What to do with stray, feral or lost cats and kittens

Stray cats are much the same as pet cats - at some point in their lives they will likely have been cared for by people, typically living in a home, but they are now free-living. Each stray cat will have a different story - they may have been abandoned, they may have become lost or they may have moved away from their home because they weren't happy.

'Free-living' means that stray cats spend a lot of time outdoors and many are happy with the freedom of that lifestyle. However, without somebody responsible for helping to keep them safe and well-fed, they can end up with injuries or nasty health problems.

I've found a stray, feral or lost cat, how can I help?

Sometimes cats with owners can be mistaken for strays. It's important to try and find the owner of any cat you think could be a stray - including asking a vet to scan for a microchip, creating 'found' posters and advertising on social media and other online resources such as Pets Located.

If the cat is not friendly and approachable, they may be feral. These cats are generally able to look after themselves. So long as a feral cat is healthy, they will live happily outside. If however, the cat is approachable and friendly, they may be a stray cat who belongs to someone. We support the trapping and neutering of feral cats where local charities have the capacity to do so.

Unfortunately, the RSPCA doesn't have the resources to collect healthy strays but you can help a stray cat by following our guide below. If you have concerns about a sick or injured stray cat see the relevant advice towards the bottom of this page.

  1. If the cat is seemingly healthy, approachable and friendly, the best thing to do is try and find the owner. To find out if the cat has an owner follow these steps:
  2. Cats roam over a wide area, so ask around to see if anyone knows who the cat belongs to.
  3. If you can safely transport the cat to a vet, you could have the cat scanned for a microchip.
  4. If this isn't possible but you can get close enough to put a collar on the lost cat, then download our paper cat collars (PDF 36.5KB). Always take precautions when approaching the cat and fixing the collar. 
  5. You can also download and print a found poster (PDF 10.7KB) as well as our lost and found contact list (PDF 20KB).

We also recommend you visit Pets Located, an online resource that reunites owners with their pets. 
Social media can also be a really useful tool in helping to reunite lost pets with their owners. There are often local lost and found groups/pages for pets that you can post on.

What should I do if I can't find the cat's owner?

If after not being able to locate the animal's owner, you're prepared to take responsibility for continued feeding and are willing to take the cat to a vet for vaccinations & neutering, please do so - you would be potentially saving a little life.

If you're willing to help but are concerned that you're not financially able, you can contact your local branch to see if they can offer you any welfare assistance. Alternatively, other animal charities such as Cats Protection might be able to help.

Can I rehome a stray cat?

You can decide to take on a stray cat yourself if no owner can be found. If you're unable to keep the cat, a local animal rescue charity may be able to help. Try contacting your local RSPCA animal centre, Cats Protection or other reputable organisations. Some of these are listed on our lost and found contact list (PDF 20KB).

Giving a home to a cat in need can be hugely rewarding but it's also a responsibility and a long-term commitment. Consider carefully whether you have the time, space and money to help care for a stray cat. If the cat becomes ill or injured in the future you'll be responsible for ensuring that they get the veterinary care they need.

If after consideration, you've decided to take responsibility for a stray cat - thank you! There are so many benefits to doing so. Cats that come into our care will live in one of our catteries until we can find them a suitable 'forever home' - this can be stressful for many cats, especially those stray cats who have been used to the freedom to roam and live outside.

Taking on the responsibility yourself means the cat can return to a place they know and feel comfortable. You will also be helping us to care for more cats who are victims of cruelty or neglect and have been brought in by our dedicated inspectors by freeing up a space in our centre.

If you decide to take on responsibility for a stray cat, please make sure you get them microchipped and have your contact details registered so that you can be identified as the owner.

Find out more about caring for cats.

What should I do with a sick or injured stray/feral cat?

If you find an injured stray or feral cat and they're approachable, please confine them and take them to a vet, if possible. If this is not possible, please get in contact with us on 0300 1234 999.

If taking a sick/injured stray cat to the vets and the cat just needs minimum care, you might be expected to take the cat away and fit a paper collar if needed.

I have or I've found a healthy, pregnant mum cat, what should I do?

Unless she appears to be sick or injured then there is usually little to worry about. She will probably have a home and owner nearby or she may be a healthy stray. Although you may be worried about the cat and want us to help, it's highly unlikely we would be able to collect a healthy pregnant mum.

I have or I've found a sick or injured, pregnant cat, what should I do?

If mum does look sick or injured and in need of urgent medical help, the quickest way to help her is to seek advice by phoning your local vet. It's always helpful to check with neighbours and local residents to see if anybody owns the cat. Please post on local social media groups and speak to neighbours to see if anybody knows her.

You can also print off 'found' posters and a paper cat collar so that people know to get in touch with you if they have any information. If you believe the mum is a stray, could you help her by providing food, water and shelter?

Please note: If the cat is found in a dangerous location such as next to fast-moving traffic, please don't put yourself in danger, call our cruelty line on 0300 1234 999 or the emergency services.

I've got/found a cat in labour, what should I do?

