Last Updated on July 9, 2021 by Julia Wilson
Have you found a cat who is hanging around and you are not sure if it is homeless, lost or has a home? There are steps to take in order to establish if the cat has a home or is homeless and needs help. This can mean a cat is reunited with is or her family, or receives the help they need to get them off the street and give them the care they need.
Is the cat really lost?
It’s not always easy to determine if the cat is lost or not. If you are not sure, purchase a cheap cat collar and attach a note with your phone number on it and ask the owners to call you to confirm the cat has a home. If after a day or so the cat is still around, and you have not been contacted, then it’s time to start looking for the owners.
A paper collar can be placed around the cat’s neck with your name and contact details. This will help to verify if the cat has a home or not. Paper collars can be downloaded and printed here. Write your details on the paper collar and attach, with the writing facing outwards. Try this method at least three times as it may be possible the cat has slipped out of the collar, or an owner has removed it and not contacted you.
Is the cat stray or feral?
A feral cat is a cat who has grown up in the wild and is not socialised towards humans. Many rescue groups trap, desex and release (TNR) feral cats which enables them to live out their lives in the wild, without the risk of producing more kittens. During desexing, the veterinarian will snip a notch out of the side or the tip of the cat’s ear which enables people to see that the cat is feral and has been desexed (spayed or neutered).
A stray cat is a cat who was formerly domesticated and is now homeless.
How to tell the difference between a stray and a feral cat?
- A stray cat may make eye contact with humans, a feral cat won’t.
- Stray cats may attempt to engage with people, feral cats are fearful of humans and will run away.
- Stray cats typically live alone while feral cats live in cat colonies.
- Stray cats may be visible during the day when people are around, feral cats are out at night.
- While some stray cats may be entire, many will have already been desexed by their former family. A feral male cat is less likely to have been desexed (in which case he will have an ear notch) and will have tomcat jowls, which gives the appearance of large cheeks, and a large, strong neck.
- A stray cat may look unkempt as he or she was used to being cared for. A feral cat should look clean and healthy.
Check for identification
The first thing, of course, is to check to see if it has any identification around his or her neck. If you are reading this article, the chances are that it doesn’t.
The majority of cats today will have a microchip which is a small chip that is injected under the skin at the scruff of the neck. Each microchip has a unique number, which is stored in a central database. Veterinarians and shelters have a hand-held scanning device to check the cat for a chip. If the cat has a microchip, the veterinarian will be able to retrieve information on the owner.
Print out flyers
Next, print out some flyers and pass them around your neighbourhood along with your local veterinarian’s office, local schools, scout halls and community notice boards. Try to be as descriptive as possible. A photo is great if you can get one, as a picture really is worth a thousand words. Include a contact number on the flyer. Mobile is best as most of us have our mobile with us the majority of the time. Put tabs on the bottom of the flyer with your number on, so that people can rip it off and call you when they get home.
This is a huge avenue for locating the possible owner. Take a photo of the cat and look for Facebook groups in your area. Most cities, towns, suburbs have a local Facebook group. Post a photo of the cat there. There’s a good chance even if the owner doesn’t see the photo, a friend of a friend may. Ask your friends to spread the word.
Most of us wouldn’t hand over a lost wallet to the first person who claimed it was theirs but ask for some kind of proof it belongs to them, the same applies to cats. Avoid giving too much detail about the cat, and keep some information to yourself. This may be a white tip at the end of the tail, one white foot, or the cat’s gender. Ask for proof of ownership if you are contacted.
Can you temporarily keep the cat at home?
If you have other pets in the home, isolate the found cat as you won’t know his or her medical history and they may inadvertently pass on something contagious to your pets.
Offer some food and water and provide a makeshift bed. A cardboard box and a towel will work fine.
If it is not possible to bring the cat indoors, leave food and a safe place to hide outside to protect from the elements.
Who to contact
Call the local council and ask if they have a lost and found section. They may be able to register the cat’s details and pass on your information should somebody call.
The next place to call is your local animal shelter. See if you can fax or email a photo of the cat with a description for them to register.
Most pet owners who are missing a cat will contact local veterinary practices to report their pet missing. Leave your contact details in case somebody contacts them.
Search online to see if there are any pet or local area forums as well as local Facebook groups for your area.
What to do if you can’t keep the cat
The first place to try is your veterinarian’s office. Many will take in lost cats temporarily. If you don’t have a cat carrier, a sturdy cardboard box will do, make sure it has some breathing holes.
If there are no vets in the area, or they are unable to help you, the next place is your local shelter.
What if nobody claims the cat?
If you have exhausted all avenues and still haven’t found an owner, you have several options.
- Adopt the cat
- Find the cat a home
- Take the cat to a shelter or rescue organisation
- Foster the cat for a shelter or rescue organisation until a home can be found
Finding a home for a kitten shouldn’t be difficult, but sometimes it can take time to find a home for an adult cat. Ask your local veterinarian to put a flyer up in their office, and advertise on local classified pages. Always charge a fee when rehoming a cat, which shows the potential adopter is serious about the cat and prevent it from getting into the hands of animal baiters who scour classified pages looking for free pets.
Reach out to animal shelters or rescue groups to see if they are willing to take in the cat if you are unable to keep it. We always recommend no-kill shelters, however, it can sometimes take a while to find a place for the cat. You may be asked to foster if you can do so.