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1081992 tn?1389903637

can starving strays still be finicky?

Hi, I was in my front yard today when a skinny looking cat approached me with plaintive meowing, as if it was very hungry. It would come up within 6 feet, but no closer. It's black coat look shiny and healthy. No limping or other signs of injury. I started walking towards the back porch and said, "Come on, kitty". To my surprise, the cat followed me, right up onto the back porch. When I opened the door, it looked like it was thinking about coming inside. (I didn't want that, because of possible fleas or deer ticks.)

The only meat I had was some ham deli slices. When I'd toss a little piece, the cat would look very interested but not touch it or even get close to it. It then drifted away. When I went back out again a short time later, it was sitting on my front porch.  Same behavior.

Do you think it needs food, or is it really wanting water? There's been very little rain. There's a creek a half mile away. I don't even know for certain that it is a stray. It seems skinny to me, in my non-familiar opinion. Could it be that it just doesn't want deli ham?

I'll cook it some ground beef to put out now. Or would raw be better? Is beef fat good or bad for it? I don't have any milk in the house. What about a long shot: unflavored whey protein powder?


I want to save this cat. Yes, I know the saying, "Once you feed it you own it". I still want to save the poor creature.

It's very unlikely it just wanted some affection, right?

Best Answer
134578 tn?1716963197
Likely the cat has some problem, either thirst or hunger, or possibly kittens hidden nearby (if a female), or maybe needing some other kind of help. Grab a small box of dry cat food at the local store, Friskies or Meow Mix would do, or a kitten formula (Purina has a good one) because it's more nutritious. Ground beef is OK for a short time (cooked is better than raw) but a lot of cats don't like beef, and many don't like ham, for good reasons. It's also not well balanced for a cat's diet -- I knew someone who fed their cat ground beef and rice all the time, and the cat wound up malnourished. Milk isn't the greatest either, it can give a cat the runs. Put out a small bowl of dry food and a lot of water, and see if he goes for it.

If kitty's coat is looking OK and he's acting tame, he could live nearby and be lost, or he could have run away, or he could have been dumped. It happens. I would not be shy about feeding it when a cat arrives that is very thin. It's the owner's lookout to take care of their cat, and if they don't, I'm going to help it.

If kitty goes for the dry food, you can also get some canned cat food. Again, Friskies makes one that's called "shreds," try for chicken or turkey. But go slow, if he's been starving he shouldn't eat tons of rich stuff right off. The main thing is, stick with foods formulated for cats. They need certain nutrients.

There are very fine-toothed combs sold to comb cats and dogs for fleas. They work great -- put out a little dish of water to drown any you find as you comb. A mustache comb is fine enough to do it, also. The fleas get caught in the tines.

Kitty will need a place to sleep. Is your porch safe? You can make him a box and put a towel in it.
Thanks for the very detailed and well composed answer, Annie. You know your stuff, so now I know that there's nothing un-thought of. I guess it is kitten season now, so that's a possibility I hadn't considered.

I had last done this fifteen years ago.

"he could live nearby"
I'd once been feeding one over the winter, then found out that it was taken care of by the people two houses up. It stayed outside, but they always fed it. So one day, by accident, I saw the neighbor walking down their front steps and the cat was walking happily right along. My eyes were opened by seeing that :)  

Then there was another cat that would come up on my back porch, but wouldn't quite come up to me to touch. When I talked to it, it would purr loudly and rub against the railing - like it was simulating petting itself. An approach/avoidance thing. It also seemed to like the word "kitty".

The back porch should be safe, except from other cats. So come to think of it, I won't know who eats the meat. The daily woodchuck won't eat meat, but prbly would eat dry cat food - that's a problem.

The occasional skunk would eat meat - but I really like skunks, so that's okay with me. They are superior animals, and they need a better name. Once you carefully and very very slowly release one from a live trap, you kind of feel connected to them. If you've ever done that, you know that it's quite an experience.

