Feeding Stray Cats: What do they need?

Last Updated on March 11, 2023 by ellen

Are you wondering about feeding stray cats? Feeding a stray or feral cat is a nice thing for you to do if they are visiting your home. But, understand that if you continue to leave food out for them you are encouraging them to come back.

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a cat hiding outside behind a green plant


Feeding stray cats

You shouldn’t feel guilty about feeding a stray cat that is regularly coming to your home. It’s a nice thing to do and as long as you are feeding them healthy food, it can only help them.

Cats are creatures of habit. So, if they know that they can find something to eat at your home, they will keep coming back. While I have no problem at all with feeding a stray, what they need is a forever home. 

If it’s possible, entice the stray cat into a cat carrier so that they can go to the vet for a health check. And, if you can’t keep the cat in your home, see if you can find them a forever home to live in. It’s safe than living out on the streets or in the wild. Or, consider leaving them some sort of outside shelter to hide in during bad weather.

Feeding Stray Cats: What do they need?

What happens when you feed stray cats?

If there is a stray in your area, they are probably currently feeding themselves by killing wildlife. If they are fed cat food, they will have less of a need to hunt for their own food. That doesn’t mean that they’ll stop hunting. Cats do that because it’s in their nature. But, they will be less likely to hunt for food. And, extra food will certainly help them when the weather is cold.

Feeding Stray Cats: What do they need?

Will a stray cat starve if I stop feeding it?

No, a stray won’t starve if you stop feeding it. It was hunting for itself before you started feeding it. So, it will simply resume that behavior. 

What’s the difference between stray and feral cats?

A stray cat is simply a pet cat that has run away or been abandoned. Because it has no home, it has had to learn how to live in the wild again. But, because it once had close contact with people, it’s more friendly than a feral cat. 

A feral cat is one that has never known a family. Or, if it has, it was so young that it has no memory. These cats don’t see people as friends. They see them as potential predators. While they may eat the food you leave out, they will run if they see you. 

How to tell if a cat is feral

If you feed a stray cat and it is still unapproachable after a week of feeding it, the cat may be feral rather than stray. You can certainly still try to capture him in a cat carrier, but it may not be possible. This is what you should do if you find a stray.

a white cat looking away toward a garden

What should I feed a stray cat?

If the cat is a stray, they should eat high-calorie cat food. They will need extra calories to keep warm. And, they are probably more active than your traditional house cat. These are a few good options.

It’s best to leave dry cat food rather than canned food outside. Dry will be less tempting to other neighborhood cats. 

Be aware that if you do leave out dry food when you’re feeding stray cats, it will attract other wildlife. Raccoons, skunks, and possum will also eat dry and canned cat food. So, you may want to set out two bowls in different spots in case one is eaten.

Remember that stray cats will also need fresh water every day. So, leave out a bowl of fresh water. Check it regularly for dried leaves, dirt, or other debris. It can be very helpful to use a gravity feed water dish to keep it full especially in the summer.

Feeding Stray Cats: What do they need?

Be aware that in some areas it is illegal to feed stray cats. And, your neighbors may not like having extra cats roaming the area looking for food. While I fully support feeding strays that are in need, check with your town to understand the rules in your area.

And, if you do have outdoor cats in your area, try to get them to the Humane Society so they can find new owners. 

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2 thoughts on “Feeding Stray Cats: What do they need?

  1. Good Morning, I need to Know if I was feeding a cat and No longer can . What can I do humanely to stop them from coming to my house. I can’t feed any more because I rent and landlord doesn’t want
    No more cats on
    Her porch. Thank you!
    Susie R.

    • Hi Susie – If you stop feeding them, they will move on to another area. I always recommend trying to catch them in a Havahart trap so you can bring them to your Humane Society to find a new home. Good luck!

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