How to Recognise a Stray Cat & Take Action

Unfortunately the life of a stray cat isn’t as glamorous as Disney’s Aristocats would have you believe. There are countless thousands of stray and feral cats in Europe, and for the majority of them life is about survival and hardship, as opposed to enjoying jazz. So how do you recognise the poor things, and most importantly – what do you do when you find one in your area?

Is it a stray?

Usually when you notice an unfamiliar cat roaming about your property it’ll most likely be local to your neighbourhood, perhaps exploring a little further afield than before. This isn’t unusual. Sometimes the cat will be entirely new to the neighbourhood and it’s simply exploring its territory whilst your new neighbours settle in. If it’s making visits periodically, there’s every chance that it’s going home after it visits you. If it’s visiting frequently, the general rule when it comes to recognizing a stray cat is desperate meowing. Some cats might be thin and display a few battle wounds, but given their ability to survive, this can’t always be relied upon as a tell tale sign – they may appear healthy.

It’s important to mention at this point, if you’re not entirely sure as to whether a cat showing up at your property is a stray or not – Don’t feed it. If it has a home and gets into the habit of visiting you for food, this can distress the cat’s real owners and be somewhat confusing to the cat as well. Always be sure before giving into your caring nature – difficult though it may be!

What to do

If you suspect you have a stray visiting your property the first thing to do is ask about. Ask each of your neighbours, who will have most likely seen it too. If it’s as much a mystery to them as it is to you, then it’s time to ask even further afield. Print off a few simple notices describing the cat (though if you can get a picture that’s even better), where he’s been spotted (if he frequents your property), along with your phone number – and place them in local businesses. It may also be worth calling your local radio station, as well as placing an advert in the ‘Lost and Found’ section of your local newspaper. Do whatever can do to find out whether this cat has an owner. If it seems increasingly likely that the cat doesn’t have a home, then it’s time to do something about it.

A helping hand

If the cat is a regular to your home and you no longer have any doubt it’s a stray, then by all means feed it. In a short space of time this will allow you to gain both the cat’s trust, and make sure it comes by more often. Using a cat carrier to place the food inside of will make the cat easier to trap later on. If you don’t own a pet carrier, borrow one from a friend or ask your local veterinary clinic. When you eventually do trap the cat (in a way that doesn’t cause the creature unnecessary distress) take it to your local veterinarian to see if they have a microchip and to check their overall health. This is the last step towards finding out whether the cat has an owner. If the cat hasn’t been chipped, the cat will need to be rehomed via a shelter. Your vet will be able to advise you on this.

Special cases

In some cases the stray that may visit you might require more attention. If you discover a suspected stray that seems to be in very poor health, then call your local pet rescue service immediately – time could be running out. The same goes for a pregnant cat, which will need immediate attention to ensure her health and the health of her unborn kittens. For strays of the more aggressive variety, such as unneutered males that may wonder into your home and begin to spray, steal, or attack your own pets; calling a shelter for advice would be the best option. It’s common for shelters to pay for cats to be neutered before rehoming them (as well as testing for diseases such as FIV) along with aiding in trapping them – so no cat is a lost cause, or beyond your help. According to, pets can be insured for pre-existing conditions, so should you fall in love with the stray you discover and end up adopting it, it’ll be of no extra cost to you than any other pet.


Compassion is the most important thing to remember when it comes to helping out a stray cat. There could be any number of reasons as to why the cat no longer has a home, or was born without one. Whatever that may be, they will almost certainly have had a hard time. It could be that their owners moved and left them behind, a pregnant cat might have left her home because she didn’t feel safe having her kittens there. Some cats might have come from a neglectful household, and others might have just lost their way home somehow. Showing a stray cat kindness and a little love when you assist them is the first step towards letting them trust people again, before they find a loving home to spend the rest of their days.

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