Other thoughts:
If a cat comes up and announces himself like that with many plaintive meows, he is not just being casual, he does want help. It's likely (because he walked up to you so openly) that he has been watching you for a few days and has decided you are OK. Congratulations on passing muster! This is often how someone gets a cat (and how someone who has been taking poor care of a cat, loses a cat). It's not that easy to be cruel or neglectful enough that a cat will leave, since cats don't need a lot of care. But cats do have agency, and will take care of themselves as best they can if things are not right.

I don't have a lot of sympathy for someone whose cat has run away, cats run away for a reason. And I have zero sympathy for someone who would dump a cat. So despite the fact that some people will tut-tut that you shouldn't feed a stray cat if it looks like it is healthy, if the little one is truly thin, I'd totally err on the side of taking care of him. It's only humane.

Once you and little Onyx are pals, there are some things you can do when he'll let you touch him.
- Invest in a flea comb, they're really useful at shedding time and in flea season, and also help with bonding. Cats usually love being combed once they are your friend.
- Make a good, safe place for the cat to sleep if he or she is going to live outside, and wash the blanket weekly for a while to eliminate flea eggs and dust. One way to break the flea life cycle is to get rid of the eggs that fall off the cat into the bedding.
- If he's a boy, figure out if he has been neutered (this is something you can in fact see), and if kitty is a girl, assume she hasn't been spayed, and see to it. Else you might have all kinds of yowling, spraying male visitors soon and many more felines in your future.
[Subset advice regarding the vet:
- Buy a good cat carrier, the plastic kind with the swinging metal grate door, they aren't expensive and allow you to transport the cat with safety. Put kitty in it butt first, not head first, and he or she should handle getting into it without massive grabbing of the edge.
- Get some flea/ tick treatment from the vet (not the feed store) that you put on the skin on top of kitty's head. It's systemic but stays in the skin, and kills all parasites for a period of time. One good brand is called Revolution.
- Have the vet scan the cat for a microchip, just in case this is really someone's beloved pet that just got lost.]

Take care, I hope you do great for him and he returns the favor.
I just saw your response to me. Yes, he could be one of those cats that gets fed up and down the street, but if so, he would probably not be so plaintive, and would likely be fat. I imagined from your first description that you lived in the countryside, where someone might have dumped a cat. If you're in a neighborhood, that's less likely. But it doesn't rule out a cat up and leaving its home because things are not OK for it there.

Cats can be fed up on a table (or you can put the kibbles out only during the day). If a wild animal has been eating or drinking the cat's food, take it away and put out fresh, and wash the dishes. The cat's bed is probably safer on a table, too.

Where I live, a suburban neighborhood, we can lose cats to coyotes, so we always bring our cats in at night and the recommendation is not to even let them go outdoors at all. But where we used to live in the country, we did let the cats out upon request, though with coyotes it was not the safest option for the cats. I've owned cats that would tear the doorjamb off in their desperation to get out at night, so they basically got to have what they wanted at the risk of their lives. If you don't have any wild animals around that are big enough to eat a cat, the little guy should be safe on your porch.

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1081992 tn?1389903637
Well, I'd put out water right away on the front porch. But offhand, I don't see a way to know if anybody is drinking it. Just before dark, I put out a little cooked hamburger. I checked ~90 minutes later and it was gone. So I put a little on the back porch. It was still there at 4am (I happened to awake and so I went downstairs to look). But gone in the morning. There's an orange cat that's been around, too; that one stays away.

"It's likely (because he walked up to you so openly) that he has been watching you for a few days and has decided you are OK. Congratulations on passing muster!"
Really?!? That is too cool. There are lots of shrubs around that it could be under at any time.

"if the little one is truly thin"
I'll see if I can get a picture, prbly taken from above being the best angle.

"If you're in a neighborhood"
Yes, but with small patches of wild nearby.

"Cats can be fed up on a table"
Aha, now obvious in retrospect. Woodchucks can climb trees, but not jump up as far as I know.

