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Have You Noticed Stray and Feral Animals? Here’s How to Help Them!

Don’t touch it! It’s a stray!

You were probably told this as a child when you were tempted to pet a cat or dog you saw wandering in an alleyway or strolling by itself in the park. If you have kids of your own, you may have taught them the same thing.

While there are legitimate concerns about stray and feral animals, it’s better for the animal’s safety, your safety, and your neighborhood to help them rather than ignore them.

Stray or Feral?

Before we continue, it’s worth explaining the difference between a stray and a feral animal. Some people use both words interchangeably, but they don’t mean the same thing.

A stray animal has had human contact. It may have been someone’s pet that got lost, or it may have been given up by its previous owner. Stray animals are more likely to approach humans and may have collars, tags, and/or microchips.

A feral animal has had no contact with humans, or, if it has, it was so long ago that the animal’s familiarity with humans has diminished. Have you ever glimpsed an alley cat that runs away from you whenever you try to approach it? It might be feral. We usually think of feral animals as cats, but dogs can be feral too.

The Hidden World of Stray and Feral Animals

feral animalsYou may think that there can’t be that many stray and feral animals roaming the streets. With so many ways to capture and track dogs and cats, the authorities certainly have the population under control, right?

Sadly, this is not the case. While it’s impossible to know the exact stray pet population, it’s estimated that there are 70 million stray cats in the U.S. alone, but, again, this is an estimate.

The Conditions of Stray and Feral Animals

Many people think that stray and feral critters aren’t a big deal. After all, dogs and cats are animals, and they should be able to survive in the wilderness because that’s what their ancestors did.

Should the same logic apply to humans? Our ancestors lived in the wilderness as well, but that doesn’t mean most of us will survive outside of an area with easy access to food, water, and shelter.

Even though they have many natural survival instincts, dogs and cats have evolved to be largely dependent on humans.

Stray and feral animals are often unhealthy. In addition to avoiding dangers like cars, they typically end up eating from trashcans, often containing food that is rotten and potentially unsuitable for them.

Stray and feral animals are also rarely spayed or neutered, so they may have litters that they can’t care for. This continues the cycle of stray and feral animals simply surviving on the streets, unhealthy and in danger.

You can see why it’s best for everyone to help them:

  • They tend to be malnourished.
  • If left unattended, they can reproduce, resulting in more stray and helpless animals.
  • If a stray is left alone for too long, it can become feral, fearing humans and potentially growing aggressive.

If you see a stray or feral animal, what should you do?

Approaching a Stray or Feral Animal

It’s important to know how to approach a stray or feral animal. If you’re driving and see an animal on the side of the road, find a safe place to park. If you’re on a freeway, put on your hazard lights, and park on the shoulder, if permitted.

In all scenarios, take care as you approach the animal; make no sudden movements. You wouldn’t want the dog or cat to run towards traffic.

Keep an eye out for a collar and tags. If the animal is wearing them, it may have simply gotten separated from its owner and be more likely to come towards you with gentle encouragement. A feral animal is more likely to act aggressively or simply run away.


For dogs, understand the signs of a fearful stray or feral animal. If the dog is trembling, urinating, growling, or showing teeth, it’s probably afraid. If a dog shows signs of aggression, such as barking or lunging at you, it’s best that you keep at a safe distance and call the authorities.

If the dog is a bit fearful but seems gentle, kneel down. A dog is more likely to approach you if you get on its level. Extend your closed fist to the dog for it to sniff, rather than an open hand; a closed fist is smaller, looks less threatening, and has fewer digits that can be harmed.

Don’t look the dog in the eye; it may see that as a sign of aggression. Instead, speak softly, give gentle signals for the dog to come over, and lure it with food or treats if you have some.


For cats, the rules are mostly the same. A scared cat will back away, stick its tail up, lower its ears, or hiss if it’s scared. Use the same rules you would when approaching a stray dog, but also blink slowly and turn your head. This is a greeting for a cat. If the cat’s tail is curled, you can probably pet it, but be cautious.

If everything you do to approach a stray or feral animal fails, and the animal runs away or behaves too aggressively for you to feel safe, call animal control. If you’re in the Katy area, call Katy Animal Control at 281-391-4740. Describe the animal and its behavior, or in which direction it ran.

After Catching the Stray or Feral Animal

If you’ve got a hold of the stray and are in a safe place, look for any tags that could give you information about the animal’s owner. If you don’t find anything, you could post signs in your neighborhood or post in a local forum online, saying that you’ve found the animal.

The best thing to do, however, is contact the local shelters. They should be able to take the stray in and check for a microchip that they can use to find the owner, if the animal has one.

If no signs of an owner are found, the animal will stay in a shelter.

What can you do then?


Warm shelters with food, water, and human affection are better than the street for stray animals, but the best place for them is in a loving home. Adopting an animal gives it a second chance in life!

You should note that feral animals may be very difficult to tame. The chances of turning a feral cat into a housecat do increase, however, if you caught it as a kitten.

If you adopt an animal, take your pet to Cinco Ranch Vet to check on its health and ensure that it gets all of the necessary vaccinations.

The next time you see a stray or feral animal, think twice before staying away. You have the power to help. With these tips and the proper amount of caution and patience, you can help an animal in need.

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The Team @ Cinco Ranch Veterinary Hospital

Cinco Ranch Veterinary Hospital serves Katy, TX and the surrounding areas with a dedication and passion for our animal friends that is unmatched. Our veterinarians are highly trained, experienced, and compassionate when it comes to giving your pet the care they deserve. If your companion is in need of emergency care, a dental cleaning, grooming, or just a check-up, we would love to see them! Call 281-693-7387 to make an appointment quickly and easily.

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