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What to Feed a Stray Cat Without Cat Food

There are millions of homeless cats living in the United States alone, despite the efforts of hundreds of thousands of shelters, rescue centers, and kind-hearted folk who adopt. Chances are you will run into a stray cat or two in your neighborhood as the seasons change, and as unneutered felines give birth to more kittens. 

Stray cats may come sniffing around your neighborhood, or you may find one begging for food at your door. If so, it’s unlikely you will have time to run to the store to stock up on cat food. 

So now you’re faced with a question: What to feed a stray cat without cat food?

In this article:

  • How to Handle Stray Cats
  • What to Feed Stray Cats
    • Don’ts
    • Do’s
  • Rehoming & After Care

How to Handle Stray Cats

When dealing with a stray cat, you’re going to make sure that it truly is a stray and not just a cat that is wandering around but spoken for. Look for tell-tale signs like collars and tags. Strays tend to have more scars and bruises. Another indicator is that they are almost never spayed/neutered.

what to feed a stray cat without cat food cute

It’s not always foolproof, however, as cats are increasingly being microchipped under the skin and might not have any identifiable information that you can see. Either way, even an owned cat can get lost from time to time, and may still require your assistance.

There are many best practices when taking care of a stray cat. You should always make sure that you handle it cautiously and tend to any needs. The first and foremost of which will probably be food.

What to Feed a Stray Cat Without Cat Food: Don’ts

If you’re sure it’s a stray, or you decide to feed it just in case, you’ll be wondering what to feed a stray cat without cat food. Luckily, there are many things you may already have around the house that will suit their diet.

No Milk

It’s a long-standing myth that cats love milk. While they will drink it, they actually lack the enzymes necessary to process standard cow’s milk that you buy in the stores. It’s best to avoid putting a bowl of milk thinking it’s the best solution. It is far better to provide a dish of clean water and some solid food.

Only if the stray is a very young kitten is milk ever appropriate; and only then with specialized formula. Try feeding it drip by drip from a syringe, or failing that, your finger.

Kittens require extra attention and should be taken to a professional at the earliest opportunity. Nursing kittens away from their mother need a special milk formula that replicates their mother’s milk. In some cases, they need to be rehomed with another new mother cat.

what to feed a stray kitten without cat food

No Dog Food

If you have to feed a stray cat without cat food, you may be looking through the cupboards for what you think is the next best thing: dog food. This is not such a good idea.

While sure they are similar, pet food is specially formulated for the stomachs of the animals they suit. Such as the levels of amino acids, proteins, etc., that allow them to have a healthy, balanced diet.

No for Most Veggies & Fruits

Some people think that they can feed a stray cat on vegetables and fruits alone, which is not the best option either.

A hungry cat will eat anything, sure enough, but cats are consummate carnivores. Food like tomatoes and potatoes might give them gastrointestinal problems. When you’re thinking of what to feed a stray cat without cat food, you should think protein.

See our complete guide on human foods that cats can eat to know what veggies and fruits are okay for cats to consume in moderation (i.e., bananas and eggs).


What to Feed a Stray Cat Without Cat Food: Do’s

Common wisdom states that if you’re going to feed a stray cat without cat food, you could use tuna or sardines. This appeals on many levels. But be careful.

Okay to Tuna

Tuna is simple, (usually) plain food that’s often in our cupboards. It’s also an ingredient or flavoring in a lot of commercial cat foods. It smells pungent, which will encourage a nervous stray to eat or direct a weak cat to the food bowl.

A lot of people use tuna to attract the cat in the first place. If it is hesitant to come towards you, practice patience. Also, try to use the most natural tuna possible. Some tuna cans/packs tend to be very salty which is not good.

Tuna serves to feed strays when you have nothing else in your cupboards. For this purpose, it is okay to use tuna if you have nothing else to feed a stray cat, but avoid using it on a regular basis!

Yes to Chicken, Beef, Lamb, etc.

A great option is simple cooked (boneless) chicken. Making sure it doesn’t have any additives or flavorings, you can also add a little plain boiled rice or even unseasoned scrambled eggs to the dish.

While sure, some cats will eat raw meat, it is better to give them something cooked and devoid of potential bacteria.

what to feed a stray cat

With any of these options, you should always try it sparingly. If you don’t know the history of the cat or its diet, you don’t want to be in a situation where you are upsetting a delicate stomach.

Yes to Plain Rice & Eggs, Sweet Potato…

Plain rice and plain scrambled eggs are good quick fixes for a starving stray cat.

