Things You Should Know Before Adopting a Stray Cat


a gray-white adult cat sleeping in a cardboard box with the words "adopt me"

Throughout your life, you have met many cats on the street. Some are friendly and start purring as you try to approach them, while others will petrify when you take one step closer.

Out on the streets in your neighborhood, there can be cats that look nurtured and healthy, but in reality, they don’t have an owner. On the other hand, many cats look like they had a hell of a life.

All those cats have one thing in common, they are all stray cats and need someone to take care of them. So, adopting one of them represents a true act of kindness.

But, there are many things you should know before you welcome a stray cat into your home.

Stray, feral, and shelter cats. What’s the difference?

Stray cats are cats which had an owner before they ended up on the street. They either ran away from home or were abandoned by their owner.

Most of those cats are used to people and have no problem with approaching you. But, some of them aren’t used to living outdoors, so they are terrified and don’t know what to do to survive.

Usually, stray cats will search for food in the neighborhood houses or in dumpsters, and some will even start hunting.

Feral cats are cats which never had an owner and are used to living out in the wild or on the streets. But stray cats can become feral too. If a stray cat’s contact with humans dwindles, it can become feral.

Shelter cats are cats which once were feral, stray, abandoned, or taken from their owner. After they had some vet appointments and learned how to socialize with humans, they are ready for adoption.

It’s much easier to adopt a cat from a shelter than take one in from the street.

Stray and feral cats will need much more time to adapt to life in a house and to socialize with humans or other cats.

Sometimes, such cats have been through so much trauma that they never really learn how to trust someone again. So, it can be quite the task to take in a cat like that.

Why adopt a stray cat?

Stray cats are usually very skinny and very hungry. Because they don’t have an owner, they don’t have anyone to take care of them.

They have no warm place to hide when it’s cold and raining outside, they don’t have blankets and cushions, no special cat food, and no vet to keep them healthy when they get sick.

They are often chased by dogs, and sometimes even humans, so they can easily get wounded and die alone.

By adopting a stray cat, you have saved a life. Just like every other cat, stray cats need much love and care.

There is no better feeling than knowing you have saved a little creature that would be left at the mercy of the cold streets without you.

No matter if you choose to adopt a small kitten or an adult cat, you will be filled with feelings of joy once the cat adapts to her new home.

Not only will you be happy, but the cat will be happy too. The cat will be so grateful you took it in and it will love you like no one else.

You don’t even have to take the cat in the house. Some stray cats don’t dare to come closer to humans. So, a small bowl of food and water in a quiet corner of your garden is also a big step.

The cat won’t be hungry, and you can be sure it will revisit you.

Stray cats can take quite some time to adapt to you, but the most important thing is that it’s not hungry and always has a place to come back. Step by step, and you got yourself a new friend.

5 things you need to know before adopting a stray cat

So, you decided to adopt the cute cat that wanders around your neighborhood.

But how to do it?

Does the cat already have an owner and just likes to eat everywhere?

Do you need to take her to the vet first?

Many questions can cross your mind once you have decided to adopt a stray cat. We made this guide to ensure you know everything you need to know before you adopt a stray cat.

1. Make sure the cat doesn’t already have an owner

If the cat you want to adopt likes humans and looks healthy, it’s most likely that it already has an owner. You might adopt a cat and later find out that it already has an owner.

So, it would be a good idea to check first if the cat belongs to someone.

Cats can sometimes get lost and wander around even a few miles away from their home. It can be that someone on the other side of the town is looking for the cat you’re planning to adopt.

A good idea would be to look if the cat has a collar or if the fur around its neck looks like it had a collar. That is a clear sign that the cat has or had an owner.

Look around your neighborhood for missing-cat posters. Maybe someone is desperately trying to find their furry friend.

Look up some local Facebook groups where people post pictures of their missing pets. You may find a picture of the cat you’re trying to adopt there.

Contact your local animal shelter and inform them you’ve found a stray cat. Maybe they got a call from the owner looking for the cat.

And lastly, if you found no posters or posts about the cat, take it to the vet if you can. The vet can scan the microchip if the cat has one and identify who it belongs to.

If you have done all that, but haven’t found the owner, congratulations, you can adopt the cat!

