If you find a healthy, stray cat in your area, don’t rush to the rescue because the cat may not need your help at all! It may be your neighbor’s lost cat or a “community cat” - an independent, outdoor cat who prefers a life without human contact.
How and When to Help Stray Cats
Leaving a healthy, free-roaming cat where it is typically increases the likelihood the cat will find its way home.
To support the health of the feline population in our area, the Humane Society for Southwest Washington accepts only stray cats who are sick, injured, or otherwise in immediate danger. This strategy allows HSSW to support cats in need of immediate medical attention and expand programs like Spay Neuter Release (SNR) proven to resolve common concerns about free-roaming cats in our community.
Stray Cat FAQ
Not sure what to do when you find a cat outside? You'll find answers to some common questions below.
What should I do if I find a cat outside?
Unless the cat appears sick or injured, leave it where it is; it may just be exploring for the day. If possible, take a photo of the cat to share with neighbors and local lost and found groups on social media.
Telling me to leave a cat outside seems cruel. Why won't HSSW take it?
Healthy outdoor cats have a better chance of success without intervention. If the cat is owned, it is more likely to find its way home on its own. If the cat appears healthy, the cat is able to care for itself; leaving it outside is not cruel and is often the best option for the cat.
What is Spay Neuter Release?
SNR is a program which provides spay/neuter surgeries to free-roaming community cats and returns them to where they were found. SNR has been proven to decrease municipal costs, reduce public health and safety concerns, decrease nuisance complaints, and reduce predation on wildlife, while improving the life of healthy outdoor cats.
I don’t want stray cats on my property. What can I do?
If you’re feeding them, stop. When food sources become unavailable, cats will move on. There are other non-lethal deterrents that may be implemented purchased to help keep them off your property.
- Put out fragrances that keep cats away. Scatter fresh orange or lemon peels. Wet coffee grounds—which you may be able to get for free from coffee houses and fast food chains—and metal pans filled with vinegar also deter cats.
- If cats are getting into your trash, secure your trash can with a tight lid or bungee cords. This will protect your trash from wildlife as well.
- Install an ultrasonic deterrent or a motion-activated sprinkler. You can find humane deterrent products at garden supply stores.
- If cats are using your property for shelter, block or seal the area where the cats enter with chicken wire or lattice, but only once you are absolutely certain no cats or kittens are inside.
Find more information on these and other methods from Ally Cat Allies.
If they are unowned, you may also rent or purchase a humane trap to bring the cats in for SNR (make sure to speak with neighbors to find out if any of the cats are owned). While this will not get rid of the cats, it will remove the possibility of breeding more unwanted cats.
For more information about stray cats in our community, please see the resources below.
Unless they're in immediate danger or sick, kittens should stay where they are.
Many well-intentioned animal lovers unintentionally orphan stray kittens whose mother may be in the area. Kittens who are able to stay safely with their mom have a much better chance of survival. Once they're in the shelter, young kittens will only survive because of the expert care of our foster volunteers.
This helpful graphic can assist you in determining if kittens are in need of rescue. Please review the information below for details about bringing kittens to HSSW and other resources available to support kittens in need.
When to "Rescue" Kittens
It’s a natural instinct to want to “rescue” kittens, but that might be the wrong move. Kittens usually have a better chance of survival with their mom. Very young kittens are difficult to care for and may "fail to thrive" without the care of their mother. Consider the information below when you find kittens.
If you need us, we're here to help. Click here to contact us.
Is mom with the kittens?
Even if you can't see her, mom may be near by. She may be hunting, taking a break, or even hiding from you. As long as the kittens are safe from immediate danger and hazardous conditions, give mom time to come back. Leave the area and check back in two hours. If mom came back, great! The kittens are safe with her. If not, wait two more hours. If mom still hasn't returned, the kittens likely need some help.
Are the kittens in any immediate danger?
As long as the kittens are not in any danger (look for dogs or other predators, traffic, exposure to weather conditions, etc.), it’s important to wait for a few hours and observe. Please review the information above and wait for mom to return.
If the kittens are in immediate danger, they should be picked up right away and brought to HSSW or taken inside your home until you're able to bring them in.
Are the kittens healthy?
Kittens who are sick or hurt need immediate care. Kittens who are dirty or skinny, kittens who have wounds or eyes that are crusted have likely been abandoned by mom. These kittens should be picked up immediately so they can receive medical care.
Of course, kittens will be found in a variety of circumstances, and it's not always easy to know if they need help. Our team is available to help you determine the best course of action. Need some help? Click here to contact us.
Determine the Age
It’s important to determine the kittens’ age before moving to the next step. This helpful resource from ASPCA will help you estimate the age of the litter. Ideally, they should remain with their mother for at least 5 weeks.
Under 5 weeks
Leave the kittens with their mom. If you have watched for several hours from a distance and you are 100% certain that a litter of kittens has been abandoned, you may care for the kittens yourself for a few weeks* OR bring the kittens to HSSW so they may be placed in foster.
