Unlike dogs, cats are independent creatures who may spend much of their time outdoors unsupervised. If you find a cat wandering around your garden – or even straying into your house – it can be difficult to know whether it’s lost, homeless or just exceptionally nosy!
What do I do?
If you only see a cat once or from time to time, it may well be just passing through. It is best not to feed visiting cats or encourage them into your house, as if they are owned they may be on a special diet and if you have cats of your own then introducing another can cause them significant stress.
If the cat is unwell, is causing problems, or is simply visiting on a frequent basis and you are worried about it, the first step is to work out whether it is lost, homeless or nosey.
The cat is very thin and always seems hungry. Doesn’t this mean it’s a stray, or at least neglected?
If the cat is hungry, stealing your cats’ food or gobbling down whatever you offer it, this doesn’t necessarily mean the cat is homeless or not looked after. There are plenty of cats out there who are simply greedy, and will gladly accept offers of food even if they are well fed at home!
If the cat appears unkempt or thin, caution is advised. The cat may be elderly or suffering from a medical condition and be under treatment from a vet. If you are in doubt, the best thing to do is look for an owner (see below).
What if the cat is injured or obviously unwell?
An injured cat must receive veterinary attention. If it is safe to do so, get them to the nearest vet. Injured cats can react defensively, so never put yourself at risk. Always call the vet first if you can, so they know to expect you. If it is out of hours, Vets Now Emergency Vets are available all night and at weekends / on Bank Holidays. Their numbers are:
Stoke branch: 01782 363538
Macclesfield branch: 01625 348284
If you absolutely cannot catch the cat because it would compromise your own safety (see below), then do try the RSPCA on 0300 1234 999.
Catching the cat
A wandering cat may be feral or unsocialised with humans, or may be very frightened. Be extremely careful trying to handle strange cats and do not attempt to touch them or pick them up if there is any doubt about their reaction. Cat bites and scratches can be very serious. Always seek medical advice if you are bitten or scratched by a cat.
Try placing an open cat carrier containing food in the garden. You may be able to approach and quickly shut the door while the cat is inside eating. Alternatively, attach a long piece of string or rope to the door so you can swing it shut from a distance when the cat enters.
If the cat is willing to enter your house, you may be able to trap them in the utility room or hallway and direct them into a cat carrier from there. Do not put yourself at risk if the cat is struggling or defensive. Make sure there is nothing in the room on which the cat could injure itself.
Some rescue charities may be able to lend you a humane cat trap; it is worth enquiring to see if they have one available.
What else can I do?
Contact local veterinary practices and cat rescue centres to see if they have any reports of missing cats. Some local cat rescue centres and practices are:
RSPCA Stapeley Cattery: 0300 123 0722
Iris Cats in Need: 07852430281 or 07511280170 or 07742766532
Cats Protection: 0345 260 1385 (Stoke branch) or 0345 603 8138 (Macclesfield)
Blue House (us!), Biddulph: 01782 522100
Charter Vets, Congleton/Biddulph: 01260 273449 / 01782 513077
Warrendale Vets, Biddulph: 01782 513366
Congleton Vets, Congleton: 01260 272131
Beechwood Vets, Kidsgrove: 01782 782582
Wright and Morten, Congleton: 01260 273222
You can try fitting the cat with a collar carrying a message to the owner and asking them to contact you to clarify the situation. Collars with printed messages such as ‘Are you my owner? Please call: >your number<’ can be ordered online for very little money. Alternatively you could try writing such a message onto a cheap fabric collar with a marker pen, use a message capsule, or securely tape a message onto a collar. Always use a collar with a quick-release safety clip: never use elasticated collars or those with buckles as they can cause severe injury if they become snagged.
Facebook – put pictures of the cat on Facebook and mark them as “found – please share”. Post them onto the Facebook pages of local vets and cat or pet groups. Many cats have been reunited with their owners in this way.
Posters – put posters up to see if anyone has lost the cat. Also look for posters / on public notice boards to see if anyone is searching for them. You could also consider posting flyers through the doors of local houses.
Online - consider registering the cat with a national lost pet database, such as www.animalsearchuk.co.uk or www.nationalpetregister.org
What if I would like to adopt the cat?
If you find a stray cat and would like to keep them, you are first obliged to take reasonable steps to locate the owners and make them aware of the cat’s location. Under UK law, cats are considered property and knowingly keeping a cat without taking reasonable steps to locate an owner could count as theft.
Always have the cat scanned for a microchip. Veterinary practices and most rehoming centres are able to do this. If a chip is found, the owner may be contacted provided the details registered to the chip are up to date. Unfortunately, even some chipped cats are not reunited with their owners as the owners have moved on and failed to update their contact details.
The loss of a cat often causes great distress on the part of the owner. In our experience, taking the cat to be scanned for a chip will give the owner the greatest chances of being reunited with their much loved companion.
Other reasonable steps to locate the cat’s owner may include the examples already mentioned above: posters, asking neighbours, posts on social media.
If the cat is not chipped (or the owner cannot be traced from the registered contact details) and all feasible measures have been tried to locate the owner, then you are unlikely to encounter any problems if you decide to keep the cat. There is a six year statutory period for which cats (like any chattel) remain the property of the original owner; however this is a legal definition. In the meantime, as the person feeding and caring for the cat, you would be considered their ‘keeper’ and thus able to own the cat unless their original owner comes forward and demands their return.