"I've owned cats that would tear the doorjamb off in their desperation to get out at night, so they basically got to have what they wanted at the risk of their lives."
That sounds wise.

I made a Journal post to bookmark all of this, on the stray chance that I some day come across anybody who could use your valuable info:
Helpful - 1
You mentioned that you had a friendly neighbor cat that would purr and rub his face on your porch rails when you talked to him. Cats do love to have their head and cheeks scratched, and will rub their face on things to duplicate that feeling. But they also do it because they have scent glands on their cheeks, and they're marking the spot. When another cat comes along and smells face smells from a previous cat, they know another cat was here who was happy and felt safe. (If a cat sprays on your shrubs, it's a different message. More "back off, Big Jake comes here.") So it's possible that if your happy earlier visitor wasn't more than a year or so ago, your new little pal even picked up the message of cat safety from the smell of your porch rails, when casing your place.
Ah well, I'd thought that the rail-rubbing was a sign of affection, while not wanting to get too close - because it was accompanied by strong purring. Anyway, it was many years ago; good thinking though.

"If a cat sprays on your shrubs, it's a different message. "
I've seen that many times, looking out back from the kitchen window. (They patrol along a certain line from the far back, to up this way. Rarely going in the reverse direction.)

Now here's a rub: the square no-tip pet dish was moved about 4 inches since the morning. Wind couldn't do it. There are no dogs running loose. I think a cat would not do that - but a hefty woodchuck might, for whatever reason is in its tiny mind.

However, if I move the water dish to a small table on the back porch to get it out of reach of the varmint, then the cat might not find it. I figure I'll leave it as is for now, so for sure the cat will drink repeatedly and get topped off - even though I hate to help the varmint woodchuck. They are destructive.

The fresh hamburg I put out this morning is still there. That's why I'd asked about the smoke possibly making it instinctively skittish.

Puzzling that the dish was moved. I've had raccoons tip over water dishes, but no animal has just moved one along.

Bring the hamburger in and give it the old heave ho if it's been out for a number of hours. One of the better things about kibbles is that they keep safely all day, but meats, not so much.
1081992 tn?1389903637
More to the mix.

I was cutting hedges just now and looked to my left. About 30 feet away was the orange cat, staring at me, and it was poised as if stopped mid-stride. I thought the clattering of the hedge clippers might make it feel on edge. But only when I turned the electric clippers off and yet stood still, that's when the cat ran away. Go figure.

Twice in years past I'd bought dry cat food for different 'strays', but they  hardly ever touched it. Once in winter I did set up a box with towels inside for warmth. I even fashioned a kind of flap door. But they never even tried to check it out. That's why I'm reluctant about those two things.

Thanks again. Yes, being recently abandoned might explain being not-skinny yet hungry, and also being parched. Or they are just ornery. I'll check to see if there's such a thing as Charm School for Cats.

Helpful - 0
1081992 tn?1389903637
But then, if they are both strays who need water but are otherwise getting fed, why do they not take the food overnight? That could be because they are really house cats who get let out to roam during the day. Then why would they need my water?
Helpful - 0
1081992 tn?1389903637
Well the plot thickens. I'll try to be brief.

An hour after I discovered the egg hadn't been eaten overnight, I saw it being eaten in real time - by an orange cat, not by 'my' 'stray' black cat.

Later, I actually went and bought some chicken for us all to have, but what I put out at dusk was still there in the morning. But then it disappeared shortly after.

The mailman saw the black cat again yesterday, and said it didn't look particularly skinny. As for the orange cat, it was not shiny; to me it looked rather well fed and muscular. (I'll note that it ate every bit of egg, then actually licked the plate repeatedly, then got the little bits that had fallen to the side. It ate like a dog does, but again it did not look starved at all.)

I also saw the orange cat drinking water from the bowl I'd put out. Not just a quick few laps, but what seemed like a lot of water to me.

So here's my current theory, which fits what you'd said.

"If a cat comes up and announces himself like that with many plaintive meows, he is not just being casual, he does want help."

