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What to do if you find a stray cat

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Most cats are by nature, inclined to wander - so it seems inevitable that you might come across a stray. Unlike dogs, there are very few laws that give cats legal protection and for our helpline team, one of the most frequently asked questions is what to do when finding a stray cat.

Is it a stray cat?

Cats can often appear lost and wanting for food and this doesn’t necessarily mean they are a stray. If the cat appears a healthy weight and well groomed, they might belong to someone else – worth thinking about before you take the cat in for yourself.

Ask your neighbours if they recognise the cat. There might be someone in the local area frantically searching for their lost pet. Check out local newspapers for listings of a missing cat, or post up a photo on community Facebook groups.

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What should I do if I find a stray cat?

If the cat is friendly enough to approach, check if there is a collar or ID tags – if it belongs to someone, you can give them a call to arrange a happy reunion. If there are no visible signs of ownership, take the cat to your local veterinary clinic or Cats Protection branch. The cat will be scanned for a microchip and contact can be made with the registered owners. Visit our Find Us page for details of your nearest branch.

Keep the cat safe

In the meantime, keep the lost cat safe and provide it with food and clean water. It is advised not to give a cat cow’s milk as many are lactose intolerant. If you’re unable to take the cat home with you, you might want to provide it with a temporary shelter. Try a sturdy cardboard box with an old blanket or take a look at our blog post on how to build a stray cat shelter.

Advertise the found cat

Download our poster pack of printable posters to advertise the missing cat in your local area – it might just catch someone’s eye. Post a picture on your local area’s Facebook group as well as the Cats Protection page and CatAware page. Do the same on Twitter; you’re likely to reach a larger number of people if you ask your followers to retweet.

I’m worried about a stray cat’s health

A lost cat might be nervous, especially if sick and injured – so approach with caution. The safest way to move the cat is to carefully cover him in a blanket before picking him up. This keeps the cat safe as well as shielding you from claws!

If you're worried about the health of the cat, call the RSPCA on 0300 1234 999 (UK) or SSPCA (Scotland) on 03000 999 999. If the cat is injured, take it to the nearest veterinary practice. The RSPCA has an agreement with the British Veterinary Association (BVA) to provide initial emergency assessment and care for sick and injured animals. In all cases, you must have obtained prior authorisation by calling the RSPCA before attending the veterinary surgery.

I’ve found stray kittens. What should I do?

If you find stray kittens, you should first check that their mother is around. There might be no sign of the kitten’s mother but she may be frightened to return while you are there.

Check in a few hours and if the mother has not returned, you should call your local vet or Cats Protection branch. Give them as much detail as possible about the environment the kittens are in and they should be able to advise you on the best thing to do in this situation.

Kittens need veterinary care with worming, vaccinations and neutering before being rehomed, so it’s best to hand them into a rehoming centre as soon as possible.

I’ve accidentally hit a cat with my car. What should I do?

Unfortunately it is not unusual for cats to be involved in car accidents and although there is no law requiring you to report it, making an attempt to let the owner know is a good thing to do. If the cat is killed and you are able to pick it up, take it to a vet or rehoming centre to be scanned for a microchip. While it isn’t an easy thing to do, it’s always better for owners to know what has happened to their cat.

If the cat is alive and injured, take them to your nearest veterinary clinic. The vet should be able to find an owner or speak to a local rehoming centre to take in the cat after treatment.

How can Cats Protection help?

If you’ve had no luck in finding the lost cat’s owner, pick up the phone and speak to our National Information Line on 03000 12 12 12. They can give you the details of your nearest Cats Protection branch for a lost and found register. The Helpline team will also be able to send you some paper collars - you can also download these below. Put these on the cat with your contact details asking people to get in touch if the cat belongs to them.

Thankfully, many missing cats are reunited with their owners and in 2014, we helped reunite 3,000 cats with their owners. Unfortunately, there are cases where the cat has been abandoned and no owner will come forward. If you have no luck in finding an owner, contact your local Cats Protection branch. Our volunteers and staff will do their best to locate an owner and if no owner can be found, they’ll find a loving home for them.