What To Feed Stray Cats – Safe Foods & More


Stray cats inhabit virtually every community. Some can be feral or unsocialized; others can be very friendly but live outside for whatever reason. Regardless of the circumstances that caused the cat to be unhoused, those cats still need to be fed. So, what should you feed stray cats?

Stray cats should be fed a healthy diet of cat food high in protein and have access to fresh water. If a stray cat does not have these things, they will forage until they find them. 

Stray cats left to their own devices to find food can kill birds, rodents, or other small animals to make sure they don’t go hungry. Their hunting behavior can cause disruptions in their communities. These cats will search for and kill for their meals, wreaking havoc on communities and ecosystems.  

What Foods Should Be Fed To A Stray Cat

Dry cat food is an excellent option for stray cats because they can eat what they want and return to the bowls later.

Some individuals take responsibility for the stray cats that are in their neighborhoods. Those people can be called colony caretakers. These Good Samaritans take it upon themselves, sometimes with the help of neighbors, to make sure the cats in their community do not go hungry.

While a person can have their heart in the right place by feeding table scraps or leftovers to the stray cats in their area, that isn’t the best idea. These unhoused cats still need the same balanced diet that indoor cats do. Like indoor cats, outdoor strays can become ill when eating foods not prepared for a cat. Seasonings like garlic and onions could kill them, and fatty foods will still cause pancreatitis.

Dry food will still attract bugs and ants, but not at the same level that wet food or people food will. Some caretakers still choose to give their stray cats wet food as a part of their regular diets. There is nothing wrong with making this choice. Just know that you have to clean it up quickly to avoid attracting bugs and other animals.

Should you decide to give your stray cats “real food” on occasion, make sure, it was prepared just for the cats. You can cook them fish (salmon is recommended) or chicken and serve it as a part of their meals. Don’t add any seasonings or spices and only serve them the least fatty portions. Other foods you can feed to a stray cat include eggs, spinach, fruits like cantaloupe and bananas, or even oatmeal. My indoor cat is a personal fan of pumpkin, which is also healthy and nutritious for cats.

What Foods Are Not Safe For Stray Cats

Many foods are not safe for cats, regardless of if they live inside or outside. Here are things you should not feed to the stray cats on your property.

  • Dog food
  • Milk
  • Tomatoes
  • Grapes
  • Avocados
  • Onions and garlic
  • Chocolate
  • High-fat foods (short ribs, fried foods, pastries)

All of those foods will make a cat ill. Onions, garlic, and chocolate are toxic to a cat and could cause them to die. Milk will cause severe gastrointestinal issues. Grapes will cause kidney issues. Avocados and tomatoes also contain toxins that could cause serious illnesses in a cat when eaten in proper quantities. High-fat foods will cause pancreatitis.

What To Feed A Stray Cat Without Cat Food

Stray cats can be fed eggs, fish, and fruits if you don’t have cat food. They can also eat chicken, beef, lamb, and other similar foods if cat food is not readily available. 

It’s important that you stick with the following list of ingredients as some foods in these categories could be dangerous to feed a cat. 

In general a cat whether domestic or stray can eat

  • Eggs
  • Fish oils
  • Spinach
  • Oatmeal
  • Bananas
  • Salmon (or other similar cuts of fish) 

How you prepare these meals is important too. In general try to stay away from oils, especially if you plan to fry the eggs. You’ll also want to stay away from fatty beverages such as milk (that’s a common myth that milk is healthy for cats, it isn’t). 

Also, resist the urge to feed your cat dog food. The balance of ingredients in these foods is much different, even if they look and smell similar to cat food. 

While fruits and vegetables are good for cats, they can only eat a select amount of them. 

Does The Diet Of A Stray Cat Differ From The Diet Of An Indoor Cat

A stray cat will eat whatever they can locate in the wild. Birds and rodents are the most common targets for stray felines. But truthfully, an outdoor cat will eat anything they can, including trash and food that is spoiled. Other options can include lizards and a variety of insects. While an outdoor cat can technically survive by eating these other creatures, their diet is far from balanced.

If you take on the responsibility of feeding an outdoor cat, offer them dry food that provides them with their daily nutritional value. While some caretakers provide their strays with wet food, other issues can arise with going that route. Wet food can attract more bugs, along with other animals. Leaving out wet food for your strays could attract raccoons or even rats.

Indoor cats tend to have a more balanced diet since humans feed them. Dry and wet food, along with treats, are readily available to domesticated cats. However, indoor cats still have that hunting instinct and can kill bugs and any rodents that come through their homes. I have seen many of my cats over the years devour a wide array of bugs that were unfortunate enough to crawl around my door. One of my cats is very partial to eating flies.

How Often Should You Feed A Stray Cat

Stray cats need to be fed just as often as you would feed your indoor pet. Putting out food for breakfast and dinner will ensure your stray friends don’t go hungry and are not at risk for starvation. When feeding your stray cat, make sure you provide clean & fresh water for your cat simultaneously. While there are sources in the wild for outdoor cats to secure drinking water, those water sources may not be clean.

Cats who are being fed by a caretaker will figure out the feeding schedule very quickly. I once fed an outdoor cat who learned very quickly what time 5 pm was. If I was late coming home from work, I came home to a ticked off cat sitting on my doorstep who would yell his disapproval at me. Once you commit to feeding a stray, you have to stick to the schedule you started with.

Will A Stray Cat Starve If I Stop Feeding It

Stray cats will not starve if you stop feeding them. If they can’t find enough food, they will begin to expand their territory.

Most animals will follow the food. Cats don’t always follow this rule. Cats are territorial, so they will want to stay in the area that they were fed in. If a person had been feeding them with cat food and then that food is removed, the cats may not leave initially. They will resort to searching that area for additional food sources.

This could lead to additional conflicts with new animals and even more conflicts with humans. Should the cats encounter another cat colony, they may not be welcomed. The fights and increased roaming behavior can bring harm to these cats. If they have to cross busy roads, they could get hit by a car.

What Steps Should A Person Take If They Start Feeding Stray Cats

Before you start feeding stray cats in your community, ask yourself if you have the finances to commit to this project. There is a very good chance that you will be doing this by yourself without any financial help from your neighbors.

Also, ask yourself if you will stick with this for the long term. Stray cats learn the routine quickly. It is cruel to start doing this and then stop. Another essential first step is to check to see what local ordinances prohibit the feeding of stray cats. There are many localities across the country that forbid this practice. The fines for breaking this can be significant.

If you live in one of those areas that doesn’t permit you to feed your local strays, contact your local shelter or rescue groups. They may be able to help you find a suitable place for relocation. These places are far and few in between, so try to speak with your town about the benefits that community cats offer the area and what will happen when they are left to their own devices to find food.

Final Thoughts

Stray cats that live on your property cannot live on just scraps and the animals they prey upon. This will leave deficiencies in their diet. They need access to proper food and clean water to be happy and healthy. Feed your strays the same types of quality dry and wet food you would feed your indoor cats. Avoid feeding them the same things that make indoor cats ill. If you don’t feed the strays in your community, they will expand their search territory for food, creating additional issues.

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