Stray & Feral Cats
What is a stray cat?
The nice answer is that it is a domesticated cat that’s gone “walkabout” and has been unable to find its way home. There are many reasons why cats become strays (unneutered male and female cats will wander). Some cats may well have become startled by an unfamiliar noise or even a strange cat entering it’s territory. Like a lot of animals, a cat’s immediate response is to just flee and then they find themselves in unfamiliar territory. Sadly it must be said that quite a few cats will be strays because they are simply not wanted and this is especially so after Christmas – that fluffy little kitten has lost its appeal. Other reasons range from the cat’s owners having moved home and just left the cat behind to the cat’s owner suddenly discovering that their child, brother, sister, husband etc has developed an allergy to the cat.
So, what do we do if we think a cat is a stray?
- Check with neighbours to see if they know anything about the whereabouts of the cat.
- If you judge the cat to be friendly so you can handle it, take it to your local vet so they can scan for a microchip. If the vets find a chip they will contact Pet Log for details and either the vets or Pet Log will contact the owner.
- Most vets have a “lost and found” register, so ask them to log the cat’s details.
- Ask the vets in your area if you could put up posters. You could also ask local shops and post offices as well.
- Contact your local free paper to see if they will put an advert in “lost and found” – sometimes this can be done free of charge.
- If you have done all above and the owner has not come forward after 14 days you can safely adopt the cat as your own if you wish to do so. Please bear in mind the costs of looking after a cat. Under the Animal Welfare Act you must be able to provide proper care, accommodation, food and veterinary care for the rest of the cat’s life – on average 12 years, although some cats have been known to live until they are 20 years.
- If you cannot keep it and your local RSPCA animal centre is full, you may need to contact other cat charities – see lost and found contacts.
If you have found a sick or injured stray cat, please contact our 24hr cruelty and advice line on 0300 1234 999 for assistance.
We are not able to take in animals from the public as we prioritise Inspector related animals who are often the subject of a cruelty case.
Feral cats are the same species as the domestic cat. How do we get feral cats? Simple really, a domesticated unneutered female cat is allowed out and about – meets up with an unneutered male – they mate and the female becomes pregnant. After approximately 70 days the pregnant cat will find somewhere secure to have her kittens. The kittens, because of lack of human interaction, will be wild and scared of people and, if you somehow manage to pick one up they will claw and bite to get away. These kittens will be classed as feral and in turn they will produce feral kittens and a colony will be formed. An estimate of the UK feral cat population has been put at one million!
The RSPCA believes that feral cat colonies should be allowed to exist where the following safeguards can be met:
- An individual or group takes responsibility for making regular welfare checks on the cat colony. Feral cats do get sick more often than the family pet cat and so need someone to care for them.
- The owner of the land on which the feral colony lives agrees to let them stay. If the owner agrees to the cats staying on his land then the attempts will be made to trap the cats They will be neutered and give a health check. Any animal which is too sick or injured to be returned to the colony must be put to sleep to save further suffering or the spread of disease to other colony cats and stray cats.
- A feral cat will have an ear “tipped” to show that it has been neutered so it will not be re-trapped. The RSPCA recommends the removal of part of an ear to allow for future identification of neutered animals. The ear tipping is done while the cat is under anaesthetic.
Sadly feral cats can be considered to be a nuisance or, it may be that nobody can look out for the welfare of the feral cats. Once it has been established that the site owners will not under any circumstances accept the feral cats on their land and that nobody is willing or able to care for the colony, then the RSPCA recommends this action plan:
- All cats must be humanely trapped.
- New homes should be sought for young kittens and for cats which are not totally feral.
- Those animals which are not suitable for rehoming or relocation to sites where their welfare can be guaranteed are regrettably put to sleep.
Feral Kitten Welfare:
A lactating female cat should be neutered, ear tipped and returned to her kittens as soon as possible.
There are some places where feral colonies are not allowed for legal reasons (please consult your local environmental health officer). If the feral cat colony has to be removed, it cannot be guaranteed that animals trapped by pest control firms are humanely destroyed.
Please contact the RSPCA before taking any action which will affect a feral colony: 24hr advice line 0300 1234 999.