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How to differentiate between strays and cats that belong to someone?

post #1 of 24
Thread Starter 
We used to get lots of stray cats around here, but now they are very few and far between. A kitten showed up tonight, eating some tidbits off the ground (bread, maybe some other stuff). It looked pretty hungry, but when I opened the door, it just stared at me, didn't run away. A car eventually scared it off.

How can I tell if a cat has a home or not? This one wasn't wearing a collar. It didn't look excessively skinny. Cats like this don't let me get too close...so, from a bit of a distance, what behaviors will clue me in to the cat's condition? Outside cat? Lost? Stray? I know there's no knowing for sure, but any ideas?
post #2 of 24
The question is good, and I hope others will fill in.

The most important point here is, IF this "maybe yes maybe not" cats seems to need help and you can and want to help, do so.
But also you do actively seek after the owners. Setting up posts as Found on message boards in the neighborhood, etc...
If you dont want to write up in clear your exact adress and name, write up a cell-phone number, and a Hotmail or Yahoo-mail....

Thus, not this OR other, but both. You work parallell on both tracks.


Giving them food without seeking after owners in not good. Im sure more then one homeless stray was made this way....
post #3 of 24
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by StefanZ View Post
Giving them food without seeking after owners in not good. Im sure more then one homeless stray was made this way....
I don't understand...are you saying that an outside cat will leave its owners if a neighbor starts feeding it? I did toss the kitten a handful of treats.
post #4 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by MissKalamata View Post
I don't understand...are you saying that an outside cat will leave its owners if a neighbor starts feeding it? I did toss the kitten a handful of treats.
Yes, that is what I think there is some risk for it. Yes.

Treats should be OK, but not real food.

Treats is nice to get and shows you are nice and friendly person. OK.
But if you are ALSO a food source... So why return home?? Not all cats do love their owners.
post #5 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by MissKalamata View Post
I don't understand...are you saying that an outside cat will leave its owners if a neighbor starts feeding it? I did toss the kitten a handful of treats.
A handful of treats won't hurt anything. If he shows up again, maybe it would be time to take him in and see if you can find his owners? I think Stefan was saying that if you feed the kitten regularly without looking for an owner that he might stop going home (if he has a home and isn't lost), and thus will become a stray (if he isn't already).
post #6 of 24
My cats are frequently seen on the street; during the summer months I let them go out onto the back deck, and they often go through the alley onto the street--but they are not strays and return home when they're done with their roaming. They're also all spayed and neutered, so I'm not worried there.

Last year I had a cat who wandered in through the kitchen door to the deck and pretty much made himself at home. He got along with the other cats and seemed to be a stray but disappeared after a week or so--perhaps he was just a housecat taking a vacation of sorts. This year I have a blonde tabby male who comes into the house regularly to eat, and he does not get along with the others. He doesn't act like a feral and I'm certain he's intact (gonna have to fix that), so I'm pretty sure he's a stray....
post #7 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by ipw533 View Post
This year I have a blonde tabby male who comes into the house regularly to eat, and he does not get along with the others. He doesn't act like a feral and I'm certain he's intact (gonna have to fix that), so I'm pretty sure he's a stray....
I think you should do something about it. Hostile intrusions especielly by fertile cats are not pleasant for your cats. The risk is big they dont feel safe in their home any more.

It may be one thing if the guests are friendly. But unfriendly intrusions are quite traumatic for many home cats...

Either stop his visits by showing him off, or do neuter him.
post #8 of 24
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by ipw533 View Post
He doesn't act like a feral
How does a stray (feral?) act?

A lot of strays used to have an owner and so are fairly comfortable around humans...I find it hard to tell whether the cat currently belongs to someone or used to belong to someone.

Quote:
I'm certain he's intact (gonna have to fix that)
Fixing him is a good idea.
post #9 of 24
Usually a real stray will be pretty obvious from its condition. A cat who is well fed (doesn't mean it won't want to sample the menu somewhere new), with sleek coat and no parasites is probably owned. If it keeps showing up and wants food then it is likely lost and you will have to do something. I knew Bonaparte was a longtime stray when he turned up thin, filthy, with fleas and ticks and with very sore and cracked paw pads. But he was not feral because he came right up to me as soon as he saw me, knew what a house was and made straight for the sofa after he had fed. On the other hand, Biscotte, Wellington and Persil were really scared of humans and had to be socialised from scratch (and I was the one who got scratched!).
post #10 of 24
The blonde tabby routinely comes for breakfast when I'm already awake and downstairs--he knows I'm there but unless I chase him off (I don't unless he starts a fight) he's somewhat comfortable with me being around.

