What to do if you think a cat is a stray

If you find a cat and are worried about it, you should monitor its characteristics and behaviours to determine if you think it is a feral, stray, or owned cat.

Cats do not have the same legal status as dogs do, meaning that they have very little protection in the eyes of the law. This means that local councils and authorities do not have a responsibility to deal with lost or stray cats.

Due to their roaming nature, it can be very difficult to determine if a cat is genuinely lost. You might think the cat that regularly appears in your garden looking hungry and lost is a stray only to discover its home is a just a couple of streets away. Cats are regarded as the property of their owner in the eyes of the law and so removing a cat from their owner could be regarded as theft. Therefore, you must be very certain to establish the status of a cat before taking any steps.

Determining the type of cat

Owned cats

Owned cats can often be mistaken for stray cats due to their roaming nature. While most will find their way home, sometimes domestic cats can end up getting lost when they either roam too far, become injured or get stuck in an outbuilding or difficult place.

If you think you have found an owned cat that may be lost

  • Ask around your neighbours and local Facebook community groups to see if anyone knows who the cat belongs to.
  • If you can get close enough, check to see if they have a collar with a phone number or owner details attached.
  • Create a paper collar to attach to the cat with your number on, so if the cat returns to it’s owner, they can contact you to let you know it’s safe.
  • Perhaps create some ‘Found Cat’ posters and put them up in your area to see if an owner comes forward.

Stray cats

A stray cat is a domestic cat that has become separated from its owner. Sometimes, it is because the owner has moved away. It may be friendly and approachable, but slightly skittish – it all depends on how long the cat has been stray for.

Signs to look out for that a cat is a stray.

  • Does the cat look anxious, trying to hide, and unsure where to go next?
  • Are they nervous, or look difficult to try and catch?
  • Does the cat’s coat look unkempt, or is it showing any signs of illness such as running eyes or wounds?

What to do if you think you have found a stray cat?

  • Invest in or borrow a cat basket, trap the cat, and take it to the vets or a rehoming centre where they can scan for a microchip. If a microchip is found, then attempts will be made to contact the owner of the cat to reunite them.
  • If no microchip owner is found, or you cannot get in touch with the owner after several weeks, you have the choice to keep the cat as a pet if you wish or hand them over to a rehoming centre ready to be rehomed. As stray cats have usually been pets in the past, they can be socialised and domesticated again – unlike a feral.

Feral cats

A feral cat will be unfriendly, scared and may hiss if you approach. Feral cats often live in colonies (with other feral cats, or kittens). Feral cats are born in the wild and therefore will have no collar as they have had no human contact.

What to do if you find a feral cat?

The process of capturing a feral cat is very like a stray - but much harder. Feral cats will happily eat food you have put down, but you are less likely to see them as they are more likely to come out at night when there are less people around.

  • Speak to a cat charity for help or advice. They can often provide you with a trap or come to trap the cat for you.
  • Once a feral cat has been successfully trapped, you can take them to a vet to be neutered. Most feral cats are then released back to their environment to live life wild.
  • Some feral cat colonies are also relocated to live on farmland and act as pest control.

What to do if you find an injured cat?

If you find an injured cat, take it to your nearest vet for emergency care. You can use a blanket to pick it up or ask around cat owning friends to borrow a carrier. The vet will also be able to scan for a microchip, and if one can be found, be able to contact the owner.

What to do if you find a deceased cat?

Sadly, if you come across a dead cat, there is likely to be a concerned owner trying to find their pet. It is important to take the cat to your nearest vet, who will be able to scan it for a microchip. If you are unable to do so, ask around for friends and family who can help.

The vet will be able to contact the owners to let them know what has happened to their pet if it is microchipped.

If there is no microchip, the vet may be able to store the cat for a while, in case the owner starts calling veterinary practices to ask if a cat has been recently brought in.

Keep an eye on local Facebook pages for any reports of a lost cat, if you see a lost poster of a cat like the one you found, direct the owner to contact the vets.

Don’t forget!

In England from the 10th June 2024, it will be compulsory to have your cat microchipped from 20 weeks of age.