Need Advice About What to Do with a Stray Cat

Updated on June 17, 2011
J.D. asks from Seattle, WA
21 answers

We moved 3 months ago and found that there was a beautiful, friendly, stray cat in our new neighborhood. We heard that she had been left behind by a family who moved out. Another neighbor "semi-adopted" her and says that they have been feeding her regularly, but I have my doubts. She has lost a noticeable amount of weight just in the time that we have been here. They also do not let her into their house. That seemed ok during the summer, but now that the weather is getting colder and wetter, it is becoming a problem (at least as I see it). Yesterday, the weather was miserable and she cried outside the neighbor's door for hours. Also, we have woods behind our houses and she has been getting into tousles with other animals lately and coming out on the losing end. I saw her today and she has had a few chunks taken out of one of her ears. I am in a position to be able to adopt her and try to make her happy being an indoor cat, but I'm not positive that I want to. I have 3 small kids and was hoping to put off taking on the responsibilities of having pets at least until we had them all out of diapers. Another neighbor says that I am being silly and that cats are very happy living outside, even during the winter, and that nobody needs to do anything. What do you all think? Is it cruel to leave a cat outside all year and only feed her sporadically? Or are cats less vulnerable to the cold than we are and able to find food for themselves in the woods? I'm an animal lover and the thought of her being cold, hungry and lonely breaks my heart. Thanks for any input!

What can I do next?

  • Add yourAnswer own comment
  • Ask your own question Add Question
  • Join the Mamapedia community Mamapedia
  • as inappropriate
  • this with your friends

So What Happened?

Thank you all so much for taking the time to read my long message and to offer such helpful advice. I am genuinely touched by your generosity. It is heart-warming to know that there are so many of you that are kind and compassionate to all creatures, as I try to be. I slept on the situation over the weekend and have decided to take the cat in. The neighbors who have been feeding her are agreeable and report that the cat (whom they just discovered is a he, not a she) has been neutered and vaccinated and that they have in the past let her into their house and she has been gentle and loving, so I am not anticipating any problems as far as her interacting with my children. I will take her to a vet this week to be checked out and to get her anything she needs to be healthy. Thanks again so much!

Featured Answers



answers from Seattle on

In the PNW I believe cats are perfectly capable of overwintering outside.

That said, there are other problems with feral cats, this this one is probably suffering from. Most notably lack of vet care. She might be regularly fed, but if she isn't up to date on shots and vet care she is probably suffering from flea infestation and worms - which can both cause rapid weight loss and even death. She could have contracted other common feline diseases as well....
If you can catch her, I would take her to a shelter... or at least a vet.
Good luck!


answers from Seattle on

I just want to thank you for being so caring and loving. I wish there were more people like you out there!

More Answers


answers from Houston on

I don't think a cat crying outside for hours and getting into fights with chunks of ear missing sounds 'happy'. Especially since it is going to be cold there soon.

If it is a ferral cat, you can adopt it, love it, and it will run away. But this cat sounds like it wants to hang around. (I adopted a ferral cat, he was so sweet, but disappeared one day!)

I would bring it in, get it fixed, and definitely have it tested for parasites, feline leukemia/aids. Then have those shots given, since those disease are very contagious for cats. Losing a lot of weight could mean it is hungry, or could be a sign of sickness and/or intestinal parasites. The humane society in your area may have a catch and release program for strays in which these health care costs are lower. Call and ask.

Be sure to have a scratching post for the cat inside, or you can even put rubber claw cover on the nails, since declawing is a very in depth and painful procedure, especially for an animal that may run away and try and survive outside again.

I've worked in vets and animal shelters and this is the absolute best thing you can do for this cat!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Medford on

Personally, I would take the cat in. I have kept cats for over 20 years and I think it is cruel to let them fend for themselves outside. Cats have become so domesticated that they don't really have sufficient hunting skills to keep themselves alive. The cat will probably be able to find enough food to stay alive, but it won't be healthy. You've already seen that the cat isn't able to adequately defend itself from other animals. BTW, the best, friendliest, most loving cat I've had was a stray cat who adopted me. He was very affectionate with both adults and children. Unfortunately, I only had him for a few years before I had to put him to sleep. He had kidney problems that may have been a result of his homeless time. I currently have 3 cats and one of them has acted as a "guard cat" to my daughter since she was born. And I personally don't find taking care of cats all that difficult on top of having children. I've had to do both diaper and cat litter duty and the love you feel and receive way out weigh the hassle in my opinion..

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

Coming from a humane society worker background, I ask you to please help that kitty. Her chances of survival against wild animals, cars and bad people is a risk she takes everyday. If you can help her, I would.

Thank you for caring.