A true feral wants nothing to do with humans; there are enough food sources in my neighborhood that a feral would have neither the need nor the desire to enter my house.

This guy is somewhat skittish but absent a close examination appears to be healthy and reasonably well-groomed. Considering the number of dumped pets we're seeing here, I'd say he could safely be called a stray....
post #11 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by MissKalamata View Post
How can I tell if a cat has a home or not? This one wasn't wearing a collar. It didn't look excessively skinny. Cats like this don't let me get too close...so, from a bit of a distance, what behaviors will clue me in to the cat's condition? Outside cat? Lost? Stray? I know there's no knowing for sure, but any ideas?
I've read about putting on breakaway collars with your phone number (if the cat can be handled) - then seeing if you get a phonecall like "hey! why is your phone number on my cat??!" or seeing if it just gets ignored. Then if no one responds, you can assume the kitty is unowned.

I'm a bit shy to ask my neighbors, but just asking around about the cats is also good, if the neighborhood would have that possibility. Find the neighbor that 'knows everything' - they can tell you if there are lots of cats in the neighborhood or if so-and-so has cats owns a lot of un-fixed cats.
post #12 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by killerapple View Post

I'm a bit shy to ask my neighbors,.
Of course, having a good question to ask makes it easier to come forward to the neighbour and ask and thus talk with them... This is socially acceptable.

Good for us who are a little shy to know!
post #13 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by jennyranson View Post
Usually a real stray will be pretty obvious from its condition. A cat who is well fed (doesn't mean it won't want to sample the menu somewhere new), with sleek coat and no parasites is probably owned. If it keeps showing up and wants food then it is likely lost and you will have to do something.
of course the problem with that is, if kitty has been recently dumped, he may look nice to begin with.

I think the advice about feeding the possible stray, while looking for a possible owner, is the best way to proceed.

If the cat ran away from home, it may be better that he not be returned, OTOH he may be lost and someone is out of their mind with worry.

Call shelters and vets in the area and ask if anyone has been looking for a lost kitten/cat. Post your flyers in these vets and shelters too.

In time the kitten may get trusting enough for you to pick him up, and then you can take him to a shelter and have him scanned for a microchip.
post #14 of 24
Of course a lot of this confusion could be prevented if all cat owners would collar and tag their cats, even indoor only ones, just in case of an accidental escape.

Both my cats have collars and tags with their name and my cell number. Dusty, my in/out kitty is also microchipped.
post #15 of 24
We have a real problem in my neighborhood with people getting cats and putting them out without spaying or neutering them. Unless the cat acts like it's lost and looks like someone may have once owned it (good weight, coat, etc.)then I assume it's a stray. They tend to be young and thin. They may be somewhat trusting but usually don't run straight up to me. I figure if I have to have it altered then I'll find it a better home. I'm not sure if this answers your question about how to tell the difference but as the conversation has also moved to locating owners I felt like I should put my two-cents in. Trapping/catching strays and having them altered is something I get a lot of practice with.
post #16 of 24
Here, if I see it outside - its a stray whether it has an owner or not. They can come pick it up at the shelter and get a lecture about allowing it outside
post #17 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dusty's Mom View Post
Of course a lot of this confusion could be prevented if all cat owners would collar and tag their cats, even indoor only ones, just in case of an accidental escape.

Both my cats have collars and tags with their name and my cell number. Dusty, my in/out kitty is also microchipped.
Depends - my vet recommends that cats are microchipped but has a very graphic photo of a badly injured cat who got caught on his breakaway collar and so recommends no collar. If people are being told by vets not to use collars...

I do however stick one on mine when we go to the vets / groomers as a just in case and they are all microchipped
post #18 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by icklemiss21 View Post
Here, if I see it outside - its a stray whether it has an owner or not. They can come pick it up at the shelter and get a lecture about allowing it outside
The norm where I live is outdoor - or outdoor/occasionally indoor. When you tell people you have indoor only cats they look at you like you are crazy. One lady chatting with my dad and his wife yesterday was proud that she let her cat onto her back porch - claiming it couldn't come inside because cats stink and are filthy. If how she cleaned the hospital room was any sign of her housekeeping I can tell were the real problem lies..

