Ask a Question about Stray or Feral Cats

Due to the volume of questions and requests for assistance that City Kitties receives, we have compiled this list of frequently asked questions, separated into categories, for your convenience. Please review the information on this page before contacting us. We appreciate it! Disclaimer: The information on this page is intended as a general guide and is not a substitute for veterinary advice or care.

Please remember, City Kitties is run solely by volunteers and our response time may vary.  We do our best to get back to everyone within a timely manner, but it may take us up to two weeks to respond.  Please note that City Kitties is a very small rescue.  We do not provide emergency services, we do not have a central space or drop-off options, and we are unable to come pick up cats in need.  In the event of an emergency or urgent matter, please contact the city’s Animal Care and Control Team (ACCT). 

Stray Cats and Kittens

I found a stray cat, but I can’t keep it. Will City Kitties take it?

Thank you for caring about Philadelphia’s strays! City Kitties takes in cats and kittens whenever possible. However, City Kitties is not a shelter and does not accept drop-offs. Our ability to assist community members with found strays depends on available space in our volunteer foster homes. When space becomes available, we prioritize cats and kittens from the University City/West Philadelphia area. During spring and summer months, our foster homes are generally full and we maintain a waitlist. Wait times can range from a few days to 6 weeks depending on available space in our foster homes. If our waitlist is closed, you will see a gray status update box at the top of this page stating so. The stray cat problem Philadelphia is overwhelming. There are thousands of cats and kittens on the streets in need of veterinary care and stable indoor homes — far more than one small group can address. We encourage community members to help cats on their own using the extensive resources and information in our Stray Cat Guide.

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I found a cat that is critically ill or injured. What should I do?

City Kitties is not able to respond to veterinary emergencies. If you have found a cat or kitten with a potentially life-threatening condition, please take it to the nearest veterinarian or vet hospital. In Philadelphia, the Ryan Veterinary Hospital at the University of Pennsylvania is open 24/7. Other 24-hour facilities in the area include CARES in Langhorne, Metropolitan Veterinary Associates in Norristown, VSEC in Levittown, and Hickory Veterinary Hospital in Plymouth Meeting.

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I found a stray cat, but I’m afraid to bring it inside. Could it expose my pets to something?

City Kitties receives many questions from folks who have found a friendly stray, but are afraid to bring it indoors because they have other pets. Almost all of our volunteer foster homes have cats or dogs of their own, so our situation is really no different. It is safe to bring a stray cat inside with some basic precautions. As long as your pets are vaccinated, then a bathroom or spare room is all you need to keep your pets safe and healthy. We recommend a visit to a veterinary clinic and a two-week “quarantine” period before you allow direct contact and litterbox/food sharing between a stray cat and your own pets. Some common concerns include:

FIV and FeLV can only be transmitted through close contact — FIV through bite wounds and mating, and FeLV through sharing bowls, mutual grooming, etc. Neither can be transmitted through the air. Preventing contact with your cats is as simple as a separate room and (if you’re really worried) a rolled up towel under the door. Your vet can test your stray cat for FIV/FeLV with a simple snap test.

Fleas and parasites are a common concern. But if your pets are on monthly prescription preventative, like Revolution, Advantage Multi, or Frontline, then your home is protected against fleas. Even if your pets aren’t currently on prescription preventative medication, you can treat all animals in your home, and any fleas present will die within about 72 hours. Treat all pets again the following month to ensure continued protection. Some common worms and bacterial infections can be spread through shared litterboxes, so you should not let the new cat share a box with your own cats until it has been tested and/or treated by a vet.

Ringworm is another common concern, as it is spread through airborne spores. But if the stray cat doesn’t have any visible ringworm lesions (round, scaly or scabby hairless spots) then chances are good it doesn’t have this treatable, minor fungal infection. Likewise, upper respiratory infections (URIs, aka kitty colds) can spread fairly easily. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling the stray cat if you are worried.

Upper respiratory infections (URIs, or kitty colds) are as common as the human cold and, in well-cared for cats with healthy immune systems, are usually just as minor. If your stray cat exhibits any cold symptoms (sneezing or runny nose/eyes), be sure to wash your hands carefully before handling your own pets.

