How to Help & Care For Stray and Feral Cats: 6 Things to Know

by Monika
How to take care of stray and feral cats

Is a new kitty spending time around your place? Do they look sad, hungry and homeless? It is hard to watch poor felines living in those cruel conditions with no warm home to call their own. So how can you help? And what can you do to take care of those kitties?

Is the cat you found stray or feral? What is the difference?

Let’s first explain the difference between strays and ferals. If you’re not familiar with the distinction between those two, this will give you some clarity.

Feral and stray cats are the same domesticated species, but the contrast is in their ‘attitude’ towards humans.

Stray cats were socialized while they were young and they had positive experiences with people in their earliest months. They learned that humans can be trusted. They see us as a source of food and protection. Strays were previously someone’s pet, but they were either abandoned or no longer have an owner for another reason. A stray cat will let you pet them and they will most likely not be hesitant to approach you. Some of them can be a bit reserved. You can bypass that by approaching them in the right way.

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Stray cats can become a pet again. They will just need a little bit of adjusting.

Feral cats, on the other hand, never had contact with loving humans while they were kittens. Or they simply lost touch with humans over time so they developed a fear. Stray cats can become feral after living outside for a while, without any kitty to human interaction. Feral kitties are fearful and won’t let you pet them or come near them.

If the cat is not shy and they greet you without hesitation, it might also be someone’s outdoor or lost pet.

You suspect the feline is lost? Here is what you can do:

  • visit the vet to see if the kitty is micro-chipped
  • check with the neighbors if they, or someone they know, is missing a cat
  • put flyers around the neighborhood
  • engage in social media and try to track the owner

If the cat is stray or feral after all, continue reading to find some useful tips for helping those felines.

How to care for stray and feral cats

How to help and take care of stray and feral cats

If you’re anything like me, you’d love to adopt all the kitties in the world. Unfortunately, we are a few billion dollars short but we can at least help stray and feral cats around us. There are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to caring for stray cats.

First thing first – Trap, Neuter, Return (TNR)

According to Humane Society, tens of millions of homeless cats live in the USA alone. That’s a lot of cats! Let’s say half of them are girls that will give birth to (most often) 3-5 kittens. The shocking fact is that a cat can have babies 5 times a year! Even if they bring kittens into this world only once a year that is still a lot of newborn babies to care for.

To stop that from happening, the rational thing to do is to trap, neuter and return those stray and feral cats. Don’t have the financial means or a way to take them to the vet? Try finding someone that can do it for you. If nobody in your area is available, animal rescue groups will help you out.

When I was growing up, we were feeding lots of ferals. I think it was up to 15 kitties at one point. I was a youngster then, and I didn’t know better. But today, I’d make sure to spay and neuter those felines. They were breeding like crazy and it gets out of hand pretty quickly.

Learn from our mistakes and do trap, neuter, return strays and ferals that are roaming around your place.

Should you feed stray and feral cats?

It’s tough to resist those cute but sad eyes and hungry meows. But is feeding stray and feral cats really the best for them?

This is one tricky question. Some reputable sites recommend you feed those hungry and lonely homeless cats. On the other hand, many cat websites such as Catster claim that feeding strays and ferals is not a good idea.

Let’s glance at the pros and cons of feeding stray and feral cats:

Pros

  • The cats will not be as hungry and skinny.
  • Their health will improve.
  • You’ll save a lot of birds, mice, and other wild animals that those kitties hunt.

Cons

  • The cats will gather around the food source and a kitty colony might form.
  • That cat colony will make babies and due to a limited gene pool, some kittens might be born unhealthy and sick, with physical defects. But this is only an issue if you don’t neuter the cats which you should.
  • The cats will depend on you for food and they will stay hungry if you suddenly stop feeding them for whatever reason.

I wouldn’t go that far by saying you shouldn’t feed the strays and ferals. Although, I agree that you shouldn’t make yourself their primary food source if you will not be able to be their feeder forever or no one will be able to take over that duty if you’re not able to do it anymore. If you serve them a lot of food every day, they’ll depend on you for their everyday meals.

It is a different story with homeless kittens who were abandoned by their mother. Kittens don’t yet know how to hunt. If you’ve observed long enough and you’re absolutely sure the kitten has no mama, I would encourage you to help the young kitty by feeding and fostering them. Kitten can’t survive on their own so your help is highly appreciated and absolutely required.

As for me, I occasionally feed 2 stray cats that live around my office building. I do, however, make sure I only give them a limited amount of kitty meal from time to time. That way they don’t depend on me for food. They know they have to make an effort to get dinner on their plates by themselves every day.

Fresh supply of water

The hot summer days when the rain is nowhere to be seen can dry out all the water from the ponds, streams, and puddles. When those water sources are not available, kitties can get thirsty and dehydrated. While the summer brings drought, cold winters result in freezing of those water sources.