2. Make sure the cat is healthy

Because stray cats live outdoors and don’t have the luxury of going to regular vet appointments, it’s essential to get an overall health check for them.

The task of taking a stray cat to the vet can be quite tricky, especially if the cat has been separated from people for a longer time.

We recommend you to not take the cat into the house before the overall health check.

Stray cats usually carry fleas, ticks, and sometimes even parasites.

So, if the cat isn’t amicable and hisses at you when you come too close, it’s likely that the cat will scratch you at some point.

This naive scratch can carry consequences for you.

While fleas and ticks are easily removed, parasites and diseases aren’t. You can easily get toxoplasmosis from a little scratch. Hence, a vet appointment is necessary to keep your cat and yourself healthy.

If you have a garden, it would be a great idea to keep the cat in the garden for a while. If you live in a building with no garden, you can feed the cat on the street where it usually spends time.

Let the cat get to know you a little better. Once the cat feels more comfortable with you around, you can try to get it into the carrier.

Most cats don’t like being in a carrier, so don’t worry if your cat starts hissing and scratching. That is totally normal, especially for a stray cat. The vet will know how to handle the cat once you arrive in the clinic.

And don’t panic if the cat seems traumatized once you come home, that is also normal. Spend some time with her, give her some tasty food, and play with her.

After a day or two, the cat will behave as if nothing happened.

If you can’t get the cat into the carrier, you can call the vet and ask for a house visit. In this way, the cat won’t get the overall health check, but the vet will determine if it needs treatment for fleas, ticks, cat worms, and scabies.

The treatment for all of that can be done at home, so you’ll have some more time to get the cat used to you.

After a month or two, your new friend will be ready to go to the vet.

Be ready for everything after the health check. Because a stray cat doesn’t have proper care, it can be that it got a serious disease. This rarely happens, so don’t worry too much.

Even if that is the case, most of the conditions are curable, and with regular vet appointments, you will have a healthy cat.

3. Prepare your home for the cat

So, you paid a visit to the vet, and your cat is healthy. What a joy! But what to do now and how to prepare your home for your new fluffy friend?

While many would recommend creating hiding spots in your home, we recommend the opposite. Creating hiding spots in your home seems like a fantastic idea at first glance, but in the long run, it will prove to be bad for you and your cat.


Stray cats, even though they once may have been in a house, are adjusted to living outdoors. So, your home can be a shock for a stray cat, because it’s a totally different environment.

If the stray cat is amiable and lets you pet her, maybe you won’t have a problem getting her adjusted to the house.

If that isn’t the case, your new cat will probably crouch under a drawer cabinet, hide there and eventually come out just for feeding time.

We are sure you want your cat to freely walk through the new home, play with you, and let you pet her. By creating more hiding spots in your home, your new cat won’t even try to socialize.

It will hide in someplace where it feels safe, and where you can’t reach it easily.

It’s ok to let your new cat hide on the first day she arrives, so she can get used to the smell of her new house, but you don’t want her hiding forever.

Cats need a lot of love and attention, and if they feel comfortable, they will proudly parade through the house. If they don’t feel comfortable, they will hide.

You don’t want your cat to hide under the drawing cabinet, you want it to proudly sit on top of it. 

A good idea would be to close up all the small places where she can hide in or under. We don’t want the cat to feel small, we want it to step up big.

By closing all the potential hiding spots, you encourage her to feel big and strong. Step by step, your new fluffy friend will slowly get used to the new home.

You can get cat toys, scratching posts, a litter box, and cat houses. With the toys, you can encourage your new friend to play, and the cat house can represent a safe place for her.

Also, never keep your cat just in one room. This is pretty much self-explanatory. You can’t spend your whole life in your apartment, so can’t your cat spend its entire life in one room.

If you don’t want your cat to go outside, that’s fine, but let it use the whole house.

Don’t force your cat to do anything. By doing this, you won’t get the desired result. In fact, you’ll accomplish the opposite. You need to understand that a stray cat isn’t like a domesticated cat.

A stray cat will need much more time to get used to small changes. So, by forcing it to things that it isn’t ready for, you can get it even more traumatized than when it first arrived.

Take it slow, and we assure you that it’ll be worth it.

