FOOD & TREATS

What to Feed Stray Cats: How to Help Strays in Your Neighborhood

stray cat and her kitten
Martha Harvey
Written by Martha Harvey

It is estimated that there are 20 million cats who are left to fend for themselves on the streets in the U.S and you have probably seen at least one. Some of these cats were abandoned by their owners, and others got lost, but the thing all of them have in common is that they need help. It would be great to know what to feed stray cats when one or more of them pop up in your neighborhood.

Most people who encounter a stray cat are concerned about her food intake and are willing to offer her something to eat. Unlike some house cats, stray cats aren’t picky when it comes to the food they are given; however, a wrong choice of food can cause more harm than good to a stray cat.

Generally, dry or canned cat food is an excellent choice for a meal, but if you are running low on cans and kibble, there are a lot of human foods that can make a good and nutritious meal.

In this article, we will tell you what foods are safe to feed to a stray cat, what you should never feed to a stray cat, and what else you can do to improve her quality of life. But first, let’s take a look at the difference between stray and feral cats.

How to Tell If a Cat is a Stray or a Feral

feral kitten

Most people think that the terms stray and feral are the same—both used to describe cats living on the streets. Most people don’t realize that these are two completely different categories of cats.

The term stray is used for a cat that had an owner and a home at some point but was either abandoned or was lost and unable to find her way back home. These cats are familiar with people—some even friendly enough to allow themselves to be touched and petted.

On the other hand, the term feral is used for cats that never had any type of interaction with humans and were born and bred from feral parents. These cats never had a place to call home and grew up on the streets alone or as a part of a feral colony.

Feral cats are usually afraid and wary of people; it is very hard to approach them, and almost impossible to touch them. In some ways, these cats are completely wild, and if handled inappropriately, they can cause injury and transmit diseases.

See Also: How to Tame a Feral Cat

Once you are certain that you are dealing with a stray and not feral cat, there is always a chance that she is lost and it is advisable to look for identification markers. Most cats have ID collars, but there is always a chance that the cat lost it during her roaming on the streets, so a microchip is the next best thing.

You will have to take the cat to the vet so he/she can see if she has a chip in her neck and help you reach for her owner if she does. If she doesn’t, it is up to you to take her back where you found her, provide food and shelter, contact rescue organizations, or adopt her into your home.

What to Feed a Stray Cat

Feeding stray cats is a topic that brings a lot of controversies since some people argue that feeding stays will attract even more cats that will result in a colony. However, if this isn’t causing any problem in your community, there isn’t a reason why you shouldn’t feed stray cats.

Millions of birds and other smaller animals become prey to stray and feral cats, and by providing regular meals for them, you will save a piece of wildlife in your area.

#1: Cat Food

stray cat eating cat food

Dry cat food is the best choice you can offer to a stray cat since it is complete and balanced and made to meet all the nutritional needs of a cat. Furthermore, it doesn’t spoil as fast as canned food and won’t attract as many insects and other animals as wet cat food would.

On the other hand, wet cat food is a good option if you are dealing with skittish, older, injured cats, or weaned kittens since it smells better and is easier to chew.

However, if you are out of cat food, or you don’t own a cat to begin with, it can be time-consuming going into a store when you are dealing with a hungry cat. In these occasions, some foods that you already have in your home can be a temporary solution until you can stock up on supplies.

Besides food, make sure that you provide plenty of fresh water that is easy to access and do your best to keep the food and water bowls clean.

#2: Tuna

All cats love fish, and tuna is a great choice when you are facing a hungry stray cat. Most of you probably have a can of tuna lying in a cupboard already, and its pungent fishy smell is great at enticing even the most frightened cats.

If you are facing a fearful stray cat, be patient and give her time to adjust to your presence. In no way you should chase her or try to pull her closer to the food.

When offering tuna to a stray cat, make sure it is just simple plain tuna that is low in salt since all other options can cause a digestive upset. Besides tuna, you can offer canned salmon, sardines, or any type of canned fish that isn’t mixed with any vegetables.