1 mom found this helpful


answers from Eugene on

lots of good responses, just wanted to add a couple. i think by showing your children your love and compassion for animals, they will learn that from you, it will be a blessing for them forever. as well as the gift of them learning how to care for and be with animals. the other thing i wanted to add from my experience, i brought home a feral cat, kept her in while she birthed her kittens (i think she would have given birth outside if i had let her go out - and of course i had her spayed after that!), kept one of the kittens, and i already had another cat too. anyway, all the cats are free to come and go through several cat doors, and they all spend different proportions of their time in and out - mama cat only comes in to eat and then leaves! but she is otherwise very healthy and happy, as are the other two, who spend more time indoors. i know a lot of people say it is more humane to keep a cat inside all the time, but all the cats i've had seem very happy to be able to come and go as they please (my dog wishes she could do that too!). and thanks so much for sharing your dilemma, asking for help, and following your heart!



answers from Minneapolis on

If the cat was abandoned by a family that had to move out, they may have had him as an inside only cat. In today's bad economy, it's sad how many pets are being left out to fend for themselves after the owners have left. Check with any humane society to see how many are homeless do to irresponsible owners.
I have a cat who's an indoor only. When my kids were younger, one of them took him outside without me knowing it. He had been missing for hours before I realized what must have happened. I posted an ad on Craigslist, around the neighborhood and went knocking on doors with his picture offering a reward. It had been nine days and I had pretty much give up hope, but a neighbor a few blocks away, heard about my cat and came to me telling me there was a gray cat in his garage for over a week. It was him but he was sooooo thin, he has no basic cat survival skills outside. He had lost 6 lbs during that time.
That cat has got to be starving. Take him in, feed and love him. Get him to the vet, and get all the necessary shots too. I hate to see any animal suffer.



answers from San Francisco on

Do you have a garage or a shed where she could go to escape the cold? It gets cold (but not that cold) where you live, but she obviously wants to be inside. Since she's been living semi-feral, you might not want her around your kids until you can get her health and behavior checked out. I'm an animal lover, too, so I totally know how you feel.



answers from Seattle on

you are so kind to care about the welfare of this animal. cats are domesticated animals that need to live inside. a mountain lion is an example of a wild cat that is okay outdoors :) they are called house cats for a reason. you may not want to take this cat in, she may be partially ferral and not happy with kids or in your home. however, she needs to be cared for by a shelter at the very least. you can try contacting a shelter in your area and seeing if there is room for her. they will evaluate her and see if she is appropriate for your home or any home. she will die without food, water, and a safe house to live in.



answers from Seattle on

I only have one piece of advice, don't make her a completely indoor cat. She will be miserable, especially since she has had a taste of the outdoors. I have 2 indoor/outdoor cats. One of them hardly ever comes in the house at all. She hangs out on the back deck in our chairs. We have the garage set up with a doggie door for the dogs and cats to come in from the elements and their food is there. We let them in to visit with us, but our littlest cat doesn't even come in for that much. Point being, some animals do prefer the outside. I think taking in this stray is wonderful, I would just be careful about confining it to indoors. You may end up with an unhappy cat wreaking havoc on your house. The other upside of indoor/outdoor cat - no litter box (at least we don't have one).



answers from Portland on

I have always had cats and love kitty's. I don't know if I would make her an indoor cat but a indoor cat where she goes outside to go to the bathroom. Cats do need to feel loved and to have a safe haven though so if she does get stuck outside I would make sure she has shelter. A cat door into the garage would be a good idea if that is doable or if you have an inside laundry room where she can come and go with a pet door from the laundry room - my son and wife does that. That way when she wants out she can be out and when she wants in she can be in and then she can go outside when she needs to.




answers from Portland on

I'm not sure about how they do outside in winter. I would never allow it in my house though. I'm sure it's a sweet cat, but what if it's not. Stray cats turn on people all the time. Just ask my mother who took in my strays when I was a teenager. She has had multiple cat bites and I can't imagine how much worse it would have been if it happened to a child. I feel bad enough as is.



answers from Seattle on

Cats that have been domesticated by feeding (even sporadically) are in great danger of being left outside, especially during the winter. They haven't learned the basic skills to survive. She is clearly not doing well on her own, with all that you described. She needs to be brought in, cared for, and if it doesn't work out within your house, then there are MANY cat rescue clinics that would find her a home that does work. Please stop listening to your neighbors, and do what you know in your heart is correct.


answers from Portland on

We had a similar situation in our neighborhood. I'm allergic to cats but a neighborhood stray took several of our hearts and for a few years "Lydia" was feed and sheltered in a little outdoor house between neighbors.
Until a couple moved in and decided to fully adopt and take responsibility for her.
I would suggest only doing that if it feels 100% right. I think Lydia was doing okay as an outdoor cat, but the neighbor who took her in took her to the vet and all the extra care. She's an indoor/ outdoor cat now, unlike the couples other cats who only stay indoors never having been out.


answers from Kansas City on

cats shouldn't be outside. especially if no one is taking her to the vet regularly. the neighbors might be feeding her, she may just have worms or some other disease that needs medical treatment. she's probably got fleas from being outside alone all summer. i would either take her in or take her to a shelter. hence the name, "shelter" lol. plus you don't even know if she's utd on shots or fixed. my mom had "farm cats" and they did all right, but if this cat is used to being cared for she may not survive being outside.



answers from Portland on

Maybe you could put a bed, food and water in your garage for the cat and see how that goes before keeping her inside. You'd need to put in a kitty door or have a way she could come and go. i love animals too and have 2 cats (one was a stray). they have been inside cats until the stray started peeing in our living room. They both sleep in our garage now. One thing to think about too is having cat hair on things. Does this stray have long hair. Some people have allergies to cats. I know people that have their cats stay outside all year and they built a little house for them and they did fine. They also caught mice to eat.



answers from Seattle on

Can you split the difference?

