Worried about a stray cat?

For any animal lover, the thought of a cat fending for itself is hard to bear – a cat without shelter in cold or wet weather and without a reliable source of food will have a hard life and, potentially, a premature death. And, it can be very difficult to tell if a cat actually lost or just an opportunist.
So how can you help a cat who genuinely seems to be without an owner?


  • Stage 1 – Ask neighbours if they know the cat; put a message on local homewatch and Facebook groups; if the cat has a collar, check for an address or telephone number.
  • Stage 2 – attach a label to any existing collar or fabricate a paper collar with a message: “If this is your cat please ring xxxxxx.” If the collar is still present after 48hrs then the cat is probably lost.
  • Stage 3 – check if the cat is microchipped – if you can get the cat to a vet they will scan it free of charge; or most local animal welfare organisations own scanners too.
  • Stage 4 – advertise as a ‘found’ cat: posters where anyone searching might look, on the RSPCA recommended website www.petslocated.com (it’s free) and Facebook groups. Hold back some information so if an ‘owner’ comes forward you can validate their claim.

    If you can’t allow the cat in your home, provide shelter (even if it’s a cardboard box covered in plastic sheeting) and food.
  • Stage 5 – if no one comes forward in 10–14 days you’ve done everything you reasonably can and you can look to homing the cat, possibly with the help of an animal shelter.

Where do I stand legally?

What happens if you adopt a stray, then years down the line someone claims it was their cat all along?

Under UK law, cats are items of property rather than beings in their own right. So, despite your good intentions, if you have taken in someone else’s cat, this could be seen as theft. However, only if you had taken in a cat without making any real effort to find the owner would you get in trouble.

In practice, an owner who has not microchipped their pet is unlikely to be able to prove it was theirs to begin with and you would be within your rights to ask an owner to pay your out-of-pocket expenses such as food, vet care and pet insurance costs for the period the cat was with you.