might be cautious about new humans but typically warm up with regular interaction.[3]

Feral cats, on the other hand, haven’t had any socialization with humans and typically aren’t very approachable. If a cat wants nothing to do with people, it’s likely feral. Feral cats are essentially wild animals and should be treated with caution.[2]

How to help a stray cat

If you’ve found a stray cat, here’s what you can do to help it:

Provide food and water

If a cat looks like it needs help, the first thing you should do is offer it food and water. Stray cats often have trouble getting the nutrition they need to stay healthy. A simple bowl of water and a can of food can go a long way toward helping a stray.[3]

Look for an owner

The stray cat you found might actually be someone’s lost pet.

Check the cat for a collar, which often has the owner’s phone number. If the cat doesn’t have a collar, you’ll have to do some investigating on your own. One good way to find its owner is to post a picture about it on a community forum.

Consider asking neighbors and putting up signs around town. In some places, you can also file a found pet report at the local shelter. If someone is looking for the cat, they’ll likely come across your efforts to find them.[3]

Additionally, you can have the cat checked for a microchip at the vet or an animal shelter, which can lead you to its owner.

Lure the cat into a safe place

You’ll likely need to transport the cat to provide any help beyond food and water. Luring the cat into a comfortable carrier is a good place to get started.

It’s usually best to avoid picking up a stray cat, even if you think it would let you. Instead, try to lure it into a carrier with food. It might take some time. Remember that helping a stray cat is an exercise in patience.[3]

Humane traps are another option for capturing the stray. A local rescue organization may be able to loan you one. Check if the cat’s left ear is tipped before trapping it. If it is, it often means the cat has already been trapped and spayed or neutered.[3] Consider calling animal control if you can’t capture the cat.

Learn More: What Plants Are Toxic to Cats?

Seek medical care for the cat

You may need to bring the cat to your local animal shelter for medical care. Strays are often malnourished, and animal shelters can help restore a cat’s health. The shelter can also handle the process of finding a new home for the stray.[3]

Once you’ve found an animal shelter that provides the services the cat needs, your job as a rescuer is done. However, budgetary and space limitations might make it difficult for some shelters to take in the cat.[4]

If you can’t find a shelter willing to take the cat in, you can take it to the vet yourself. Even if you don’t plan on keeping the cat, it’s important it remains healthy while you search for a home for it.

If you want to keep the stray cat, it’s best to bring it to a vet. Give the vet all the details about the cat’s situation. The vet will then conduct a full examination to confirm the cat’s health and may recommend some basic vaccinations.[5]

Be prepared to take financial responsibility for the vet visit. If you aren’t able to cover the costs, call ahead — the vet might be able to point you toward an animal rescue group in your area. Many cities have animal rescue groups dedicated to taking care of stray cats and dogs, which will often cover vet costs.[5]

See Also: How Much Is a Vet Visit for a Cat Without Insurance?

Maintain separation from other pets

It’s important to keep stray cats separated from your other pets if you bring them into your home. Strays often have diseases that they can transmit to your household pets.

Keep the cat contained in a separate room of your house if you can’t take it to the vet right away. Don’t let your other pets get too close until the vet gives the stray a clean bill of health.

Read More: Pet Insurance for Your Cat: Is It Worth It?

Adopt it or find a new home

You can typically adopt a stray, but keep in mind that pet ownership is a significant responsibility. If you can’t keep the cat, try to find it a good home. You can conduct a search on your own by posting to social media or by enlisting the help of a local rescue organization.

Check Out: Before You Adopt a Cat | A List of Things to Consider

Compare pet insurance quotes and save up to 57%

See up to 10 quotes from major pet insurers in less than 2 minutes

Secure. Free. Easy-to-use.
4.8/5 (3,806+ reviews)
Shopper Approved

What to feed a stray cat

The most helpful thing you can do for a stray cat is to provide it with food and water. Strays are often malnourished and even a small meal can drastically help them.[6]

The simplest solution is to give the stray standard cat food, which should be readily available at your local grocery store. But if you don’t have cat food on hand, cooked meat or cans of tuna are viable options, as cats are obligate carnivores.[3]

Most cats need to be fed once or twice a day, typically between three-quarters of a cup to one cup of food. However, growing kittens, pregnant cats, and nursing cats may need a bit more. If you can see that the stray is underweight, it’s okay to give it a little more food.[6]

Provide meals at a regular time so the cat can learn the schedule quickly. Don’t forget to provide clean water.[6]

Where to take a stray cat

You should first take the cat to the vet, who can provide any necessary medical care. A veterinary examination can confirm the cat is healthy and won’t pass diseases to any other pets you have.

