As winter approaches, there is an increased chance that you may run into a stray cat or two in your neighborhood as food becomes more scarce, and the world becomes a little bit colder for our feline friends.
Stray cats may come sniffing around your neighborhood, you may find one at your door. Or you might have to go out of your way to rescue one from a particularly perilous situation. Either way, such encounters are more likely to happen at night. If so, stores are likely closed, and an unprepared Samaritan might find him or herself caught short without the right supplies.
So now you’re faced with a question: What to feed a stray cat without cat food?
How to Deal With Stray Cats
When dealing with a stray cat, you’re going to make sure that it truly is a stray and not just a cat that is wandering around, but spoken for. Look for tell-tale signs like collars and tags. Strays tend to have more scars and bruises. Another indicator is that they are almost never spayed/neutered.
It’s not always foolproof, however, as cats are increasingly being microchipped under the skin and might not have any identifiable information that you can see. Either way, even an owned cat can get lost from time to time, and may still require your assistance.
There are many best practices when taking care of a stray cat. You should always make sure that you handle it cautiously and tend to any needs. The first and foremost of which will probably be food.
What to Feed a Stray Cat Without Cat Food: Don’ts
If you’re sure it’s a stray, or you decide to feed it just in case, you’ll be wondering what to feed a stray cat without cat food. Luckily, there are many things you may already have around the house that will suit their diet.
No to Milk
It’s a long-standing myth that cats love milk. While they will drink it, they actually lack the enzymes necessary to process standard cow’s milk that you buy in the stores. It’s best to avoid putting a bowl of milk thinking it’s the best solution. It is far better to provide a dish of clean water and some solid food.
Only if the stray is a very young kitten is milk ever appropriate – and only then temporarily and in very sparing quantities. Try feeding it drip by drip from a syringe, or failing that, your finger.
Kittens require extra attention and should be taken to a professional at the earliest opportunity. Nursing kittens away from their mother need a special milk formula that replicates their mother’s milk. In some case, they need to be rehomed with another new mother cat.
No to Dog Food
If you have to feed a stray cat without cat food, you may be looking through the cupboards for what you think is the next best thing: dog food. This is not such a good idea.
While sure they are similar, pet food is specially formulated to the stomachs of the animals they suit. Such as the levels of amino acids, proteins etc that allow them to have a healthy, balanced diet. While dogs and cats are both domestic pets with four legs, their biological similarities end there! 😉
No to Most Veggies & Fruits
Some people think that they can feed a stray cat on vegetables and fruits alone, which is not the best option either.
A hungry cat will eat anything, sure enough, but cats are consummate carnivores. Food like tomatoes and potatoes might give them gastrointestinal problems. When you’re thinking of what to feed a stray cat without cat food, you should think protein.
See our complete guide on human foods that cats can eat to know what veggies and fruits are okay for cats to consume in moderation (i.e., bananas and eggs).
What to Feed a Stray Cat Without Cat Food: Do’s
Common wisdom states that if you’re going to feed a stray cat without cat food, you could use tuna or sardines. This appeals on many levels. But be careful.
Okay to Tuna
Tuna is simple, (usually) plain food that’s often in our cupboards. It’s also an ingredient or flavoring in a lot of commercial cat foods. It smells pungently, which will encourage a nervous stray to eat, or direct a weak cat to the food bowl.
A lot of people use tuna to attract the cat in the first place. If it is hesitant to come towards you, practice patience. Also, try to use the most natural tuna possible. Some tuna cans/packs tend to be very salty which is not good.
Tuna serves to feed strays when you have nothing else in your cupboards. For this purpose, it is okay to use tuna if you have nothing else to feed a stray cat, but avoid using on a regular basis.
Yes to Chicken, Beef, Lamb, etc.
A great option is simple cooked (boneless) chicken. Making sure it doesn’t have any additives or flavorings, you can also add a little plain boiled rice or even unseasoned scrambled eggs to the dish.
While sure, some cats will eat raw meat, it is better to give them something cooked and devoid of potential bacteria.
With any of these options, you should always try it sparingly. If you don’t know the history of the cat or its diet, you don’t want to be in a situation where you are upsetting a delicate stomach.
A Fluffy Kitty reader even noted that you can add pumpkin or sweet potato to help calm cat’s stomachs and aid with digestion.
Often times, when people choose what to feed a stray cat they offer anything to kitty. You might consider it okay because kitty lives outside and has to scavenge from bins and scraps anyway. The truth is, you may end up doing more harm than good that way. Do not feed your cat processed human foods.
Whatever the case, if you plan on holding on to this cat for a little (or a long) while you should absolutely invest in some proper, balanced cat food. This is to ensure the cat meet it’s nutritional needs. For that matter, check out our in depth guide for cat nutrition.
Rehoming and After Care
After deciding what to feed a stray cat without cat food, you should give it regular meals. About every 8-10 hours or so. Make sure to provide a fresh dish of water that you change regularly as well to avoid a buildup of bacteria (and, probably, cat hair).
As soon as possible, you should start looking for the owner. If you are sure it is a stray, you should contact your local vet for advice. They may take it to a shelter, or operate a neuter-and-release program.
You may even have decided to adopt it. In this case you should get it vaccinated, registered, and make sure you stock up your cupboards with lots of tasty, well-balanced cat food!