*Please note: caring for bottle babies requires several feedings overnight and throughout the day. It's a lot of work, but it's also a rewarding experience that can make a lifesaving difference for kittens in need. Check out this guide to caring for neonatal kittens to learn more.
If the kittens are friendly, you may bring them to HSSW or take them in and provide care and socialization until they are 8 weeks of age.
If the kittens are feral and unfriendly, you may bring them inside to care for them. You will need time and patience to socialize them to make them friendly and adoptable OR bring them to HSSW so our staff and foster volunteers can provide care.
Over 8 weeks
If the kittens are friendly, bring them in to our shelter. We will spay or neuter them, update their vaccines, and place them up for adoption.
If the kittens are feral (unfriendly and unsocial), bring them to HSSW. Our staff and volunteers will observe them to determine their suitability for adoption. It is very difficult to socialize an older feral kitten, so we may opt to trap-neuter-return (TNR) the kitten and return it to its environment.
Caring for Kittens at Home
Caring for bottle babies requires several feedings overnight and throughout the day. It's a lot of work, but it's also a rewarding experience that can make a lifesaving difference for kittens in need. Supporting them at home keeps them safe and healthy until they've reached 8 weeks of age and can be spayed/neutered and adopted.
Depending on their age, kittens need milk replacer, special bottles, and may need to eat every two hours (that means the middle of the night, too). These supplies can be readily found at your local pet store, and there are many online resources that can help with this process. Check out this guide to caring for neonatal kittens before attempting to care for kittens yourself.
Additional Kitten Resources
Overnight Care for Kittens
If you found kittens that need to come to HSSW but it's outside of our business hours, you can keep them safe and warm at home overnight. Place them in an open box with a blanket and a heating pad (if available) on low to keep them warm. If possible, you can pick up kitten formula and a feeding bottle at your local pet store. You'll find information about determining a kitten's age and feeding needs below.
However, if the kittens are in need of emergency medical care, Please contact a local emergency vet.
Determining Kitten Age
Sometimes, an estimate of a kitten's age can help our team recommend the best course of action. This guide from ASPCA can help.
Learn more about stray kittens in our kit-napping blog post.
Community cats are generally not interested in living indoors like the domesticated felines we have curled up on our sofas, napping the day away. They are cats who prefer an outdoor lifestyle and have figured out how to survive and, more often than not, thrive. Their reaction to humans can vary from friendly and social, reliant on food they're receiving from one or more neighbors in the area; or elusive or fearful, preferring a life without human contact (typically called feral cats).
Community cats that have been spayed or neutered are easily identifiable by an ear tip (clipping the tip of their ear) so neighbors quickly can recognize a cat that has been altered and is getting along on their own.
Cold Weather Safety and Community Cats
When caring for community cats, it’s important to keep them in mind when winter weather approaches. However, it’s also important to remember that community cats are extremely resourceful. But there are some ways you can make the season a little safer and warmer for these resilient outdoor felines.
Click for more information about cold weather safety for community cats.
Managing Community Cats
If you have cats on your property who don't have someone caring for them, you may consider taking steps to manage their influence.
Ask Your Neighbors
Before taking any action, ask around! You may have one (or many) neighbors caring for the cats. This will ensure you don't make unnecessary calls to animal control or trap a cat being cared for by your neighbor. If the cats are a nuisance, have a conversation with your neighbor about managing their problematic behavior.
Trapping Unaltered Cats
It's important to make sure that the cats are spayed and neutered by doing what is called Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR). This will ensure that the cats are healthy, sterilized and vaccinated. HSSW does not have traps to lend or rent. Traps are often available at your local hardware store. You'll also want to make sure you've made plans with a vet before you've trapped. Contact your local vet or a service like Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon or Spay & Save to help.
Once you start the trapping process, it is recommended to not stop until you have successfully caught all the cats in the colony. This will ensure population control, colony health and will make it easier later to identify a new cat coming into the colony.
Providing Shelter for a Colony
Community cats bring may benefits to the area - a well managed colony of cats control the rodent population and keep other cats from moving in on their territory. After trapping, you may decide that you don't want to remove the cats from your property. Colonies also benefit the cats as they are generally not suitable for adoption to a family home.
It is important to provide a shelter appropriate to the size of the colony. Even though some cats like to socialize, many prefer their own space. Shelters should be just big enough for up to five cats and multiple structures is best. For more populated colonies, go with multiple shelters of a larger size. Check out some great information about creating a shelter.
Your shelter is only limited by your imagination! The most important thing is the type of material you put inside the structures. The interior must stay dry, so avoid using folded newspaper, towels or blankets as they can hold moisture and drastically reduce the cat’s body temperature. You can use straw or shredded paper so cats stay dry and allow the cat to burrow for extra warmth.
Questions? Contact us:
360.213.2621 or [email protected]