STEP ONE: ASK AROUND

First, check whether the cat has an ear-tip, which is when the very top of one ear has been (painlessly) clipped to be flat instead of pointed. It’s the badge of a community cat, indicating the cat has been through a trap-neuter-return program and has an outdoor home.

No ear-tip? Talk to your neighbors to find out whether the cat is already somebody’s pet (most lost cats are found within five houses of the one they escaped from) or if they live outside and are being taken care of. Try texting, calling or even knocking on doors, as well as posting flyers around the neighborhood and on social media. If you discover the cat has a home or is being looked after, your job is done. If not, the cat may be fending for themselves and hanging around people hoping someone comes along—someone like you.

A cute cat walking outdoors
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STEP TWO: TAKE THEM TO THE VET

Outdoor cats who aren’t being cared for need a trip to the veterinarian to keep them healthy. They need vaccines and—most importantly—to be sterilized. If the cat you found won’t walk into a carrier, the best way to get them to the vet is by using a humane box trap.

  • Lure the cat into the trap with food; feed them at the same time and place every day to establish a routine.
  • Set an appointment to have the cat spayed/neutered and vaccinated. Your local animal shelter or cat rescue can usually help you locate both a trap and a vet who works with stray/feral (community) cats.
  • The day before the appointment, set the trap with food inside. If everything goes smoothly, the cat will arrive for their meal and walk right in. Cover the trap with a towel or blanket and keep them somewhere safe for the night.

At the vet appointment, the cat will receive vaccines and get spayed/neutered, as well as ear-tipped. Within a day, they’ll be back with you—and no longer contributing to the cat overpopulation problem! Maybe they’ll even become an indoor cat (and your new pet!); after all, about a third of cats with forever homes had been adopted as strays.

STEP THREE: CELEBRATE

You just saved a life and helped solve, in a small way, a national problem! You can do even more by learning about trap-neuter-return and finding groups in your area.

Two baby kittens sleeping
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What about kittens?

It's possible to help kittens too! Once they reach two pounds, they're ready to be spayed/neutered and vaccinated—and to find new homes.

However, if you do find a group of tiny newborn kittens and their mom is nowhere to be seen, resist the urge to scoop them up and wait instead. The mother cat may be nearby getting food or may even be hiding from you. If you don’t see her within a few hours or the kittens appear to be in distress or in an unsafe location, then you can act.

First, make sure they’re warm (don’t feed them when they’re cold), then reach out to your local shelter or cat rescue group for help. No group nearby? Learn what to do.