What to Feed Stray Cats

You may have noticed a stray cat sniffing his way around your neighbourhood, you may find one sitting in your garden or at your door, or you may even be put in a situation where you need to take action and rescue one.

Either way, you will be faced with a little bit of a dilemma – to feed or not to feed, and then you may wonder what to feed stray cats. First, there are a few things to consider before offering food or taking in a stray cat. The stray kitty may have a upset tummy, we recommend reading the best cat food for sensitive stomach.

Is the Cat Actually a Stray?

The first thing you want to establish is whether or not the cat truly is a stray cat, and isn’t just a cat that has been wandering around unfamiliar territory.

You should look for the obvious signs such as tags and collars. Also, stray cats tend to look more dishevelled, be less preened and have scars and bruises. Usually, they are not neutered either.

But, it is not always clear cut, as cats are increasingly being microchipped as opposed to collared and you may not be able to identify whether or not a cat is stray simply by looking at him. After all, felines are natural roamers and like to have a wander.

  • Consider taking the pet to a veterinarian to be checked for a microchip.
  • Check with neighbourhoods close by to ensure they haven’t lost a cat.
  • You could post pictures up around your area and online, and see if anyone comes forward.

You should always ensure you handle a stray cat carefully and cautiously; you do not know this kitty and he does not know you.

What to Do With a Stray Cat

So, you’ve determined that the cat you are dealing with is indeed a stray, and is not somebody’s lost pet. What do you do now?

  • You can take the cat to a shelter, who will try to rehome him.
  • You could find a suitable home for the cat.
  • You could take the cat on yourself, if you are able to do so.
  • You could leave him be, and let him live his life outdoors.

Regardless of what you decide to do with a stray, you will need to be in a position where you are able to safely handle him, and build a bond. This could be a challenge, especially if the stray once had an owner or has been mistreated.

Should I Feed a Stray Cat?

Although some people are very against the feeding of stray cats, you should, of course, absolutely feed a stray cat! Cats are now domesticated animals, and strays struggle to defend for themselves outside.

In general, most stray cats are starving, especially during the winter, and may not get many good meals. In fact, many stray cats rely on garbage cans and the odd mouse or bird to keep them fed; this is not nutritious at all and is detrimental to health.

It is not the cat’s fault that it is homeless, and many are often born to other stray cats outdoors; it is a bit cruel to let such intelligent and personable animals go hungry.

Many people are reluctant to feed strays because they are worried it will come back for more. But, so what? Cat food is relatively cheap, especially dry food, and you can even feed it relatively inexpensively from stuff in your own cupboards and refrigerators, as we will see below.

What About Feral Cats?

There is a big difference between stray cats and feral cats. Whilst stray cats may struggle to survive outside, feral cats happily live outside and are able to look after themselves, so long as it looks healthy! So, how can you tell the difference between a stray cat and a feral cat?

  • If the cat is not friendly and approachable, or is aggressive, it may be feral.
  • Feral cats generally look more dishevelled and worn out, due to the nature of living outdoors. Cat fights happen a lot, and they tend to have battle scars. Feral cats do typically have clean and well-kept coats, however.
  • They usually do not meow, beg, purr or make eye contact.
  • More likely to be nocturnal, but can occasionally be found out and about during the day.
  • Feral cats are unlikely to come back if you feed them, as they are independent, and they will never adapt to living indoors should you trap one and try it.

You can of course feed a feral cat, it will probably be happy to take your offerings, but you may never see it again. The bottom line is, feral cats are adapted to living outdoors and can survive off their own backs.

What to Feed Stray Cats

If you decide to feed the stray cat, you may be wondering what exactly to feed it.  Some people are against feeding stray cats because it will encourage them to come back to where they were fed, possibly bringing more strays with them.

But, unless stray cats are causing a specific problem, there is no issue with feeding them. The problem lies with what to feed stray cats, more than if you should feed them.

Cats who have been living independently, without humans, will have been relying on their predatory instincts to catch prey and survive. Therefore, they would have been chowing down on the likes of fish, insects, mice, birds, rabbits and any other small animals. So, what exactly should you feed your local stray?

Feeding a stray regular tinned cat food isn’t a bad idea. If you think about it, it will prevent the cat killing off too much of the local wildlife.

Things are not always as simple as this, though, and your local stray may turn his nose up at tinned or processed cat foods. So, what should you do in this case? What foods are suitable to feed to a stray?

