Helping Homeless Cats in the Summer

Helping Homeless Cats in the Summer

Five Tips for Helping Stray and Feral Cats During Summer

So you want to help homeless cats. Join the feline-fancying club. Of the 90.5 million pet cats in the U.S., a mere 16% are estimated to have been adopted from shelters and another roughly 1% made up of pedigreed cats. This makes the number of "found cats" about 83% of the owned cat population. Staggering, huh?

But how do you help the estimated tens of millions of homeless and feral cats around the country—especially when the dog days of summer creep in?

First, let's make a distinction: a feral cat is born and raised wild, while a stray cat may have had a home at some point and is now homeless. Therefore, stray cats may seem more well-adjusted and easier to get along with because of a not-as-humble upbringing as the wilder counterpart.

While some feral cats tolerate a bit of human contact, most are too fearful and wild to be handled. Ferals often live in groups, called colonies, and take refuge wherever they can find food — rodents and other small animals and garbage often provide a means. They will also try to seek out abandoned buildings, deserted cars, or even dig holes in the ground to keep cool during the summer heat.

Every attempt should be made to try to trap feral cats and take them to a vet for spay/neuter surgery anda physical exam. Look into TNR (trap-neuter-release/return) programs in your area if you have a colony of feral cats or a single, bothersome feral cat near you. Then at least you know you helped the pet overpopulation problem. Ferals– with TNR -- are generally released where first found as long as there’s an established food source. So yes, feeding feral cats is okay — just don’t expect them to get all lovey-dovey with you in return.

Here are few other essentials for homeless cats…

1. Water

Think about offering extra sources of water during these hot summer months, and placing them in areas that will remain cool throughout the day. Water evaporates very quickly in 90- to 100-degree summer heat, so keep bowls out of the sun. Additionally, a bowl with less surface area will reduce the evaporation rate, so use a bowl that is narrow, but deep.

2. Food

Dry food, wet food, chicken pieces, kibble, tuna, tuna juice leftover from your tuna salad — whatever you opt to put out, it will get surely get eaten. Make sure you continue to follow the 30-minute rule for confiscating uneaten food. (Some cats may be slow to arrive at their meal so you may want to wait 45 or 60 minutes.) Also, maintain clean and neat feeding locations, and keep the food dishes in one place to facilitate cleanup by using a feeding station. Check out Alley Cat Allies’ online plans for building one.

3. Shade

Try to provide a cool and shady spot in which the cats may convene. It’s been said that covering an area from the daytime sun can cool it down by over ten degrees. On those blistering summer days and muggy nights, a shady, covered or canopied area will be of great assistance to feral cats or stray cats.

4. Medicine

If you can get a hold of the stray cat or feral cat, it’s important to take them to the veterinarian for vaccinations, flea treatment, and any other needed medical care — especially if you can afford it.  If you cannot afford it, look for help from the community or from local non-profits that deal with that type of issue. You can find community non-profits for cats on

5. Watch for Heat Stroke

It is possible for a cat to die from heat stroke when confined in a TNR trap for too long. A simple guideline to follow: if it’s too hot for you, it is too hot out for the cats, too. Make sure the stray or feral cats don’t remain in their traps for too long by making their neuter appointments for directly afterward your trapping.

For more information and more tips on helping a stray cat or feral cat in the summertime, and for guidelines on feeding feral cats, visit the ASPCA’s Feral Cat Information Page.