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How to Get a Stray Cat to Come to You in 4 Vet-Approved Steps

Codee Chessher

By Codee Chessher

stray kittens hiding in an enclosed place

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Dr. Luqman Javed

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Earning the trust of a stray cat is difficult but well worth it, whether you’re giving them a new home or helping find their owner. They’re fickle creatures, though, so you’ll need some help getting the cat to feel comfortable approaching you. Let’s wade in below with a step-by-step guide on how to get a stray cat to come to you.

Before You Begin

Before you invest anything into this, you have to observe the cat and determine whether it’s a stray or feral cat. Feral cats are entirely wild cats that sometimes hang around humans to poach food or eat garbage. Most animal behaviorists agree that you can’t domesticate a feral cat past the age of 7 months, and they’ll never truly adapt to housecat life.

Feral cats display more anxious or fearful behavior around people and keep themselves clean, while stray runaway cats may be dirtier due to not being used to outside conditions. They’re much more friendly and socialized with humans, though, so you can spot a stray pretty easily.

The 4 Steps to Get a Stray Cat to Come to You

1. Feed Them With Consistency


Please be mindful that in some jurisdictions, feeding feral or stray animals is strongly discouraged. For example, the AVMA doesn’t recommend feeding feral cats for public health reasons. Feeding these cats without any intention of adopting, neutering, or rescuing them is considered counterproductive, as the animals will continue to reproduce in the area while still facing the many struggles of outdoor cats.

Feeding such cats with the intention of rescuing them is considered acceptable in most instances. However, feeding feral or stray cats with no intention of providing them with a better future is considered counterproductive to animal welfare.

Consistency counts with any animal, and stray cats are no exception. Food and water are hard to find outside, so a stray cat will quickly learn that you leave them outside your house every day. Canned wet food is the best, and heating it in the microwave for a few seconds will help the aroma spread. That makes your stray more likely to smell the food and come close to eat.

While they eat, you may or may not stand nearby if the cat seems receptive to the idea. If they seem fearful, you might have to take things slow and just leave food out for a week or two before they’ll tolerate your presence.

Image Credit: OlegD, Shutterstock

2. Make the Area More Hospitable

Other than food and water, shelter is the next most important resource you can provide to attract a stray cat. If you have a garage or other outdoor structure, you can leave your door open during rainy weather or cold nights with a heater or cozy cat bed.

Once they feel comfortable enough to move outside your home and begin to associate your presence with food, water, and shelter (all useful resources), try to assess their comfort level with you. Calmly see how close you can get before they seem uncomfortable. A good trick is to see if the cat accepts or is tempted to accept food from your hand. If the cat seems comfortable with you being near them, you can move on to the next steps.

Image Credit: movchanzemtsova, Shutterstock

3. Assess the Cat’s Health

Many stray cats suffer from health issues, ranging from minor to serious. You can often see if they have any major scratches or wounds from fighting other animals at a glance, but fleas and ticks are harder to see. If they’ll allow it, you can take the cat to a local vet to get checked out. The vet will check them for any common conditions while seeing if the kitty’s been microchipped. Alternatively, you could check if there are humane organizations or pet rescue centers in your area. They may be able to assist you by arranging a way to safely bring the cat to a vet.

Feral cats brought in this way are often neutered or spayed and then released back into the wild to control feral cat populations. The process is abbreviated TNR for Trap, Neuter, Release.

cat at vet with owner and veternarian
Image Credit: 4 PM production, Shutterstock

4. Take in or Rescue the Stray

These are the natural next steps to helping a stray cat, depending on if you have the resources to take care of a cat. If so, you’ll need to keep up with vet checkups and buy cat food, toys, food and water dishes, cat litter, a litter scooper, and a litter box. Although less needy than dogs, most cats do need love and attention.

Not everyone can take in a stray cat even if they want to, but that’s where rescuing is an option. You can take the cat to a rescue shelter or find them a new home, depending on what options you have. Either way, the goal is to help the cat live a happier, healthier life.


Cats can be distrustful after some time outside, but with some food and patience, you can win them over. Any stray cat should be checked out by a vet for any diseases or wounds, whether you adopt them yourself or find them a different home.

Featured Image Credit: wini021, Pixabay

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