What is a stray cat?
A stray cat is a domesticated cat who is now homeless. The most common reasons for this are the cat being dumped by his owners or the cat becoming lost. Possibly as a result of moving to a new home.
Stray cats survive by scavenging for food or hunting the local wildlife. It's a hard existence for them as they are exposed to cars, dogs, humans, attacks from other cats and illness.
What is the difference between a stray cat and a feral cat?
As we have already mentioned, a stray cat is a once domesticated cat who is now living on the streets, in the wild as a result of dumping or getting lost. A feral cat is a cat from domestic stock who was born in the wild. A stray cat will generally be used to humans and be "domesticated" whereas a feral cat is generally fearful of humans unless they are caught at a very young age.
How to tell a stray and a feral apart:
This is often difficult, but there can be some differences between a stray cat and a feral cat.
A stray cat may approach a human.
A stray cat may meow, this is reserved for humans only, a feral cat won't meow.
Feral cats tend to live on colonies whereas stray cats generally live alone.
Feral cats are much less likely to be seen, especially during the day. Stray cats may be seen around day or night.
As feral cats have been born in the wild, they will generally have a cleaner/less dishevelled appearance than a stray, as they have learned survival skills.
A stray cat may be underweight as they don't have the hunting skills a feral cat has learned.
If you are able to catch the cat, declawing is another sign the cat is a stray and not a feral.
What to do if you find a stray cat:
If you suspect a cat may be stray, if it is friendly enough, try to catch it. Many cats have microchips under their skin and a quick trip to the vet will be able to determine if this is the case or not.
Take a good, clear photo of the cat and place flyers around your local area including schools, community notice boards, local shops, veterinary offices etc.
Call around shelters and ask if anybody has reported a missing cat fitting the description of the cat.
The RSPCA website recommends that you place a paper collar on the cat (if it is still outside) and write a note on the collar saying you have found the cat and ask the owners to call you. You can download a template for the collar here.
If you are unable to locate the owner of a stray cat, you need to decide what to do. Are you able to keep the cat? If you can't, ask your veterinary practice if they know of anybody looking to adopt a cat or if they can help you find a home. If they can't, then your next option is to either list the cat in classified ads or online, or take it to the shelter. It is always a good idea to ask for a fee if you are looking to rehome a cat. This is more likely to discourage the wrong type of person adopting the cat for less than honourable reasons.
One last word:
If you have a cat you can no longer keep then please do the right thing and either make attempts to find it a new home or surrender it to the shelter. It is not fair on the cat or the wildlife to abandon him on the street.