We get lots of reports of “Found” cats, and these have increased during the pandemic when more people are at home and noticing cats in the area that they have not noticed before. It’s important to distinguish between lost (or ‘stray’) cats and feral cats, and to learn to spot signs that a cat is owned and cared for. This determines the action you and we should take.
A cat’s territory can cover a wide area, and it is thought that entire (unneutered) cats can cover up to 10 miles in search of a mate! Our general advice is that unless you have immediate cause for concern regarding the cat’s welfare, then the cat is most likely just passing through, or considers your garden part of its territory. Does the cat look healthy and of a good weight? If the answer to both questions is yes, then it is most likely an owned cat.
A genuinely lost or abandoned cat may have dirty fur, and we find they tend not to move at all from a place they have deemed safe. So instead of being a daily visitor, passing through your garden at a set time, it will often be seen staying close to one place. You can therefore usually rule it in or out as a lost cat by knocking on neighbours’ doors to identify who owns it. Don’t forget the houses opposite, or those which back on to your garden.
Lost or feral?
A feral cat will often look in pretty good condition, but will be almost completely unapproachable by humans. They will sometimes come near to human homes in search of easy pickings, but will not allow you to pet them and will either be aggressive or very timid. They may accept food but will not eat it if you’re too near and will keep a watchful eye on you. It will also often keep its tail down, whereas domesticated cats often walk with their tail up. If you see a ‘stray’ cat with a tip of one ear missing then it is almost certainly feral – ear tipping is a sign that the cat has been trapped, neutered and returned to its home territory as part of a cat welfare programme. There is further advice about feral cats at the bottom of the page in the rehoming section.
Unwell or old?
You should not take a cat to the vet simply to scan for a chip - we can send a volunteer out to do that.
It's important to note that visual signs that people tend to associate with a straying cat are often simply signs of old age. An elderly cat may have scruffy fur, be thinner, and less steady on their feet - much like humans! Whereas a lost cat may stop grooming itself because it doesn't have sufficient clean drinking water. It sounds daft but old cats tend to look and sound...old (!) as well as be a bit scruffy. It's really important NOT to pick a cat up off the street and take to the vet unless there's an immediate medical need. Examples of medical emergencies would be signs of obvious recent injury, blood loss, vomiting, uncontrolled diarhoea, excessive drooling, or being unable to stand/falling over. Phone a vet/out of hours service if unsure.
If you do take an injured cat to the vet ensure they take down details of exactly where the cat was found (street, nearest house number, or What3Words location) so that an owner may be found if it's not chipped.
Found Cat Advice
- Do not feed, but do leave fresh clean drinking water out.
Cats are particularly good at pretending to be ravenous, and so will very rarely turn down a good meal. We strongly recommend against feeding the cat as it will encourage it to keep coming back, which may eventually lead to the cat no longer going back to its own home. This could be construed to be cat theft. Another reason not to feed is in case the cat has medical issues that can be triggered by certain foods; IBD, colitis, allergies, etc; all of which are surprisingly common.
The only time we would recommend feeding is if paper collaring and scanning have already been done without an owner being found, and/or the cat is very obviously thin (but check with us first). Be aware that elderly cats can be scruffy and thin as a matter of course and it doesn’t indicate hunger. We’ve seen genuinely starving cats shake with hunger when they’re eating, and they will overcome virtually any level of fear to get near the food. You can tell if a cat is underweight by feeling it’s back – you should be able to feel a cat’s spine, and ribs, through its fur, but they shouldn’t be prominent or visible. Cats are lactose intolerant so never give a cat cow’s milk. We would encourage you to leave fresh clean drinking water out in a shallow dish.
- Paper collar
Popping a paper collar on the cat is the quickest way to identify whether the cat has an owner or not. The collar should include your phone number so that the owner can call you to confirm that the cat is owned. Instructions on creating a paper collar can be found here–
https://bit.ly/2AzUSz2 Please pay particular attention to fitting the collar correctly. You should be able to fit two fingers between collar and cat. Do not tape all the way around – a collar should be reasonably easy for a distressed cat to remove.
- Check for a chip
This is the next quickest way to locate an owner. Contact us via the Lost & Found Facebook page, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or phone 0345 260 2749 and we will send one of our volunteers out or put you in touch with another volunteer organisation who can come out. *Do not take a cat to the vet unless there's a medical need, or unless it's a last resort*. It's highly distressing for cats to be taken to vets, and it can disorientate them if not returned to the correct location and they do then become lost, even if only yards from home.
- Advertise/Ask around
Take a picture of the cat and ask neighbours if they know who the cat belongs to. Contact us and we'll create a social media post, which you can then also share on local groups/pages. Ask local shops/vet clinics if they will allow you to put up a poster. Add the cat to Pet Search UK.
Please Inbox us with the answers to the following information:
- Street name
- When did you first notice the cat?
- How often do you see the cat?
- Full description of the cat (colour, fur length, any distinguishing features)
- Cat’s gender (if known)
- Do you suspect the cat to be pregnant?
- Will the cat let you approach it and if so, are you able to pet it?
- Do you suspect the cat to be injured or unwell – if the issue needs urgent attention, please contact the RSPCA on 0300 1234 999 or contact your nearest vet.
- Photos – please provide at least 3 photos, including 1 clear picture of the cat’s face and 1 clear picture of the full body. This will help us to match the cat with any lost cats that have been reported to us.
Rehoming Found Cats
Once we are satisfied that all the above measures have been taken, and no owner has been found, we will endeavour to find the cat a new home if it is the best thing to do for the cat. It may seem frustrating that it takes a while to follow the process, but legally you have to make ‘two reasonable attempts’ to locate a lawful owner. We do also operate a waiting list, and will prioritise cats for foster spaces according to their needs. Of course we treat urgent cases accordingly and, if we don’t have a space, we will liaise with, or advise you of, other reputable rescue organisations to approach. When we take a cat into our care we then work to find the most appropriate home for its needs.
Feral Cats. that have been living in the area for years should not be moved. It is a breach of the Animal Welfare Act to attempt to move a feral cat away from its territory unless it’s in immediate danger by remaining where it is. Feral cats should never be homed as domestic pets as they will find this highly stressful. It’s a specialist job to relocate a feral cat or colony and you should contact either Cats Protection or the RSPCA if you believe this is needed.
Our volunteers will assess the situation to determine what is in the best interests of the cat.
If the cat is not neutered, we will arrange for this once all attempts at seeking an owner have been exhausted. If Cats Protection does determine that it is in the best interests of the cat to be re-homed, we will add the cat to our waiting list to come into our care. The person who reported the cat to us will be asked to sign a form relinquishing the cat into our care. This is purely procedural.
For further advice and information please go to https://www.cats.org.uk/help-and-advice/lost-found-and-feral-cats/stray-cats