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How do I tell if outdoor cat is a stray or not?

post #1 of 81
Thread Starter 
There is a white, black and orange tabby cat that I see often outside> Today I put some canned food out on the front porch and he came up and ate it. I was watching from the window. He runs if I see him when I am outside. I live in a neighborhood with about 35 houses that are fairly close together so i suspect that he may be someone's cat that they let outdoors, butI have no way to be sure.
He has no collar. He is not too skinny, but not chubby either, a good size.
My question is, how would I possibly tell if he is a stray without asking all of my neighbors?

post #2 of 81
Hi Ginger! I went ahead and moved this to the feral forum where people with experience with strays may see it but not see it if it's in the Cat Lounge.

As to how to tell.... it's not even totally possible to tell the difference between strays and ferals.

Ferals are usually afraid of people and it takes a long time for them to warm up. So if he comes running, he has most likely been socialized around people and is not abused.

As to telling if he belongs to someone... there's no way to do it (that I know of) without putting up posters or something.

Maybe take a pic of the guy and post a few flyers around on trees or in apartment buildings (I don't know where you live), send the same flyers to local Vets (who may recognize the cat if he belongs to someone, or may have been contacted by someone if he's lost or strayed). Put your phone number on there... and if no one calls...

But without doing something to contact those who live around you, I don't know of any way to tell. If he looks clean and chubby and healthy - he most likely belongs to someone.

Are you sure he's a male? If it's a female, the vet can shave the hair to see if she was spayed (by whether there's a scar there or not). That would only mean that she USED to belong to someone - not that she hasn't strayed or been lost....

Sorry I can't be of more help!!!!!

...but thank you for being this kitty's angel, even if it turns out he belongs to someone!

post #3 of 81
What dh and I did with one cat was be bought a safty collar and had a tag made that said "If i have a, home please call" and then our number. Someone did call and say it was there cat and returned the collar and the tag. So now if we come across one we have a question about we can just "tag" it If I didn't get a call with in a few days, I guess I would contact the shelter to see if anyone was looking for that can and if not I would consider the kitty mine.
post #4 of 81
Thread Starter 
I fed him for the first time today and he ran when he first saw me outside like he was a feral but he came back in a couple minutes to eat as soon as I put the food down. He was not entirely scared of me but I couldn't get close enough to him to touch him. I like the idea of the safety collar with the note attached to it. Maybe if I can gain his confidence enough to get close I can slip a collar on him.
I am not sure if it is a he or she, I didn;t pay that close enough attention to it. Next time I will

I'll keep updating if I see him again soon.
post #5 of 81
White black and orange are calico markings, almost all calicos are female as it is linked to sex genes. Hopefeuul it is fixed, it could look healthy sized if it is with kittens and starving. Good luck in catching this baby and getting a collar on her. A lot of pet stores have a "print it yourself" ID tag machine. Let us know how it goes!
post #6 of 81
Oh what a great idea! I'd be a little concerned about the cat if it's a feral - it'll probably try like mad to get that collar off, and with safety collar (the ONLY kind you can use on outside cats and the only kind you should use period) it won't be too difficult to get off... but it sure is worth a try.

When we found Booger we slipped a flea collar on her (before we knew all the dangers!), and she was just fine with it. Of course, it turned out she had already been neutered, and was a purebred.... but who knew all of that then?
post #7 of 81
Thread Starter 
I got to see her again last night at about 10:00 pm. I put out some left-overs from dinner on a plate on the front porch and within 15 minutes she was there eating them. She finished the whole plate in a matter of minutes.
She saw me when i tapped on the indow and she looked a bit frightened but did not run off.
I seem to think that she is ferral because I see her at all times of the day and night. Most cat owners would surely have their cats indoors by 10:00 most nights wouldn't they? Hmmm..

I just put out some dry cat food to see if she will come up during the day so I can get a picture of her through the window. My poor kitten, Sasha, he is so confused. He has never seen me take the cat food outside before. He was sitting in the window where he could see me pour the food onto the plate. He was looking at me like, mommy how am I supposed to eat that if it is outside and I am in here!!!

post #8 of 81
Poor Sasha, LOL!!!!!

