How to Rescue an Outdoor Cat


We have all seen a stray cat roaming on a street or a back alley or neighborhood. It’s not always easy to access if the cat is lost, abandoned, or feral.

If a stray cat however, comes around your yard, you may want to help it out and rescue it. First off I must put a disclaimer note in here. I do not recommend cat rescue for everyone. It can be a tricky and somewhat dangerous endeavor. I am seasoned at it, so I feel comfortable catching a cat and bringing it into my care for a short (or long) period of time.

Cats that are from the out-of-doors can be feral. This means that they have never been socialized with humans and were born of a litter that is wild. They can, however, become tame and domesticated, with time, patience and love. Some cats will adjust easily enough, once they get a taste of the good life!

Supplies You Will Need

  • Plastic open dish/container
  • Live Critter Trap
  • Tarp
  • Blankets
  • Animal Cage 20×20
  • Litter Box
  • Cat Litter
  • Cat Food- dry
  • Water bowl
  • Shallow cat bed box
  • Patience

Catching a Stray Cat

My system of catching a cat that shows up in my yard, is to coax it with food. I use crunchy type food in a plastic container that was otherwise headed for recycling. The container should be shallow enough and about 6 inches in diameter.

Initially the critter cage trap should be set-up and the food dish should be placed out in front of it or nearby, so the cat gets used to seeing the trap and not being frightened by it. Make sure to also cover the trap with a blanket or tarp, depending on weather conditions. Of course leave the opening to the trap exposed.

After a few days of feeding, place the food contained in the trap to the very back of the covered trap. This will lead the animal in, and the trap should trigger and close.

The Next Step

After catching an outdoor cat you must already have a decided place in your home or property to place the cat. Keep the animal sequestered from your other pets. If you have a basement or garage that can fit a large cage or carrier, this is ideal. I would not recommend letting the animal free roaming in a garage or basement, as they can hide, damage property and defecate at will. Having control of the cat, is key.

In most cases the cat whether young, or older, will be afraid of you and the situation. They most likely will be crouching in the back of the cage. There are however cats that may be very friendly and wanting to be petted as they could have been lost from a human family.

Place the food bowl filled, and water container that doesn’t easily tip or spill, near the front of the cage. Place the litter box on the opposite side of the food and water to the front of the cage as well. This layout is not ideal, as cats do not like to have their waste near their food, but it is a small space and as a cat caretaker you need to have the ability to refill and clean up these items.

What Do You Do With The Cat?

Now that you have rescued the cat into your home or garage, you have to assess some things about the feline.

  • Does it appear to be healthy in general?
  • Is it male or female?
  • Does it have a collar?
  • Is it calm and friendly?
  • Is it eating and pooping OK?

As cats can get lost and be out in the elements for awhile, it may be necessary to take a photo of the animal an post is on a lost animal website. You can also contact your local animal shelters or Humane Society of the United States, as they do have records of pet owners looking for their lost pets.

If no one has reported the cat missing, then it is up to you to keep it and give a home or surrender it to your local animal shelter. Please be aware that once you surrender an animal it is up to the shelter to decide its fate. Not all shelters are “no-kill”. You want to find one that is a “no-kill” shelter, so that your rescue cat will be guaranteed a future home with a human family.

Keeping the Cat

Choosing to keep your rescued cat is also an option. You have already done some hard work to save the cat’s life. It is now in your care and environment. There are many considerations however, that should be thought out carefully, as homing a cat is a life-long commitment. Are you able to commit to the care of the cat for its life?

Some initial veterinary costs right away include:

  • Vaccinations – rabies, distemper, feline leukemia – are the main ones
  • De-worming (all stray cats need this),
  • ear mite treatments
  • Micro-chipping ( I highly recommend to protect your cat if it gets lost – again)
  • Spay or Neutering

Also be aware that there could be behavioral issues, such as spraying or, aggression. A cat needs at least a month to adjust to its new environment and given lots of love and reassurance. After all, it has experienced a great trauma either being abandoned, lost, or feral.