A Fluffy Kitty reader even noted that you can add pumpkin or sweet potato to help calm cats’ stomachs and aid with digestion.

Often times, when people choose what to feed a stray cat they offer something instead of nothing. You might consider it okay because kitty lives outside and has to scavenge from bins and scraps anyway. The truth is, you may end up doing more harm than good that way. Do not feed your cat processed human foods.

Whatever the case, if you plan on holding on to this cat for a while you should absolutely invest in some proper, balanced cat food. This is to ensure the cat meet its nutritional needs. For that matter, check out our in-depth guide for cat nutrition


Rehoming and After Care

After deciding what to feed a stray cat without cat food, you should give it regular meals. About every 8-10 hours or so. Make sure to provide a fresh dish of water that you change regularly as well to avoid a buildup of bacteria (and, probably, cat hair).

As soon as possible, you should start looking for the owner. If you are sure it is a stray, you should contact your local vet for advice. They may take it to a shelter, or operate a neuter-and-release program.

You may even have decided to adopt it. In this case, you should get it vaccinated, registered, and make sure you stock up your cupboards with lots of tasty, well-balanced cat food!

Final Thoughts | What to Feed a Stray Cat Without Cat Food

In sum, feeding a stray cat without cat food doesn’t need to be like solving a Rubik’s cube. If you have spare food that is safe for cats, at least that’s something!

Already if you can provide a meal for a hungry kitty, the world will be in a better place. Thank you for being so kind and taking care of the cats in need of food, shelter, and love!



Monday 17th of October 2022

Hey there! It's nice article and great to have info like that, love your blogs <3 just had a question I just taking care of stray cat but can't decide what food should I give to a pregnant feral cat that will be healthy for her and kittens as well other than cat food. Thanks In Advance !

The Fluffy Kitty

Sunday 6th of November 2022

Cat food will have all the minerals and vitamins she needs, but you can supplement with bone-free boiled chicken and sweet potato purée :) x

Carol Foster

Wednesday 26th of December 2018

Thank you so much for your advice. I feed a stray long haired kitty and I give her boiled chicken every night. I'm hoping that she may gain weight to help her stay healthy this winter. What do you think? Also, I made kitty house with silver blanket the astronaut's use, and straw. I am praying that keeps her warm. I would love any advice you can give me.

Brittany, Paul, & Yoda =^^=

Friday 4th of January 2019

Thanks so much, Carol. :) Love the astronaut bed you made, how cool! Sounds like it should keep her plenty warm. Using straw is a great way to provide insulation. If you want her to gain weight easily, you could try Tomlyn's nutrition gel which adds something like 26 kcals per teaspoon. Just add it to her daily meal. You could also buy some freeze-dried treats or toppers to supplement her meal. The good thing about chicken is protein, but you might want to supplement with a portion of quality-brand cat food to ensure your kitty gets the necessary added vitamins and minerals (such as Taurine), that which, by the way, can also be added as a supplement to raw or homemade cat food recipes.


Wednesday 29th of August 2018

FINALLY!!! I've been looking for about 20 minutes about how often to feed this stray cat i seem to have adopted today. I have taken all the precautions so far (contacted police department to file a report, bright him to the vet to check for a chip, etc) and it seems he's pretty much a stray cat. He's inhaling his food so i was worried about him regurgitating his food (he hasn't yet) so since it's 8-10 hours, I'll feed him in another 8 until he calms down a little bit. Happy catting!

Brittany, Paul, & Yoda =^^=

Thursday 30th of August 2018

Bridget, thank you SO much!! That means a lot!! We are happy you're adopting this little stray <3 He is probably inhaling his food because of safety reasons, but that will calm down once he feels safe and knows that his meal isn't going to be stolen by another feisty feline. In lieu of 2X a day (morning and night - we do this with Yoda btw), you can choose to feed him 3X a day to curve his hunger and help him eat more gradually too. Just divide the regular amount into 3 portions. Some cats prefer this, but it's up to you and your kitty. Best of luck with your new fluffy kitty!!! xoxo

Alex John

Sunday 8th of April 2018

Thanks for some useful idea.


Wednesday 6th of December 2017

Thank you for this. I’m heading home now to cook some grub for my strays in the neighborhood

Brittany, Paul, & Yoda =^^=

Thursday 7th of December 2017

Aww thanks! Happy to help give some ideas, Vita! Best of luck :)