If you've found a pregnant cat who you think is in labour, please give her plenty of space to avoid disturbing her. The best way to help is to try and locate the cat's owner. Please post on local social media groups or speak to neighbours to see if anybody knows her.

You can also help by placing a shallow bowl of water nearby for her to use - this really needs to be done with minimal disturbance though so still keep a good distance. Also, depending upon the weather, placing some shelter nearby could help keep her shaded from the sun and sheltered from cold winds.

Please do keep an eye on mum to check she's doing ok. If you can't find the owner please call a local animal rescue centre for advice on what to do when the kittens arrive. It's always best to avoid disturbing the mum which could cause unnecessary problems for the kittens. Many cats give birth without needing any help at all but signs she may be having difficulty include:

  • If between 30 and 60 minutes of intense straining she doesn't produce a kitten or a kitten seems to be stuck.
  • The mother seems to be noticeably distressed.
  • If she seems lethargic or has passed an unpleasant discharge or is bleeding heavily from her vulva.
  • Although green/brown/red discharge, while the kittens are being born, is normal.

If you see any of these signs or if mum is at risk because she is near a busy road or building then please call a local vet, animal rescue or call our advice line but never put yourself in danger.

I've found a stray cat with kittens, what should I do?

If mum and kittens appear to be free from sickness or injury and are located in a safe area then at this time it's best to leave them alone. If you spot a mum and kittens, it's best to keep your distance so as not to risk disturbing them. It's important not to move kittens or mum unless they're in danger as being moved may put the kittens at risk. In addition to the risk of disturbance, the mum might have an owner nearby already looking for her so it's best to leave them be but you can help in other ways.

Please try to see if the mum has an owner by posting on local social media groups or speaking to neighbours to see if anybody knows her. In addition, you can download and print 'found' posters and a paper cat collar so people know to get in touch with you if they have any information.

If you can't find an owner and you think mum is a stray, it's a good idea to call your local animal rescue for advice. They may talk to you about giving a helping hand by providing food, water and outside shelter to help protect mum and kittens from extreme weather.

If mum and/or the kittens look to be suffering from sickness or injury, phoning a local vet for advice is the best and quickest way to help. It's important that mum and kittens stay together. If you need to transport the mum and kittens and are not able to do so safely, please call your local rescue charity or our advice line on 0300 1234 999. Never put yourself in danger.

Don't move the cat or her kittens unless they're at risk

A mother cat and her kittens should only be moved if they are at risk or vulnerable. This is because disturbing a mother and kittens can lead to stress and/or aggression which can risk the health of the kittens. Kittens that are unweaned are dependent upon their mother for survival - inappropriate disturbance may cause the mother to abandon her kittens.

In the situation that you're not prepared/able to look after the welfare of the cats and you're adamant that you want them moving despite the advice above, you should contact your local animal centre or animal welfare organisation - they may be able to help with rehoming. Kittens can be rehomed when they are eight weeks old.

In the case that the stray cat rejects a kitten, please get in touch with us via our helpline on 0300 1234 999.

I've found a stray cat who has just had kittens, what should I do?

In the situation that a stray cat has just had kittens, it may be best to leave them for a few days. If anyone tries to move them, the mother may reject or even kill the kittens. After a few days, she will move them anyway, once she realises that you know where they are.

What should I do with an abandoned/orphaned/lone kitten(s)?

If you find kittens on their own, please maintain a good distance to avoid disturbing them and possibly scaring mum into not returning. It's not unusual for mum to leave her kittens when she goes off to find food. Kittens have a much better chance if they stay with their mum and so it's very important that we give enough time to see if mum returns before assuming they're orphaned. However, if the kittens appear to be in danger because they are wet, cold or sick, please call a local vet, animal rescue charity or our advice line as soon as possible.

For very young kittens whose eyes are still closed and who have little mobility, you should monitor them for around two hours before phoning a vet, local rescue charity or our advice line. Older kittens can usually go a little longer without food, so for those who have their eyes open and can walk, you should monitor for mums' return for around four hours before calling for advice. It's best to leave the kittens where they are until a vet, local rescue charity or our advice line suggest otherwise.

How to identify an independent kitten

An independent kitten will:

  • Have their eyes open
  • Be capable of hearing
  • Be capable or urinating and defecating without assistance from their mother
  • Eat solid food
  • Be able to run
  • Be able to walk
  • Be able to play

If the kitten is not capable of any of the above, they're deemed still dependent on their mother.  If this is the case and the kitten is alone, please get in touch with us via our helpline on 0300 1234 999.

What's the difference between stray and feral cats?

There are often different terms used to describe cats and it can get a little confusing. We consider feral cats to be free-roaming cats who predominantly live independently from people. Feral cats are unsocialised and are likely to be very elusive - they are generally scared of people and less friendly towards them.

However, stray cats typically have some reliance on people and are more tolerable. They live amongst us much more than feral cats do and they often live in towns or villages because of the opportunity for food. Many stray cats haven't been socialised with people as kittens and have no experience of living in a domestic home. However, within this 'group' you often find individuals who have been lost or abandoned and have previously lived with people.

More expert advice on caring for cats

Find out more about the needs of cats.

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