Will a Stray Cat Starve If I Stop Feeding It?

By Phil / November 16, 2019
Will a Stray Cat Starve If I Stop Feeding It

If you have a big heart and can’t help feeding the strays in your area, I commend you.

Strays need help, unlike feral cats they are not prepared to fend for themselves. The larger picture is finding out if they have owners frantically looking for them, but in the meantime, it’s perfectly fine to feed them.

If you are currently feeding a stray cat but need to stop for some reason, you’re probably wondering – will a stray cat starve if I stop feeding it?

I can help put your mind at ease, the answer is “No”. It’s very unlikely they will starve.

It doesn’t end there though, as a responsible member of your community there are some things you can do to help stray cats outside of feeding them.

Here’s everything you need to know about stray cats, feral cats, and what you can do to help them.

What Makes a Cat “Stray”?

The word “stray” means:

move away aimlessly from a group or from the right course or place.

This is why cats are called strays when they are no longer living routinely in a home with their owners.

There’s a number of reasons why cats become strays, most commonly it’s because:

  • Something has unsettled them at home and they’ve decided to move on
  • They are isolating themselves because they are ill
  • They managed to get lost and can’t find their way back home
  • They were no longer wanted for some reason (this one breaks my heart)

Sometimes it’s not clear is a cat is a stray, especially if they are new to the streets. They will look well-groomed, you might not see them often, and they may even have a collar and ID tag.

If you keep seeing the same cat wandering the streets, especially out late at night, it’s worth checking their tag. Just imagine the worry and panic you’d be going through if you lost your cat. I’ve been there once, and it’s terrible.

What’s the Difference Between Stray and Feral Cats?

What is the Difference Between Stray and Feral Cats

Despite hearing the words “Feral” and “Stray” being used interchangeably, there is a big difference between the two.

The main distinction is:

Stray cats are cats that are either unowned or semi-owned and were almost certainly owned at some point. They will typically be approachable and friendly having had a good amount of human contact in their lives.

Feral cats are cats that have never lived with humans and been part of a household. They will be not friendly if approached due to not being socialized, and they have become adept at living outdoors and surviving by themselves.

Depending on the laws where you live this might vary. But typically, feral cats are left to live on their own in the wild. While stray cats will often be taken in by a concerned member of the public or cat’s protection organization.

They will then be checked for a microchip (here’s how to feel for a microchip in a cat) to see if they can be returned to their owners. If not, they may be sheltered and put up for adoption if the resources are available.

The bottom line is that stray cats are not fully equipped to survive on their own outdoors, while feral cats are. So, they do need some help, and there are a lot of animal welfare centers that will help.

Should You Feed Stray Cats?

I’ve read both sides of the argument for why someone should or shouldn’t feed stray cats. I understand the concerns some people have with feeding them, but I have to say I’m all for it.

The problem is that the lines are blurred between strays and feral cats. So many people see both of them as the same when they’re not. So, some of the posts where I read about why it was bad to feed strays all applied to feral cats.

The reason why I say it’s fine to feed a stray is that they are probably not able to hunt or scavenge effectively. Neither are they accustomed to eating prey or scraps. They used to live in a home, with a family and were brought up on formulated cat food.

So, cat food is what they know and is the best thing for them. It’s not always a good idea to scoop up a cat you think is a stray and hand them over to a shelter. It’s sad to say, but resources a thin for most states.

One thing you absolutely must do is get a good look at the cat to check they look like they’re in good health. If you suspect they are injured or sick for any reason, you should contact the ASPCA, Humane Society, or any other relevant cat’s protection league in your area and ask for their advice.

Related ContentWhere do stray cats go when it snows?

Will a Stray Cat Starve If I Stop Feeding It?

A stray cat will not starve if you stop feeding it. Unless you live in a very remote place and there are very few other options, the worst that will happen is they have to find food from somewhere else.

If you really want to stop feeding a stray but it’s weighing on your conscience, I can help put you at ease. That stray was finding food before they met you, and they will find food after you stop.

So, please don’t worry about it.

Cats are natural hunters too. Even the softest, most domesticated cat will draw on their natural hunting instinct when times are hard. Failing that, they’ll do some dumpster diving. They have options is what I’m getting at.

How You Should Be Helping Stray Cats

How You Should Be Helping Stray Cats

If you were feeding a stray, you obviously care about cats and wanted to help. Instead of feeding a stray next time, here’s what you should do to try and help them:

Try and Find out If They’re a Stray

It’s a good idea to try and find out if the cat is a stray. Or at least take some steps to be as sure as you can be, otherwise, you might be causing the owners some distress.

I would:

  • Ask around your neighbors if they know the owner or anything about the cat
  • Take a photo of the cat and post it on local groups
  • Make a mental note how often you’re really seeing it because sometimes it can feel a lot more frequent than it really is
  • Check the cat up close for an ID tag on their collar and their general condition

Start Caring for Them, but with a Little Caution

If you have a little spare time and money, there’s nothing wrong with putting out a little food for a stray. If they spend a lot of time in your yard, it’s nice to make sure there is some dry shelter too.

You might want to turn them in to try and find their owners eventually, but I wouldn’t do this right away unless they look like they need some medical care. For now, it’s better you gain their trust.

See how quickly they eat the food you put out. Do they look like they’re really hungry?

Do remember to take it slowly with a stray. Don’t try and pet them when they’re not familiar with you, there is a risk they will lash out.

Schedule a Veterinary Visit

When you’ve built trust with the stray and have been feeding them for a while, you should get them checked over by a vet. It’s going to cost you a little, but if you can afford it I recommend it.

Stray cats can easily pick up parasites that will need treating. They might also have a microchip which will help reunite them with their owners.

Rehoming or Adoption

With a clean bill of health and no one claiming the cat after weeks or even months, you might be presented with the option to take ownership. Otherwise, you can continue to feed them, which is basically semi-ownership, or hand them over to a shelter for rehoming.

Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR)

Something else to consider is TNR, which is the Trap-Neuter-release program that organizations across the country are running.

The stray and feral cat population is seriously out of control across the US, and most of the world for that matter. It’s the responsible thing to do. I always recommend people check for an organization that will do a TNR on a stray or feral cat, so please do consider it.

Are you currently feeding a stray in your neighborhood? What’s your experience with dealing with strays? I’d love to hear about it, just drop me a comment below. Thanks.

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