What’s Wrong With Feeding Stray Cats?

Updated June 6, 2021

It all starts innocently enough, An unknown cat starts hanging around the house and looks like she doesn’t have a home. So the householder starts to worry that she’s hungry, and puts out some cat food for her. The next thing she’s hanging around every day and sometimes even coming in the house. Before too long she can always be found somewhere around the yard.

So what’s wrong with this?

Two big things.

1. Population Control

if this cat is truly a stray the person doing the feeding is about to witness the population explosion only a well-nourished female cat can create.

From one homeless cat numbers will rapidly swell into double figures. The offspring mature and have kittens of their own. These new cats are all utterly dependent on the regular food supply for their survival, and are typically affected by multiple infectious diseases. A person who starts feeding the one cat out of a caring attitude will find the developing disaster a great psychological burden.

This can’t go on for ever. Almost inevitably, the person can’t cope, gets sick or moves away. Then these large groups are trapped and taken to shelters where often the only alternative is euthanasia.

2. The Owned Cat

If on the other hand the unknown cat has been owned by someone else, then she’s probably de-sexed and at least there won’t be a breeding problem. The big problem here is that she almost certainly has a loving home somewhere else.

Sometimes their true home is just over the back fence, and while their owners are at work they will pop over for the company. Sometimes for unknown reasons, the cat has roamed some distance from home, perhaps after being chased by a dog for example.

These cats would probably head back later in the day if there wasn’t a food supply on offer. Cats are pragmatic creatures and if there’s a steady food supply and human company they will often stay instead. Even if they do return each evening these cats are getting far too much food.

People who continue to feed these cats are usually caring and sensitive people who truly believe they are doing a good thing. They say things like:

  • She’s been abandoned
  • Her owners must have moved away and left her behind
  • She’s a stray
  • She was hungry/starving

The same thing happens with lost dogs.

Why It Matters

The problem for these cats is that they fall into the crack between two owners. The first owners were usually doing a good job getting regular vaccinations and check ups and attending to illnesses. The new ‘feeder’ rarely takes full responsibility for the cat’s health (after all, she’s a ‘stray’).

The new cat is usually left outside at night (where cats prefer to be but shouldn’t). Outside cats are regularly attacked by other cats and always at risk of road trauma, Abscesses from cat fights, fractured legs etc. are rarely attended to promptly, chronic infectious disease is common and lifespan is short.

We see these cats all the time, often brought in for a problem far too late. The reality is that 9 times out of 10 there is an owner somewhere missing her, not sure she’s alive and wondering if she’ll ever come home. Often there are children involved. I personally have been in the same position as a child and it breaks my heart to hear these stories.

What To Do If You Find A Cat

So what should a person do if they are in the situation of a cat coming into their yard? Easy.

  • If you are worried about the cat’s health or body condition, make an appointment with a vet to see if there is a problem and what needs to be done.
  • If the cat has a collar, look for the owner’s details and contact or visit them.
  • If there are no details, sticky tape a note around the collar for the owner to find and read, explaining the situation and asking them to contact you.
  • If there is no collar, invest $5 in a collar and add a note.
  • Even better, pop the cat in a cat carrier (see below)and visit the local vet to scan for a microchip. Vets do this for free and will even help by contacting the true owners. (See below if you can’t catch her).
  • Register the cat’s details with the local vets,  Lost Dogs of Adelaide, Lost Pets Of South Australia, look at the pictures on Animal Welfare Lost Pets and place ‘found’ posters on local stobie poles.

This may seem like a lot of work, but it’s worth it. There is no substitute for the peace of mind in knowing you have not accidentally stolen a little child’s treasured companion.

From Stray To Pet

If after all this you have no success finding the owner you probably have yourself a new cat, and congratulations on saving a life. Now is the next important point. You must take full responsibility for that cat’s health.

You feed them = you rescue them = you own them. No half measures.

Arrange to have a vet check up including FIV/FeLV testing, de-sexing, vaccination, worming and flea control. Take charge of any health issues And I guarantee that cat who has chosen you over every other person in the world will repay every penny spent with genuine affection and companionship.

If on the other hand, that cat had an existing owner, you have the satisfaction of reuniting a lost pet with their owners. Take it from me that memory will last a lifetime.

You don’t even have to stop there. If you found yourself enjoying having a cat around, take the leap and adopt one of your own. Animal Welfare League have more beautiful kittens and cats than they can find homes for. You won’t regret it.

Now read how good it can be at Cat Welfare Disaster To Happy Felines and How Feral Cats Can Be Good Pets

How to get a cat into a cat carrier

Often stray cats are scared or untrusting of people, and you can’t just pick them up and put them in a cat carrier. However, they are hungry and you can use this to your advantage. Each step below should take at least two days, and you should not go to the next one until the cat is perfectly relaxed with the step before.

  1. Place a cat cage near where you put the food for several days, until the cat tolerates it.
  2. Next place the food in front of the open door, and feed here until the cat accepts this position.
  3. Then put the food just inside the door so the cat’s head goes inside.
  4. Move the food further in.
  5. Keep doing this a few days at a time until the cat will feed inside the cage with you nearby.
  6. DO NOT try to close the door yet. Too soon, and you will wreck the whole process.

Eventually you should be able to play with the door, opening and closing it without causing suspicion. Only when you know you can smoothly click the latch should you do so. Make sure you do it when your vet will be available to see you, and off you go!

Have something to add? Comments (if open) will appear within 24 hours.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. Meet his team here.