How can you help thirsty kitties? Put a water bowl outside and change the water regularly (try daily) to prevent it from getting unsanitary. If possible, put the water bowl under some kind of cover (see the feeding station section below) to keep it from the dirt.

During the winter time, use bowls that are deeper and narrower to prevent the water from freezing. You can also use heated water bowls and black bowls that attract the sunbeams and keep the water liquid.

A kitty shelter to hide from the harsh outside elements

Stray and feral cats are used to living outside. But during the winter time, it can be really hard for them to find a suitable shelter and a dry place to hide. With the low winter temperatures, it is extremely important for them to have a shelter that’ll keep them warm.

Why don’t you put your hands to work and make your own homemade shelter? Alternatively, get a heated outdoor cat house that’ll keep felines safe from the excruciating cold.

Popular kitties Cole & Marmelade and their human have their own video that will teach you how to make a DIY cat shelter.

Keep the following factors in mind while making feline safety department:

  • Shelter entrance should be large enough to fit a cat but not too large.  This way the coyotes and other dangerous wild animals can’t get inside.
  • Try raising the shelter off the ground to keep it warmer in winter.
  • Place the shelter in a safe place with no traffic or people.
  • Put the shelter away from busy paths and, if possible, under some kind of cover to keep it dry.
  • A spot that is protected from the winds during the winter and a shady area away from the direct sunlight during the hot summer days would be best.

Feeding and hydrating stations

If you want to treat strays and ferals with a bit of food, I suggest you find a dry and safe place for them to enjoy the meal. To prevent the food from getting wet from the rain and keep the water clean, make a simple DIY feeding station. The station will conveniently protect the food and water bowls from the outside elements.

The DIY feeding station is pretty easy to make and you only need a plastic container.

Don’t put the food and water bowls inside the cat shelter. These can easily get spilled so your furry friend will have to sleep in a messy, wet shelter. Always keep those two separate.

Adopt or foster stray cats and kittens

If a wandering cat you’re feeding is people-friendly and not afraid of humans, finding a home for them is possible.

On the other hand, feral cats are often not suitable for adoption because of their timid nature. Additionally, they are used to living outside their whole lives so keeping them indoors might be too stressful for them.

But kittens of feral cats can be socialized and adopted into a loving home. Keep in mind that you should not take the kittens away from their mother before they are 8 weeks old. If you separate them too soon, they could develop behavioral issues. Additionally, the kitten would not get enough nutrients from the cat momma’s milk which encourages proper growth and development.

Want to help? Open up your home to foster adoptable cats until they find their forever family. Or adopt one for yourself and experience a deep love from a furry family member. If you already have a cat, they might even enjoy a company (assuming you introduce them slowly and carefully).

I hope you found a few interesting ideas and useful tips for helping stray and feral cats. There are so many cats out there that need our help, so thank you for participating!

Do you have any tips on taking care of and helping stray and feral cats?

Let me know in the comments!

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15 comments

Elisabeth Jimmink July 29, 2018 - 2:03 pm

I can’t believe what I am reading! My name is Elisabeth and I have been involved in cat rescue and have rescued and fostered many cats and kittens from outside – both stray and feral. It is crucial to feed the cats that are outside as cats are not WILD ANIMALS and depend on people. It is also crucial to involve some kind of rescue group (if you yourself are not going to do it) to spay and neuter these poor souls so that they don’t reproduce and bring more unwanted animals into the world (and with that suffering). If there are any kittens that might have a chance to be socialized the best chance to do this is at 6 to 8 weeks!!! Any later it will be difficult and I am speaking from experience!!!!!!!! Kittens are ready to be weaned at 6 weeks. If a mistake is made in the aging of the kittens, they can always be given some kitten milk as a supplement. They can lap this up as soon as they are 4 weeks old. BTW, I have 3 feral cats living in my home and they are very happy living inside. They have never tried to escape and can be pet after some socializing.

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Monika July 30, 2018 - 7:47 am

The thing with feeding feral cats is that people move or can no longer feed those feral cats at one point. The cats get used to getting their food every day and if the feeder can no longer provide food, they might starve. I wrote this post mentioning 2 different opinions – some cat rescues say not to feed ferals, some say to feed ferals, but at the end of the day, everyone will do what they think is best. I personally do feed feral cats that live in front of the building where I work but it is not possible for me to feed them every day because I have day offs and sick days and vacation when I am not at work and they do just fine during those days. They catch mice and are not hungry. I think they would starve more if I were their primary source of food.

I agree that TNR is definitely crucial.

