What to Do if You Find a Lost Cat

Written by Cindy Rasmussen
Published: May 19, 2022
Image Credit Lightspruch/Shutterstock.com
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If you go out to get your mail and find a cat wandering around, what should you do? If it’s familiar you might know just what to do, but if you don’t recognize the cat it might not be so simple. You might wonder if it’s safe to pick up a stray cat and whether they can have rabies. What if the cat clearly needs food and water? Read on to find out what to do if you find a lost cat.

1. Approach the Cat Carefully

Cat flea collar
Check the cat for a collar and tags. It is more likely a lost pet if it has a collar.

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You first want to make sure you remain safe. You don’t want to risk getting bitten or scratched and having to get a series of painful rabies shots. Try to figure out is the cat is feral (wild), stray (used to be a pet, but isn’t anymore) or a lost pet (has an owner that is probably worried about it). Do a quick check to see if it has a collar and tags. If it doesn’t have a collar or tags it is more likely a feral or stray cat.

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2. Try to Contain the Cat

If you do not recognize the cat, it’s best to try to contain it in your fenced yard or garage. Remember some cats are indoor/outdoor cats that may know their way home. You could watch the cat for awhile to make sure it doesn’t go near a busy street or you can lure the cat into a safe space by using food like chicken, canned tuna or even a slice of cheese.

3. Offer Food and Water

Make food and water available for a lost cat. Do not give cats milk, most cats are lactose intolerant.

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Depending on how long the cat has been loose, the first thing it may need is food and water. A cat that is found in the morning may have been out all night. Sometimes cats will wander into people’s garages and when home owners close the garage at night, the cat gets trapped inside. Also, it may take a while to track down the cat’s owner so you will want to offer food and water right away. Having the cat’s basic needs met will help the cat cooperate as well as it will probably be a little skittish.

If the cat is contained in your garage, for example, put out a bowl of water and a bowl of cat food if you have it, if not, safe foods for cats include canned meat, cheese or a banana can be a good snack. Do not give a cat milk, most cats are lactose intolerant and it could make them sick.

4. Read the Tags, Look for a Phone Number, Call the Owners

calming collar for cats
Check the cat’s collar for tags. Call the number and leave a message with a description of the cat.

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Check the cat’s collar for a tag. If it has a tag give the phone number a call and let them know you have found their cat. If you don’t get an answer, remember people don’t always answer calls from unknown numbers. Leave a message with a detailed description of the cat.

5. Take a Photo to Post

Take a photo of the cat so you can post it on social media. If you have a neighborhood social media platform like Nextdoor or petfinder.com you can post a photo of the cat. Include the location of where you found it. If you don’t want to share your home address, simply say “on the corner of 8th and Mainstreet”. Check for any “Missing Cat” posts from the past 24 hours to see if anyone is searching for the cat.

6. If No ID, Call an Animal Shelter or Non-Emergency Police Department

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Call an animal shelter or non-emergency police line and let them know you found a lost cat.

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If there is no ID, or you do not want to post on social media, you can call an animal shelter like the Animal Humane Society, or enter “animal shelter near me” in your search. You can also call the non-emergency police line to see if community service officers are available to assist. Give them a detailed description of the cat so they can check their database to see if anyone has filed a report.  

7. Take the Cat to the Local Animal Shelter, Vet or Pet Store

You can take the cat directly to an animal shelter, vet or pet store. Call ahead to see if they are open. If it is after hours you will have to decide if you want to try to take care of the cat until the shelter opens. You can also call the non-emergency police line who should be able to come take the cat. If you decide to take care of it, be sure to keep it away from other pets and children. Until you have more information you should assume the cat could have rabies or could act aggressively out of fear. Keep the cat comfortable, offer a blanket for it to sleep on and provide clean water and food.

8. Have the Cat Scanned for a Microchip

royal canin urinary cat food
A vet can check to see if the cat has a microchip. The microchip will have the cat’s owner’s name and phone number.

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Cats can wriggle out of their collars or get lose without a collar. A microchip will identify the animal and can help reunite the cat with its owner. Once at the shelter, vet or pet store, the staff will be able to use a handheld scanner to check for the microchip. Microchips are usually located right between the shoulder blades of the animal, just under the skin. The staff will be trained in how to locate the microchip. The microchip contains the owner’s name and phone number. If there is no microchip they can begin the search process and arrange for the cat to stay at the animal shelter until it is reunited or re-homed.

8. Ask for the Shelter to Send you a Follow-Up Email

If you decide to leave the cat at the shelter, you can leave your contact information for the staff to contact you once the situation has been resolved. Some shelters will contact you once the pet has been safely reunited or rehomed so that you know that the cat is now in a good place.

9. How to Foster the Cat Until a Home Can be Found

Interactive cat toys
If you can foster the cat until it’s owner can be found it can leave room in the shelter for other animals.

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Shelters can have limitations and may be unable to take more animals so you might have to consider fostering the cat until room is available or until the cat can find a new owner. Check with the local laws and regulations about holding periods for stray animals. You have to give the owners an appropriate amount of time to come forward and claim the pet before claiming it as your own or giving it to a new owner. If you feel you are equipped to take care of the cat during this period it may be the best, least stressful situation for the cat and a rewarding situation for yourself. You can also research how much it costs to take care of a cat and some of the best toys for cats to help you decide if keeping the cat is right for you.

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About the Author

I'm a Wildlife Conservation Author and Journalist, raising awareness about conservation by teaching others about the amazing animals we share the planet with. I graduated from the University of Minnesota-Morris with a degree in Elementary Education and I am a former teacher. When I am not writing I love going to my kids' soccer games, watching movies, taking on DIY projects and running with our giant Labradoodle "Tango".

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