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Best Cat Food for Strays & How to Take Care of Them

Article last updated: [last-modified]

Do you have a stray Tom coming into your backyard every now and then?  If the wandering kitty isn’t afraid of you, then it’s probably a stray cat; a cat who once had contact with humans and may now be lost or abandoned.

Otherwise, the kitty coming to your yard may otherwise be someone else’s cat who is often let outdoors, or it is quite possible s/he may be a feral cat.

Regardless if the visiting cat is a stray or a feral cat, there are some things you can do to help him/her live a healthier, happier life. For starters, let’s discuss what is the best cat food for strays (or any visiting cat) and how to best take care of them.

  • What Determines a Stray Cat?
  • What to Feed a Stray Cat
    • Best Cat Food for Strays
  • What Not to Give Strays
  • Extra Tips for Taking Care of Strays
  • Final Thoughts: Best Cat Food for Stray Cats

What Determines a Stray Cat?

Don’t know whether the wandering cat is a stray or feral cat?  Strays are usually lost or abandoned cats who are used to human contact (in most cases).

Feral cats, on the other hand, are cats who were born “wild.” They basically grew up fending for themselves out in nature, with little to no contact with human love.

What does this mean?

Since stray cats are used to human contact and are used to being fed, this means if you do not feed them when they’re starving, who will?

Many strays come to human homes in order to be fed. Feeding strays is a compassionate choice. ❤️

What to Feed a Stray Cat

Type of food to give stray/feral cats

If you do not have a cat and therefore have no cat food in the house, do not abandon ship. You can quickly whip up some plain cooked chicken and rice for stray cats in the meantime.

Plain rice and simple chicken is actually a great meal for your little friend. Here are more ideas if you don’t have cat food on hand.

The best cat food for strays doesn’t have to be top dollar. There are cheap brands of cat food available on Amazon and in virtually any market. While food is better than starving, try to avoid buying the lowest of the low of cat foods.

There are quality cat food brands that might just be an extra dollar or two or three, but you’ll be doing a lot of good for the stray’s health.

Best Cat Food for Strays - Fluffy Kitty

However, if you do have cats in the household, then you’ll already have some cat food to offer the hungry stray.

A good quality food, either dry or wet (canned) will do just fine. Just make sure to pay attention to the number one ingredient.

Avoid meat by-products as the first ingredient. Also, avoid cat food that has grains (like corn meal) listed as the top 1-3 ingredients.

Offering stray or feral cats a healthy, balanced meal is just as important as feeding your own beloved house cat a healthy, nutritious diet.

Giving the Best Cat Food to Strays (on a budget)

It’s highly probable that most people are unlikely to buy expensive, high-quality cat food just to feed the stray(s) that show up now and then at their house!

We understand what it’s like to be on a budget. So spending extra cash that you don’t have on a wandering kitty is just not on people’s priority list. We get it.

This is why we suggest two of the best dry and wet cat food options on a budget that offers stray and/or feral cats a healthy balanced and nutritious meal without breaking the bank.

FoodPriceQuantity Highlights
Fancy Feast$ 24, 3-ounce cans Real meat as the first ingredients (Chicken, broth, chicken, liver..)

Very affordable

Balanced, nutritious option

Purina ONE
$-$$16 lb bagReal meat #1 ingredient, no soy, corn, or wheat

The best for your buck

Premium nutrition

Antioxidant blend

Fancy Feast is a popular and cheap brand of cat food that is helpful for feeding stray cats. The juicy wet paté ensures optimal moisture intake for strays while enticing them to eat. A pack of 24 cans (3 oz.) will cost you around $15.

Purina ONE offers healthy nutrition at an affordable price and is a popular dry cat food choice for cat owners. We used to feed Yoda with Purina ONE before transitioning to Blue Buffalo. For a hefty 16-pound bag, you’ll only pay around $20.

(Click images to see pricing detail and customer reviews).

What Not to Give Strays

Many people make the mistake of thinking that stray cats (because they are living off nature mainly) can or will eat anything given to them.

Please note that this is incorrect. You could actually pose a bigger health risk to the stray if you were to offer him/her human foods that cats cannot eat.

For more info, check out our article on human foods that cats CAN eat.

The food you give does have a large impact on the cat’s health, so please keep in mind that “just because” they are stray and/or feral, their stomachs are not accustomed to eating everything and anything.

Do not give up on the stray. The stray or feral cat may depend on the nutrition that you provide. Many strays are not used to hunting and catching their own food like perhaps their feral cousins are, so, therefore, you can expect a stray to stick around and keep returning to be fed.

