Considering taking in a stray cat? Our vets in Everett have a few tips for how to do it safely, what to watch for, and how to care for a stray after taking it in.
If you’re an animal lover, you might have come across a cat you’ve never seen in a park, on the street or lounging in your backyard. You might start to wonder if this kitty needs your help, and whether you’d be able to offer it the space and quality of life it deserves.
In this post, we'll offer some advice about taking in stray cats safely, what they'll need, supplies to have on hand and more.
How to Know if a Cat is a Stray
While some definitions will vary, the term ‘stray’ typically refers to a cat who has been displaced from their home or is lost. Feral cats, which are born wild or have spent much of their life on their own, are another category and won’t be socialized or used to people.
You might have more of a challenge determining whether a cat is stray vs. a dog, since cats are more likely to roam even if they have an owner but have escaped their home or been let outside. If the cat in question looks dirty or wet, this may be one indicator that they might be a stray.
Check for I.D. tags, then take them to a place such as our veterinary clinic in Everett to be scanned for an identification microchip. If they have a microchip, staff at ours or another vet clinic can look up the microchip company to contact to identify the cat’s owner. However, while this is a good first step, if they do not have a microchip this doesn’t necessarily mean they do not have an owner.
Other measures to take to find out whether a cat is missing its owners is to look for missing pet posts on social media sites, looking for posters on area bulletin boards and calling local vet hospitals or animal rescues to see if they have any descriptions that match your new furry buddy.
Keep in mind that in some areas, you must due your “due diligence” to find the owner before you can keep or re-home a cat (look at your county’s or local pet rescue’s website for more information). If someone reaches out claiming the cat is theirs, ask for proof such as photographs, being able to describe distinguishing characteristics or features, etc.
How to Catch a Stray Cat
Your next steps will depend on the cat’s appearance and health, whether you have other pets at home, and what you intend to do with the cat (keep or rehome). Here are a few tips:
- Some stray cats are sociable and will trust easily, which makes them easier to catch. With others, you may need to lure them with food and quiet chatting while you gain their trust. A humane spring trap is also an option. These long, rectangular cages have spring-loaded doors. Sardines or other cat-friendly food can be placed inside to await them. When they step in, the door will shut behind them.
- If using a spring-loaded humane trap, watch the trap diligently to ensure they do not become dehydrated, fearful, scared or attractive to predators. There's also a possibility that raccoons, skunks or other animals may step into the trap and you'll need a plan to let them out safely (keep Animal Control's phone number handy), without getting close enough to expose yourself to dangers such as rabies.
- Keep yourself safe while approaching or handling a stray cat, as they may become fearful and scratch or bite, leading to scratches. Animal control or experienced rescue workers may be able to help.
- If the cat appears ill or injured, it’s important to bring them to Broadway Animal Hospital or a veterinary emergency room right away. They may be dehydrated, malnourished, or have a disease that should be diagnosed by a veterinary professional. Call ahead to ensure your chosen place is able to see your furry friend.
- If the cat looks like it’s in good health, put them in a secure room. Do not introduce them to family members or other pets yet, since cats who spend a prolonged period of time outdoors are at risk for numerous viruses, parasites and other communicable illnesses that can spread easily to other animals or people. They might also be feeling fearful or stressed. So, give them a quiet, safe room to relax and rest. Try to pick an area with hard surfaces that can easily be disinfected. Have food, water and a litter box in the room, and plan your next steps.
- If you’re planning to help the cat find a permanent home, reach out to a rescue organization, humane society or veterinary clinic before going, as most will not accept animals dropped off without prior approval. Never go straight to a vet hospital or rescue, or leave an animal on their property without notifying them.
Caring for a Stray Cat
Now that you’ve established some trust with the cat, you can make some more concrete plans and start to welcome your kitty into your home, if you choose to. Here are a few tips on how to do so:
See a Veterinarian
Planning to keep the cat? Arrange an appointment with a veterinarian at our veterinary hospital in Everett to have them examined, which may include testing for parasites, common viruses and infections.
Have Them Spayed or Neutered
During the exam at the vet’s have them check whether your furry friend is pregnant, and if not, whether they are spayed or neutered. Since stray cats and even those acclimating to a new home tend to spend more time outdoors, the responsible thing to do is to prevent unwanted litters.
Cat-Proof Your Home
If you’re thinking of keeping this cat as a pet, it’s time to make your home as safe and comfortable for your kitty as possible. Think empty cardboard boxes, pillows or other soft furnishings and hiding places for them to spend time as they adapt to their new environment.
You’ll also want to keep things that could attract curious paws out of the way if they could be harmful, such as toxic plants, food, electrical cords and more.
Budget for Expenses & Set Up Supplies
While it’s true that cats will find almost any quiet, soft space suitable to hide without you having to spend lavishly, there will be important expenses to budget for, such as food, supplies, kitty litter and medical emergencies or unexpected expenses.
While a litter box and food will probably be your first priorities, you can also purchase items such as a collar, treats and toys to help them feel at home.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.