I'm thinking they need water, but don't need food - while still eating it because it's there. Maybe some one or more persons are feeding them but don't put out water? In years past, when I'd put out food for strays, I didn't put out water because I didn't figure they'd need me to do that.

We do have a drought here now.

What do you think, Annie?
Helpful - 0
And I saw the black cat again yesterday, which was 2 days after the inital encounter. This time it stayed away, and retreated when I approached it. The opposite of the first time.

"If a cat comes up and announces himself like that with many plaintive meows, he is not just being casual, he does want help."
Sounds like the black cat has another food source and for one reason or another was not doing OK the day it approached you with the meows. Another possibility besides a cat being dumped or just mooching from more then one neighbor -- sometimes people move away and leave their cat behind. (This would account for a cat being hungry but looking healthy.)

The orange cat is definitely hungry, not just wanting water. And, is one of the cats that likes eggs. lol

My cats, who cheerfully eat canned and dry cat food several times a day, won't eat: beef, cream, milk, egg, cooked chicken. You might consider dropping by your local and getting a box of kibbles. The black cat (assuming he was an owned cat before) might in fact prefer cat food.
Also, definitely yes on always having water out.

Does your neighborhood have a "Nextdoor" group? You'll see postings about both lost and found cats there.
1081992 tn?1389903637
Surprisingly, the egg is still there.
Helpful - 0
Sounds like either your visitor isn't around or doesn't like egg.  :-)
1081992 tn?1389903637
This naming is difficult business. I'll have to let the cat give me a clue.

What does Agadashi mean? Sounds Japanese.
Helpful - 0
Lightly fried tofu squares. If you look in my photos you'll see a picture of him as a little kitten, not well and straight from the Humane Society. You can get an idea of why we named him after a white food that is fried and then dipped into an orange-ish sauce.  I'll post the link.

Let me know if it doesn't come up, I might have my whole page locked, but didn't think so because people commented.

This picture of Dashi is germane to the conversation for another reason, and that is, it shows how a cat looks that's pretty thin and has been not well. His hair is sticking out a la dandelion, and he's not shiny. You should see him today, the picture of health and a little fatter too.
I see it. Young and blue eyed?

You know, I was going to mention fried food but I thought of all the jokes about Chinese restaurants so I kept quiet :)
Looks like a little puffball to me. But what do I know, I didn't even know there are German cats.
Ah, phooey, I just tried to post a photo of Dashi now, and got all the way to the usual 500 error. And I thought I reduced its size enough. lol
I remember that 500 error was discussed a while ago, but I don't remember the conclusion. Oh well, tomorrow's another day. Have a nice night.
Cats are most active in the hours around dawn and dusk, that is their hunting time. So, have a nice evening and also just peek outside if you think of it, you might see your guest.
1081992 tn?1389903637
'But, "Lynyrd, come get dinnered!" works.'
Sure does. I missed that the first time, being distracted.

'No matter how one pronounces Lynard, around these parts, Lynyrd from the band rhymes with dinnered.) lol'
Yep. And it's catchy, too. You have bested me on the banter. That's stuck in my head now :)

The cat has not come for its egg platter yet.
Helpful - 0
1081992 tn?1389903637
"Was this a trick question? :-) "
Well, it didn't start out that way, but it somehow ended up that way :)

"Any chance Little Britches is hanging out under your porch?"
Ohhhhhhhhh, you are so smart. The evil woodchuck digs under the front porch, but the back steps have room underneath. That could be a way station. Since I'd met the cat at 2pm yesterday, do you think it splits its 6 hours of awake time into some at night and some in the afternoon.

