Understand how you can help outdoor cats
If you've encountered a cat outdoors, you've probably wondered whom the cat belonged to or if they even had an owner. Outdoor cats are sometimes owned cats whose owner lets them out. Often, however, they are community cats—ferals or strays. You can help these cats in different ways.
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Stray cats may be friendly and approach you for food or attention or they may be too scared to let you get close. But they will usually eat immediately if you put food down for them. Use caution, since you don't know how these cats will react.
There are many ways you can help these cats:
- If the cat has identification, try to contact the owner.
- If you can get the cat into a carrier, take them to a veterinarian or animal shelter to be scanned for a microchip.
- Contact animal shelters, veterinary offices and rescue groups to let them know about the cat you've found. Someone may have filed a lost cat report that is a match.
- Ask neighbors and mail carriers if they're familiar with the cat.
- Post signs and place free ads in local newspapers.
- Create a "found pet" profile at The Center for Lost Pets.
It's helpful if you can provide shelter for the cat while you search for their owner. If no owner is found, you can try to find a good home for them or adopt the cat yourself. If you take the cat home with you, have them examined by a veterinarian before introducing them to your other cats.
The cat you're helping may be feral if they approach you when extremely hungry, but will only eat the food you've provided once you've walked away. A cat is probably feral if they're still unapproachable and cannot be touched after several days of feeding. Don't try to handle a feral cat. Most feral cats can't be adopted because they're too afraid of people.
One sign that a cat is a spayed or neutered feral is a tipped or notched ear (if the tip or section of an ear has been surgically removed). A stray cat who is spayed or neutered may also have a tipped or notched ear.
Stop overpopulation with TNR
Food and water are important parts of caring for community cats. But some people who are new to looking after these cats often don't realize that if they don't find a way to have the cats spayed or neutered, the number of hungry cats may soon become unmanageable as more and more kittens are born. Doing Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) will keep this from happening to you and the cats.
How to do TNR
If you're already feeding community cats, you may soon find yourself overwhelmed by kittens, kittens and more kittens—unless you take quick action to get them spayed and neutered. Use our community cat resources to get these cats spayed and neutered while their numbers are still manageable.
Find community cat resources
- Learn the basics of TNR by taking our Community Cats Webinar series and reading our information on TNR.
- Study in depth how to do TNR.
- Watch our Trap/Neuter/Vaccinate/Return video.
- Get help from an organization, agency or spay/neuter clinic that helps community cats.
Resolve conflicts with neighbors
Outdoor cats can often be the cause of complaints; from a cat who stalks birds at a neighbor's bird feeder to a group of community cats (known as a colony) on a neighbor's property. If you are helping people keep cats off their property or resolve nuisance complaints, we suggest the following resources:
Work with local groups
If you're really lucky, there is an organization or agency in your area that can help you TNR the feral cats you're feeding. They may also be able to help find homes for friendly strays and kittens. If this help isn't available in your community, you may still be able to find veterinarians who are willing to provide low-cost services for community cats.
Organizations and agencies that care for community cats need all the assistance they can get. Even if you've never seen a feral or stray cat, it's likely that they are in your community. You can make a big difference by doing the following:
- Spay or neuter your own cats before they can reproduce at four to five months of age.
- Get involved with or help to support organizations or agencies that help community cats.
- Become a community cat caretaker.
- Volunteer to socialize feral kittens.
- Volunteer to help at a spay/neuter event for community cats.
- Fundraise or write grant applications for an organization or agency helping cats.
- Educate your neighbors and community about outdoor cats.
- Donate to our Community Cat Program Fund.
Start your own group
If there's no local group helping community cats, you may decide to start one. Talk with others in your community and find some like-minded individuals to help share the workload.