Adopting A Stray Cat

A stray or abandoned cat is in danger from predators, cars, stray dogs and unfortunately, people. Food can be hard to come by and in winter, fresh water is frozen over.

A warm place to sleep might be under someone’s car.

Adopting a stray is a gift for both the human and the cat. A stray cat is different than a feral cat. Feral cats won’t come near or let you touch them where a stray cat is more willing to be around humans.

An abandoned cat who had a family will look for another.

Initial Steps

Little kitten sitting on a street near the car wheel. Portrait of stray dirty cat outdoors

If you feel a stray cat is in danger and don’t want to wait to make friends before bringing him indoors, ask a shelter or your vet about renting a safe trap to capture him.

Food is placed near the rear of the trap and when the cat enters, the door closes.

Some traps have a way for you to put food and water in while closing off the cat to save your hands from claw or bite marks until he’s used to you.

The next step is to visit the vet for a checkup. He’ll need a rabies shot, required by law in most areas, feline distemper, and others as advised by your vet.

If a male cat, has he been neutered? It’s harder to tell if a female has been spayed—sometimes it’s a wait-and-see proposition.

veterinarian giving an injection to a cat. cat at the veterinary clinic. cat is injected with a syringe. doctor giving an injection to an animal

Look for a low-cost spay/neuter clinic to help defray the cost.

A stray will probably need to be dewormed. One blood test should tell you if the cat has feline leukemia, feline AIDS, or heartworms.


In for A Ride

a poor cat with wound on chest and leg from dog attack.A ginger cat wearing buster collar drinking water in the pet bowl inside the cage at pet hospital.

Prepare yourself: a stray cat might act like he's starving all the time.

A cat takes a while to realize that someone will serve meals in his bowl regularly, rather than the hit-and-miss schedule based on trash pick-up days.

Good quality food will help counteract the bad diet he had while on his own and be filling as well. Water in a bowl might prove fascinating to a cat who’s only seen water in puddles.

Health Benefits of a Stray Over Shelter Cats

“One benefit of a stray over a shelter cat is that he won’t have an upper respiratory infection,” says Dr. Cathy Alinovi, who has a rural practice in Pine Village, Indiana.

“One ill cat can infect the whole shelter. There are lots of animals in a small space. Respiratory diseases can become resistant to antibiotics over time.”

What happened in the first eight weeks of life, often impacts the health of a cat. With a stray, you know nothing of his medical history. Ask your vet what to watch out for, based on his exam.

A cat hiding under a couch

Building Trust and Bonding

It may take a while for a stray to warm up to you. He’ll eat but hide, play but not with you, sleep under the bed instead of on it.

Have patience—a home after being homeless, safety after living under constant threat, enough to eat after endless scrounging for food is and overwhelming.

All change is stressful, even the good kind. Add in a new human to train, and it’s no wonder kitty needs some space. With a little time and patience, he’ll come around and soon be a furry lap warmer.

“To take in a stray cat is to do a great thing,” says Dr. Alinovi. “You’re in for a ride, long or short. Make it a good one for both of you.”


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4 comments on “Adopting A Stray Cat

ron garguilo September 21, 2016
I fell in love with a feral cat who appeared om my front porch about three years ago.  She was about one and a half years old.  After about six months of leaving food and talking to her from a distance I was able to coax her into my front foyer.  She was very skittish and used to run under the coffee table and was not sociable. She would ask to go outside and pal around with her friends, we obliged. One day as winter approached, she came in and stayed.  We were delighted, she stayed under the  table.  We set up a regular feed station in the kitchen from which she ate and drank.  About a few weeks of this and my wife noticed that she was putting on weight.  Sure enough one afternoon she gave birth to three lovely kittens, all males. We were amazed and delighted.  No thought of giving them away.  The mother nursed them and we loved them.  Still no socialization from the mom to us.  After a while and checkups at the vet the mom cozied up to my wife, who was the chief caretaker by allowing her to be petted.  No interaction from her to me, however, she does sit by me in our den all the I am watching TV and pretty much stares at me, not aggressively, but almost lovingly.  Any attempt by me to pet her is rebuked, much to my chagrin.  She follows me from room to room and to our bedroom at night.  She will come up on the bed but as soon as I make an attempt to pet her she jumps down and runs under the bed.  I am heartbroken that I can't get her to be more friendly to me as I just adore her.  All of the kittens are grown now and enjoy our home.  They have never been outside and as I said are friendly to us.  The youngest is still standoffish to me but allows my wife to play with him.  I paly with the kittens and the mom with toys and a laser light, give them treats often and especially the mom . I try to give her extra special treats. all to no avail regarding social interaction.  Is there anything I can do to improve the situation?  Any help, or advice would be appreciated.  Thanks
boney girl dad March 22, 2016
My opinion is biased. Strays are the best. Boney Girl was a stray, Xena was a stray and my very first cat back in 1960 something was a stray. A stray cat is the only cat that chooses you. What an honor! I'm ready Lord, lend me another.
mikvillage July 16, 2013
i have a stray that ihave been feeding since fall 2011 i got a kitty camper that is heated for the winter i finally was able to touch him when i fed him he last feb he disappeared for a couple of days by that time he was coming in to eat and sleeping and going back out during the day i have 3 other cats they got along he finally came back i took him in to get him fixed he tested pos for leukemia i was heartbroken he come a long way and i was hoping he would be around for a long time i got him back home and after his t level lowered he really turned into a great cat instead of running around and getting into fights he likes to lay around and eat he learned to play with toys he tried to chase around the others they where a little intimidated the vet guessed his age at about 3 he is currently fighting off a nasty uri i cant get him to vet he is to wild for that since getting fixed he will not anything to do with the carrier i cant pill him so i gave him a subq shot of anti biotics from the vet and hope he starts feeling better he means alot to me
ntorres1031 June 26, 2013
I've posted this before on this site before but I would like to say that I rescued a feral cat, I named him Snow, last August. He still runs away at times from me, but sometimes he'll sleep on my bed (the foot of the bed). But like I've learned from people who are experts with ferals, they tend to take two steps forward and one backwards. He is doing wonderfully, he has gained so much weight, he is learning to play with toys. The joy he brings to me; especially when I get home and I look at him knowing that he is safe. I have three other cats (domestic); they all get along just great. And they say that ferals cannot be adopted. Not true. That's him on my profile picture. He's on my windowsill. He is a true feral cat. He was born in the street; never had human contact. But now, his life is turning around slowly but surely for the better. I changed his life just as much as he has changed mine. I love him with all my heart. Thank you.

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