Because cats are naturally curious creatures, exploration is in their DNA. This is why it’s not unlikely for one purring and meowing creature to pay you a visit. Whether you choose to feed the feline or prefer to look for its owner, knowing how to tell if a cat belongs to someone can help guide you on the next few steps to take.
In general, a cat belongs to someone if it’s collared or microchipped. The feline is someone’s pet if it appears healthy and clean, and it seems accustomed to humans. However, a pet cat that has been missing or abandoned for a while may look hungry and dirty due to poor survival skills.
Just because a cat regularly drops by your property doesn’t mean right away that you can keep it.
No matter if you have the resources to take good care of it or much rather take it to a shelter, it’s a must that you try to look for its owner. Someone could be desperately looking for that cat, or that cat could be desperately looking for a home.
Read on to learn how to tell if a cat belongs to someone. Below, we will talk about ten different ones, each one can help you make the right decision — have the cat adopted, returned to its owner or taken to a shelter.
But First: How to Know If a Cat is Stray or Not
Many people think that all free-roaming cats are strays. If you are one of them, you’ll be surprised to know that there are three different types of cats that you can encounter on the streets or pay your property a visit.
Let’s take a quick look at each one of them:
- Feral cats. Put simply, feral cats are cats that have never had any human contact — they have never been pets, which is why they are very good at surviving outdoors. They avoid humans, and they don’t need humans to live. However, some feral cats were once pets that have long forgotten their socialization skills.
- Stray cats. Unlike feral cats, stray cats know how to interact with humans, although some of them may be too shy or mistrusting. That’s because they used to be pets that have gone missing or been abandoned by their owners. They are terrible at surviving outdoors, and they may end up as feral cats after some time.
- Pet cats. Especially if they were born as pets, pet cats greatly depend on humans to survive. Up to 70% of pet cats are indoors. On the other hand, the rest are both indoors and outdoors. If pet cats get lost or are abandoned by their owners, they end up as stray cats and, in some instances, feral cats.
Now that you have an idea of the key differences among the different types of cats that you can spot on the street or in your yard, you will find it easier to figure out whether a cat belongs to someone or not.
With keen eyes, you will find it trouble-free to determine if you should try adopting the cat, look for its rightful owner or take it to a shelter for microchip scanning or spaying or neutering. Checking out the feline’s overall appearance and observing its behavior is usually more than enough for you to know which steps you should take.
9 Tell-Tale Signs That Cat Belongs to Someone
Every cat owner and lover can agree that felines are some of the most charming and affectionate pets on the face of the planet. But when it comes to telling apart feral, stray and pet cats, many end up scratching their heads.
The ability to tell if a cat is someone’s pet or not is important if there is a feline on the street or your property that you find charming and would like to welcome into your life for good. In the US, pets are considered personal properties, and keeping someone’s cat is stealing. Needless to say, the cat’s owner could press charges.
If you don’t want to break the law, don’t stop reading now — here are ten things to check out if you want to tell if the cat you are looking at is a feral, stray or pet cat:
In terms of weight, both pet cats and feral cats seem in excellent shape.
It doesn’t come as a surprise why pet cats have a healthy weight — their owners feed them two to three times a day. And each time pet cats feel like having a snack, all they need to do is meow at their owners in the cutest way possible to enjoy some kibbles.
Feral cats, on the other hand, look fine weight-wise, too, because they are very good at looking for food outdoors, where they have been spending their entire lives.
Compared to pet cats and feral cats, stray cats look underweight.
That’s because they used to be fed by their owners, and now they are having a difficult time looking for food. And if they get really hungry, stray cats won’t hesitate to approach people and beg for food — they are not fearful of people, unlike feral cats.
However, refrain from assuming that a skinny cat is not someone’s pet. In some instances, pet cats may appear overweight, too. This is especially true for those that are being mistreated or have chronic medical issues.
Fur is Neat and Clean
The coat of a cat can say so much about its background.
Provided that you know what to look for exactly, a quick glimpse at the animal’s fur will let you know whether it’s a feral cat, stray cat, or pet cat.
Needless to say, a pet cat’s coat will look neat and clean. It doesn’t come as a surprise since the cat has a home where it can groom itself all the time. It may also be getting a bath regularly, courtesy of its loving owner.
But it’s a different matter if a pet cat is lost or abandoned. Instead of looking nice, its fur will look tousled and greasy, and grimy.
