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How to help stray cats in your area

Stray cats are no different to pet cats - they may have an owner waiting for them somewhere

Cats can become strays for a variety of reasons and sometimes cats with owners can be mistaken for strays. It’s important to try and find the owner of any cat you think may be a stray – including placing a paper collar on a cat, creating ‘found’ posters and advertising on social media and other online resources such as Animal Search UK.

Many people think to call the RSPCA for help when they see a healthy stray cat in their neighbourhood but the charity, whose focus is on rescuing animals who are sick, injured or being badly treated, would like to remind the public that we sadly cannot help healthy stray cats.

RSPCA chief inspectorate officer Dermot Murphy said: “We prioritise rescuing neglected and abused animals and we simply don’t have the resources to come out to help with healthy stray cats. Cats are also incredibly resourceful which means some stray cats are quite happy being stray cats and live great lives!

“As we are now in our busiest season, we’re urging the public not to call us about healthy stray cats as it could block our phone lines and prevent an emergency call from getting through.”

Instead, the charity has outlined its top tips for helping healthy stray cats;

  • Try and find their owner – Remember that a stray cat could just be a lost cat so it’s important to try and find an owner first. Ask around to see if anyone owns the cat, pop a post on your local Facebook group, or if the cat is friendly enough to get close to, try popping a paper collar on them which states this cat has been visiting you and asks the owner to call you. If these methods don’t work out, a local cat welfare volunteer might be able to visit to scan for a microchip.

  • Leave out some food – If no owner can be found and you want to help this cat, you can leave some food out for them and a shelter for when the weather is bad but please know that by feeding a stray cat there’s a chance that you could become legally responsible for their welfare under the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

  • Create a community cat fund – Quite often, community cats have more than one feeder. If this applies to you and your neighbours, it is worth agreeing between yourselves who is responsible for the cat and for ensuring their welfare needs are met. It may be worth creating a community cat fund with your neighbours to cover unexpected costs.

  • Rehome the cat – Taking responsibility for the cat yourself is a fantastic way to help a stray cat. If you have done all you can to try and find an owner and you’ve taken the time to consider whether you have the time, money and resources to care for a pet cat, then rehoming a stray cat is a wonderful thing to do. This means the cat can stay in a place they know and feel comfortable and have someone looking after their welfare.

Stray cats spend a lot of time outdoors and many are happy with the freedom of that lifestyle. However, without somebody responsible helping to keep them safe and well-fed, they can end up with injuries or nasty health problems.

What to do if you find a sick, injured or pregnant stray cat?

  • If you find an injured stray or feral cat and they’re approachable, please confine them and take them to a vet, if possible.

  • If you’re taking a sick or injured stray cat to the vets and the cat just needs minimum care, you might be expected to take the cat away and fit a paper collar if needed to track down the owner.

  • If you’ve found a pregnant cat, unless she appears to be sick or injured, there’s usually little to worry about. She’ll probably have a home and owner nearby, or she may be a healthy stray. We understand you may be worried about the cat and want to help, but sometimes it can be best to leave the mum-to-be alone.

  • If she is in labour, give her space and try not to disturb her. You can leave her a little bowl of water and a shelter nearby should she need it, whilst you try to track down an owner.

  • If a cat in labour appears lethargic, distressed or struggling please contact a vet immediately.

  • If you find a healthy mum and kittens in a safe area, it’s best to leave them alone – don’t move them unless they’re at risk. If you can’t find an owner and you think mum is a stray, call your local animal rescue for advice. They may talk to you about giving a helping hand by providing food, water and outside shelter to help protect mum and kittens from extreme weather, however, if they appear sick or injured please contact your local vet for advice.

  • If you’ve found a young, stray kitten without their mum and in need of help please contact a vet or local rescue organisation.

  • If you’ve found an injured or sick stray cat or kitten on a busy road, please do not put yourself in danger – contact the emergency services.

Samantha Watson, RSPCA cat welfare expert, said: “Each stray cat will have a different story – they may have been abandoned, they may have become lost or they may have moved away from their home because they weren’t happy.

“Some stray cats quite enjoy an outdoorsy lifestyle, especially if they aren’t well suited to a home environment. They can thrive outside quite well by themselves but sometimes a stray cat may need a helping hand.

“If you are sure cats are un-owned, feeding stray cats in your community or rehoming a stray cat is a fantastic way to help a stray cat get back on their paws!”