With no shelter, very poor AC, and this being the prevailing attitude I assume first that a cat belongs to a nearby neighbor. It it's skinny or injured than I suspect it may not have a home (anymore). Being intact isn't a sign a cat or dog is a stay here, either, as a lot of people don't want to "waste money" on getting their pets altered.
I'll scoop up any kitten that comes across my path, though.


If you see a cat around, spending more time there than away - chances are it doesn't have anywhere better to go or that it certainly won't be missed.
post #19 of 24
Thread Starter 
Thank you everyone for the answers! I wish I could have gotten close enough to really see the cat's condition - the best description I can give is cute, black, not stick thin, and fairly young. I haven't seen the kitten since, and I honestly doubt I will. I hope it really does have a home.

Quote:
Originally Posted by icklemiss21 View Post
I do however stick one on mine when we go to the vets / groomers as a just in case
That's a very good idea! My indoor cats don't wear collars, but after reading this, I might just buy one for emergency vet trips. Thanks for mentioning that!
post #20 of 24
It is so hard to tell really. Our TOTALLY Feral Mom cat showed up with a hot pink collar on her neck. 2 years later no one can even come close to touching her. Thankfully the collar came off of her at some point.

My friend had a himalayian cat - (Pure as found out later by vet) on his doorstep looking for food. He thought the cat had to be someone's. Fed it once, then not again but the cat kept on turning up at his house, eventually he started feeding the cat all the time. And, yes, he caught the cat who was friendly and found it a great home!

I think cats who have homes and are not feral just leave their homes looking for better! I swear they do! Or they get let out of the house, scared, running and happen to run into someone that thinks they are feral - a person that wants to help them. When they are just scared and lost their original homes.

B&W and G&W and Black cats usually are strays...

I rarely see a homeless Tiger cat.. even though mine was... well, maybe he was. I thought he was but he could have had a person at one time!
post #21 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by icklemiss21 View Post
Depends - my vet recommends that cats are microchipped but has a very graphic photo of a badly injured cat who got caught on his breakaway collar and so recommends no collar. If people are being told by vets not to use collars...

I do however stick one on mine when we go to the vets / groomers as a just in case and they are all microchipped
I agree, our old cat Mikey got out, had a collar on and thankfully someone was in the vicinty of where he was haging from a tree by his blue collar, got him down safely and just in time! Too much nature out there for cat collars~!
post #22 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by strange_wings View Post
The norm where I live is outdoor - or outdoor/occasionally indoor. When you tell people you have indoor only cats they look at you like you are crazy.
Our city bylaws allow cats to be outdoor only if they do not leave your property, one little paw off your lot and they will likely be scooped up by animal control if we dont get them first

Animal control gives a fine, we give a lecture - owners choice. Most cats we take in are strays but the majority of ones that are claimed are not allowed outdoors but got out by accident.
post #23 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by icklemiss21 View Post
Our city bylaws allow cats to be outdoor only if they do not leave your property, one little paw off your lot and they will likely be scooped up by animal control if we dont get them first

Animal control gives a fine, we give a lecture - owners choice. Most cats we take in are strays but the majority of ones that are claimed are not allowed outdoors but got out by accident.
There's a leash law for dogs (and could be considered for cats, too) but it's not enforced. Again, poor AC. The city doesn't have the money or a place to take animals. If they were to catch them like that I highly doubt vet euthanasia would be the outcome for those unclaimed, not when "bullets are cheaper"...

Those that live in cities that actually have funding for things like this, be glad.
post #24 of 24
Definitely a stray, and probably a dump. The evidence? From observation he is gradually losing his fear of me and feeling more comfortable during his forays here. He is not overtly aggressive, but some of the cats are deferring to him simply because of his size. This is a cat used to being around humans--no feral would do what he does.

I thought he might be a local cat who had been let out by his owner, but that no longer seems to be the case--his tail and hindquarters are full of burrs and no effort has been made to remove them. I'll trap him within the next week or so--should be easy....
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