Because the pet cat has suddenly turned into a stray cat, grooming itself is no longer its main concern. All it wants is to dodge cars and predatory animals, as well as search for food and shelter.
Refrain from assuming that feral cats look just as unkempt as stray cats — they don’t!
You can rest assured that what you are looking at is a feral cat if it appears clean and looks like it doesn’t want you to come any closer. Because the feline is so used to living outdoors, it doesn’t have to devote all its time and energy to trying to survive. Any free time that the animal has is spent on other things, such as grooming itself.
No Wounds and Scars
Besides a disheveled and dirty fur, bald spots stemming from wounds and scars may also be noticeable on a stray cat.
This is especially true for one that has gone missing or been abandoned for a while now. For a cat that grew up indoors, the outdoors is filled with things that can injure them, such as feral cats and street dogs.
It’s not just four-legged creatures with claws and fangs that a stray cat may encounter outdoors, but also a hostile environment that’s teeming with broken glass, sticking out nails, speeding cars and cruel people.
Like stray cats, feral cats may have wounds and scars, too.
But because feral cats are used to living and surviving outdoors and defending themselves from everyday threats, it’s not unlikely for them to look a lot less wounded and scarred than stray cats.
However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that a pet cat will be free of wounds and scars and other dermatological issues.
For instance, even though a cat is someone’s pet, it can still suffer from fungal skin infections and open sores, and bald spots due to fleas. And if the feline is both an indoor and outdoor cat, it may have mange.
Footpads are Free of Cuts and Scrapes
Sometimes, you will have to take a closer inspection of a cat to know whether or not it belongs to someone.
Case in point: the animal’s footpads, which can reveal so much about the feline’s lifestyle.
But first things first: never check out the footpads of a cat if it seems like it doesn’t want you to invade its personal space.
Stay away from a cat (and instead settle with the rest of the tips on how to tell if a cat belongs to someone discussed in this article) if it starts to hiss, growl or arch its back the minute you attempt to approach it.
If the cat doesn’t mind you touching its paws, you can rest assured that the feline is a pet cat if its footpads are soft and smooth. It means that it’s been spending its life walking on wooden, tiled, carpeted or vinyl-covered floors.
The footpads of a stray cat, on the other hand, will have some signs of cuts and scrapes. The worst footpads of the bunch are those that belong to a feral cat.
Because of where it’s been living all its life, it’s perfectly normal for the animal’s footpads to be completely calloused and worn and torn.
Ears are Not Clipped
When stray and feral cats are taken to veterinary clinics or shelters, the tip of their ears are clipped.
It’s what’s called ear-tipping, and it’s a simple way to let everyone know that the free-roaming cat is already spayed or neutered. In other words, they will no longer be able to procreate and produce homeless kittens.
Many cat owners refuse to have their purring pets undergo ear-tipping after getting fixed.
First and foremost, they believe that it can ruin the physical appearance of their cats. Some cat owners also think that ear-tipping is a form of animal cruelty.
However, vets and shelter workers agree that it’s humane as felines whose ears are being clipped are under general anesthesia. Cats tend to heal fast from it, too.
If the cat on the street or your property has a clipped ear, you can be 100% certain that it’s already spayed or neutered. However, it’s not a guarantee that the animal is a feral or stray cat.
Before a cat at a shelter can be adopted out, it should be fixed.
This means that a cat with ear-tipping may still be someone’s pet if the individual adopted it from a shelter or welcomed it from the street and into his or her home. It’s because of this why the presence of a clipped ear alone won’t give you the whole picture.
Feral cats and stray cats share some things in common. Similarly, feral cats and pet cats have similarities, too, such as having clean and well-groomed coats.
Well, there’s something that stray and pet cats have in common: they are usually friendly.
Before approaching a cat that you come across on the street or in your yard, it’s a must that you stop and stare for a while.
Attempting to touch or pet a cat that turns out to be feral could leave you with scratches and bites. Although cat bites are smaller than dog bites, they are deeper and thus can introduce more bacteria into your body.
As a matter of fact, an infection can occur in up to 50% of all cat bites. On the other hand, an infection can occur in only about 10% to 15% of all dog bites.
Cats that do not mind being approached by humans have social skills, which means that they are accustomed to the presence of people.
They are either currently a pet or were once pets that have gone missing or been abandoned by their owners. Both stray and pet cats will also approach people to beg for food.
Non-threatening Body Language
In some instances, observing a cat’s behavior is not enough to let you know whether or not it belongs to someone. There are times when you will also have to check out the feline’s body language.