Since tuna is high in mercury, you shouldn’t use it regularly to feed a cat; once in a while is acceptable or as an occasional treat.

See Also: Why Do Cats Like Fish

#3: Meat

man feeding stray cats with meat

Cats are by nature carnivores and require a high protein diet to thrive. A good and cheaper option when there isn’t anything else is boiled boneless chicken breast with rice. The dish should be plain and without any seasoning so it won’t cause an upset stomach.

If you don’t have any chicken breast at hand, you can scramble a couple of eggs and add them into the rice.

Other meat options include beef, pork, turkey, or anything else you are willing to give to a stay. You should always cook the meat to avoid spreading bacteria if there are any in it.

Since you don’t know if the stray cat has any health problems, for starters it is probably best to stick to poultry since it is easy to digest and lower in fat compared to other meats.

#4: Certain Sources of Carbohydrate

Generally, cats don’t require vegetables in their diet, but rice, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin are easy to digest and will soothe stomach problems. Furthermore, if a cat hasn’t had a meal in a while, these won’t be heavy on her stomach and will at the same time provide enough sustenance.

You can cook any of these with scrambled eggs or boneless chicken breast to provide a complete meal.

See Also: How to Make Homemade Cat Food

What Not to Feed to a Stray Cat

stray kittens drinking milk

Most often people think it is better to give anything to a cat than leave her hungry, without knowing that some foods are toxic to cats.

You shouldn’t give garlic, onion, or chives since they are toxic to cats. Grapes and raisins can cause sudden kidney failure. Even some human foods that can seem like a good choice aren’t healthy for cats and cause unwanted health problems.

#1: Milk

It may seem like milk is the perfect choice since we always see cats drinking it on TV, but they, in fact, don’t have the necessary enzymes needed to process the cow’s milk you buy at the store.

If you thought that a dish of milk would entice and give sustenance to a hungry, frightened cat, think again. It is better to offer a clean bowl of water and some solid food than to give milk to an adult cat.

If you are dealing with a nursing kitten, you will have to buy a special milk formula that will replicate the mother’s milk. Kittens require constant care and attention, and if you aren’t able to provide it, it is better to take a kitten to an animal shelter or a rescue organization.

For feeding, use a syringe and feed the kitten slowly, and if that doesn’t work, dip your finger in the milk and let the kitten suck it.

#2: Dog Food

Even if a can of dog food might seem like a good choice to feed to a stray cat, it isn’t. Cats and dogs have different nutritional needs, and dog food contains ingredients that can cause more harm than good to a hungry cat.

You won’t cause any harm by giving a hungry cat a tablespoon or two of dog food if there isn’t anything else, but you shouldn’t continue doing so long term.

#3: Fruit and Vegetables

When encountered with real hunger, a cat will eat almost anything to fill her belly and regain some of her strength. However, you should avoid feeding a stray cat with any kind of fruit and vegetables besides boiled rice, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin that are mixed with meat.

Although cats can eat some types of human food, it is always better to offer meat, even if it’s a hot dog instead of fruit or vegetables.

How to Feed a Stray Cat

stray cat eating

Cats are by nature cautious, and the ones who live on the streets even more so than the average home cat. Thus you shouldn’t be surprised if it takes some time and coaxing to get a stray cat to start eating. Feral cats will refuse to get near people and eat in their presence, so it is best to give the cat some space the first time around.

#1: Set Up a Feeding Schedule

Ideally, a cat should be fed twice a day in a space of 8 to 12 hours, and if your commitments permit it, you should provide breakfast and dinner for stay cats. If you can’t fit two meals a day into your schedule, once a day will suffice.

The important thing is that you stick to a regular schedule. If you can so, you will develop a bond with the cats and get them to trust and depend on you.

You should feed stray cats during the day and avoid feeding or leaving food out in the open after dusk. By doing so, you will avoid attracting wild animals and insects that can spread diseases or ultimately steal the food from the cats and leave them without a meal once again.

