Pet Keen is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

Home > Cats > How To Earn the Trust of a Stray Cat: 4 Expert Tips & Strategies

How To Earn the Trust of a Stray Cat: 4 Expert Tips & Strategies

smiling woman feeding stray cats outdoors

Nothing hits a cat lover’s heart quite as hard as seeing cats struggling to survive outdoors. While some of these cats are feral and not interested in human companionship, others are stray cats—animals who’ve either been abandoned or who, for whatever reason, can no longer find the way home.

No matter how you decide to handle the situation, ultimately, you first need to earn the cat’s trust. Once the cat gets used to you, you’ll be able to feed them and begin forming a more stable bond. With gentle overtures and patience, you should be able to break down those feline barriers. Below you’ll find four tips and strategies to help you earn the trust of that adorable neighborhood stray cat.


A Few Preliminaries

It’s critical to understand the difference between feral and stray cats before you start trying to win over the cat you keep seeing. While it’s possible to win the trust of a stray cat, it’s almost impossible to do so with feral animals. Strays are animals who have experienced human companionship but have either been abandoned or cannot find the way home.

Stray cats have been socialized not to fear humans. Feral cats, however, have never learned to be comfortable around people. Most are born into feral colonies where they simply don’t come into contact with humans during the critical period during the first 6 weeks of life.

Feral cats eat whatever they can get their paws on. You’ll often see them scrounging in the trash. While you may be able to win the heart of a stray cat, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to turn a feral feline into a pet.

Feral cats have different needs than strays, as animals in these colonies will likely never be lap cats. There are wonderful organizations like Alley Cat Allies that provide guidance on how to responsibly and humanely care for feral cats. If you’re not making progress in the trust department, you might be dealing with a feral instead of a stray cat.

Stray cats are usually willing to engage with humans, given enough time to develop a bit of trust. With patience and a bit of love, it’s possible to win the heart of a stray. Don’t forget to check to ensure your new pet isn’t lost before deciding to adopt them. Post photos and contact local shelters with information about the cat to ensure they’ve been abandoned. Below you’ll find tips for earning the trust of a stray cat.

gray stray cat crouching in the foliage outdoors
Image Credit: Павел Карсаков, Pexels


The 4 Tips to Earn the Trust of a Stray Cat

1. Learn to Understand Cat Language

Cats communicate with humans primarily through vocalization and body language. And understanding when a cat is anxious and wants you to stay away or happy to interact can make a huge difference when it comes to earning a stray cat’s trust. Cats, unlike most dogs, like to keep their distance from strangers.

Cats wait and observe, deciding over time whom to trust and under what circumstances. If a stray cat was abandoned by its former caretakers, it might be suffering from some severe trauma. Allowing a stray cat to come to you and reacting appropriately when the cat signals interest goes a long way toward earning feline trust.

Cats approaching you and rubbing against your legs will usually be receptive to further overtures of friendliness. Crouching kitties, on the other hand, are telling you to leave them alone.

woman reaching out to touch a tabby stray cat in the street
Image Credit: sergio souza, Pexels

2. Give Them Food

Cats love food. It’s pretty much the way to any stray cat’s heart. While cats are incredibly adaptable and capable of surviving on their own, it can be difficult for newly abandoned cats to get the hang of the skills they need to survive in the “wild.”

Providing food is a great way to get a stray cat to warm up to you. Start with feline favorites such as tuna, and make sure to provide clean water as well. Don’t just leave food out in the open and disappear! Other animals will get in on the fun, and the kibble is likely to attract rodents.

However, you may need to make yourself scarce during the first few times you feed the cat. Being present and still while a cat is eating allows them to associate your presence with something pleasant and helps lay a foundation for further bonding.

3. Create Comfortable Places

Staying warm during the winter can be difficult for stray cats living in areas where the mercury drops. Even though most cats sport gorgeous coats of thick fur, they prefer to be in temperatures from 86º F to 97º F. A stray cat facing a 30º F night needs a safe place to stay warm and out of the elements.

If you live in a house and feel comfortable doing so, consider leaving the garage door open a bit when it gets cold to allow the stray cat access to a warm place to sleep out of the elements.

If you live in a warm place, and the temperature hits the upper 90s, consider providing the cat with water and a bit of shade to escape the heat. Make sure to keep taking things slowly and allowing the cat to determine how much contact they’re comfortable with and under what circumstances.

House for street cats on the street
Image Credit: Aleksandr Marushchak, Shutterstock

4. Follow the Cat’s Lead

The fastest way to build a bond with a stray cat is to permit them to set the pace. This gives the cat time to observe and learn to trust you. Hanging back and allowing the cat to determine when the time is right will significantly reduce the time and effort required to get a stray cat comfortable enough around you to nibble out of your hand.

Talk to the cat while dropping off their food or picking up the leftovers to get them accustomed to your presence. The murmur of softly spoken words often soothes and calms skittish cats. You’re almost there if the cat sits close to you but just out of reach! It may take a few more days, but the cat will soon be rubbing their head against your leg and maybe even letting you pick them up.


Final Thoughts

While it may take a bit of time, it’s usually possible to earn the trust of a stray cat with enough patience and perseverance. Keep in mind that not all outdoor cats you see are stray. Some are outdoor cats with a home, searching for a bit of adventure and some extra food.

And if you’ve spent months trying to get on a cat’s good side to no avail, there’s a good chance the cat may be feral. Feral cats don’t make great pets; most are more comfortable outdoors among their colony members.

Featured Image Credit: Canan YAŞAR, Pexels

Our vets

Want to talk to a vet online?

Whether you have concerns about your dog, cat, or other pet, trained vets have the answers!

Our vets