Best cat food for strays

Extra Tips: Feeding Stray or Feral Cats

Cleanliness is key. It’s important to not just throw out food to the stray cat assuming they will know where to find the scattered bits. Rather, you should provide clean bowls for both food and water. 

Keep Food & Water Bowls Clean + Fresh

Any bowl will do fine, but the number one rule is to clean it daily, or even several times a day. Place the bowls somewhere where adverse weather conditions cannot reach.

Always provide fresh, clean water. Bowls get slimy and sitting water can gather mosquito eggs and other unwanted bacteria or critters.

Also, do not “top up” fresh food onto food that has already been sitting (dry or wet).  If you notice the cat is not eating all of the proportions you provide then consider providing a little less.

Extend a Helping Hand – Err, Paw to Strays in Need

Love & be loved: A stray/feral cat is just like your cat but one that is not receiving any human love. But you can change that!!

Did you know? Cats only meow at humans, so next time, don’t ignore that pitiful cry – they are indeed talking to you! They may be a little wary or scared by your touch at first, but after you build their trust they will lovingly come to you.

Reach Out to the Community and/or Animal Shelter

If the cat is adoptable, consider speaking to the local animal shelter and getting them spayed or neutered. By doing so, you can help prevent unwanted cat pregnancies. You don’t want an extra litter of kittens to take care of!

Lastly, consider helping the stray find a forever home! (Maybe your home???) 🙂 Many animal shelters have supportive Facebook groups where you can post about your stray cat.

Helping Feral Cats Is Important Too

If you’re feeding a scared feral cat (who is not used to human contact), it will be harder to find this cat a permanent home. Feral cats are also unlikely to be spayed or neutered. If you can help control the pet population by trapping the feral to get spayed or neutered, you would be doing the community a great service!

Feral cats, if trapped and submitted for care at a shelter, are likely to be scared and very unaccustomed to human contact. For answers to frequently asked questions regarding strays and/or feral cats, visit the US humane society’s website.

how to introduce two cats

Final Thoughts: Best Cat Food for Strays

Remember, strays can be helped more than by the food that you give them.  Most strays are adoptable cats who are yearning to be loved again! When possible, do more than just feed a stray. Offer him a warm bed to sleep in, too! ❤️

Folks, you have the power to make a change in the lives of our furry friends.  Help spread the word (and love) that strays and ferals are just like the cats you spoil within your home except they lost out on the lucky card somewhere along the way.  Give animals a second chance!

Most importantly, let’s spread awareness of the great importance of spaying/neutering cats, whether it’s your indoor pet, the traveling tom, or a feral.  There are many ways you can help!

Thanks for your support with Fluffy Kitty!

Sincerely purrs,

Brittany, Paul, and Yoda =(^^)=

Susan Robinson

Tuesday 29th of September 2020

I found 2 wild mums with five kittens. I was told by the vet to trap the mums asap and they would spay them and I could release them after 24 hours. The kittens were fine for 24 hours as it was summer. I left kitten food out the night the mum was not there. Anyway after several weeks of trying I trapped the 5 kittens. One got adopted and the others went to a proper shelter. The mums come around for food but at least there will be no more kittens from them. Be careful you do not get overrun with strays. My logic is we can only help some and hope there is someone else out there that cares.

The Fluffy Kitty

Wednesday 21st of October 2020

Well, I love your logic Susan! If only everyone chipped in and helped where they could, like you, the needs of cats and strays/ferals would already be greatly reduced, or even solved! x


Thursday 31st of October 2019

I have been feeding outside cats since 1997 it’s getting hard. I’ve saved a lot. Of them I have 7 cats in and 30 to 50 out I love them all The 5 I have in we’re going to die. I got the medicine I thought about calling a place to pick them up but I can’t I get sad. A lot of them trust me and my wife I don’t know what to do the cat food is so high Everyone I know says I’m dumb for feeding them but I’m not. They would die if I don’t.

Paula D Clark

Saturday 14th of March 2020

I hope all our cats, inside and outside are fixed, if not you're going to have a lot more. I feed and shelter feral cats too, but I catch them in a friendly trap and get them fixed first.

The Fluffy Kitty

Thursday 31st of October 2019

Hi Tom, thanks for your comment, and more importantly, thanks for caring for the stray cat community! Feeding so many must get expensive. Could you possibly reach out to local animal shelters to discuss raising a cat food campaign for donations that can be shared? Something like a potluck where everyone contributes! If you are finding it too difficult to care properly for all of them yourself, it's wise to reach out for extra helping hands. And don't be sad! If they can live happy, healthy lives then you've already contributed enormously. :) Best wishes to you

John Mosey

Tuesday 18th of December 2018

Try the mom and pop pet stores for donations. I just got 2 big bags of top of the line dry food for free. They discard or donate food approaching expiration date. The big chains send it back to the distributor.