Cats may not be able to speak like humans alright.
However, they are very good at expressing their thoughts and feelings using their different body parts. This is why it’s a great idea to familiarize yourself with a cat’s body language, most especially if you are fond of petting and feeding felines that you come across outside your home.
For instance, a cat that’s walking with its tail straight up despite awareness of your presence means that it wants to make friends with you.
This is especially true if the tip of its tail is twitching — it’s excited to see you. And if it’s blinking slowly while staring back at you, the cat is saying that it feels comfortable around you.
A cat that’s displaying signs of friendliness and confidence is either a stray or pet cat.
On the other hand, a cat with a puffed-up tail and an arched back doesn’t want you near it because it’s not accustomed to interacting with humans. Needless to say, the animal is most likely a feral cat.
Feral cats, stray cats, pet cats — all of these are the different types of domestic cats. Believe it or not, domestic cats are related to wild cats such as lions, tigers, leopards and cheetahs.
When it comes to behavior and activity, feral cats are the closest to wild cats. And because wild cats are nocturnal animals, it doesn’t come as a shock why feral cats are nocturnal creatures, too.
It’s due to this exactly why it’s rare for you to spot feral cats during the day. They spend most of the day sleeping and spend most of the night looking for food.
Thanks to the phenomenal vision of feral cats, they find it trouble-free to hunt in the nighttime.
One more reason exists why feral cats tend to be more active when the sun goes down: they find it easier to steer clear of humans, which they don’t need to survive anyway.
Cats that you see in the middle of the day are more likely to be stray or pet cats.
Unlike feral cats, they have no idea that they have better chances of surviving at night as fewer vehicles and people are around. Besides, stray cats that were once pet cats are used to the fact that their owners are more active in the day than in the night.
Collar Around Neck
A very good telltale sign that a cat belongs to someone is the presence of a collar around the animal’s neck. Since it bears the contact details of its owner, you can rest assured that the cat has a home.
Picking up the phone allows you to inform the owner that his or her cat is on your property.
In some instances, an anti-flea collar is enough to reveal the fact that the feline is a pet and not a feral or stray cat.
Although it’s a good indicator that the cat isn’t homeless, an anti-flea collar provides you with no way to get in touch with its owner. But the good news is that the cat may have a microchip, which we will talk about in a few.
Sadly, having a traditional collar or an anti-flea collar doesn’t necessarily mean that the cat still has a home. It could also be abandoned, either because its owner doesn’t like it or can no longer take care of it.
And this brings us to this important matter…
How to tell if a cat is abandoned
A cat is abandoned if it’s underweight and unkempt. The same is true if the owner can no longer be contacted or doesn’t reclaim the animal within the holding period at a shelter. Because it’s hungry and longing for a home, an abandoned cat will stay where there’s available food and shelter.
How to Check Cat’s Microchip
Despite the name, a cat microchip isn’t microscopic. It’s about the size of a grain of rice and, as a matter of fact, a cat owner may be able to feel it in the skin of its pet, depending on the feline’s size and weight.
However, to determine whether or not a cat is microchipped, it’s a much better idea to take it to the veterinary clinic or a shelter where a scanner is available than try to feel its presence between the animal’s shoulder blades. If present, a microchip can help identify the owner of the cat.
Just because a microchip is embedded in the cat’s skin doesn’t mean right away that its owner will claim it. In some instances, the one who owns it may refuse or fail to show up within the stray holding period, which starts after the owner is contacted and ends after five to seven days. Sometimes, it’s just as short as 48 to 72 hours only.
Taking a stray or pet cat to the vet or a shelter for microchip scanning should be trouble-free. The same cannot be said for a feral cat since it finds human contact terrifying or threatening.
Just Before You Find a Cat’s Owner
Feral, stay and pet — these are the different types of cats that you may encounter on the street or see exploring your property.
At first glance, it can be difficult to tell them apart as some of them may look the same. For instance, both feral cats and pet cats tend to appear clean, unlike most stray cats that usually look disheveled.
In terms of behavior, however, stray cats and pet cats are more alike. These feline types are accustomed to humans, which is why both of them are typically friendly and won’t hesitate to approach people to beg for food and water.
Above, we talked about how to tell if a cat belongs to someone. You may find it hard to determine if the cat on the street or your property is a stray cat or someone’s pet who is just passing by.
But by paying close attention to its physical appearance, behavior and body language, too, it’s possible to have a solid answer.
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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of The Pet Rescue.