I'll tell the cat your two name suggestions, and see if it lights up on any of them.
Helpful - 0
In our neighborhood, cat names are truly all over the place. There is one named the name of a local pizza parlor, Pizzacatto, and a tabby named Kevin, a bobtail named Beans, a friendly guy named Sashi and one outrageously friendly little calico who *runs* out to meet us, I haven't gotten her name yet. Our cats, Brubeck, Sprocket and Agadashi, did their part to increase the cat name variety meter. It's interesting to take a walk at night, they all come sauntering out for pats, going along with you only to where their yard meets the neighbor's yard, and then they turn and go back to their porch. The cats clearly have the territory divvied up, and since it's also skunk territory, they have their outdoor sleeping places carefully delineated too. I think if I were in the naming game for a black cat, I'd look for something reminiscent of his patent-leather looking coat, but that can be shortened. (Agadashi is never called his full name except when he's in trouble, it's always Dashi.) Or I'd try for an ago name like Stanley. I was very amused when his owner told us that Kevin is was named Kevin.
just *was,* not "is was." Typing too fast. lol
1081992 tn?1389903637
"Not familiar with Lynard, is it a first name? If so, leopard?"
Since you'd said you had lived in the country, I thought you might know of the band Lynyrd Skynard, especially the song "Simple Man". (It's Southern Rock, not Country per se.)

But I ruined it by misspelling as Lynard. Maybe you knew 'Lynyrd' and so didn't connect Lynard.

Oh boy, I wonder if this means I should name the cat Lynyrd. "Come here, Lynyrd. Get your rice and beef broth, I made enough for two." Nahhh, that name doesn't work.

Helpful - 0
But, "Lynyrd, come get dinnered!" works. (See below where I added to my guess, talking about Lynyrd Skynyrd. No matter how one pronounces Lynard, around these parts, Lynyrd from the band rhymes with dinnered.) lol
1081992 tn?1389903637
"If you liked vertebra, you'd be pleased to hear me use datum."

Well now, try this: name a word that rhymes with "Lynard".  :)
Helpful - 0
Not familiar with Lynard, is it a first name? If so, leopard?
(The only name like it that I've ever heard pronounced is the name in the band Lynyrd Skynyrd, and at least around here, it's pronounced more like "dinnered." But Lynard looks like it might be Leonard in another language, thus my guess of leopard.) Was this a trick question? :-)
1081992 tn?1389903637
"Bring the hamburger in and give it the old heave ho if it's been out for a number of hours"

Too late, it disappeared. Now I have some egg out there. I'll check in 2 hours or so. It's fun solving this.

I talked to a cat owner up the street, she said that yesterday her cat went to the open door, took a sniff of the smoke and wouldn't go out. The news was ranting about how bad NYC was in its air quality index of 350, much worse than normal bad of 250. My little town had 405. I went for a stroll and it was no big deal for me.

Helpful - 0
Any chance Little Britches is hanging out under your porch?
1081992 tn?1389903637
Cooked egg?
Helpful - 0
Some cats will eat egg, and it's not dangerous to them. A lot of cats will just give it the go-by. If the little guy is starving, that's going to affect what he will be willing to eat.

Regarding judging his thinness, have you gotten close enough to be able to touch him? A cat that is malnourished, you can feel his spine pretty clearly. I just now checked with my cat, who is a little fat, and I can feel her spine only if I push down and really feel for it. When a cat is skinny, a finger lightly stroked down their back can feel every vertebra. The fact that your visitor is glossy is suggestive that he or she is getting nourishment somehow, because that gloss is one of the first things to go when a cat is malnourished or dehydrated.

I do hope you see the little guy today and get some pix.
Yes, really shiny. Looked quite nice, impressive. So can we say that tends to needing water instead of food?

Haven't seen it today. It should know my voice because of talking to it yesterday, right? It didn't come to me when I called. Would all the smoke here from the Canadian forest fires upset a cat and make it hide? The smoke smell and visible haze is noticeably worse today than yesterday.

Singular. Bravo.

I think smoke smell does disturb animals, but don't know if it would make a cat more likely to hide. Cats sleep 16 hours a day, and one on the loose would find a hidden place to curl up safely, so you might go long stretches without seeing your visitor just because he's sleeping.
"you might go long stretches without seeing your visitor just because he's sleeping."

Got it.
If you liked vertebra, you'd be pleased to hear me use datum.

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