If you don’t plan on keeping the cat, it’s best to take it to an animal shelter or rescue organization. Both are prepared to help stray cats find homes.

Unfortunately, many animal shelters have space limitations and budget restrictions. If they can’t take in the stray cat, consider keeping it in a small room, such as a spare bathroom or bedroom, while seeking a new owner.[4]

What to do with a feral cat

A feral cat is different from a stray cat. While stray cats are comfortable around humans, feral cats are typically fearful of humans. Feral cats are often born and raised without any positive human interactions. The lack of socialization makes it difficult to turn these cats into house pets.[2]

At first, it’s difficult to tell strays and feral cats apart. But after some time, stray cats will allow humans to touch them and may try to enter your house. Feral cats tend to have no interest in humans, with the exception of accepting food from a distance.[2]

Feral cats pose a challenge to rescuers because they have no intention of getting close to humans. Instead, feral cats would prefer to remain outdoors. In many cases, adult feral cats brought to shelters are euthanized.[2]

If you’re concerned about feral cats, spaying or neutering the cats is a good solution. Many areas endorse trap-neuter-return (TNR) programs. It works by catching the cats to spay or neuter them. After the operation, the cats are returned to where they were caught.

Always use caution when dealing with feral cats. They often have various diseases, and a bite can lead to severe infection.[7]

Read Also: Best Pet Insurance Companies and Plans

Stray cat FAQs

Here are answers to some common questions about stray cats.

  • What should you do if a stray cat bites you?

    If a stray cat bites you, wash the wound with soap and water for at least five minutes. After covering the wound with a sterile dressing, contact your healthcare provider. They may provide a tetanus booster, rabies vaccine, or antibiotics.[8]

  • How do you tell if a stray cat is pregnant?

    A swollen belly and darkened nipples often indicate a stray cat is pregnant. If you suspect a stray cat is pregnant, consider taking it to a shelter.[9]

  • How do you train a stray cat to use a litter box?

    Pay attention to what your stray cat is using as its bathroom. For example, if it prefers to do its business on newspaper, start by putting that in the litter box. Gradually transition from the cat’s preferred material to the litter box material of your choice. Make sure to clean out solids daily and completely change the litter regularly to keep the material clean and dry.[10]

  • How do you help an injured stray cat?

    You can help an injured stray cat by taking it to an animal shelter or veterinarian. Appropriate medical care may help an injured stray cat recover.

Compare pet insurance quotes and save up to 57%

See up to 10 quotes from major pet insurers in less than 2 minutes

Secure. Free. Easy-to-use.
4.8/5 (3,806+ reviews)
Shopper Approved


  1. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. "A Closer Look at Community Cats." Accessed February 17, 2023
  2. Feral and Stray Cats - An Important Difference. "Alley Cat Allies." Accessed February 17, 2023
  3. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Northern Virginia. "Steps to Take If You Find a Feral Cat or Friendly Stray Cat." Accessed February 17, 2023
  4. The Humane Society of the United States. "How to help a stray pet." Accessed February 17, 2023
  5. PetMD. "What to Do When A Stray Cat Adopts You." Accessed February 17, 2023
  6. The Feline Foundation. "Becoming a Stray Cat Feeder." Accessed February 17, 2023
  7. Medical News Today. "How can cat bites be dangerous?." Accessed February 17, 2023
  8. Johns Hopkins Medicine. "Animal Bites and Rabies." Accessed February 17, 2023
  9. Rehome by Adopt-a-Pet.com. "How Can I Tell If A Stray Cat Is Pregnant?." Accessed February 17, 2023
  10. Longmont Humane Society. "Litter Box Training." Accessed February 17, 2023
Sarah Sharkey
Sarah SharkeyInsurance Writer

Sarah Sharkey is a personal finance writer who enjoys helping people make savvy financial decisions. She covered insurance and personal finance topics. You can find her work on Business Insider, Money Under 30, Rocket Mortgage, Bankrate, and more. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Danny Smith
Edited byDanny SmithHome and Pet Insurance Editor
Photo of an Insurify author
Danny SmithHome and Pet Insurance Editor
  • P&C license candidate in Massachusetts

  • 4+ years in content creation and marketing

As Insurify’s home and pet insurance editor, Danny also specializes in auto insurance. His goal is to help consumers navigate the complex world of insurance buying.

Featured in

media logo