Helping Stray Cats in Your Neighborhood

Thursday, June 12, 2014
You've spotted a cat running down your block. Now what?

One day, you’re walking down your block and suddenly you spot a furry feline face poking out from behind a bush. Or perhaps a cat you’ve never seen before dashes across the yard and disappears under a parked car. You want to help, but what can you do?

stray catThe first rule of helping stray cats: hands off! Don’t go chasing after him right then and there.  It’s unlikely you’ll catch him but it is likely that you’ll frighten him.  Even if you do manage to get close enough, you’ll be risking serious injury if you attempt to grab him.  A scared cat can inflict a lot of damage very quickly. 

The second rule of helping stray cats: play detective. Is this a pet cat who was recently lost? A stray cat who has been on his own for a time but warms up to people once he gets to know them? A feral cat who by nature is wary of people and prefers living outside a traditional home? 

To find out, ask neighbors and other people in the immediate area if they know anything about the cat.  Did he just arrive or has he been seen around for some time?  Is anyone feeding him, providing shelter or even letting him in their house?  Does he have a collar and tags?  Has anyone posted “lost cat” signs?

How to help a friendly cat
If it turns out kitty is lost, then of course you’ll want to contact his owner and return him.  If he’s a friendly stray, then probably he lived in a home at one time and might be adoptable.  Check with your local animal shelter and rescue groups to see if any have room to take in another cat and find him a home. If they do, lure the cat into a carrier with a can of tuna and close the door behind him, but don’t try to force him in.  Ask for assistance from someone experienced in handling cats.  When in doubt, use a humane box trap.  You can try borrowing a trap from a local cat rescue group, animal shelter, animal control officer or spay/neuter clinic.

If the shelter is overcrowded and the rescue groups are all full, then don’t try to bring them one more friendly cat they can’t place. Consider fostering him yourself and looking for a permanent home.  If that’s not possible either, then get him neutered and care for him outdoors, providing food and a warm outdoor cat shelter.

Caring for feral cats
If your neighborhood cat is feral, or it doesn’t seem like he’s ever lived in a home, then he likely isn’t adoptable, But he can stay outdoors while you provide food and shelter.

trap-neuter-returnBut the most important rule for caring for feral cats: fix them, fast. You must use a trap to capture him and transport him to a veterinary clinic for spay/neuter. A day or two after the surgery, he can be released back outside. It’s important to call ahead and schedule an appointment before you trap the cat so you can quickly bring him in after he’s caught.  For more information on trapping feral cats and caring for them before and after surgery, check out Neighborhood Cats or Alley Cat Allies. .  

If there’s one feral cat living in your neighborhood, it’s very likely others are there too. Take a look around, and talk with your neighbors about how you can all work together to help them. It’s important to get all of your neighborhood’s cats spayed or neutered so you don’t end up with even more cats. This is called Trap-Neuter-Return or TNR, and it’s the most effective and humane way to control the free-roaming cat population. 

It takes a bit of time and work, but when you’re done and your neighborhood cat is now in a new home or being cared for outdoors, you’ll know you’ve made a difference.


lorraine taft

I've had 11 done so far




Hi Diane, I'm happy to hear you want to help these cats. Please reach out to your local animal welfare organizations to find out about the resources available in your area. You can search for our animal welfare partners near you using this interactive map.

Leslie C Rodriguez

Hello, Diana well first of all when you have th mom trytosee if the mom likes u, and second if you habe fish can or meat can, give them that to eat so you wont have to pay for cat food

Michael Ballesteros

We have several cats in the neighborhood that roam about. How can I tell if these felines belong loosely to a household or take complete feral freedom?


Hi Michael, great question. The first thing you should do is to see if they have one of their ears tipped. If they do, then they are already fixed. If they look healthy, someone is feeding them.

If the ears are not tipped and they look healthy, check around the neighborhood and try to find out who is feeding them or if they belong to someone as pet or pets. 

If no feeder or owner can be located, then the best thing is to trap the cats and get them spayed or neutered at a clinic.  Check out for info on how to do this safely.

The cats shouldn't be brought to a shelter unless they're clearly friendly and adoptable, and the shelter has room for them. 


Hi Michael, Another good thing is the spay/neuter is free with ASPCA. Check out the neighborhood cats site as suggested and get certified.


