Ask the SPCA: What to do when you see a homeless cat - BC SPCA
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Ask the SPCA: What to do when you see a homeless cat

August 16, 2019

When there is a cat roaming the neighbourhood without a collar and ID tags the first thought is often to trap the cat and bring him or her to the local BC SPCA branch. However, it is important to keep in mind that not all homeless cats will be happy living with people.

Kittens who are used to being around humans grow up to become well-adjusted house cats. If kittens have no close contact with people, they may be fearful of humans as adults. Truly feral cats cannot be touched or picked up without experiencing significant stress. Learning how to read a cat’s behaviour can help people determine how to help homeless cats.

Is the cat a stray?

Stray cats will generally live alone and may approach people even allowing humans to pet them. They may look at a person, meow and make eye contact or blink. Strays are comfortable being seen by people during the day. Depending on their personalities, some may still be uneasy or shy around people, avoid eye contact, turn away from a person and move their tails close to their bodies.

How to help stray cats

Stray cats may be able to become great pets even if they do not like to be touched or handled. Good candidates for a home are those that are comfortable approaching humans for food and show self-calming behaviours such as self-grooming around people.

Call your local SPCA and describe the cat’s behaviour to staff before deciding to trap the cat. SPCA staff can develop a plan for the cat to help them adjust to being indoors and living with people. Cats arriving at the SPCA receive a physical examination, vaccination, spay/neuter and treatment for parasites before going up for adoption. Some cats will need behavioural help to become more comfortable living with people.

Is the cat feral?

Feral cats cannot be picked up or handled without experiencing significant stress. They will not approach people or make eye contact and will look for places to hide. These cats may belong to a colony and will not behave like a social house cat. Feral cats will often sit crouched in a ball with their tails protectively close to their body and their ears back when people approach them or, more likely, they will run away.

Feral cats may hiss and swat with claws extended or bite when they are confined to protect themselves. These cats may have a shorter lifespan than house cats. They are vulnerable to the elements, predation from wildlife, disease and injury.

There is a much higher chance that feral cats will not have been spayed or neutered. It may be possible to tell if a feral cat has been spayed or neutered by looking to see if their ear has been ‘ear-tipped’, if they have a tattoo in their ear, or if they are scanned for a microchip. Kittens who are born to feral mothers, depending on their age, may be socialized to become comfortable around people, become used to living indoors and can be adopted into loving homes.

How to help feral cats

Every cat is an individual and it’s often difficult to determine whether a cat is feral, undersocialized or a stray. Cats who are comfortable approaching people may never be able to live in a house because they can become fearful when confined.

With these cases and with feral cats, their numbers and health are best managed through Trap Neuter Return (TNR). Cats living in feral cat colonies are caught, spayed/neutered, vaccinated, receive parasite treatment and are treated for any medical issues at the same time as the spay/neuter. The feral cats are then returned to their outdoor home. This ensures that the members of the colony do not continue having kittens who grow up to lead a short and difficult life.

See a cat wandering around the neighbourhood or on your property?

Remember to chat before you trap. Call the local SPCA centre in your area to get advice about how to proceed before going ahead and capturing the cat.