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, when the stores are 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 and are almost never 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 associated with taking care of a stray cat, and 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’ve taken the decision 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.
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, so don’t just put a bowl of that down thinking it’s the best possible thing. It is far better to provide a dish of clean, water.
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; or they need to be rehomed with another new mother cat.
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 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 domesticated animals with four legs, their biological similarities end there!
Some people think that they can feed a stray cat on vegetables and fruits, which is not the best option either. A hungry cat will eat anything, sure enough, but cats are consummate carnivores, and things 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 simply about meat and protein.
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. This appeals on many levels – it is simple, (usually) plain food that normally gets included in a lot of traditional cat food. It also 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. Make sure you use the most natural tuna possible as some of them tend to be very salty and/or saturated with fat.
Another food that goes down well is simple cooked chicken. Making sure it doesn’t have any additives or flavorings, you can also add a little plain boiled rice to the dish. While 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.
Often times, people think that when they are choosing what to feed a stray cat that they can give it anything because it 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.
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 which meets a cat’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, every eight 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 programme. You may even have decided to adopt it, in which case you should get it vaccinated, registered, and make sure you stock up your cupboards with lots of tasty, well balanced cat food!