What to feed stray cats?


Regardless of where they came from or how domesticated they are, every cat deserves a good meal that’s good for them when they’re hungry. Just what exactly are you supposed to feed a stray cat, though? If you have a cat of your own and a steady supply of cat food available-dry or canned cat food-then, the answer may be evident as to what to feed stray cats; feed the stray cat some cat food. 

This can be helpful and certainly makes feeding a stray cat easier. Most cat food can be handled by almost any cat’s stomach, regardless of their dietary needs, and should be safe for them to eat. But what if you don’t have any dry food lying around the house that you can offer up to the stray kitty? There are a few things you can feed to a stray cat that won’t be harmful to them, and you most likely already have them in your fridge or cupboard. 

Keep reading to learn how best to feed stray cats, what you can and cannot feed them, and what you should do after gaining their trust and approval through food. 

How to Handle Stray Cats 

Before you put out any food for a stray cat, you should know how to best handle the situation so you don’t cause any potential harm or stress to yourself or the cat.

It would be best to exercise caution when approaching any animal, including a stray cat. This is because you don’t know where they came from or the other animals they may have interacted with before reaching your front door. You could be putting yourself at risk of illness or injury by approaching them.

It’s essential to gauge their behavior towards you and read the warning signs if they don’t want you to approach them. Always respect a stray cat’s boundaries. According to an article featured by Purina, some angry cat body language to watch out for is: 

  • Hissing
  • Spitting
  • Ears Flat 
  • Raised Fur
  • Bushy Tail
  • Growling 

If the stray cat is exhibiting any of that body language, it’s best to give them their space. However, you can still leave food out for them at a distance and explore other options of containing them if it’s apparent that they need medical attention from a vet. 

If you can tell that a stray cat is very obviously skittish and unapproachable, it’s not a good idea to test your luck and make any advancements towards them. If you make a premature move to capture them, you risk losing their trust altogether and can’t get them the care they need from a vet. In these cases, it’s appropriate to set a live trap with food inside so that you can get them to a vet for any medical care they need.

If the cat is relatively friendly and has no qualms about approaching you, you can build up their trust with regular feedings till you can contain them in a carrier or blanket. Once you have them included, you can take them to a vet for a proper check-up. Sometimes, a stray cat isn’t stray at all and may have just gone too far from home or lost its collar. If they have a microchip, a vet can find it and reunite them with their family. 

What to Feed a Stray Cat Without Cat Food: Don’ts 

Just as each cat is unique and different, so are their digestive systems. Some cats may have an intolerance or sensitivity to a particular food. However, there is one common thread between all cats’ digestive systems: their inability to digest dairy products properly. 

It’s misleading to see cliche pictures of cats lapping up bowls of milk in storybooks or photographs. A cat’s digestive system completely lacks the enzyme responsible for breaking down milk and other dairy products. If you’re wondering what to feed a stray cat, leave the milk and cheese in the fridge. 

If you have a dog, you may be thinking it’s “close enough” to feed a stray cat some dog food. Unfortunately, this isn’t a good idea because dog food is made specifically for a dog’s digestive system and physical requirements and can end up making the stray cat you’re trying to help feel sick instead.

Onions, garlic, or citrus fruits should also be avoided as a cat’s stomach has difficulty breaking these foods down. In addition, feeding any cat these foods regularly can even cause more severe health problems such as vomiting or hemolytic anemia.

If you’re still wondering which foods are off the dinner table for stray cats, check out our article on the 16 Worst Foods Your Cat Shouldn’t Eat.

What to Feed a Stray Cat Without Cat Food: Do’s 

Domesticated cats have similar but smaller diets to their more exotic cousins; lions, tigers, or jaguars. Felines in the wild are predators, obligate carnivores, and eat a diet comprised primarily of raw meat. When thinking about what you can feed a stray cat when you don’t have any cat food, think about what they eat in the wild. 

Most stray cats fending for themselves would eat meat such as birds, fish, and mice. If you don’t have any of those foods readily available, safe foods to feed them from your kitchen would be roasted chicken, turkey, canned tuna, or salmon. Scrambled eggs are a great tasty treat for cats that offers enough protein to help them keep up their strength. 

If you’re vegetarian or don’t have any meats in the kitchen right now, you may be at a loss as to what to feed a mostly carnivorous stray cat. Even though cats thrive primarily on a meat-based diet, they can safely eat some fruits and vegetables as well. A few safe vegetables for a stray feline friend are carrots, broccoli, sweet potatoes, green beans, or peas; be sure to cook them first. It doesn’t hurt to cut them up into bite-size pieces either! Especially if the stray cat you want to feed seems to be in poor health or is missing teeth. Softer, smaller amounts of food will be ideal. 