The term feral cats can be a generic term that keeps many cats, kittens from being adopted. We have over ten years had kittens born by or under our house. We rescued the kittens and the mothers, then spay-neutered and Vet tested, gave rabies shots et al. to the mothers. Often these cats when brought into our house to be petted, fed, cared for become very friendly house cats. We adopted 8 over the past year and have six more going to adopters. Feral cats live nearby in the woods or neighbors house where nothing is done so they indeed become quite wild. Outside we have also 5 cats in a family, 3 born here with mother very tame. They deserve to live too and as "community cats" are doing well.

James Kelsey

Just wanted to say thank you Vance for your hard efforts and glad to see it's paid off.

Y. Rendleman

THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!! i try to do the same thing in my neighborhood. Destroying cats simply because of over population is just not the answer. Who takes a job like that anyway? I am suggesting a program from which all who own and/or love cats become neighborhood watch for strays. Each of us can then help decide how t o re-release each cat. Euthanasia should not be an option unless the animal is sick. I feel that once people actually see the magnitude of the problem more will be done to spay and neuter.


good guy I love kitties I use to work at a shelter and it was very sad to see more put down than adopted util we had a good cat room girl come on staff and stick up for them I was up too 4 cats 2 ferrets and a dog and a baby on the way.she talked to the shelter and got them to change the rules on cat adoptions and let neutered cats go outside, I' m glad there are good people out there who will help the poor misunderstood kitties thanks

Nancy Young

What do you suggest if there are no TNR groups operating in your area and you cannot take on the long-term and expensive commitment to care for the animals after they are fixed?


Hi Nancy, your best bet is to start a conversation with your local animal welfare groups about the possibility of starting a TNR program. We offer TNR grants for qualified 501(c)(3) nonprofit animal welfare organizations, registered charities and some government entities. You can have them visit our website to learn more.


Where can I find affordable spay and nuetering?


Hi Shaunta, you can check out our low-cost spay/neuter clinic locator. Thank you!

jodie keast

it is all very well to say to take the cats to be neutered but it an expensive proposition to do this with cat after cat... and then continue to feed them outside. we have brought in 6 feral cats in the last 5 years and have successfully turned them into "pets"... i think feral cats get a bum rap.. they just need a lot of patience as they have "trust" issues. i approached my local cat shelter and local town clerk and councillor and was told there is no "feral cat issue" in my town (port perry ont ). i doubt that all the feral cats in town showed up at my yard so am astounded that a town can be so closed minded about an obvious issue. the local shelter does a stellar job rehoming the friendly cats but the feral ones don't get picked up and taken to the shelter for obvious reasons...(they run from a person). i have spent thousands of my own dollars trying to help these cats and there are others doing the same... i did NOT cause this problem as i have NEVER let any cat roam and always have my cats fixed. BUT i am trying to be part of the solution. i have reached out to try to get help from different agencies but with no real results.



Hi Jodie, thank you so much for caring about the cats in your neighborhood. Your local animal welfare organizations might be able to offer some assistance. You can also check out our low-cost spay/neuter clinic locator.


IT IS NOT THAT EASY.... when you have limited funds, live in a rural area and vet prices are on a monopoly basis. NOT EASY AT ALL!!!!!!


Hi, I understand that TNR is no easy task. If you're interested in helping the cats in your community, you can reach out to your local animal welfare organizations to see what resources are available in your area. You can also check out our low-cost spay/neuter clinic locator


I NEED HELP HELP HELP my family feeds cats and dogs in our backyard so they at least have something in less then a year we have 7 cats we have brought in (we try to keep in). Two we finally got in were pregnant the one just had 3 kittens. I call to have them spayed/neutered and told them about all these cats and dogs and it is costing my family $171 on March 9 for just three of the males. We struggle now just feeding our family and all these animals a lot of times we need to divided leftovers for the animals let alone putting $171 out for only 3. We have 4 dogs that we have taken in in the last year 2 just the other day that looked like they were about to die they were/are still so skinny. I can't stand to just do nothing for these animals, but when it comes to trying to feed them and then everything else they need it just seems like we are drowning. If someone could PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE help or point me in the right direction that would be great. My email is sherrynshawn0222[at]gmail[dot]com if anyone has any suggestions. Thanks


Hi Sherry, you may want to check out our low-cost spay/neuter clinic locator to see what low-cost options are available in your area. 

frank lawing

Hello sherry.tha k you for loving our furry friends and goi g the extra mile.we do the same out here in the desert. We have an advantage as we raise livestock,and we always have an extra bunny,chickens eggs etc to feed,as entrails after we butcher.we are lucky.and blessed because we are money poor yet still have other ways to help. Your local foodbank for humans may have this information that we found but perhaps not.some food banks are given donations of pet foods and distribute them to needy people.with pets.also check with any local vet aboit assistance and im sure you can find help even if it isnt mich but hey...every little bit helps.keep up the good work.thanks again on behalf of our friends in need

Morgan Adams

I have found this cat. It came right up to me. And let me pet it. I know for a fact it does not have a home. Please help I know. It's hungry because I seen him in the trash. And when I pet him he was so cold. So please if anybody can help me find. Out to care for it please.