Once you’ve taken your stray cat to a vet for vaccination, testing, and treatment, you can foster or adopt the cat yourself, or find another person to foster or adopt. Check out our Stray Cat Guide for information on finding your stray cat a good home, as well as a more comprehensive list of common veterinary issues seen in stray felines.

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What should I do about a cat trapped in a basement or abandoned property?

If you’re looking for information here, chances are good you have already tried to coax the cat into a carrier and left out food and water. (If you cannot access the cat, call Animal Care and Control (ACCT) and make a report.) If the cat is feral or just very scared in its current situation, it is probably not going to come out on its own. Based on our experience trapping cats from abandoned properties, even the friendliest lap cat may “turn feral” when in a scary or unfamiliar environment, or when they simply haven’t seen people in a while. Once in the trap these cats often turn out to be friendly. You can try borrowing a humane trap to safely remove the cat. If the cat turns out to be friendly with humans, check out our Stray Cat Guide for information on finding the cat a good home. If the cat is feral, you can still get it veterinary attention, but you may have difficulty finding an appropriate place to release it, so you should always have a plan before you set the trap.

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I found a stray cat. If I foster it, will City Kitties list it for adoption?

Thank you for caring about Philly strays! Generally, the answer to this question is no, simply because it’s such a common request that we can’t accommodate them all. City Kitties requires volunteer foster homes to go through an application and orientation process, sign a liability waiver and volunteer agreement, and commit to at least 6 months as a foster home. This ensures that we have a stable volunteer base that understands how our organization works. It takes time and effort on our part to get volunteer foster homes up and running, learn our veterinary and emergency protocols, etc. So unfortunately, City Kitties isn’t able to do this for every person who emails us about their rescued kitty, however awesome you are for caring about strays!  If you just want to adopt out the stray you’ve rescued, please check out our low-cost veterinary resources to find affordable care for your rescue, and then you can request a courtesy listing on our website to help advertise.

In some situations, we have been able to assist individuals with their rescued stray cat or kitten, and they have continued fostering for us once that cat or kitten has been adopted — in this situation we would ask for a one-year commitment on your part. Feel free to contact us if this is your situation, and we can discuss it further.

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I saw someone abandon a cat. What should I do?

Sadly, pet abandonment is a huge problem in Philadelphia. City Kitties has seen dozens of cats over the years who were abandoned by their previous owners for a variety of reasons: lack of money for food or vet care, the cat had fleas, or they just didn’t want the cat anymore and figured it could find food and shelter on its own. If the person who abandoned the cat just seems misinformed, you might take the time to discuss why this is not an acceptable way to treat an animal, and inform them that it is illegal to abandon a pet. Though the ACCT shelter should be a last resort for any pet owner who can no longer care for their pet, it is still more humane to surrender a pet there than toss it outside to fend for itself. If you witnessed an animal being abandoned or feel you cannot speak to the previous owner, you can report the incident to the PSPCA here. If you need assistance finding a new home for the cat, please continue reading our FAQ section to find out what you can do.

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Feral (Wild) Cats

What is TNR (Trap Neuter Release)?

TNR stands for Trap, Neuter, Release. You might also see the acronym TNRM — the M stands for “manage,” meaning a caretaker will provide food, water, and shelter for feral cats following release. TNR is the only proven way to reduce stray and feral cat populations. It takes time and dedication, but the end result is fewer stray cats, fewer litters of unwanted kittens, and less disease and suffering among the cats who remain. TNR allows stray and feral cats to live healthier lives without contributing to the cat overpopulation problem. There are many dedicated trappers all over Philadelphia doing this incredibly important work. For more information on TNR and tons of helpful links about how to do it and where to get a humane trap, please visit our Feral Cats & TNR resource page.

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Will City Kitties come trap feral cats for me?