Some fruits that are safe to feed to a stray cat are blueberries or bananas, although most cats will show less interest in fruit than meat, eggs, or vegetables. Along with a safe serving size of cat-approved food, it’s a good idea also to put out a dish of water for them to stay hydrated and healthy. Most stray cats will keep themselves hydrated by lapping up puddles of rainwater or taking a drink out of nearby creeks or streams. It can be nice to offer them a dish of clear freshwater with their food, though. 

When all else fails, and the cupboards are bare, most people still have some component of the grain group lying around. This could be crackers, bread, plain rice, or oatmeal. While this shouldn’t be the main thing making up a stray cats diet, it can be given to them in a pinch if there’s nothing else cat-approved to offer. Be sure to cook the rice or oatmeal till it’s soft and break any larger pieces into bite-sized nibbles that the stray cat can quickly eat without choking or excessive chewing. 

If you’re looking for a complete list of safe human foods for cats, check out our article on the 27 Best Human Foods Cats Can Eat

Rehoming and After-Care

Often, it’s pretty easy to care for and rehome a stray cat, especially if it’s a kitten. 

Stray kittens are typically easier to capture and handle. They are also more likely to be adopted from a foster home situation or spend less time in a shelter; everyone wants a baby! Even if the stray cat in question is an adult cat and not a kitten, as long as they are friendly and in good health, it should be easy to find them a new home. 

When you can capture a stray cat successfully, you should always take them to a vet to get them checked out and hopefully receive a clean bill of health. After getting them checked out by a vet, you can take them to your local humane society to be rehomed or foster them yourself while you look for their forever home.

If you choose to keep and care for them yourself until you’ve found them a new home, make sure they get along well with any pets you already have in your house. It’s not beneficial to a stray cat to be exposed to a stressful or potentially harmful environment, no matter how badly you want to help them. 

A stray cat will be too feral to rehome successfully in rare cases. This is when the live traps are the best to use. After a vet visit to get them any medical care they need, you typically have to release them back into the neighborhood to fend for themselves. Over time, you may gain their trust and establish that your home is a safe space for them to be in, but this depends on the nature of that particular cat.

Some cats are born and raised on neighborhood streets and are just too rough and tough to convert into a housetrained lapcat. As long as they aren’t causing harm to other neighborhood animals, you should be able to safely feed them from a distance and care for them without getting too close. 


Can I Leave Food Out for Stray Cats in My Neighborhood? 

While it’s a beautiful, kind gesture as a cat lover to want to help a living creature in need, it’s not a good idea to leave food outside for them. While the intention may be to feed the stray neighborhood cats, by leaving food out unattended and uneaten, you may attract more than you anticipate. Regularly leaving food outside can attract many birds, squirrels, rats, possums, or raccoons. 

When feeding a stray cat, it’s best to watch them eat the food you’ve put out for them and then bring the dish back inside. This ensures you won’t leave uneaten food out for the next needy critter. You can, however, leave a container of clean water out for them without risking attracting an entire ecosystem. 

Will Feeding Stray Cats Attract More Stray Cats? 

Like attracting a variety of local wildlife, if you leave food out, you may begin to attract more stray cats to your yard if you regularly make a point to feed them. Consistency creates habits, and when you make a habit of feeding one stray cat once or twice a day, chances are, they’ll tell the other cats, and you’ll become the hub for stray cat cuisine. 

This isn’t necessarily a negative thing if your ultimate goal is to rescue stray cats, get them the medical attention they need from a vet, and then make an effort to rehome or care for them moving forward. Be mindful of your neighbors if you live in a residential area, though; they may not be as keen to care for the stray or feral cat population as you are, and you should make your intentions clear as to what you’re planning to do once you befriend all these stray cats. 

Final Thoughts 

Overall, feeding a stray cat a portion of the cat food you already have on hand is the best approach. In most cases, most commercially bought cat food brands will be easy enough on any cat’s stomach and provide them with the nutrients and health benefits they need. However, in a pinch, you can feed them some regular ol’ human food till you decide what to do next.

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Katy Duncan

Katy Duncan is a writer/content creator based in the Pacific North West. When she's not busy writing captivating content for clients, she's working on her novel or spending time with her feline friend, Merlin Magoo, and her many prospering houseplants.