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What to Do When You Find a Stray

Mar 16, 2021 | Featured, Other Resources

You’ve found a stray dog,  here’s what to do next.

If you see a stray dog try to capture and contain the animal if circumstances permit.  Be aware, always approach stray animals slowly and cautiously while speaking in a calm, gentle voice. If the dog is frightened and hesitant to approach you, you can use food to coax a scared and hesitant dog.

Ideally, dogs should be secured using a leach or contained in a fenced yard.

If you are unable to capture and contain the loose dog, call Animal Services and we will arrange for an Animal Control Officer to patrol the area where the dog was last seen.

Check to see if the dog is wearing an ID tag. If so, you may be able to immediately contact the owner and return the pet to them. If the pet is wearing an ID, but you are unable to make contact with the owner, you have the option to hold onto the dog and wait for a call back from the owner.

Be sure to immediately complete a Found Pet Report in case the owner calls or visits Winnebago County Animals Services to search for their lost dog.

If you are unable to hold the pet and are a Winnebago County resident, you can bring the dog to Winnebago County Animal Services.  If the dog is contained, but you are unable to bring them to the shelter, call Animal Services and we will arrange for an Animal Control Officer to pick up the stray dog.

If the dog has no ID tag, the best course of action is to bring the dog to WCAS or contact us to have the dog picked up so staff can scan the dog for a microchip. If the dog is microchipped, staff will be able to immediately look up the owner’s contact information by contacting the microchip company.

You’ve found a stray cat, here’s what to do next.

Determine if this is a stray or feral cat.

Stray: A stray cat is a cat who has been socialized to people at some point in her life, but has left or lost her domestic home, as well as most human contact and dependence.

Feral: A feral cat is a cat who has either never had any contact with humans or her contact with humans has diminished over time. She is fearful of people and survives on her own outdoors. A feral cat is not likely to ever become a lap cat or enjoy living indoors.

Questions to consider:         

Q. Does the cat have an ear tip?

Ear tipping is the universal sign of a spayed or neutered feral cat.

Q. Does he have a collar and tags?

If yes, this would suggest that this is a stray cat belonging to an owner.

Q. What do you know about the cat?

Q. Have you seen the cat in your neighborhood before?

Q. When have you seen the cat, primarily during the day?

If yes, this would suggest this is as stray.  

Or are they out primary at night with occasional appearances during the day?

If yes, this would suggest that this is a feral cat.

Q. Are you or someone else in the neighborhood feeding the cat?

Q. What is the cat’s physical appearance like- dirty or disheveled?

If yes, this would suggest this is a stray. 

Or do they have a clean well-kept coat?

If yes, this would suggest this is a feral cat.

Q. What is the cat’s body language like?  Does the cat move like a house cat? (walking with their tail up- a sign of friendliness) Are they making eye contact?

If yes, this would suggest this is a stray.

Or are they crawling, crouching, staying low to the ground, and protecting the body with their tail? 

If yes, this would suggest this is a feral cat.

Q. Are they meowing or answering your voice?

If yes, this would suggest this is a stray cat.

If the cat is seemingly a stray cat

Best Plan of Action:

It’s best to leave the cat alone, letting them find their way home or allowing their owners to find them.

  • The national reclaim rate is 2-3% for cats in a shelter
  • Studies show that lost cats are much more likely to return home on their own versus being brought to a shelter
  • An outdoor cat who is sick or injured is likely in need of help

However, if you feel it best that the cat be brought to the shelter, you can bring the cat to WCAS during our open hours. The cat must be confined to a carrier or box during drop-off. Staff will then scan the cat for a microchip and if a microchip is found, will be able to immediately look up the owner’s contact information by contacting the microchip company

If the cat is seemingly a feral cat

Best Plan of Action:

It is in the cats best interested to continue living outdoors and not be brought into the shelter. Adult feral cats are not socialized to people, which means they cannot be adopted and cannot be cared for in a shelter.

If you are a Winnebago County resident, the best option is to participate in our TNR Initiative. 

Found Stray Kittens

The next step isn’t simply taking them home with you…

Here’s what to do next.

When we find a litter of kittens, our good-hearted instincts tell us to rush to their aid. However, one of the biggest mistakes people make when finding stray kittens is taking them away from their mothers. Kittens are much better off with their mothers and, thankfully, human intervention is usually not required right away.