No, unfortunately City Kitties is not able to provide physical assistance with trapping projects. However, we do have humane traps on loan (with a $40 refundable deposit) and will provide you with guidance and instructions on how to use the trap. We also provide a list of low-cost veterinary resources so you can get the cats spayed/neutered and vaccinated. If you are hoping to trap and remove feral cats from a colony that has become a neighborhood nuisance, please review our Feral Cats & TNR resource page to find out why this won’t solve the problem.

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How do I get a feral cat to the vet for treatment for a wound, injury, or illness?

Since feral and semi-feral cats typically can’t be coaxed into a carrier and whisked off to the vet, treating injuries and illnesses can be difficult. Even if the cat is sick enough to allow you to approach, use caution when handling the animal. Moving or picking up a feral cat, however sick it may be, could result in a bite wound, which can result in a nasty infection requiring medical attention — not to mention concerns about rabies if the cat’s vaccination status is unknown. Be careful! You will likely need to use a humane trap to capture the injured feral cat. Before you trap the animal, make a plan — where will you take it for vet care? Do you need an appointment? (Please see our extensive list of low-cost veterinary resources in the Philadelphia area.) To prevent injury and reduce stress on the animal, your veterinarian will likely need to sedate the feral cat before examining him or her. Sometimes veterinarians use injectable, slow-release antibiotics to treat wounds or injuries that could result in infection. If the cat is very ill or has sustained a severe, life-threatening injury that may require long-term care, euthanasia may be the most humane option. Need a humane trap? Request one here.

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Where can I get a humane trap?

You can request a humane trap from City Kitties here for short-term use. We require a $40 deposit, which is refunded once the trap is returned. If you prefer, you can also buy humane traps at many hardware stores. We buy ours online here and prefer the double-door type from Safeguard, which makes feeding and releasing cats easier and safer.

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What should I do about a cat trapped in a basement or abandoned property?

If you’re looking for information here, chances are good you have already tried to coax the cat into a carrier and left out food and water. (If you cannot access the cat, call Animal Care and Control (ACCT) and make a report.) If the cat is feral or just very scared in its current situation, it is probably not going to come out on its own. Based on our experience trapping cats from abandoned properties, even the friendliest lap cat may “turn feral” when in a scary or unfamiliar environment, or when they simply haven’t seen people in a while. Once in the trap these cats often turn out to be friendly. You can try borrowing a humane trap to safely remove the cat. If the cat turns out to be friendly with humans, check out our Stray Cat Guide for information on finding the cat a good home. If the cat is feral, you can still get it veterinary attention, but you may have difficulty finding an appropriate place to release it, so you should always have a plan before you set the trap.

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Veterinary Information and Resources

I found a cat that is critically ill or injured. What should I do?

City Kitties is not able to respond to veterinary emergencies. If you have found a cat or kitten with a potentially life-threatening condition, please take it to the nearest veterinarian or vet hospital. In Philadelphia, the Ryan Veterinary Hospital at the University of Pennsylvania is open 24/7. Other 24-hour facilities in the area include CARES in Langhorne, Metropolitan Veterinary Associates in Norristown, VSEC in Levittown, and Hickory Veterinary Hospital in Plymouth Meeting.

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I found a stray cat, but I’m afraid to bring it inside. Could it expose my pets to something?

City Kitties receives many questions from folks who have found a friendly stray, but are afraid to bring it indoors because they have other pets. Almost all of our volunteer foster homes have cats or dogs of their own, so our situation is really no different. It is safe to bring a stray cat inside with some basic precautions. As long as your pets are vaccinated, then a bathroom or spare room is all you need to keep your pets safe and healthy. We recommend a visit to a veterinary clinic and a two-week “quarantine” period before you allow direct contact and litterbox/food sharing between a stray cat and your own pets. Some common concerns include:

FIV and FeLV can only be transmitted through close contact — FIV through bite wounds and mating, and FeLV through sharing bowls, mutual grooming, etc. Neither can be transmitted through the air. Preventing contact with your cats is as simple as a separate room and (if you’re really worried) a rolled up towel under the door. Your vet can test your stray cat for FIV/FeLV with a simple snap test.