Brittany, Paul, & Yoda =^^=

Friday 4th of January 2019

Super - thanks for the info John!

Julie Tamayo

Sunday 29th of April 2018

Hi, I take care of a colony of 20. they all have been TNR. I do not want to make my own cat food. What is the cheapest but yet good for the cats dry and wet cat food brand that you recommend. also any other advice on taking care of ferals. I have TNR and beenfeeding twice a day for 4 yrs now.

Brittany, Paul, & Yoda =^^=

Tuesday 1st of May 2018

Wow hi Julie, thanks for taking care of so many amazing kitties! So, I can imagine how $ it must be to take care of that many ferals. What have you been feeding them? So I rechecked the latest prices of some of the cheapest, good quality cat food. I avoid Friskies, Meow Mix, and 9 Lives entirely. Those have corn and corn meal as the first ingredients, where meat by-product is down the list.

Those are the cheapest wet/dry cat foods available, but we don't recommend Friskies, Meox Mix, 9 Lives, etc.

We do recommend foods where protein is the #1 ingredient: aka "Chicken" "Salmon" "Turkey" etc. From our research of the best good quality (not Blue Buffalo or Orijen great), here is what we found (prices may vary from the time of writing):

Dry: -Purina One Tender Selects offers around $22 for 16 lbs, or $29-30 for 22 lbs. -Rachel Ray's Nutrish natural cat food offers around $19-21 for 14 lbs. -Purina Beyond's "Simply" is around $20-21 for 13 lbs. -GOODLIFE is approx. $18 for 16 lbs.

These are the (best) cheapest we could find online.

As for wet food: -Purina One's grain-free is around $18-20 for 24 x 3oz cans. -Purina's Fancy Feast is probably most popular and is probably the cheapest at around $13-15 for 24 x 3oz cans. The ingredients label mentions several meats as the first few ingredients, which is a good sign. But compare the ingredients to Purina's "Muse" wet cat food at around $28-30 for 24x3oz cans and you can see a big difference in the ingredients and quality. -R. Ray's wet cat food is $19-20 for 24 x 2.8 oz packs.

I hope these estimations are helpful. Again, if you want the absolute cheapest, these aren't them. But these are the cheapest with decent quality. If you look at the ingredients and compare, you can easily see how a couple extra dollars improves the quality.

We are not experienced in taking care of ferals, so you probably know more than we do about that! Getting them familiarized with you and human contact is never a bad idea though :) You could consider domesticated them and adopting them out to homes. It would take extra work for you so we understand if that's not an option. Nonetheless, many thanks for caring for all those kitty cats! Please let us know if you have any more questions and good luck!

Mary Escobar

Sunday 12th of November 2017

Hi , I feed about ten stray cats that gather on my porch each nite. It is getting expensive so I am wondering how to give them good food at a reasonable price. Any help will be appreciated some of them have let me pet them . One of them I took to be fixed . So I am hoping to get more of them fixed soon. I have a cat bed out on yhe porch and one of them sleeps in it at nite. Also are there any weather proof beds to get for the winter . Lots of rain here no snow. Thanks for any help. I love that Amazon is helping with the animals. My daughter works for Amazon.

Brittany, Paul, and Yoda =^^=

Sunday 19th of November 2017

Hi Mary ! Thank you for your message and sorry for the late reply. Thank you for taking care of those kitties! We understand this can turn into a financial burden after some time. The cheapest cat food brands are not great for cats health, but when your faced with either feeding them with cheap food or letting them go hungry, it can blur the lines a bit. We would suggest trying to make your own cat food, it can take a little more time, but you’ll save money (and it’ll be healthier for the kitties too). I don’t know about your location and your market options there, but I know quite a few people who go to the butcher and ask for the leftover cuts of the chicken (fat, bone, grissle, liver, hearts, etc.) or the meat that didn’t sell at the end of the day — this way you can get it for very, very cheap. My friend Marcela broils the leftover chicken for her cat, and then freezes it and thaws out portions every few days. This usually lasts her two weeks! With this, you could combine this healthy portion of protein with rice and/or unseasoned scrambled eggs to “fluffen” up the proportions. Have you considered setting up a GoFundMe page for food and (at a later time, possibly funds for spaying/neutering?) We really thank you for what your doing for the feral cats, but you don’t have to do it alone! Try to reach out to the community. Best of luck to you and thank you for helping them!