Will a Stray Cat Starve If I Stop Feeding It

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.

16 thoughts on “Will a Stray Cat Starve If I Stop Feeding It?”

  1. I have a cat that’s always coming to me to be fed I know they are not a full on stray because I found out. That it’s my neighbors cat but the cat is always hungry and before I started feeding it it would rummage through my compost bin looking for food and when I do feed it the cat eats like it isn’t being fed. The cat also isn’t fixed so she had a litter of kittens that I took care of and ended up adopting two of them I to,d my neighbor about the kittens and they picked up the rest and I don’t know what happened to then after that . But the cat is now pregnant again and I don’t know what to do I think it’s very unfair to have baby kittens and no place for them and I rent a room so my roommate is kinda mad that I’ve been taking care of the cat and she keeps getting pregnant I want to bring the cat into a vet and get her fixed but I don’t know if it’s legal to do that cause she has a owner but from what I see they don’t feed her are even bring her inside ever the cat is always in my yard night and day I’m not sure how to bring this up with my neighbor either without sounding rude. What should I do?

    1. you need to do what is best for the cat and your neighbors should not have any pets and you can get a court order for them not to be able to have any more pets as well this is so sad when i here this so you have 3 choices one is really bad which is keep feeding the cat and allow the poor thing to continue living outside. 2. my favorite one get the cat fixed and keep her yourself cause they obviously should not have pets. and 3 which is good as well bring her to the nearest shelter so another family can look after her with real love. your neighbors are losers and should be arrested for neglecting their pet like that. so keep on the love for pets everyone and enjoy their companionship cause they do give lots of love.

  2. A feral but friendly cat birthed her kittens in my parents’ house and we let her stay here. She is pregnant again and my sister is forcing me to kick her and her (only surviving) kitten out because the kitten keeps climbing on surfaces and attacking our feet. I wish I could take care of them but we can’t afford to feed them every day or take her to get fixed because of the lockdown/quarantine. I live in India and there are no animal shelters/organisations in my small town for cats. I don’t have the heart to turn them out but my family is treating me like a pariah because of the poor kitten. Is it safe to let a pregnant cat and her 7 weeks old kitten fend for themselves outside? My heart is breaking just writing this. I wish I could keep them both.

    1. I really hope and pray your family allows you to keep them. It’s not safe to put them out on their own. Or see if you can give them to another kind family/person if you can’t keep them. If you don’t find a person, call a shelter in a other part of India and see if they will come to get the cats. They may very well do that. If you absolutely can’t find anyone, and there’s no other choice but putting them outside, at least continue to feed them and give them water daily. But do try to contact several shelters and look up rescue groups too, to see if someone there will come to you and get the cats. God bless you all.


  4. Thank you for this article. I am pretty late to reading it but I found it when I needed it most. I have been feeding a few strays for about 2 weeks in my busy city apartment complex and made a small shelter for the cruel winter months. Then I kept hearing how I am setting them up to starve and die when I move in 1-2 years. I was crying my eyes out and feeling defeated. I will definitely decrease the amount I am feeding them, but figured it has been a cold winter and it just started! I want to give them the best chance to survive the winter months but not make them dependable on me as a good source. So Thank you 🙏🏼

  5. I’ve been feeding a feral cat for a year. Had her fixed and released, but now I’m moving and wondering if I should catch her and take her with me to my new location or leave her behind? My neighbors tell me not to worry they will feed her, but I really have fallen in love with her. Whenever I call her name she comes to me and she doesn’t leave my property. I’m afraid if I take her to a new location that she’s not familiar with she’ll suffer or run away and be lost. Please advise what would be best for her.

  6. Gretchen Dickson

    I have come across many cats nearly dead from starvation. It is unreasonable to assume a cat will find another food source.

    1. I concur. Especially when there is an unmanaged and multiplying colony of cats competing for food in the same area. One unmanaged colony near my home grew from 30 to 50 cats in only two months. Even if every cat is hunting there will not be enough food for 50 cats within a reasonable roaming distance. When they expand their range, then they get on other peoples property cross more roadways and end up dead. So not feeding a colony that has been accustomed to being fed is not a solution that I support. Rather, find help to get the colony TNR’d and/or properly relocated to a location where a care taker will look after them as a managed colony.

  7. YES, A STRAY CAT CAN STARVE IF YOU STOP FEEDING IT. I’ve done cat rescue for decades and have taken in cats that were skin and bones, near-death because someone stopped feeding. Not all cats can hunt well. Older cats can’t leap into dumpsters as a food source. It’s often hard to tell if the cat is really a feral or was an abandoned pet that has grown skittish after many years outside. Cat who were once pets grew up dependent upon humans, and many remain dependent upon the kindness of people all their lives. If you can no longer feed, try to line someone up who can. Don’t delude yourself into thinking the cat will be fine.

    1. This was my fear. A daddy and mommy cat had a cat I call Baby. They live under a mobile home I’m renting currently. Baby has 4 young ones. I have been feeding them for months now. My plan was to take them with me as I was planning to get my own home. However, my mom has Parkinson’s and is declining so I am moving in to care for her. I have called the shelter to schedule TnR but they can’t take the cats until mid December and I have to be at my mom’s by December 1st. I asked the landlords if they knew if someone who could feed them daily but they don’t. I have an appointment to turn them in on Saturday. It it weighing on me because this is their home. Baby waits for her mother and she and the kittens hang with her. The daddy cat and mommy cat don’t get along but both stay near. I believe I would be able to catch Baby and her kittens but it breaks my heart to separate them from their home and if they don’t get adopted they live in a cage the great of their lives. It’s beautiful here and they have a large area to roam. Please advise. I’m shredding lots of tears over this and I only have 2 days to decide.

  8. These comments break my heart since I’m also moving soon. I have one outdoor feral (that is TRULY feral) who I’ve been feeding for a year that I’m trying to get placed in a sanctuary and another stray momma who I’m trying to trap to fix. I’m not home often these days being knee deep in nursing school, and I’ve consulted with other rescuers nearby and they have told me there are ALWAYS other feeders in the area That I probably am not even aware of. It’s not a rural area, and there are other houses nearby where I see food bowls out, but how will I know if they know to go there ??? The last thing I want is it being on my conscious that they starve to death when I move, it will haunt me forever!!! I’m being told not to panic and that they will just expand their search for food and survive, just as they did before I started feeding. But I am still burdened with guilt and doubt on what is best. Any advice , please !!!!

  9. I need help!! I have been feeding 2 feral cats, I know you said they won’t starve I was asked by mgmt to stop feeding them, they say it was a violation of my rental agreement but it breaks my heart to just stop, what other options do I have? My daughter is heartbroken as well

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