Fleas and parasites are a common concern. But if your pets are on monthly prescription preventative, like Revolution, Advantage Multi, or Frontline, then your home is protected against fleas. Even if your pets aren’t currently on prescription preventative medication, you can treat all animals in your home, and any fleas present will die within about 72 hours. Treat all pets again the following month to ensure continued protection. Some common worms and bacterial infections can be spread through shared litterboxes, so you should not let the new cat share a box with your own cats until it has been tested and/or treated by a vet.

Ringworm is another common concern, as it is spread through airborne spores. But if the stray cat doesn’t have any visible ringworm lesions (round, scaly or scabby hairless spots) then chances are good it doesn’t have this treatable, minor fungal infection. Likewise, upper respiratory infections (URIs, aka kitty colds) can spread fairly easily. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling the stray cat if you are worried.

Upper respiratory infections (URIs, or kitty colds) are as common as the human cold and, in well-cared for cats with healthy immune systems, are usually just as minor. If your stray cat exhibits any cold symptoms (sneezing or runny nose/eyes), be sure to wash your hands carefully before handling your own pets.

Once you’ve taken your stray cat to a vet for vaccination, testing, and treatment, you can foster or adopt the cat yourself, or find another person to foster or adopt. Check out our Stray Cat Guide for information on finding your stray cat a good home, as well as a more comprehensive list of common veterinary issues seen in stray felines.

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How do I get a feral cat to the vet for treatment for a wound, injury, or illness?

Since feral and semi-feral cats typically can’t be coaxed into a carrier and whisked off to the vet, treating injuries and illnesses can be difficult. Even if the cat is sick enough to allow you to approach, use caution when handling the animal. Moving or picking up a feral cat, however sick it may be, could result in a bite wound, which can result in a nasty infection requiring medical attention — not to mention concerns about rabies if the cat’s vaccination status is unknown. Be careful! You will likely need to use a humane trap to capture the injured feral cat. Before you trap the animal, make a plan — where will you take it for vet care? Do you need an appointment? (Please see our extensive list of low-cost veterinary resources in the Philadelphia area.) To prevent injury and reduce stress on the animal, your veterinarian will likely need to sedate the feral cat before examining him or her. Sometimes veterinarians use injectable, slow-release antibiotics to treat wounds or injuries that could result in infection. If the cat is very ill or has sustained a severe, life-threatening injury that may require long-term care, euthanasia may be the most humane option. Need a humane trap? Request one here.

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Where can I get a cat spayed or neutered at a low cost?

The PSPCA Cube Clinic and the PAWS Clinic are great low-cost options, but depending on where you live in the Philadelphia area, there are others as well. Please check our extensive list of low-cost veterinary resources in the Philadelphia area for details.

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A stray or feral cat has patchy/missing fur. What is it, and what should I do?

Stray and feral cats often present with small patches or entire areas of missing fur. There are quite a few possible causes, including ringworm (a curable fungal infection), flea dermatitis (an allergy to fleas), or a healed-over injury such as a wound or burn. The only way to diagnosis the problem is to visit a veterinarian, but here is some basic information on common causes:

Ringworm typically presents as a small, circular or oval patch of missing fur. The skin beneath may be scaly or scabby. It is especially common on cats’ ears, face, and legs but can appear anywhere on the body. Ringworm spores can spread to other animals and humans, and it can be annoying to treat, but it is not serious except in severe cases when an animal’s immune system is compromised. Ringworm is usually diagnosed with a fungal culture. The vet will scrape the area and pluck a few hairs from the animal, place it in the culture, and wait for it to develop, which can take several weeks. In humans, ringworm clears up in a few days with use of over-the-counter anti-fungal cream. In pets with fur, it can take longer to go away. Depending on the severity of the fungal infection and the cat’s immune response, ringworm could away on its own or it might require veterinary treatment. We have had success in eradicating minor ringworm infections in foster cats using a prescription anti-fungal topical lotion applied once per week. Some cats may require stronger medicated baths or oral medications.

