Lost and Found: How to Help a Stray Cat

Last month we talked about keeping your kitty safe and what to do if they become lost. But what do you do if you find a lost cat? This week, we’ll discuss the best ways you can help and how to determine what kind of help the cat needs.

The first step is to determine if the cat is actually lost, a stray, simply a roaming outdoor cat that knows how to get home or part of a local feral colony. Do a visual inspection to look for a collar or tags and take note of any potential injuries. Make sure you initially observe the cat from a safe distance. How’s the cat’s demeanor? Is the cat hiding and nervous? Or is the cat wandering freely and seem curious?

For help determining whether the cat is feral, here’s some tips at Alley Cat Allies. If the cat is feral, contact local feral groups for help. If the cat is an outdoor cat that’s simply roaming, they’ll typically have a collar and tag so you can contact the owner. Occasionally owners with roaming kitties will put a note on the tag stating they aren’t lost and are simply exploring.

If the cat appears injured, call animal control or use a Havahart trap. As a cat lover, it’s hard not to jump right in to help, but you also have to protect yourself from zoonotic diseases like rabies. Animal control is equipped to respond safely and quickly when an animal is injured. If you think the cat is feral and is injured, you can try contacting local feral rescue groups to see if they can help you. Remember if you trap the injured cat – whether it’s a stray or a feral – and take it to the vet for care, you assume responsibility for the cost of care. If you are unable to help the cat financially and the cat is injured, animal control is the best option.

If there’s no obvious signs of injury and the cat seems approachable, catch and safely contain the cat. Use a small safe space like a bathroom that’s easy to clean and is separate from your other pets. Provide cleaning bedding, food, water, litter box and a safe space to hide – a cardboard box or paper bag (without handles) works great. If there’s a tag, contact the owner immediately. But don’t be discouraged if you don’t see one. Take the cat to the veterinarian as soon as you can to scan for a microchip and have a physical exam. If the cat doesn’t have a microchip, you’ll need to keep the cat while you search for the owner or a new home, which could take weeks. If you have pets of your own, talk to your vet about the risk of communicable diseases before you introduce them. Obtaining a FeLV/FIV test and getting a rabies vaccine might be advised.

After determining there’s no tags or microchip, you’ll need to start searching for the owner. Check all lost ads on sites like Nextdoor, Craigslist, Facebook, lost pet databases, and the local paper. Contact local vet offices and animal shelters in case the owner calls their facility looking for their cat. You can also post a “Found” ad in case the owner is looking. Make “Found” posters and hang them around your neighborhood and near where the cat was found. Be sure to include a description and photo of the cat. It can be helpful to withhold a specific note about markings so that if someone calls they can correctly identify the cat, and you’ll have peace of mind that they are in fact the actual owner.

If you aren’t able to care for the cat while you search for the owner or a new home, contact local rescue groups to see if they have an available foster and can help you. You can also contact the animal shelter and see if they have space. Never leave a cat outside the door to a shelter, a fire station or vet’s office. By taking the cat in, you have assumed responsibility of the cat and need to be sure the proper protocol is followed.

While it can be a huge endeavor taking in a stray or lost cat, the reward is well worth it. Not only are you helping a cat in need, but you could end up gaining a new family member.






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