How to Tell if a Cat Is Stray

How to Tell if a Cat Is Stray

Coming across a stray cat can evoke a mix of emotions, from concern for its wellbeing to the temptation of adopting it. However, before deciding what to do, it’s important to determine if the cat is truly a stray or simply an outdoor cat with a home. Here are some signs to help you differentiate between the two.

1. Appearance: Stray cats often have a disheveled and unkempt appearance. They may have matted fur, dirty coats, and visible signs of injury or illness. In contrast, an outdoor cat with a home is usually well-groomed and healthier in appearance.

2. Behaviour: Stray cats tend to be skittish and wary of humans. They might avoid eye contact, hiss, or run away when approached. On the other hand, an outdoor cat with a home may be friendly and approachable, demonstrating familiarity with humans.

3. Collar and tags: A cat with a collar and identification tags is likely to have a home. However, keep in mind that some strays may have lost their collars or tags, so this alone is not a definitive indicator.

4. Social interaction: Stray cats are generally more comfortable around other cats, as they may form colonies for survival. If the cat interacts well with other strays, it is more likely to be a stray itself. Conversely, an outdoor cat with a home may show signs of territorial behavior and be less inclined to socialize with other cats.

5. Appetite and condition: Stray cats tend to scavenge for food and may appear undernourished. They may exhibit a constant hunger and be on the lookout for any available food source. Outdoor cats with a home, on the other hand, are usually well-fed and may have a healthier body condition.

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6. Vocalizations: Stray cats often make distinct calls or meows, especially during mating season or when trying to communicate with other strays. This vocalization is less common in outdoor cats with a home.

7. Neutering or spaying: Stray cats are less likely to be neutered or spayed, resulting in a higher population of feral cats. If you notice signs of mating behavior or see kittens with the cat, it is more likely to be a stray.


1. Can I approach a stray cat?
Approach a stray cat slowly and calmly, allowing it to become comfortable with your presence. Avoid sudden movements or loud noises that might scare it away.

2. Should I feed a stray cat?
If you decide to feed a stray cat, ensure you’re providing appropriate cat food. Feeding them can help build trust and create a bond, but it’s essential to consider long-term care options.

3. How can I help a stray cat without adopting it?
Contact local animal shelters or rescue organizations to report the stray cat’s presence. They can provide guidance on trapping, neutering, and releasing the cat to control the stray population.

4. Is it safe to bring a stray cat into my home?
It’s crucial to have the stray cat checked by a veterinarian to ensure it is healthy and doesn’t pose any risks to your household, including other pets.

5. How can I determine if a stray cat is lost rather than truly stray?
Check for any signs of identification, such as a collar or tags. You can also have a veterinarian scan the cat for a microchip, which may provide information about its owner.

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6. Should I adopt a stray cat?
Adopting a stray cat can be a rewarding experience. However, consider the responsibilities and long-term commitment involved in caring for a pet before making a decision.

7. Can I keep a stray cat outdoors?
If you decide to keep a stray cat, it’s generally recommended to transition them to an indoor lifestyle for their safety and wellbeing. Outdoor cats face numerous hazards, including traffic, predators, and exposure to diseases.

Determining whether a cat is truly a stray or just an outdoor cat with a home requires careful observation and consideration. By assessing its appearance, behavior, and interactions, you can make an informed decision about how to proceed, ensuring the best outcome for both you and the cat.