Once you are committed to your cause, try feeding the cats with dry cat food, since it is easier to store, won’t attract wildlife, and is made to meet the cat’s nutritional needs.

#2: Set Up a Feeding Station

Most people will build a shelter for stray cats from boxes or old containers and use that space to feed them. The important thing is to keep the food and water dishes raised from the ground to control populations of insects and smaller animals and to keep the area clean.

One more option is to place food and water bowls on a tray filled with water, to discourage ants from entering the bowls.

You can also use diatomaceous earth or baking soda to create a protective ring around the feeding area. Furthermore, don’t practice free feeding since this will for sure attract unwanted attention from other animals. Instead, leave the dishes for around 15 to 30 minutes and then remove them.

Keeping the food and water bowls clean is imperative in these situations, and depending on your commitments, try to wash them at least once a day.

See Also: Outdoor Cat Shelter DIY

How to Further Help a Stray Cat

Even though some people disagree, offering food to a hungry stray cat is a humane thing to do. Remember that some of these cats are lost, and your help can ensure that they are reunited with their owners.

When in doubt as to what to do with a stray cat, it is best to call your local rescue organization since the staff will offer valuable information about various options.

#1: Take the Cat to the Vet

taking cat to a vet

As we said before, many of these 20 million cats that roam through the U.S are simply unable to find their way home and are condemned to life on the streets. You should check if a cat has an ID collar, ask around in your neighborhood, and check flyers and sites about missing animals.

If the cat isn’t fearful and allows herself to be touched and approached, you can take her to the vet so he/she can determine if she has a microchip and help you locate the owner if she has them.

#2: Adoption

If you have the means, adopting a stray cat is the best possible thing you can do to help her and improve her life. If you already have pets that wouldn’t get along with a new cat, or some other reasons are not permitting you to keep her, you can try finding her a home with your friends or neighbors.

If none of these is an option, you can call your local shelter or rescue organization and schedule for the cat to be picked up and put through the adoption process.

See Also: How to Adopt a Cat

#3: Trap Neuter Release

neutering a cat

Although some stray cats are already neutered, lots of them aren’t, and they bring more and more unwanted stray cats into the world every day. To help with identification, all cats that went through the Trap Neuter Release program have a clipped ear that distinguishes them from the rest of the cats.

On the other hand, if you suspect that a cat isn’t fixed, call your local rescue organization for information since most of them run Trap Neuter Release programs and will be willing to come and get the cat and later release her in your neighborhood if you ask for it.

Wrap Up

stray gray cat

With so many feral and stray cats roaming the streets all around us, it is just the matter of time until you find one of them at your front door and are faced with the question: what to feed stray cats?

Ideally, dry kibble or canned cat food is a great option and will provide much-needed nourishment. If you are, by any chance, low on kibble, you can mix up a quick plain meal using boiled chicken and rice or scrambled eggs and rice.

A hungry stray cat will eat almost anything, but feeding a cat with milk, fruit and vegetables, or dog food can cause more harm than good, and we know that that isn’t your intention.

Feeding a stray cat also protects the wildlife in your area, since all those birds and critters will fall prey to the kitty’s mighty paws otherwise. Make sure to check for ID markers to ensure that the cat isn’t anyone’s pet before you decide what to do with her. Although feeding stray cats is a topic that stirs up a lot of controversies, do the best you can to leave the cat in a better state than you found her in.

Did you ever feed stray cats? What is the best quick and easy food to offer them? Share your experience with us in the comment section below. Next, check out our article on why does my cat bury her food in case you see this behavior when feeding stray cats.

About the author
Martha Harvey
Martha Harvey

Martha Harvey is a skilled veterinarian and a member of American Veterinary Medical Association from Greeley, Colorado. She has 20 years experience of working in Animal Hospital. Martha loves all of her patients, but her favorite one is the Russian Blue cat Stitch, who lives with her.

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