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What to Do If You Find a Stray Cat

The American Humane Society estimates that there are about 58 million stray or feral cats living in the United States. Of these, 30 to 40 million are considered “community cats”—that is, they are not owned but live in close proximity to human communities. Some community cats may be entirely feral, shunning direct human contact, while others may be approachable.

Basic Cat Rescue Tips

1. First Contact 

If you encounter a stray cat, it’s important to assess the animal’s status—so you might want to begin by making a few quick observations: 

  • Is the animal visibly ill or injured? 

  • Is the animal malnourished? 

  • Is the animal approachable? 

  • Will the animal let itself be handled? 

Even a frightened or angry cat may calm down when approached slowly and with care.  Try offering a tasty treat—hunger will often override a cat’s flight instinct.

2. Contain the Animal

You’re going to need a way to contain and control the animal once it’s calm enough to be leashed or handled. A basic cat carrier is sufficient, but calm animals can often be transported in a cardboard box or wrapped in a blanket.  

3. When to Contact the Authorities 

If you encounter a stray that cannot be handled—whether because it is aggressive, malnourished, ill, or injured—contact your local police or animal control center. They can send someone to collect the animal and take it to a shelter for medical care. 

4. Check for a Chip 

Some community cats were once owned and have become strays later in life. Some of these previously owned pets may have been microchipped, so it’s worth having your local vet check for a chip. If detected, a chip will provide the prior owner’s contact information so the pet may be returned. 

5. Use Community Resources 

If your attempts to locate a stray cat’s prior owner fail, you may want to foster the animal for a few days, in case the owner tries to make contact. Also, you may choose to use internet community bulletin boards to alert others to your find and to see if an owner comes forward. And don’t be afraid to go old school and staple “found cat” posters (preferably with a picture of the animal) around your neighborhood—and be sure to include your contact info! 

6. Take Unidentified Strays to a Shelter 

A stray cat with no identification or chip should be taken to a nearby shelter for medical care. There, they can examine the animal, provide a bath and proper food, and attend to any health issues the animal may have (such as injuries, parasites, or skin infections, which are common among strays). If you are interested in adopting, talk with the shelter workers about the procedure and requirements. Adopting a stray can be an extremely rewarding experience for both pet and owner. 

Why Rescue? 

The number of stray and feral cats has been on the rise in recent years, and with only 2% of community cats being spayed or neutered, the stray overpopulation problem shows no signs of vanishing on its own. By rescuing and spaying/neutering a community cat (even if you don’t intend to adopt), you’re helping reduce the stray population. You’ll also be taking pressure off an already overburdened shelter system, where thousands of stray cats are euthanized annually due to overcrowding.

Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.

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