Ginger - how's it going with your new kitty? I was gone for a long weekend and was hoping there was an update....

post #9 of 81
Thread Starter 
I saw her again, but she was out back this time. She saw me and froze and scooted behind the bushes. I put out food this weekend and something ate it, not sure if it was her or not because I didn't see who ate it.
Thanks for asking, I hope that she comes around again soon! She looks very sweet

post #10 of 81

post #11 of 81
Thread Starter 
I have been feeding her every night now. She eats when I am inside and when I go outside she runs near the front of my car in the driveway and takes a bath. She looks at me but won't come more than 15 feet of me "yet"
It's a start, before she would run off entirely when she saw me, now she sticks around where I can see her.
I keep updating Steven on her being around so much. Softening him up for when I can get close to her and keep her
post #12 of 81
Thread Starter 
Here is my first photo of her! She is getting her courage up to come closer to the food that I just put out on the front porch. I hope I didn't scare her too much with the flash
post #13 of 81
Aaaaaw! She looks like a little owl in that picture. I am so glad she is becoming a little more comfortable with you.

Keep up the good work!
post #14 of 81
I've been reading this thread, just hadn't said anything.
But I love happy stories.

You're doing a wonderful job. Keep it up.
post #15 of 81
Thread Starter 
Her she is....
She comes around almost the same time every evening now
I have started calling her Miss Kitty

post #16 of 81
What a pretty girl! She looks so much like a big wild cat in those pictures. She just carries herself like a feral.
post #17 of 81
Oh I'm so glad things continue to go well!!!

Congrats!!! (And she looks like an owl to me in that pic, LOL!)
post #18 of 81
Oh wait - I just saw more pics! What a gorgeous girl!!!!!
post #19 of 81
Thread Starter 
I have a bunch of questions. THis is the first time I have tried to take care of a feral cat. Maybe ya'll can help:

1. How much food should I put out daily? There are 3 cats that I have seen, one that looks REALLY feral, like a wild cat. One kitten, probably about 4 months old (I have only seen him twice but I am hoping to catch him when I get a trap. And Miss Kitty, she is the one in the pictures above. So, How much food do I put out so that everyone gets a taste.

2. I often go out of town on the weekends, Is there a way to leave food out while I am gone or will the wild animals (racoons) eat it all up before the cats can get it.

3. Should I put out water along with the food or do most cats have places that they normally drink from?

4. How is FIV spread? If I trap outdoor kitties should I take them directly to the vet or can I bring them indoors near my 4 indoor kitties briefly before having them checked for FIV?

5. Where do feral cats get shelter, do they sleep in the bushes, under cars, etc...I never see where they come and go to. I hardly ever see them during the day, so they sleep during the day like domestic cats?

That is all I can think to ask for now, I am sure I will have alot more questions in the future
post #20 of 81
Hi Ginger! Welcome to the world of ferals, LOL!

First of all, when you trap feral or stray cats, they should not have any interaction at all with your pets - or be in an area where your pets go. Not before they see the Vet. It's not so much FIV or FELV which are fairly rare unless a colony is infected - it's that you just never know, and it is not worth the chance of infection or disease. Or parasites.

I don't know how it works with your vet, but ours is very sympathetic to the cause of strays and ferals, and we were able to take them directly to the Vet as we trapped them. A cat was in the trap - boom, we slipped a blanket over the trap, put it in the car, and off to the vet. What they would do is board the animal in a cage until they could see it. We had them tested, then vaccinated and spayed or neutered. The Vet would call us when we could come pick them up. For males, it was generally the same day, evening or the next day. For females, depending upon the weather, it was usually several days before we picked them up. They did use disolvable stitches when spaying (You might have to ask your vet to do that - if they're not used to working with ferals, they might not think of it themselves) so that we did not have to retrap the cats and take them back to have stitches removed. But because of the healing involved with the spaying, the females usually stayed at the vet anywhere up to five days. If it was raining and foul weather, we did not release them right back, but let them board there for a few days. But our vet was willing to give us a discount on everything, because we kept them busy with lots of animals. I think the best thing to do is to call your vet and chat with them about it first. You may find you want to contact a local SPCA to see if they have cheaper vet services for ferals. But you'd have to tell them you're starting a trap-neuter-release program (which it sounds like you kind of are!)