Hi Morgan, your local animal welfare organizations may be able to provide you with resources to help this cat. Please reach out to them as they'll have the best knowledge of the resources available in your area. 


My wife and I had a stray cat show up in our backyard. He is friendly and we have feed him . He has at this point adopted us so we took him and had him spayed. The organization we had do the surgery leaves the incisions open to heal on their own. We have kept him inside in a large dog kennel with a cone over his head to keep him from licking for 3 days and nights. He is getting very antsy to get outside where he licks it. He seems to be back to normal. He is eating good and seems to have no side effects. His incisions seem to be healing. Will it hurt to just let him go back outside? We have 2 dog's and another cat who seem to be more stressed with him in the house than he is. So what can we do? Is it safe to let him back out on his own or does he need to stay inside for the full 7 day's we were told by the vet?


Hi Tim, thank you so much for giving this cat a loving home. We always recommend that you take your veterinarian's advice. If you're concerned about your other pets, you may want to call your veterinarian and explain the situation so he or she can make another recommendation. 


My grandmother has 6 cats. There are two female adults and 4 kittens. There all related. Her landlord is threatening her telling her its either the cats or her. I know that there's laws that protect tenants but she has broken her lease by taking these cats in. Please, if anyone can take these cats it would be a big relief. Columbus Ohio area.. Please email me if interested.


Hi Jody, I'm sorry to hear about your grandmother's cats. Has she tried reaching out to her local animal welfare groups for help? They'll have the best knowledge of the resources available in her area.


I agree with the free vaccinations and sterilization, but not with turning them back into the wild or where they were caught. These animals desperately need a place to live, even if in a shelter. They starve, freeze, difficult to find shelter from weather and predators that includes humans, dogs and other wild animals. The feral cat needs a home or a place to live...and Not returned back to the outdoors or where they found them! This whole thing of trapping and sterilization and returning to back where they found them is Not the solution to the problem and not being humane.


I have been feeding a feral cat for the past 2 months. His leg is injured as is one eye. I have been trying to build enough trust to be able to TNR . Now suddenly he has disappeared. We used to see him for every meal,now he hasn't appeared for 3 days. I am worried, but don't know what to do. I have walked the neighborhood looking for him, but there is no sign of him. Have you any suggestions ?


Hi Ded, you may want to continue to leave out food at the regular time and place. He may be nursing his injuries and will come back when he's better. If he does return, try one of the techniques on this page to trap him, then bring him to a veterinarian.


Hi me and my wife was out at the park this morning we found a box with three kittens is there anyone that can help us we can't keep them both of our kids are allergic to cats and all the vets we called have told us that they don't have room "PLEASE HELP "


Hi Mario, have you tried reaching out to your local animal welfare organizations for help? They'll have the best knowledge of the resources available in your area. 


Kgaliotos I tried a lot of places all of them are over capacity with cats


Hi I've seen a stray cat on the side of the highway in almost the same spot and around the same time on3 separate occasions. There are no houses anywhere so I'm thinking maybe it was dumped. Very weird spot for a lone cat. I haven't been able to stop because I'm driving !! It's killing me to see this cat on the side of the road. Is there someone I can call to help rescue it. I dint know what to do but I'm losing sleep . I have two dogs that are not cat friiendly.


Hi Kristine, have you tried reaching out to your local animal welfare organizations for help? They'll have the best knowledge of the resources available in your area.


I found a stray cat with a broken leg what should I do???


Hello, have you tried reaching out to your local animal welfare organizations for help? They'll have the best knowledge of the resources available in your area.


My friend gave me a kitty and she is beautiful. She is black with a white stomach and blue eyes . She is only about a month old . I recently just found out that I can't have her in my apartment and I really don't want to let her go because she is so well behaved but I have to . I am located in Miami , can anybody please help me . I really want to find a good home for biscuit ... Please write me thru email and I will send you a picture for anyone who is interested.


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