Education Station Health

How to Help an Injured or Ill Stray Cat in 5 Steps

Learn how to help an injured or ill stray cat, including where to take the cat, what services to ask for, how to develop a care plan, and how to adopt the cat.

You find a cat and it looks bad, really bad. But what do you do? How do you help an injured or ill stray cat? This checklist will take you through your options so you can take action.

Step 1: Does the Injured or Ill Stray Cat Require Immediate attention?

You want to decide how immediate it is that the injured or ill stray cat needs medical attention. These cats tend to be rescued at inconvenient times: On your way to work; after normal business hours; when you’re leaving to go to an appointment, etc.

Calico cat on tile floor
Penny was all bones when I fostered her, weighing around 4.5 lbs.

A few conditions require immediate attention, include:

  • Respiratory distress – breathing through mouth or fast breathing
  • Extremely underweight (skin and bones)
  • Open wound
  • Severe flea infestation
  • Visual parasite infestation
  • Yowling in pain
  • Immobility issues

Cats that are sneezy, snotty and have decent body condition usually can wait a bit before being seen. The best thing to do it put the cat in a bathroom or even a garage as a temporary space until you can take the cat to the vet. Do not put the cat with other pets – you don’t know what diseases it has, and it you don’t want to infect your animals. Fleas can also take up residents in your carpet or flooring. I suggest lining the area with dirty towels for the cat to rest.

Cat with woman
Chel got to enjoy Miracle for a little before letting him go.

Step 2: Where to Take the Injured or Ill Stray Cat – ER, Regular Vet, Shelter, or Other

If the injured or ill stray cat requires immediate attention but you cannot afford to pay for any treatment and if fundraising isn’t an option:

  • Try to reach out to nonprofits in the area. Some people have luck posting in neighborhood social media groups asking for help.
  • Take the cat to a shelter. Although not ideal, it’s better than leaving the cat on the street.
  • Although not all hospitals will accept a cat from the street with no person to pay for care, I do know people who have taken an animal to a vet hospital and asked for help because they didn’t know what else to do. Some hospitals will take the animal.

If the cat requires immediate attention and you can afford care:

  • Go to a veterinary practice that has an ER. They will be able to immediately do the basics: provide fluids, run blood work, and conduct an examination.
  • You can try calling your vet to see if they can squeeze you in. If they don’t have an ER or handle critical care cases, they may not be able to quickly run bloodwork, which can be a challenge in helping these cats. They will be able to treat fleas and administer fluids and provide the basics.

If you’re not in an emergency situation, call your vet when they are open and try to get the cat in as soon as possible to be assessed.

(You can also reference my article on how incremental care makes vet bills more affordable.)

Step 3: Services to Ask for

Cover all your bases:

Unfortunately, Miracle’s creatinine level was 5.0 and his tongue was covered in ulcers, indicating kidney failure.
  • Scan for microchip (to identify possible owner)
  • Examination
  • Fluids (if dehydrated or sick it can really perk them up)
  • Combo test for feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and feline leukemia virus (FeLV) – If they are positive for either, it impacts treatment and long-term options for adoption or placement.
  • Flea treatment (ask for a Capstar to kill all active fleas)
  • Basic blood work and urinalysis – If the cat is very young and seemingly healthy minus a small issue, you may be able to bypass this. It’s a good idea to do it for older cats to make sure there is no chronic illness (i.e. kidney disease) that could impact treatment.

Please note, the basics at an emergency center or regular vet’s office will likely cost a few hundred dollars.

For apparent injuries around mobility:

  • X-rays
  • Ultrasound
  • Further diagnostics if the vent recommends

Step 4: Deciding Best Care Plan

Sometimes diagnostics reveal something is worse than it initially appeared. The vet may recommend euthanasia at that point. If nursing the injured or ill stray cat back to health is not an option, humane euthanasia is the kindest decision.

Woman holding cat
So glad I got to meet Miracle and help him cross the rainbow bridge pain free.

When the treatment plan is to help the cat recover, you can certainly keep the cat and then you can find a home for it (or keep it) when it’s better. You’ll also want to make sure the cat is vaccinated and spayed/neutered before finding it a home.

If you need help because you can’t care for the cat, ask the vet hospital for help finding a rescue. These organizations can take ownership of the cat, place it with a foster, continue care, and then help find a home. Reach out to the rescue directly, explain the situation, and ask if they can help you. You can also try posting in social media in cat community groups to see if someone can help you.

Calico cat on blanket
Penny has a full belly and will never go hungry again.

Be careful because there are some creepers out there. If your instinct is telling you something is off, listen to it and don’t hand over the cat.

Step 5: Adoption

When the cat is healthy and ready for a forever home, start by posting a picture and bio on social media. Reach out to local rescue organizations and see if they’re willing to do a courtesy post for you, and post on their social media. Another way to advertise is to go to local places that have announcement boards or even businesses that hang signs in their windows, and ask if you can post a pic and bio of your cat for local patrons. You can also check out these tips from the ASPCA.

Calico cat
Penny was adopted and is a happy and healthy girl now.

Thank You

Lastly, thank YOU for helping a cat that needed you. You rock!

By LizsKittyBootCamp

Hi, I'm Liz, and I'm a cat behaviorist who provides advice and insights on cat behavior.

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