Photo of Morris the cat

What to do with a stray cat

Unlike with dogs, there are very few laws that give cats any legal protection. The number of stray cats is on the increase and one of our most frequently asked questions is what to do if you find a stray cat.

What should I do if I find a stray cat?

Councils and local authorities have no legal responsibility to deal with stray cats. While dog wardens have an obligation to take in stray dogs, this law does not apply to cats.

Often cats seem to be strays but actually have a home. Due to their nature they do tend to roam and can appear to be lost. A cat that is hanging around looking for food, or trying to get into your house may have a home not far away, so you need to be sure they are genuinely homeless before assuming they are stray and either taking it to a rehoming centre, or deciding to take it in yourself.

We suggest putting a paper collar on the cat you think might be a stray and writing a message and your telephone number on it asking the owner to call you if the cat is theirs.

Ask your neighbours if their cat is missing or if they recognise the cat. There may well be someone searching frantically for their much loved lost pet.

Consider putting up a ‘found’ poster with a photo of the cat and giving your contact details so the owner can get in touch if they see it.

Many areas have ‘lost and found pets’ groups on Facebook, so have a look to see if there is one for your neighbourhood.

Vets and rescue centres also keep lost and found lists, so make sure you check with those local to you too.

I have found a stray cat. Can Blue Cross help?

Blue Cross finds homes for many stray cats each year and we are happy to help stray cats that are brought to our centres, but we are only able to take them in if we have space.

Please contact your nearest Blue Cross rehoming centre to see if we have space to look after them. If we are unable to take the stray cat in we can help you find an alternative solution.

If you have found an injured stray cat then please take them to one of our animal hospitals, if you live close enough, or to any vet who will be able to provide emergency care.

Can I keep a stray cat?

If you would like to keep the stray cat as your own pet and have been unable to find the owner using the tips above, first check whether the cat is microchipped by taking them to your vet to have them scanned.

Cats have been known to jump into cars and vans and accidently travel many miles away from home, so a microchip can sometimes be the only way of tracking down an owner.

If you have made a really good attempt to find the cat’s owner and wish to keep them as your own pet, you must be able to give them all the care they need to stay happy and healthy.

I’ve found a litter of kittens. What should I do?

If you find one or more kittens, first check to see if their mother is about.

If there is no sign of their mum, try to leave the kittens undisturbed and keep an eye on them for a couple of hours to see if she comes back. She may not be far away, but frightened to return to them while you are there. Don’t be tempted to handle the kittens, as this may deter her from coming back to them.

If mum still hasn’t come back after a few hours then the kittens will need to be taken in urgently as they won’t be able to fend for themselves without her.

Contact a vet or pet charity like Blue Cross to get them taken in and cared for as soon as possible.

If the mum is there, the kittens don’t need to be moved immediately if they’re in a safe place, and there’s time to make arrangements for them to be taken into a rehoming centre.

When you call the rehoming centre, give them as much detail as possible about where the kittens are, whether or not their mum is there, and how big they are so the expert can advise you on the best thing to do in this situation. If the mum is around, she needs to be scanned for a microchip to see if she has an owner close by.

Do not be tempted to keep a litter of kittens. They will need veterinary care, worming, vaccination and neutering before being rehomed, so it’s best to hand them in to a rehoming centre as soon as possible.

I accidently hit a cat with my car. What should I do?

Sadly it is not uncommon for cats to be involved in road traffic accidents.

Although there is no law requiring you to report hitting a cat with your car, making an attempt to let the owner know is a kind thing to do if you can.

If the cat is alive but injured and able to be caught, try to take them to the nearest vet for emergency care. The vet can then try to find an owner, or may have an arrangement with a local rehoming centre that can take the cat in after treatment.

If the cat runs away, there’s little you can do, other than keep an eye on out for lost cat posters and on social media in case someone is looking for their cat.

If the cat is killed and you can bring yourself to pick it up, you can take it to a vet or rehoming centre to be scanned for a microchip. This is not an easy thing to do, but try to think about how you would feel if it was your pet – it’s much better for owners to know what’s happened to their cat if possible.

At the very least, try to make a note of the description of the cat, colour, sex, collar etc in case someone is looking for them.

Advice for cat owners

Microchipping your cat gives you the best chance of getting them back if they go missing. Even if your cat wears a collar displaying your contact details, make sure your cat is microchipped in case the collar falls off your cat. From 10 June 2024 it will be mandatory to microchip your cat in England.

Cats are regularly brought to Blue Cross animal hospitals and rehoming centres by people who think they are strays. If a cat is microchipped then we can contact the owner and reunite them with their much loved pet quickly. Sadly, if a cat is not microchipped we are often unable to return cats to their owners because we have no way of contacting them.

Make sure your contact details are correct. You can check your details are up to date by phoning the microchip database.

Add your mobile phone number to your contact details so you can be reached if you are not at home.

Let your microchip database know as soon as your cat goes missing so they can put a note on your pet’s record for when they are found.

If your cat goes missing:

  • Put up posters in your local area which show a good photo of your cat and give your contact details
  • Ask your neighbours to check their garages, sheds and cars and keep a look out
  • Contact the local vets and pet charity rehoming and rescue centres and give them copies of your missing poster so they can contact you if your cat is brought to them.
— Page last updated 29/06/2023