What Is A Stray Cat?

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  • What is a stray cat?

    A stray cat is a domestic cat who once had a home, but is now homeless either having been abandoned by his former owners or getting lost. 

    Stray cats survive by scavenging for food or hunting the local wildlife. It’s a hard existence for them as they are exposed to cars, dogs, humans, attacks from other cats and illness.

    What is the difference between a stray and a feral cat?

    A feral cat is a cat from domestic stock who was born in the wild. A stray cat will generally be used to humans and be domesticated whereas a feral cat is generally fearful of humans unless they are caught at a very young age.

    Is it possible to tell a stray cat from a feral cat?

    This is often difficult, but there can be some differences between a stray cat and a feral cat.

    • A stray cat may approach a human.
    • A stray cat may meow, a feral cat won’t. 
    • Feral cats tend to live in colonies whereas stray cats generally live alone.
    • Feral cats are much less likely to be seen, especially during the day. Stray cats may be seen around day or night.
    • As feral cats have been born in the wild, they will have a cleaner/less dishevelled appearance than a stray. This is because they have learned survival skills.
    • A stray cat may be underweight as they don’t have the hunting skills a feral cat has learned.
    • If you can catch the cat, declawing is another sign the cat is a stray and not a feral.

    What to do if you find a stray cat

    If you suspect a cat may be stray, if it is friendly enough, try to catch it. A trip to the vet will be able to determine if the cat has a microchip or not. 

    Take a good, clear photo of the cat and place flyers around your local area including schools, community notice boards, local shops, veterinary offices etc.

    Call around shelters and ask if anybody has reported a missing cat fitting the description of the cat.

    The RSPCA website recommends that you place a paper collar on the cat (if it is still outside) and write a note on the collar saying you have found the cat and ask the owners to call you.

    If you are unable to locate the owner of a stray cat, you need to decide what to do. Are you able to keep the cat? If you can’t, ask your veterinary practice if they know of anybody looking to adopt a cat or if they can help you find a home. If they can’t, then your next option is to either list the cat in classified ads or online or take it to the shelter. It is always a good idea to ask for a fee if you are looking to rehome a cat. This is more likely to discourage the wrong type of person from adopting the cat for less than honourable reasons.

    One last word

    If you have a cat you can no longer keep then please find it a new home or surrender it to the shelter. It is not fair on the cat or the wildlife to abandon him on the street.


    • Julia Wilson, 'Cat World' Founder

      Julia Wilson is the founder of Cat-World, and has researched and written over 1,000 articles about cats. She is a cat expert with over 20 years of experience writing about a wide range of cat topics, with a special interest in cat health, welfare and preventative care. Julia lives in Sydney with her family, four cats and two dogs. Full author bio