We get multiple phone calls and messages every week from members of public reporting stray cats that they have found. Whilst we appreciate that these are well-meaning and people are genuinely concerned for the health and wellbeing of the animal, these cats are often not strays at all. There are a number of signs you can look out for before you decide to contact us.
How to tell if the cat is a stray
When you approach the cat, how does it react? A friendly cat will approach you asking for attention, suggesting it most likely has a home and is just visiting for more food - cats are notorious for visiting many houses around the area they live in as they are happy to eat anywhere! A feral cat will react with fear aggression including hissing and swiping, and will keep their eyes flat to their head and their whiskers forward. They are also very hard to catch as they are not used to human contact, so for feral cats it's best to contact the National RSPCA as they can send an Inspector to assess the problem. A stray cat is likely to be in bad condition and therefore not as lively or approachable as a wandering pet. Stray cats are more likely to be grateful for food but may be too lethargic to seek it.
Look at the body condition of the cat - does it look healthy, or thin and bedraggled? A wandering pet will most likely be in good shape with no missing fur, open wounds or weight loss. Look out for the size and shape of the cat: a stray will be thin with ribs easily visible and dull fur and eyes whereas a wandering cat will most likely have glossy fur and be at least a normal weight. Even if you have seen a cat hanging around the area very regularly, if the cat's coat is glossy and it is of normal body weight it is highly unlikely that the cat is actually a stray. The Body Condition System Chart below can help you tell if the cat is underweight, which could hint at them being a stray.
What to do if you think you have found a wandering pet
If the cat you have found is healthy and in good condition, it is most likely somebody's pet that has decided to go exploring. Do not feed the cat, as this will make them return to the area in the future looking for more treats. Leave the cat alone and eventually it will go back to its owners when it is hungry enough to return home. If the cat does not leave the area within a few days, you can take it to the vet to scan for a microchip and contact the owners. If they do not have a microchip you can download and print out a paper collar here and put it on the cat so its owners know it is wandering. It is best to leave wandering cats where you found them, as removing them from the area can cause them to lose their bearings, making it harder to find their way home. Unless the cat begins to visibly lose body condition then do not worry.
What to do if you think you have found a healthy stray
If the cat you have found is underweight and desperate for food, take it to the vet. They can check for a microchip and contact the owners if there is one - cats can travel extremely far and get lost so the owners could be searching for it in a different part of the country. If no owner can be found, you can put up posters around the area and also visit the Pets Located website to help reunite the cat with its owner. If you begin to worry about the welfare of the cat and you are sure that it doesn't have an owner, give us a call and we will see what we can do to help.
What to do if you think you have found an injured stray
If the cat you have found is in very poor condition or has any injuries, do not move it. Call the National RSPCA on 0300 1234 999 and they can send an Inspector to collect the cat for immediate veterinary attention. They can then attempt to find the owner once the cat is in better health. Please remember, moving the cat can cause more harm than good depending on the nature and severity of the case, so just stay with it until an Inspector can arrive to help you.
You can find more information on stray and feral cats on the National RSPCA website here