OK. Now the other questions...

As to feeding them.... there are a number of ways to handle it. It depends upon how much work you want to put into this.

Let me go get some links for you.

But Gary and I started by just putting out bowls of food at a set time every morning and night. We used paper bowls and threw them away when we were done. We put out about a cup of dry food for each cat. That got expensive. We then built a feeder. It works for when you go away for a few days, and it keeps out almost all animals except raccoons. I don't know of any way to prevent them from feeding on the cat food. There are a lot of raccoons around here, and for the most part they really aren't much of a problem.

If you want to start simple, you can just put out a bowl of food for each cat you're aware of each night. If there's any food left in the morning, you're leaving enough for everyone to eat. You'll probably have more strays and ferals turn up. (That'll probably happen anyway.)

If you want to discourage birds and other animals from eating the cat food, using an upside-down laundry basket with a hole cut out so the cats can get in helps stop birds. (Use the open-laundry baskets - you know, with the lattice-work on the side).

But I will get the link to the feeder. It's not difficult or expensive.

We choose to put out water for the cats. You live in Florida, so access to water probably isn't a problem. Access to clean water would be the issue. We purchased large plastic bottoms for potted plants. They require cleaning daily. Birds like them too. It works for us and it was cheap.

Feral cats shelter anywhere they can. You can construct shelters for them. They may use them, they may not. I have seen a lot of creative ideas on this subject. I don't know what your property is like or what would be appropriate. The main thing is to NOT use blankets or anything inside. Fleas or ticks, etc. get in them, and getting rid of them again would be a nightmare. The main consideration is simply to provide shelter from weather. A large plastic laundry basket/tub type thing (not with the holes, something solid) would be fine for FL. Put it up on those palates that they use for moving boxes on and off trucks - something to get it up off the ground so it's safe from rain. Cut holes in both sides of it. This helps them feel safe - several exits for escape. Stuff a little hay in there. Replace the hay if it gets wet. They'll find that comfortable and safe. That's one idea. You'd have to put several out for four cats. Perhaps one for each, although we found that the ferals often piled in somewhere together - but they were from the same litter of kittens. We don't provide shelter for the adult ferals here - there are so many natural places out of the weather for them here. But I'll get the links for shelter ideas too.

DId I get to all the questions? Let me know!!! ...and I'll go find those links for you.

Don't forget - there are some red "stickies" up at the top of the Feral Colonies forum. They've got trapping ideas and hints, and a lot of resources. Save Samoa does too.

Ginger - I think this is so wonderful of you!!!!

post #21 of 81
Oh - while it's on my mind. If you are going to trap them and get them spayed and neutered (YOU GO GIRL!!!), you should ask the vet to take a small nip out of their ear. Some cut the tip off of one ear (called "ear-tipping." This way if more cats turn up, you can tell which have been spayed and neutered and which haven't. This will also let others "in the field" know that those cats have been taken care of already.)

We took our first stray cat to the vet to be spayed, and it turned out she had been already. They can usually tell just by shaving their bellies (if it's a female. Males are easy to tell!). A surgical scar would be the clue. Our kitty, however, did not have a surgical scar. There was a scar there, but it was so bad, the vet was pretty sure it WASN'T a spay scar. Our theory is that she must have escaped just after being spayed, and that the scar became so ugly because she was out in the wild with it. But who knows? The poor family. She was a beautiful, pure bred Maine Coon. (Gary and I didn't know that then though - we were totally new to cats).