Flea dermatitis (allergic reaction to fleas) often affects larger areas of the cat’s body, giving the cat a patchy, scraggly appearance. The fur may be thin or missing along the back, sides, or stomach. A few minutes with a flea comb can tell you if your stray cat has a flea infestation. There is one simple solution: get rid of the fleas and the allergy will go away! City Kitties recommends using a prescription product such as Revolution or Advantage Multi, not an over-the-counter medication or bath like Hartz — those don’t work well and can actually harm cats.

Old scarred-over injuries such as abscesses sometimes result in areas where fur simply does not regrow. Usually these patches are smooth, as opposed to the scaly or scabby appearance of skin on a ringworm fungal infection.

These are just a few possible causes or fur loss. You will need to get the cat to a vet for diagnosis and treatment. Find low-cost veterinary resources in Philadelphia here.

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A stray or feral cat has a burn or abrasion. What should I do?

Outdoor cats often come into contact with chemicals, hot surfaces, road salt, and other dangers that cause burns, from mild to severe. Mild burns may only require wound cleaning and/or antibiotics. For feral cats, the vet may use an injectable, slow-release antibiotic. For severe burns that will require long-term treatment, consult with your veterinarian for the best course of action. Find low-cost veterinary resources in Philadelphia here.

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A stray or feral cat has an open wound or large lump. What is it, and what should I do?

Abscesses first appear as large lumps, and later as open wounds (often round) after they have burst. These are very common, especially around the head and face from fighting. They occur when a cat receives an injury like a bite. The cat’s immune system attempts to “wall off” the infected area to prevent the infection from spreading to other parts of the body and the bloodstream. Left untreated, abscesses can result in serious infections or heal on their own, depending on the injury and the cat’s immune condition. If the abscess has not yet burst, the veterinarian may lance the lump, clean the infected area, stitch it up, and prescribe antibiotics. Cats that present with abscesses should be tested for FIV and FeLV. Feral cats cannot be orally medicated for obvious reasons, so the vet may choose treatment with an injectable, slow-release antibiotics. For severe or especially large wounds that will require long-term treatment, consult with your veterinarian for the best course of action. Lumps can of course be many other things besides an abscess, so of course we recommend a visit to a vet. Find low-cost veterinary resources in Philadelphia here.

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A stray or feral cat seems lethargic or isn’t eating or drinking. What should I do?

There are many possible causes of lethargy or loss of appetite, including simple dehydration, systemic infection, late-stage feline leukemia or FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus), anemia from severe flea infestation, cancer, internal injuries, organ failure — in other words, without veterinary care there is no way to diagnose and treat these vague symptoms. If you notice a major change in a stray or feral cat, such as lethargy, failure to eat or drink, or sudden weight loss, it may need immediate veterinary attention. If a feral cat that is normally very skittish allows you to approach, it could be very sick. Find low-cost veterinary resources in Philadelphia here.

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A stray or feral cat is limping. What should I do?

Limping usually indicates an injury to the paw or leg. Paw pad injuries are very common in feral cats and may look more severe than they are. In some cases we have seen cats limping terribly and suspected a broken leg, when in reality the cat had a small piece of glass, thorn, or other object imbedded in the paw pad that needed to be removed. Sometimes the paw pads become sore and raw from road salt in the winter, hot asphalt in the summer, or chemical burns. That said, broken bones and other severe injuries can and do happen to outdoor cats. For severe injuries that will require long-term treatment, consult with your veterinarian for the best course of action. Find low-cost veterinary resources in Philadelphia here.

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If none of the above information answers your question, you can contact us via email using the form below. We will respond as soon as possible. Due to the volume of email City Kitties receives, if the answer to your question can be found in the FAQ above or another area of the website, a volunteer may not respond. If you are looking for a new home for your cat, please read our guide to rehoming. City Kitties does not accept owner surrenders due to the sheer number of stray cats in need.

City Kitties primarily focuses on felines in the University City/West Philadelphia area. If you live elsewhere, please check out these other neighborhood-based groups:
Green Street Rescue (Center City)
Flatiron Wildcats (East Kensington/Fishtown)
Feline Pipeline (Northwest Philly/Mt. Airy/Germantown)
Northeast Animal Rescue (Northeast Philly)
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