Let’s start off with what not to feed a stray cat

Milk 

Whilst cats will drink milk, they lack the enzyme necessary to break down cow’s milk, so it’s best to avoid doing this. Water will do just fine. Feeding a cat cow’s milk can cause it digestive distress and do more harm than good.

Fruits & Veggies 

Cats are carnivores, fact. Although a hungry cat will eat anything, food like tomatoes and carrots may give them digestive issues, just like milk. Whilst fruits and vegetables are okay mixed with other food, it is not a viable solution alone. Also, some fruits and veggies are toxic to cats, so it’s best to steer clear of these.

Dog Food 

Dog food is the next best thing to cat food, right? Wrong! Pet foods are formulated to suit the animals they are designed for, and there are many biological and physiological differences between cats and dogs… so put the dog food back where you found it.

Protein 

Again, cats are carnivores. Protein is an amazing food source for them. When you’re thinking about what to feed stray cats, think protein. Cooked and boneless chicken, lamb and beef is a great idea. Although cats will usually eat raw meat, it is best to give them it cooked as it avoids any bacteria issues. Consider mixing protein in with rice for added benefit.

Tuna 

Tuna is an ingredient in lots of commercial cat foods, and is a great fishy food source for felines. Its pungent smell will encourage a stray cat to eat it or come over to you. Be careful, though, and try and source pure tuna; lots of human tinned tunas will be very salty which is not good for cats.

Cats need taurine, it is an amino acid they rely on for heart function, among other things, and they need to get this taurine from a meat-based diet; cats cannot make their own taurine like other mammals. Because they are obligate carnivores (which means that they must eat meat) cats need to consume twice as much protein as dogs do, who are not obligate carnivores and don’t always need meat in their diets. So, the bottom line on what to feed cats is: plain, cooked meat – lots of it.

If you are going to commit to feeding a stray cat, you should be prepared to do it often. If it is a true stray, it is guaranteed to come back once you start feeding it. So, how often should you feed a stray?

  • Cats should be fed at least twice per day, eight to twelve hours apart.
  • Provide plenty of fresh, clean water, and have it available at all times.
  • Perhaps invest in some nutritious commercial cat food over time, to provide it with a well-balanced diet.

Catching a Stray Cat

There are several reasons why you may decide to try and catch a stray cat. Perhaps it is not responding well to you, even with feeding, and refuses to be touched or picked up.

Or, perhaps you have been feeding it for a while and want to give it a home, but it is still not trusting of you enough to let you pick it up.

Whatever the reason is, you need to be very careful and set a humane trap which will not harm it. Also, you should be absolutely certain that the kitty is indeed a stray, and not somebody’s lost pet or a feral cat.

  • A standard humane trap is a steel wire cage with a door which snaps shut behind the cat once it enters it. To lure the cat in, place some food inside the cage.
  • Place the trap in a familiar place, such as where you usually feed it, so it is easier for the cat to find.
  • If you’ve been feeding the cat for a long time, it may be a good idea to not feed the cat the day before you plan to trap it, this will ensure the cat goes straight for the food you have left it inside the cage.

Make sure you check the trap often so that the cat is not stuck in there for longer than it needs to be.

What to do When You’ve Caught a Stray Cat

If you are planning on taking in the stray, and are ready to provide it with a loving, caring home, then this is not an issue – just take the kitty inside.

But, for others who cannot take in strays, you may be stuck at what to do next. It entirely depends on the cat’s situation. If it is an adult cat, you could take it straight to a shelter or humane society who do not euthanize stray cats.

If the cat is injured, take it straight to a veterinarian; an injured cat will not be able to fend for itself or hunt for food. Do not re-release an injured cat!

Before taking the cat to a shelter, you should do your very best to find it a suitable home, because shelters are not great places for cats.

Try going around the neighbourhood and see if anybody has been considering on buying a cat, or adopting one. Post ads online to see if anybody comes forward and takes it in. Social media is a great tool for this, and there are many groups on websites such as Facebook dedicated to animal welfare. People in these groups may be able to point you in the right direction.

The Round Up

You can take many proactive steps to improve its outdoor lifestyle, such as regular feeding, looking out for its health and even taking it in to your home, or finding it a suitable home in your area. It takes very little effort to make a huge difference to a stray cat’s life, and a stray cat may very well become a companion to you.

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