Cat Fur-Ever Home?

So many cats need homes as 3.4 million are living in shelters. Euthanized cats number up to 1.4 million per year. (Statistics taken from )

Share Your Story

Do you have a cat-rescue story to tell? Share it in the comments section!

8 thoughts to “How to Rescue an Outdoor Cat”

  1. Good post. You lay out all the information in a clear way and easy to follow. I imagine that catching a feral cat would take a lot of patience. Your steps of going slowly at first with the food and cage are really good points. I have two cats and a dog, so if I ever caught a feral cat I would for sure have to have them all separated. It would be nice to find their owner if they have one, so its a good point to take a pic and see if the cat may be lost. But it they aren’t lost, then I most likely would keep it and my other pets would have to accept that 🙂

    1. Summerly, thanks for your comment and critiquing my blog with your specifics. I chuckled at your last sentence. I too, usually end up keeping the lost cat, and the current cat family members, just have to accept the new arrival. Feral cats are tough, but so many of them are not feral, and have been kicked out of their homes because of distasteful behavior to their humans. Very sad and cruel. It takes time and commitment to help out a “lost” cat.

  2. I used to live in Cyprus, and in that country there are more feral cats than there are domesticated ones. In most cases, these cats are almost wild, so I’m not sure in these particular cases that trying to ‘bring one in’ would actually be good for the cat in question. My initial reaction would be that it is kinder to leave them as is. What do you think?

    1. Hi Tony, you have a good point when dealing with feral cats. Not all cats can become “house cats”. Some want to, and deserve to, live their lives out in the wild. However, there is the issue of population control or decrease. There are programs that help with this. In my community we have “Trap, Neuter, Release” (TNR) programs to spay or neuter feral cats and to release them back into their colonies. This drops the population over time. There may be such a program in your area. I think Cyprus as well could have this. I know, they exist in other European countries. Thank you for your contribution in commenting and for your insightful question. Lainey Feline

  3. Hello Lainey,
    I have had only 3 cats in my life, my beautiful Tay (tayto – potato) and she was ran over by a car and killed. So Sad.
    I now have two brothers that are from the same litter and were born on a farm that I rescued them from. They were SO wild.
    Can I recommend leather gloves for trying to handle any wild kitten because their claws and teeth are sharp as razors.
    My husband was bitten on his finger by one of them and lost his finger through developing infection and gangrene. Shocking I know, the infection actually nearly killed him as it turned into sepsis and was poisoning his blood. The kitten was only about 10 weeks old – still tiny – but very scared.
    They are both just a year old now and little beauties, yes, don’t worry we still have both of them. I love them so much.
    Your blog is so great, I love the information in it.
    Do you have a newsletter that I could subscribe to? I would love regular updates.
    Love to you,

    1. Hi Andi. You and your husband’s story is quite shocking to say the least. Yes, it is wise to wear protection when dealing with an animal that is not tame or not used to humans. That is good advice. I would not recommend trapping a cat by yourself, if you are still a novice. It takes planning and patience, to outsmart the cat! I commend you both on homing the cat and its brother, realizing that the kitten was only acting out of fear. Not many people would do that. You have great love to give. I will be posting more information on my site on different topics. I currently do not have a newsletter, but may in the future. Keep checking back for more information and insights. Thank you so much for sharing your story! Lainey Feline

  4. So many good suggestions in this post! Unfortunately, I see stray cats around too often. In fact, there was one in my back yard just this morning. My dogs saw it running around in “their yard” and got all crazy. So I don’t think I’d ever be able to rescue one but I applaud those who do.

    1. That is a shame that you have a lot of stray cats in your area. You may want to check out if there is a TNR – Trap, Neuter, Release program in your community that will help reduce the stray cat population. Yes, catching a stray is not for everyone. It is best to have assistance when attempting to catch one. Thanks for your comment, Carol.

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