Helping orphaned kittens will first require some detective work.

Assess the situation:

Are the kittens sleeping comfortably? If yes, the mother is probably coming back.

When you recheck on them, are any of them missing? If yes, the mother is probably moving them.

If they’re often found sleeping, then the mother has been caring for them.

To be absolutely sure that their mother is caring for them, sprinkle some flour around where the kittens are located and look for paw prints upon your return. If the mother is in the picture, let them be for now.

If the mother does not return:

The best thing you can do is to leave the kittens with their mother. By remaining with mom they will receive the proper nutrition, mom will protect them, and she will train them to survive outdoors until they’re old enough to be brought to our shelter. Only take the kittens if, after at least 8 hours of observation, you are 100% certain the mother is not returning. If you watch and the mother does not return, the kittens will need immediate care in order to survive.

Fostering stray kittens:

If you are able to foster the stray kittens, great! Kittens stay healthier when they’re cared for in a foster home setting. They’re less stressed and more behaviorally sound.

If you are interested in fostering the stray kittens, but would like assistance, contact Winnebago County Animal Services at 815-319-4100.

Containing and monitoring the kittens is key to their health and well-being. A dog crate is perfect. To keep them nice and warm, place a covered heating pad or warmed rice sock in their crate and keep the room temperature at 75 degrees. The heating source should cover only half the crate so they can get away if need be. Watch for panting- you don’t want them to get overheated either. A cold or limp kitten indicates a medical emergency.

You will need to keep the kittens fed every few hours. They will need to be fed with a kitten milk replacer (KMR) formula.

Only bottle-feed kittens with their belly touching the table, never while on their back. Experts recommend letting the kitten eat the warmed-up formula until they’re full. It usually takes less than 15 minutes.

Containing and monitoring the kittens is key to their health and well-being. A dog crate is perfect. To keep them nice and warm, place a covered heating pad or warmed rice sock in their crate and keep the room temperature at 75 degrees. The heating source should cover only half the crate so they can get away if need be. Watch for panting- you don’t want them to get overheated either. A cold or limp kitten indicates a medical emergency.

You will need to keep the kittens fed every few hours. They will need to be fed with a kitten milk replacer (KMR) formula.

Only bottle-feed kittens with their belly touching the table, never while on their back.  Experts recommend letting the kitten eat the warmed-up formula until they’re full. It usually takes less than 15 minutes.

Kittens will need help eliminating urine and feces until they are approximately a month old. After each feeding, use a warm, damp washcloth or cotton ball to gently rub their anus until they go. You can introduce a litter box filled with non-clumping litter at 3 weeks old.

How to determine age so you know how much to feed the kittens:

Determining the age of the stray kitten right away is imperative. Their age will mandate what they’ll eat as well as how much and how often.

Using a kitchen scale, here is a quick guide to determine age and feeding schedule.

Under 1 week old-

Weight – less than 4 ounces

Feeding Schedule – Formula every 2 – 3 hours

7 to 10 days old-

Weight – between 4 – 6 ounces

Feeding Schedule – Formula every 2 – 3 hours

10 to 14 days old-

Weight – between 6 to 8 ounces

Feeding Schedule – Formula every 3 hours

14 to 21 days old-

Weight – between 8 to 12 ounces

Feeding Schedule – Formula every four hours

4 to 5 weeks old-

Weight – between 12 ounces to 1 pound

Feeding Schedule – Feed mix of gruel/formula/kitten kibble every four hours

6 to 7 weeks old-

Weight – 1 pound to 1 pound & 8 ounces

Feeding Schedule – Feed mix of kitten kibble and wet food four times a day

This kitten is old enough to be brought to WCAS.

8 weeks old-

Weight – 1 ½ pounds to 2 pounds

Fully weaned

This kitten is old enough to be brought to WCAS.

Find a home for the kittens:

Once the kittens are 6 weeks old, they can be brought to Winnebago County Animal Services. Our team will examine them, spay or neuter them, if ready, and make them available for adoption.

If you’re unable to foster kittens:

If you cannot foster the stray kittens for any amount of time and you are a Winnebago County resident, you can contact Winnebago County Animal Services for assistance information at 815-319-4100.


Related Resources

petsmart adoption program

WCAS has partnered with six PetSmart locations to help cats and kittens find their new homes.