Thursday, 28 May 2015

How You Can Help Stray Cats

For a cat to be termed a "stray", it will have previously been a tame pet cat that has become lost or been abandoned by its owner, as opposed to being feral, which means the cat has not been socialised with humans and is not tame.  Most cat lovers dislike the idea of cats being outside, homeless and alone and report them to charities like Cats Protection.  However, being a charity with limited resources means that we often need the help of the public when it comes to dealing with stray cats.


If you find what you believe to be a stray cat there are a number of steps that you can take to try to find the owner before adding it to our waiting list to rehome:
  • Ask around neighbours - see if anyone else has seen the cat recently or knows of an owner in the area
  • Scan for a microchip - if the cat is friendly enough to pick up and you can get your hands on a secure cat carrier please take it to your local veterinary practice to be scanned, vets should do this free of charge
  • Attach a paper collar to the cat with your contact number on - the owner may then contact you to confirm the cat is owned. The collars can be sent to you by enquiring through our national helpline 03000 12 12 12, along with "missing cat" posters.
  • Check lost and found columns in the local paper
  • Notify local vets in case any cats reported missing
  • Animal Search UK - register the cat on Animal Search UK and entries for lost and found cats can be matched up

If the cat is sick or injured please contact the RSPCA on 0300 1234 999 or alternatively take straight to your local vets who can assess the cat, provide any emergency veterinary care necessary and also scan for a microchip. 

If you are happy to feed the cat then please provide water and cat food - cow's milk is not appropriate - but be warned, once fed the cat is likely to stick around!  For kittens and pregnant cats please provide water and kitten food, which is high in protein and energy needed for growth. Also, if you are happy for the cat to stay in your garden you can provide shelter by simply using a cardboard (if not raining) or plastic box on its side, with a towel or even some straw for warmth. Even a plastic cover over a bench can provide respite from the weather. 
In an ideal world, all kittens need to be handled frequently from three weeks old to prevent them from becoming feral so it is important to ring our helpline 0345 647 2185 to report any stray kittens to us ASAP.  However, we may not have a space to take them in straight away so if you are able to handle them in the meantime it would provide them with the best chance of success.  If the mother will not let you approach the kittens then please leave well alone to reduce her stress levels and the risk of you receiving an injury!  Regular handling teaches the kittens important socialisation skills.  Kittens should ideally be weaned  onto solid food at around 4-5 weeks of age and once fully weaned (around 6-8 weeks) the mother can be spayed (see below for neutering details).

A rough guide to a kitten's age:
  • 7-14 days - eyes closed
  • Up to 6-7 weeks - eyes open and blue
  • 6-8 weeks - eyes change from blue to yellow

We do advise that all owned cats should be microchipped as it is the only permanent method of identification available.  Scanning a microchip containing up to date contact details can mean the cat is reunited with a very happy owner the same day, or in some cases a couple of days - the recent story of George from Conwy being found 128 miles away in Yorkshire being a good example (read his story here)!  June is National Microchipping Month and charities and microchip database companies will all be promoting the benefits involved.  Enquire at your local vets now as a simple injection will mean your cat is registered to you for life.  Your details will need to be updated if you move house or change your contact number to ensure you are always able to be reached.

Unfortunately, many stray cats are the result of unneutered cats being allowed outside to roam or even being abandoned.  Females will become pregnant and have kittens that could then be feral if not handled, creating colonies of unhomeable cats in the neighbourhood.  Cats Protection can help with the cost of neutering owned cats before this becomes a problem. We can provide vouchers to cover part of the cost if you are on any form of benefits, tax credits, are a pensioner or receive a low income.  You may contact our Neutering Officer, Dot Nuttall, to see if you could be eligible on 01492 596555 (10:30 - 16:30).

We can also help to neuter stray cats.  If an owner cannot be found through any of the methods outlined above then we can issue a voucher to have the cat neutered.  This will avoid the possibility of a female cat having kittens whilst on our waiting list and creating another problem and may reduce the stress caused by an entire male in the neighbourhood fighting with the local cats. If the cat is not approachable or you cannot transport it to your local vets for any reason we can see if any of our volunteers are available to help.  Please contact Dot on the number above to find out more.

If you wish to report a cat to our lost and found list or wish to add the cat to our waiting list for rehoming please call our helpline on 0345 647 2185 and a volunteer will take your details and forward your enquiry to the appropriate department. You will find some of this advice documented in the following link from "The Cat" magazine, published by Cats Protection - What to do with a stray cat