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'll likely have been cared for by people, typically living in a home, but are now free-living and spending a lot of time outdoors. 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.
A feral cat is one that hasn't learned that people are friendly when they were a young kitten. Feral cats will usually avoid people, and essentially live as 'wild' animals. A mature feral cat cannot be 'tamed', although they may show some friendly behaviours towards a regular caretaker who feeds them.
Many cats are happy as strays, but without somebody responsible for helping to keep them safe and well-fed, they can end up with injuries or nasty health problems. Here's what to do if you find a stray, feral or lost cat.
If you've found a healthy stray, feral or lost cat
Initially, you should try to find the owner. Cats roam over a wide area and sometimes they can be mistaken for strays even when they have owners. Ask around to see if anyone knows who the cat belongs to. If it's possible to transport the cat, you can ask a vet to scan for a microchip. You can also create 'found' posters, paper cat collars and advertise on social media and other online resources such as Animal Search UK.
If you're not able to find the owner and want to take temporary responsibility for vaccinating and neutering the cat, please do so - you'd be potentially saving a little life. If you're willing to help but worried you can't afford it, you can contact your local RSPCA branch to see if they can help or try other animal charities such as Cats Protection. It's important that you do not feed stray cats without first checking if they are owned.
If the cat is pregnant
Unless she appears to be sick or injured, there's usually little to worry about. She'll probably have a home and owner nearby, or she may be a healthy stray. We understand you may be worried about the cat and want us to help, but it's highly unlikely we would be able to collect a healthy pregnant mum as our inspectors must respond to emergency and high priority incidents to ensure we reach those animals most in need. You may also be able to help too. If you believe the mum is a stray, could you help her by providing food, water and shelter?
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 you're taking a sick or 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.
If the mum cat looks sick or injured and in need of urgent medical help, the quickest way to help her is to phone your local vet. If you find the cat in a dangerous location, such as next to fast-moving traffic, please don't put yourself in danger - call our helpline on 0300 1234 999 or the emergency services.
If the cat is in labour
If you've found a pregnant cat who you think is in labour:
- Give her space - avoid disturbing her.
- Try to locate her owner - post on local social media groups or speak to neighbours to see if anybody knows her. If you can't find the owner, please call a local animal rescue centre for advice on what to do when the kittens arrive.
- Placing a shallow bowl of water nearby - this should be done with minimal disturbance, so still keep a good distance.
- Place some shelter nearby - depending upon the weather, placing some shelter nearby could help keep her shaded from the sun and sheltered from cold winds and rain.
- Keep an eye on her to check she's doing ok, but avoid disturbing her as it 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, has passed an unpleasant discharge or is bleeding heavily from her vulva. Green, brown or 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's near a busy road or building, please call a local vet, animal rescue or call our advice line. Never put yourself in danger.
If you've found a stray cat with kittens
If 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'll move them anyway once she realises you know where they are.
If mum and kittens appear to be healthy and are in a safe area, it's best to leave them alone - don't move them unless they're 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. You can follow our advice above to try to find the cat's owner. If you can't find them and you think mum is a stray, 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 seem to be sick or injured, 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 them and aren't able to do so safely, or if the stray cat rejects a kitten, please call your local rescue charity or our advice line on 0300 1234 999. Never put yourself in danger.
If you've found abandoned, orphaned or lone kittens
If you find kittens on their own, please maintain 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, so it's very important to give enough time to see if mum returns before assuming they're orphaned.
If the kittens appear to be in danger because they're wet, cold or sick, please call a local vet, animal rescue charity or our advice line as soon as possible. If the kittens are very young - with eyes that are still closed and 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 mum's return for around four hours before calling for advice. It's best to leave the kittens where they are unless a vet, local rescue charity or our advice line suggests otherwise.
How to identify an independent kitten
An independent kitten will:
- Have their eyes open and be capable of hearing
- Be able to wee and poo without help from their mum
- Eat solid food
- Be able to run, run and play
If the kitten isn't capable of any of these, they're still dependent on their mum. If this is the case and the kitten has been alone for two hours, please get in touch with us via our helpline on 0300 1234 999.
Can I rehome a stray cat that I find?
You can decide to take on a stray cat yourself if you've checked for a microchip and can't find an owner. 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.
Can I adopt a stray cat from an animal centre?
The RSPCA, local branches and many other charities often have cats that were formerly straying available for rehoming. While kittens can be rehomed when they're eight weeks old. You can see who is available on our Find a Pet page. We also rehome cats who would be happier living outdoors, such as farm cats.