4. Make your former stray cat feel comfortable in the house

The house is ready for the cat. You got the toys, litter box, and cat house, but the cat doesn’t want to socialize.

What to do now? How to lure her out of the hiding spot?

The answer is to approach slowly and follow these steps.

Step 1: Approach slow and don’t cross the line

Stray cats usually aren’t used to being held in the arms and petted, so you don’t want to try that on the first day. Your new pet can get scared and bite or scratch you in fear.

If this happens, don’t be sad or worried. You provoked that action. It just means that the cat isn’t ready for that.

So, take it slow, in a tempo that is ok for your cat.

Once your cat arrives in the house, it will probably find a place to hide. Don’t force her out. Get close to the cat while remaining on her level. Keep a safe distance.

You’ll notice the cat looking for a way to escape once you cross the line where it feels comfortable, so keep that distance.

When we say you should remain on her level, we mean that you’ll probably need to lay down on the floor.

The next thing you should do is give your new friend a slow blink.


You surely have seen cats interact with each other, and humans as well. You may have noticed that cats do a slow blink when looking at cats and humans they trust. So, by giving your cat a lazy blink, it’s just like you’re saying, ”I trust you”.

If your cat trusts you, it will return the lazy blink.

Even if your cat doesn’t return the blink, the fact that it didn’t escape is a big step forward. Do the blink every day, and in a few days, the cat will return it to you.

The next thing you want to show the cat, before your hand, is something you’re wearing.

This could be your glasses, bracelet, hairband, or even a sock. You want your cat to get to know your smell.

If the cat hasn’t hissed at it, you can come a little bit closer and reach your finger to her. Let her smell your finger, and if she’s comfortable, you can slowly show her your whole hand.

Do this every day. In some time, the cat will let you pet her.

Step 2: Playtime

Every cat loves wand toys, so you can use these toys to lure your cat out of the hiding spot. Stray cats hunt to survive outdoors if they can’t find food.

A wand toy will awaken the predator in your cat, so she’ll come out to catch the prey.

The cat will maybe approach with caution and won’t follow the toy through the whole house. But the sign that she wants to play is just enough.

A few steps closer to you, or a paw that is sticking out underneath the drawer cabinet is a clear sign that you have awakened her interest in playing.

Play with her every day. With playing, you’ll get your new cat to run around through the whole house.

The cat will feel much more comfortable, and you’ll be relieved it finally started exploring the house.

Your new friend won’t feel the need to escape and hide all the time.

Step 3: Reward

With every step forward in your relationship, a reward is in place.

After every play session and every time she lets you pet her, reward her.

Buy some special cat treats that you’ll give her for good behavior. In some time, the cat will learn that good behavior is rewarded, so she’ll proceed with it.

A few bites from the yummy food and a gentle touch on the head, while she’s eating, is just enough. In no time, you’ll have a friendly and happy cat.

5. What if I have more cats?

If you already have cats in your house and want to adopt a stray cat, here’s what you can do to make it easier for everyone.

Before you take the stray cat in, buy two new litter boxes. Cats mark their territory with scent, so the litter box you already have is marked by your house cat. The new cat won’t use the same one.

Also, if there is only one litter box, the cats can get into a ”territory fight”. This means that the cats will start peeing everywhere to say ”this is mine” to the other cats.

We are sure you don’t want that to happen, so the more litter boxes, the better.

Don’t think that this can’t happen if you have only female cats. Even female cats can start marking the territory if they feel like they’re backed up in the corner by another cat.

Let all the cats have their own personal space. 

An excellent way to get your house cats and your new cat to better get along with each other is playtime. If they play near one another, they’ll quickly get used to each other.

Your new cat will learn that she doesn’t need to hide all the time. She will be encouraged when she sees other cats playing, so she eventually will come out and play with them.

Maybe they won’t play together or sleep together, but you won’t have to deal with physical and territory fights.

They will perhaps establish a shared territory, like your bed. That will then be the only place where they won’t hiss at each other when too close.

If you’re lucky, all the cats will get along fantastic, so you can take cute pictures while the cats are sleeping and hugging.

Final word

This brings us to the end of our story. We hope our article helps you with building a trusting relationship with a stray cat and you.

What are your thoughts on adopting a stray cat? Do you have any experience of adopting stray cats?

We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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