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Spotted a stray cat and not sure what to do? Our guide has everything you need to know about what to do when you find a stray cat.

Cats are known for wandering – some have even been known to roam half a mile away from home on a regular basis. However, sometimes a cat might stray too far and get lost, or they may not have a home to go back to.

How to tell if a cat is stray

When you see a new cat around, or even one you keep seeing but your neighbours don’t know who their owner is, it can be tricky to tell whether the cat is a stray, owned or feral.

It can be particularly difficult to spot the difference between a stray and feral cat. Feral cats live outdoors away from people and are not domesticated. Some things to look out for to identify a stray cat rather than a feral cat include:

  • appearance. A stray cat might look a little skinny or underweight. If the cat looks well-groomed and healthy, try asking neighbours or checking lost and found groups as they may have an owner
  • company. Stray cats are usually alone (whereas feral cats tend to live in colonies). They may be shy and timid at first, but might come to you over time whereas a feral cat is unlikely to come near you at all
  • location. Stray cats tend to stay near houses and people, so you might find them in your garden or trying to get into your house
  • they’re new. A stray cat may have just appeared and seem confused. Feral cats will usually be very familiar with the area they live in

You can find out more about the difference between a stray cat and a feral cat in our downloadable guide.

What to do if you find a stray cat

If the cat seems friendly enough to safely get them into a cat carrier yourself, take them to the nearest vets for scanning in case they are just lost. You can also contact your local Cats Protection or a nearby animal shelter as they will be able to check to see if there are any matching reports of lost cats in the area and possibly scan the cat for a microchip. If the cat is just visiting you occasionally then a paper collar is a great way to potentially find out if there is an owner.

You can read more about what to do if you find a cat in our free guide.

If you're worried about a stray cat's health, contact the following on their emergency numbers:

  • RSPCA (England and Wales) 0300 1234 999
  • USPCA (Northern Ireland) 028 3025 1000
  • Scottish SCPA (Scotland) 03000 999 999

If you find a cat who is sick or injured, approach with care by carefully covering the cat in a blanket before picking them up and putting them in a cat basket - this keeps them safe as well as protecting you from claws! You can then take them to your nearest veterinary practice. Vets provide emergency treatment and care to sick or injured animals at no cost to the finder.

Can I keep a stray cat?

If you find a stray cat, you should first attempt to find their owner. You can keep the cat safe until you do so by offering them shelter and food, but you should get them scanned for a microchip and check any lost and found pages online first.

Once you are sure the cat is stray and doesn’t have a home and owner waiting for them, if you are happy to you can adopt the cat yourself. We would always recommend having them microchipped so if they go roaming again they are more likely to be reunited with you. You can find out more about microchipping on our website.

If you can’t care for the cat yourself, give your local Cats Protection branch or centre a call as we may be able to rehome them for you.

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