Sadly stray cats are not an uncommon sight on British streets and it's estimated that there are over nine million living homeless in the UK today.
The majority of stray cats had a home once. Some have been deliberately abandoned, whilst others have simply become lost. Unneutered cats in particular are prone to wandering far from home in search of a mate, and many never find their way back. This is why neutering and microchipping are so important.
There are some stray cats who have never had a home, and these are classified as feral. Feral cats are born outside, to stray mothers, and have little to no experience of humans. They revert to a wild state and once they have reached adulthood, can never be fully socialised.
Stray and feral cats do not have a good quality of life, particularly in urban areas. If you want to prevent their suffering, the most important thing you can do is have your own cat neutered and microchipped.
However, if you have found a stray, there are some steps you can take to help him or her, in addition to contacting your nearest cat rehoming centre.
Stray cat, lost cat, or just someone’s pet?
Before you take any action for a suspected stray cat, it’s best to establish with as much certainty as possible that the cat really is homeless, and not someone’s pet who is simply out for a wander, or who has become lost.
Thankfully, there are some steps you can take to deduce this, whilst also potentially reuniting any lost cat with his or her owners.
Make a collar out of paper and cello-tape for the cat to wear. Write your number on the collar clearly and if possible, a note requesting that the cats’ owner contacts you. If after 2-3 days the collar remains on the cat and you have not received a text or a call, the cat is likely to be lost or a stray, and you can proceed to having him or her scanned for a microchip.
Microchips are implanted under the skin at the back of a cats’ neck, and when scanned can provide an animal care professional with the contact number and address of the cat’s owner. Many cats are microchipped, particularly if they are well looked after pets.
Any vet should perform a microchip scan free of charge for a suspected stray cat, and it takes just seconds to carry out. You can find your nearest vet using this website: http://www.any-uk-vet.co.uk
After giving the chosen vet a quick call so that they know to expect you, transport the cat in a secure cat carrier. Many vets or animal shelters will loan these to you, often for free or for a small refundable deposit, or they can be purchased from a pet shop. If you are concerned about getting the cat into the carrier, you can begin feeding him or her inside it up to one week prior to the vet visit, so that the cat becomes accustomed to going inside.
If the cat is microchipped, the vet will contact his or her owner and let them know that their cat has been found. Many lost cats have been reunited with their owners this way.
If the cat is not microchipped, ask the vet to perform a quick health check and provide an estimate on age, gender and if the cat is male, neutering status. You will need this information going forward.
Talk to your neighbours
It is always helpful to talk to your neighbours and even local business owners to attempt to get the history of a suspected stray cat. Local people may be able to tell you, for example, how long a cat has been in an area, whether the cat is owned or whether he or she had owners that moved away, effectively abandoning the cat.
Post on social media
You can also post a picture of the cat on local groups on social media, requesting that the owner, if there is one, contact you.
What about stray kittens?
No kitten should be outside before the age of 5 months at minimum. If you find a solitary kitten or litter of kittens living outside, please proceed to the next step.
The cat is a stray – now what?
Contact local rescue centres
If you have undertaken the above steps and feel confident that the cat is the stray, or if you have found a kitten outside, we suggest contacting local, no-kill rescue centres, including CatCuddles if you are based in London or North West Kent. The RSPCA do not take action for stray cats or kittens unless they are injured or seriously unwell.
If you are lucky, you will find a charity able to offer the cat a place right away; however most charities are so overwhelmed with rehoming and stray cat enquiries that they must maintain waiting lists. For this reason, we suggest contacting multiple charities and having the cat added to several waiting lists, with the cat going to whichever charity has a space available first. This can cut down waiting time considerably.
For kittens, elderly or injured cats, many charities will attempt to help in a shorter time scale if possible, treating the case as an emergency.
You can find a list of cat charities and their contact details here: https://www.catchat.org/index.php/cat-rescue-centres-uk-ireland
Help us to help you
When you are concerned for the welfare of a stray cat and eager to get him or her off the streets, it can be frustrating that charities are unable to help right away.
For charities like CatCuddles who believe that all cats deserve a loving home, this is not due to a lack of desire to help, but simply because there are too many strays and not enough spaces, funds and volunteers to help them all right away. Charities are under huge pressure thanks to a massive feline over-population crisis; sadly caused by a lack of neutering, irresponsible breeding and cat ownership.
However there are some ways that you can potentially speed up the process of rehoming a stray cat – by making the job of overworked charities a little easier.
Donate to cover the cats’ care costs
To take a stray cat from the streets and ready him or her for adoption usually costs CatCuddles a minimum of £135. This amount covers the basics; vaccinations, neutering, flea and worming treatments, admin and fuel costs, microchipping and food and litter for two months (the average length of time it takes for our cats to be adopted). Since many stray cats are injured, unwell or in poor condition, veterinary treatment regularly bumps these costs up further. As a result, it is a constant financial challenge for CatCuddles and other small charities, who receive no funding aside from donations, to rescue and rehome strays.
You can help to remove this obstacle when contacting a charity like CatCuddles about a stray cat, by offering to donate towards his or her care. At CatCuddles, you can even sponsor the cat under our special Sponsored Waiting List scheme – more information can be found here.
Create a profile of the cat
Pictures of the cat and some basic information about his or her personality are always useful.
They can be used to generate adoption interest in the cat or to fundraise for his or her care before arrival, and pictures in particular help charities to get an idea of a cats’ basic condition and make a deduction on age. It's also important to ascertain whether or not the cat is feral, as a feral cat will likely need to be caught in a specialized cat trap.
Be willing to transport the cat
Since volunteers already have many demands on their time, it can be immensely helpful when the finder of a stray cat is willing to transport him or her where necessary – to a rehoming centre or to a local vet for example. At CatCuddles, we often ask that strays are taken straight to our collaborating vets for neutering – this prevents them becoming pregnant or breeding with other strays, creating more homeless cats whilst they are waiting for a place with the charity.
Of course, this is only an option if the cat is friendly, and you feel comfortable putting him or her in a secure cat carrier for transportation.
Foster the cat
Fostering a cat until a space becomes available at CatCuddles or your chosen charity guarantees that he or she is safe, comfortable and fed during the waiting period. It is something that needs to be considered very carefully however – do you have the space and time to care for the cat, even if just temporarily?
We suggest fostering in one room of your home, with the door kept shut and a litter tray made available, and can work with you to obtain proper flea and worming treatments for the cat before bringing him or her inside. We recommend against mixing the cat with existing pets in order to avoid any disruption, fights, and the risk of cross infection.
Create an outdoor shelter
An outdoor shelter will provide a stray cat with a dry, warm place to sleep whilst he waits for a rescue space. Outdoor shelters can be purchased from pet shops or online at a range of prices – we recommend browsing ZooPlus.co.uk – or can be made cheaply from household materials. Both written and video tutorials on how to create your own DIY shelter are plentiful online – here are some examples from Catster and YouTube .
We recommend placing any outdoor shelter in your front or back garden, rather than in a public place, both for the safety of the cat and the public.
Don’t show up on the doorstep with a cat!
Many people mistakenly believe that rehoming a cat is as simple as dropping him or her off at a shelter, but unfortunately, because of feline over-population, this is often not the case. As already mentioned, charities like CatCuddles are hard pressed for space, with long waiting lists of cats in need of rehoming. Showing up on a charity doorstep with a cat often puts volunteers in awful position – either turning the cat away, or accepting it and bumping a cat on the waiting list who has been potentially been there for weeks!