The Animal Rescue League of New Hampshire receives many calls about stray cats needing to come into the shelter. This is more typical during the winter months. Here are some tips to recognize a stray vs. an indoor/outdoor cat.  

To determine if a cat has a home, refer to:

Is the cat a good weight or thin?

True strays are often underweight and may appear emaciated. These are cats that were originally indoor cats and have had to fend on their own. If the cat looks well fed and has a good body condition then it may be an indoor/outdoor kitty.

Does the cat look cared for?

Or, is it infested with fleas, dirty, or matted? For the most part, an owned cat will be clean and cared for. Stray cats often have a dirty and disheveled appearance from extended outdoor exposure.

Is the cat ravenously hungry?

Stray cats fending for themselves will often appear ravenous because they are not used to hunting for their meals.

Is the cat friendly? Can it be approached?

Owned indoor/outdoor cats are often quite confident and feel comfortable approaching people. Stray cats can be both scared and or approachable depending on the situation or the personality of the cat. Often we do find that cats that have been fending for themselves for a while are more on the skittish side because they have had less human contact.

What time of day are you seeing the cat?

Many indoor/outdoor cats are let out during the day, and come in a night. If you see a cat late at night when the outdoor cats should go home, or you see fresh paw prints from in the snow or ground in the early morning, the cat is more likely a stray cat.

Have you been feeding the cat?

If yes, and the cat sounds like it is owned, we politely ask you to stop feeding the cat. The cat will continue to hang around because it is getting an extra meal each day.

Have you seen this cat before?

How long have you been seeing the cat? Many people call us and have only seen the cat for a day or so. Even if you are seeing a cat for months, it is important to remember that it could be an owned pet. Indoor/outdoor cats typically have a 3 miles radius that they wander. This is why noting the body condition and following the appropriate steps (see below) is important to ensure that the animal is not owned.

Have you asked neighbors?

About one third of owned cats are indoor/outdoor, and not everyone uses identification collars. If the cat’s condition is good PLEASE wait before bringing the cat to a shelter. Ask around to neighbors and follow the additional recommended steps below.

Next Steps

  1. Contact the neighbors! Many times these found cats are owned by a neighbor.

  2. To report a found pet, please go to Finding Rover or call us at (603) 472-3647. 

  3. Get the cat scanned for a microchip at your veterinarian's office.

  4. Post found flyers in the neighborhood and at the local veterinarians. Be sure to include a photo.

  5. Check newspaper ads and Craigslist postings for lost pets.