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Gloria February 7, 2019 - 12:34 am

Our non profit group has been caring for feral colonies in our town for several years. We build shelters and pick up any slack for each person of they can’t feed one day. In one business area the business people and their gardeners were trapping the cats and killing them, so I rescued the colony, they got so socialized to me. we had a cattery built with an indoor and fenced in patio area since we live in the country with coyotes and foxes. The key is to spay & neuter them if you feed them. Our feral rescues are healthy and socialized and flea free and so incredibly happy we have three seniors that get to spend their senior years in comfort with heat and plenty of food and love. My husband and I adore our fur family.

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Monika February 7, 2019 - 8:44 am

So nice of you to do this. I can’t believe some people are able to kill cats, especially when it’s so easy to spay and neuter them in this day and age and keep their number under control. Your rescue shelter sounds like a feral cat’s dream 🙂 We only have one shelter for cats in my city and it is always full, unfortunately. They are only able to take sick cats and kittens that can’t take care of themselves.

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Gloria February 7, 2019 - 12:38 am

I totally agree with Elizabeth our rescued feral cats love their cattery and have never tried to escape, they know what it’s like to live in some bush for shelter…

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Elaine November 23, 2019 - 8:49 pm

My neighbor and I have two breeding pairs of ferals that have produced a dozen kittens recently. We have had 5 kittens neutered and will continue. The kittens are easier to trap but the parents are wary so not sure we can manage that. Having problem with cat lice and eyes mattering. Are there any home remedies for these problems?

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Monika November 24, 2019 - 3:25 pm

Great job on neutering the kittens 🙂 About the home remedies, none that I know of, unfortunately. Good luck!

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Linda Simmons January 19, 2020 - 11:08 am

We bought our first home 10 years ago & saw many stray black cats & kittens. On the way home from work I saw a dead kitten in the road…we live on a busy street & people often speed. I was so upset that my boyfriend caught mama kitty & her remaining babies. They were a little wild but now socialized. They live in my home office. I have 2 not cat friendly dogs & 2 other cats & they all have their own space. A few days ago a small cat started hanging around…she was a little thin. We fed her. Yesterday she appeared again with her 2 kittens & was nursing them in my garden. I fed her & put a box and blanket under our overhang. I fear she will get run over but I do not know what to do. We are completely overwhelmed with animals but I would like to keep them all. Any advice??? Would it be cruel to keep them in a large enclosure inside until I can make space for them?

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Monika February 6, 2020 - 1:44 pm

Sorry for the late reply. It depends how large the enclosure is… The enclosure might be a good solution for a period of time until you find more room for them. Maybe you can spare one room in your home just for them? Hopefully you can introduce them to your pets soon and make them a part of your family!

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ben February 14, 2020 - 4:17 am

it is horrible that you people would allow these unwanted cats to roam with all the dangers and diseases that await them. you should be held responsible for animal abuse. its irresponsible pet owners like yourselves that have created this problem with unwanted cats. if you are going to feed these unwanted cats please do it and keep them on your own property. its so wrong that you think its ok to hoard them on other peoples property. hopefully it will be illegal for you to do just that sooner rather than later. please be responsible pet owners and keep them in your own property. pretty simple really.

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Diane Fisher February 17, 2020 - 2:01 am

That last comment was cruel and not thought out. If you’re not part of the solution then that’s a problem. The people you mention did not create the problem; they are trying to help. What are YOU doing to help? Trap Neuter and Release (TNR) is #1. Feeding (all living creatures) is also important. Writing insults? How does that help? You offer no solution, NIMB (not in my back yard) is not a solution. The solution to your problem is to surround yourself with chicken wire and to use blackout curtains and to stay off humane websites..

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Monika February 17, 2020 - 5:22 pm

I agree. That comment is cruel and doesn’t make any sense. In what world is feeding and taking care of stray cats animal abuse… It would be better for him to adopt a cat or get involved with TNR programs than to post nasty comments on cat blogs.

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Sarah April 30, 2020 - 4:10 pm

I once removed 8 wk old kittens to be adopted out and the momma got engorged and went on pitifully calling them. I managed to get most of her kittens back and didn’t separate them again until they were almost a year old. It was horrible, I will never do that again. And I don’t advocate it. Wait till they wean on their own.

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Diane June 25, 2020 - 6:25 am

I feed three feral cats. They have all been TNR program. One of the cats has a very swollen cheek and don’t know how to help or if it will heal on its own. This cat won’t let me near him. Im not sure what to do. Will the shelter give medication without seeing him? Thoughts?

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Monika June 25, 2020 - 9:28 pm

It would be best if you could catch him and get him to a vet as soon as possible. If that is not an option for you, you can at least try to take a photo of it, maybe a vet can figure out what it is from the photo and give some kind of medicine to give him in his food. Anyhow, it is best to check with the vet. Good luck!

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