You might also want to consider starting a "cat" journal. It really helps to keep track of the cats, when they get shots, spayed, neutered, etc. I suggest this only because it seems like you really want to help... and once that starts, others so often turn up. It can get difficult to keep track of them all. With any luck, this won't happen to you. That would be wonderful news for your neighborhood!
post #22 of 81
Oh - FYI. For shelter, Gary and I did purchase those large covered litterboxes - you know, the plastic ones? They work too. With hay inside. We built little flaps over the hole with small boards, plastic sheeting and duct tape. This created a little overhang to prevent water from getting in there. Just another thought.
post #23 of 81
Ginger, for starters, check out some of the information at this link. It is to Alley Cat Allies, the "experts" on ferals and advocacy.


The resource files are PDF and I can't link you directly to them. Just scroll down the page - you'll find the section called "Maintaining a Feral Cat Colony" towards the bottom on the left. It has a lot of useful info, including constructing the feeder, shelter ideas, etc.

You'll also find lots of your questions answered in the Caring for Feral Cats: Hand On - there's a section for health, as well.

Feel free to ask more questions, though!!! We want to help you help those guys!

post #24 of 81
Originally posted by DragonLady
White black and orange are calico markings, almost all calicos are female as it is linked to sex genes. Hopefeuul it is fixed, it could look healthy sized if it is with kittens and starving. Good luck in catching this baby and getting a collar on her. A lot of pet stores have a "print it yourself" ID tag machine. Let us know how it goes!
we werent entirely sure about this cat.. we got but. i think tagging it is a good idea. our cat was starving an d a prego. im just worrying about her overeating now and getting those kittens too big.
post #25 of 81
if ur talking to me. im never gonna keep food away from her. im just worried about all the junk that she manages to get a hold of. she likes tomatoe saucy stuff. she eats like 6-8 times a day now. i know she has at least two kittens in her tummy. i can see em moving on both sides of her tummy
post #26 of 81
Thread Starter 
Thanks you soooo much Laurie for all the great information.

Miss Kitty has been acting strange for the last couple of nights. She comes up into the yard meowing now instead of just sneaking around. She acts like she is starving, constantly meowing. She ate 2 cups of dry food and a whole can of wet food last night. Wonder why she is sooo hungry and distressed lately???

post #27 of 81
...the only thing that comes to mind is... could she be pregnant?
post #28 of 81
Thread Starter 
That is what we were thinking too but she doesn't "look" pregnant. I have not had much experience with pregnant cats though. How would I tell by looking at her if she is pregnant, is there a way?

She ate while I was sitting near her the other day, she is becoming a brave little kitty! Or she was just so hungry she couldn't wait until I went back inside
post #29 of 81
Ginger, maybe she's getting used to you and beginning to trust you!

I have very little experience with pregnant cats/ferals. We've had two - one that had the kittens before we ever saw her, and one that was so fat you could tell she was pregnant. ...and then three kittens turned up around here on their own about two months later...

All I know is, if she is pregnant, she needs a high-protein food. Basically, I think, it's the same thing you feed kittens.

I bet MA will join the discussion with something that might be more helpful.
post #30 of 81
I'm here now Ginger- Thanks Laurie for the head's up.

Because she is feral, she will eat everything and anything you give to her. They have to eat that way because they never know if another kind stranger will give them food. It is hard to tell from the pics but she doesn't look pregnant- that is not to say she isn't. Chances are she is, this is the time of year, and unless she has been spayed, she is pregnant. I would go on that assumption.

I would start feeding her kitten chow and giving her KMR as well. I would feed her everyday at the same times in the same place, in the same bowl. I would take a sweaty shirt and put it on the ground, and feed her on top of the shirt. Even just getting a box of kitten chow and mixing it with regular dry food would work. She looks like a muted calico and they are usually pretty mellow. She just needs to trust you, and regular routines builds trust in ferals.

My feral feeders are not elaborate except for one on a raised platform.

I take a plastic garbage can 33 gallon and cut a golf ball size hole in the side near the bottom. I then fill the can with food, seal it shut and place it on a sheetboard. The cats come to feed, and when the food plugs up, they just reach into the hole and paw and the food starts spilling out again. You could do a smaller version of the same idea with a smaller round covered trash can. Just be sure you buy one with a secure lid.
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