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What to Feed a Stray Cat That Shows Up at Your Door? Our Vet Answers

Written by: Dr. Ellen Marcinkiewicz BVSc (Veterinarian)

Last Updated on June 20, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

a gray stray cat is walking along the sidewalk

What to Feed a Stray Cat That Shows Up at Your Door? Our Vet Answers


Dr. Ellen Marcinkiewicz (Vet) Photo


Dr. Ellen Marcinkiewicz (Vet)


The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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If you’re feline-obsessed, then a stray cat showing up at your door might seem like divine providence. You were hoping for another cat, and here one just happens to show up! But many questions are running through your mind. Are you sure it’s a stray? Can you keep a stray cat? What can you feed a stray cat and what do they normally eat?

Each of these questions is sensible, and before you can determine how to best handle the situation, you’ll need some answers. In this article, we aim to offer some succinct answers to help you figure out the right course of action to take when a stray shows up on your doorstep.

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Are You Sure It’s a Stray?

The first thing you must be certain of is that it’s actually a stray cat. Truth be told, there’s a good chance that it is. In the United States alone, it’s estimated that there are more than 70 million stray or feral cats. To put that in perspective, there are approximately 95.6 million cats kept as pets in the country, according to a national survey of pet owners. This means there are nearly as many stray cats as domestic ones in America.

Still, you need to be sure that the cat is a stray before taking action. Appearances can often give us clues. For instance, if the cat seems very lean, has a patchy or rough coat, or displays an overall unhealthy appearance, it’s a good bet that the cat hasn’t had human contact for some time.

Make sure to check the cat for a collar or some sort of identifying tag. If you find one, the cat is almost certainly someone’s pet. Even without a collar, it’s possible that the cat is microchipped.

Exhaust all possible options when ensuring that the cat is a stray. The last thing you want to do is accidentally steal someone’s pet!

stray cat in corner
Image Credit: 1000 Words, Shutterstock

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What to Feed Stray Cats

Once you’ve determined that the cat is truly stray, you can start to think about providing some care for it. So, what should you feed a stray cat?

You can feed a stray cat the same sorts of foods you would feed to your pet cat. Start by offering the cat a can of tuna or cat food. Wet food tends to be more appealing to cats, though if you only have dry cat kibble, you can try to offer that as well.

Though you’ll often see people offering milk to stray cats in movies, this is a bad idea. Most cats are lactose-intolerant. Their digestive systems are not built to process dairy. Giving a cat milk could be forcing diarrhea or an upset stomach upon them. Aside from food, you’ll also want to make sure to provide the stray cat with plenty of fresh water.

One important rule to follow is to only offer and never force. Remember, a stray cat is basically a wild animal. If you attempt to force it to eat, you could get bitten or scratched.

What Do Stray Cats Eat Normally?

cat with dead mouse
Image Credit: Piqsels

Keep in mind that cats are not helpless creatures. You see a stray cat and might have an emotional reaction that causes you to want to help, but cats are natural predators and ruthless ones at that. Feral cats have many options for food and may not need your help at all.

Some common foods that stray cats eat include:
  • Mice
  • Rats
  • Other rodents
  • Fish
  • Lizards
  • Birds
  • Insects
  • Rabbits
  • Squirrels
  • Chipmunks
  • Other small mammals

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Can You Keep a Stray Cat?

If you’ve been feeding the stray you found, you might start developing some feelings towards it, which could evolve into wanting it to be your pet. First, you must remember that it’s essentially a wild animal and will require taming if you wish to keep it as a pet. But is it even ok to do such a thing?

As long as the cat doesn’t belong to anyone else, you can keep it. But you’ll need to be certain, which means taking the cat to a vet to get it scanned for a microchip.

Of course, there are other options aside from keeping the cat yourself. You could do something called a TNR, which stands for trap, neuter, return. This helps to stop the feral cat population from continuing to expand.

Another option is to find the cat a suitable home that’s not your own. This might require some additional steps and work, including possible vaccinations, deworming, spaying/neutering, and more.

One final option is to take the cat to a shelter or humane society where the cat can be put up for adoption. This isn’t an ideal solution though, so treat it as a last resort.

kittens in a cage of a shelter
Image Credit: Okssi, Shuttestock

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Cats are incredibly capable creatures, and a stray cat probably doesn’t need your help to survive. Still, the caring instinct in you might be too strong to see a stray cat and not offer help. If that’s the case, you can provide water, tuna, or cat food to the cat. But first, you should ensure that it’s truly a stray and not someone’s pet.

Featured Image Credit: Gansstock, Shutterstock

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