How to Care for a Starving Stray Cat

A stray pet can be one that is lost, or one that was abandoned by its owner.  Many stray cats suffer from malnutrition, either eating the wrong food, or not enough food. How can you, a concerned pet lover, help stray cats?

© author's spayed female cat

© author’s healthy female cat

The first thing you must do is try to locate the cat’s owner. In most areas you cannot legally take someone’s pet into your care. If the kitty is friendly you can check it for a collar or identification, such as a tattoo. Some cats have microchip ID, which you will not be able to see, but a veterinarian or shelter can check for no charge. Ask in your neighborhood if anyone knows who owns the cat. Always phone your local shelter and report finding the cat. They may have a “Lost Cat” report on the kitty, and hopefully its owner will be eager to get it back. Sometimes people dump their neighbor’s cat in another part of town simply to get it out of their neighborhood and there is an owner wanting it back.

If there is no known owner, file a “Found Cat” report with the shelter and decide what you want to do. You may elect to take the cat to the shelter itself and leave it with them, or you may decide to “keep” it and care for it. If the cat is seriously malnourished, it should be taken to an animal shelter where it will placed it under veterinary care while they try to find the cat’s original owner.  You can always leave your name and number in the event an owner is not found and you are willing to keep the cat.

Rather than taking it to the shelter you might want undertake the responsibility of feeding the cat; welcoming it into your home.   As you do not know the health of the cat you might not want to do this if you have cats of your own and particularly if they are not vaccinated.

Generally you have to allow two weeks after reporting finding the cat before you can really consider it “yours”, however you can certainly feed it in the meantime to help it to get better.

Tips for Feeding A Starving Stray Cat

The cat could be starving because it was either underfed or has been fed the wrong thing.

If the cat is very thin feeding it too much at first can be a serious mistake and can actually result in death because the cat’s stomach will be very small.  While normally cats can have dry food left out all the time, in the case of a starving cat it is best to offer several smaller meals throughout the day.

At first something bland such as baby rice pablum with chicken breast can be fed.  Or you can use canned chicken pate cat food.  Do not use chunks in gravy as the gravy.  Do not feed the cat fish or other foods.

Gradually you can leave some dry food out all the time and feed a few small helpings of canned cat food (or kitten food) throughout the day.

Adult cats who are young and thin, and pregnant cats, can be given kitten food to help them gain weight, but on the whole an adult should have only adult food, or senior cat food if they are older.

If you notice the cat vomiting after eating, it may need medical attention, it could have a bone stuck in its throat or another health concern.

Make sure the Stray Cat Gets Vet Care

As you do not know the cat’s medical history you should not assume it is healthy, at the very least it probably has worms which could make weight gain difficult.

You can take the cat to a vet to have it examined for a microchip, as well as to have it wormed.  It will need to be vaccinated too, and spayed or neutered (if not done) but these medical things should be done only after the 2 week waiting period in case an owner does come forward.

Care of the Cat

Some people consider themselves the care givers of a stray cat, but if you “really” want to care for the cat, you should consider yourself the “owner”. It is not enough to put food and water down, and otherwise let the cat fend for itself. Cats need real homes, with real owners. They need warm places to sleep and cozy laps to cuddle on. If you really want to help a stray cat, befriend it and welcome it into your life.

Other Reading

How Often Should Cats Be Fed?

Can Cats Eat Dog Food?

Originally published March 6, 2009 at