Aka, keep food out for her, and a crate with blankets out on your porch? Possibly even take her to the vet occasionally. So she'll be well fed and healthy, but you won't have to deal with having pets until your little ones are bigger? ((Warning: The raccoons will eat any catfood left out overnight))

I had an indoor/outdoor cat (lived to nearly 20 years old). The *longest* we could keep him inside was for 2 days. And he wasn't happy about it. He was happy coming and going as he pleased. Which he did. In large part because he would very easily let himself in and out of the house. He slept with me most nights, but would let himself out my window in the morning. If I had shut it against the weather, he'd wake me up to open it.

Cats CAN be very happy living outdoors the majority of the time, as long as -just like any creature- they have somewhere safe and protected from the elements to go to, and they are well fed/watered. Whether they feed themselves, or someone else feeds them. They're naturally outside creatures, and their coats build up in the winter. Seattle is coldish and damp most of the year, but we don't drop below freezing often. The biggest thing is a place to get out of the rain. My guess is that the squabbles in the woods are with raccoons and opossums (or the true ferral community) in looking for somewhere safe and dry to sleep.



answers from Spokane on

If you are unsure you want the responsibility of feeding and caring for an animal, the humane thing to do is take it to a local animal shelter where it has a chance of adoption. Caring for animals can be a big responsibility including yearly shots and exams, neutering, and sometimes dealing with flea infestations. If the animal is injured or sick, vet bills can add up. My cat got in the way of my car twice when I was backing out of the garage. Each time it was injured, the vet bill was at least $400.



answers from Seattle on

Oh boy. So sorry you have been put in this position due to anothers neglect. As a licensed Veterinary Technician and a long time (and I mean looooong) animal shelter worker, I would like to pass on a few things I hope can help you with your tough decision. First and foremost I commend you for thinking carefully about the responsibility before taking it on - most folks don't, and it is a huge contributor to the amount of animals euthanized in shelters every year. Your neighbor is incorrect on many issues. Outdoor cats lives are SIGNIFICANTLY shorter than indoor only cats for many reasons! The dangers from predators, cars, disease, poison and stress from weather conditions are enormous for outdoor kitties. Her weight loss alone signals that she needs medical attention asap, and her possible exposure to FELV and FIV through fighting with other cats (two very serious, contagious cat diseases) means she needs to be tested. Of course it also needs to be verified that she is spayed. At minimum, if you can feed her while you are making your decision she will be at less risk for liver failure, which can happen if she faces a sudden food shortage. If you do not think this is the right time for your family to take on a pet, please consider taking her in to your local shelter. Even if she does get put to sleep there, it is far less painful or cruel than being torn apart by an unfriendly dog, hit by a car, or slowly dying from disease or poison. I am not trying to scare you into action, but I can tell you with absolute certainty that the future awaiting this cat outdoors is grim. Thanks for caring - the world needs more folks like you!



answers from Detroit on

We also got a free cat when we bought our house a few years ago. We had two adult indoor cats at the time so Buddy lives in the garage. He stays outside most of the time except in the winter. I bought a little insulated pet house for him and lined it with old towels and he seems to do fine. (Our garage is not insulated - his water bowl freezes at night. Sometimes he stays in his house most of the day and only pops his head out when we check on him). Yes, she would probably be okay for the most part - she is an outdoor cat and has survived so far. She will probably have a shorter life span with her current situation. Our cat is a very good hunter but he still comes to his food bowl at least once a day, year-round. Personally, if you don't want to take her to animal control or a shelter, I would at minimum make sure she's fixed and get her the necessary shots (rabies, feline leukemia, etc). Also keep in mind that cats that eat wild animals will get worms at some point and more than once (not very difficult to treat).



answers from New York on

I think that it is cruel for pet owners to virtually lock their pet outside with no food or water. Where I am currently living, we have new neighbors who moved in several weeks ago with two "indoor" cats. The couple is not married and perhaps one partner does not like the other partner's cat...but, in any case, this poor cat is outside meowing and meowing all night long and during the day, too. She/he is not getting any attention except from the other neighbors. I believe the cat has fleas and/or ticks because it is constantly rolling around on the pavement and outdoor rugs as if something is wrong. Every day, the cat tries to come in my door whenever I open or close it... and it is often up on the balcony trying to get in to my living room. I want to pick it up and nurture it but do not want any bugs, fleas, or ticks in my residence or on myself. I finally broke down and got some cat food for this poor abandoned soul and he/she quickly ate it up. I have had to put out dry cat food and water on several occasions now as it's the only way to get her/him away from my residence. I've asked the new neighbors about it but they seem to not care at all. Not once have I ever seen them feed this cat. Should we call the humane society before a raccoon or possum attacks this little creature? I think it is despicable of the couple next door to not take responsibility for their own pet(s).

For Updates and Special Promotions
Follow Us

Related Questions