If the cat is friendly enough to pet and pick up, try to get the cat into a carrier and scanned for a microchip; any animal shelter, veterinary office, animal hospital, 24-hour animal emergency center, or animal control facility will scan the cat for you, no charge, no appointment necessary. If you can borrow a scanner, this online look-up tool Microchip Search | AAHA Universal Pet Microchip Lookup will tell you either what microchip company manufactured registered the microchip and their phone number, or what shelter/rescue group/veterinarian the chip was sold to (the implanter). You must then call the vet, shelter, rescue group or microchip company and each organization will inform you of their protocols for notifying the registered owner of the cat.
Talk to your neighbors to determine if it could be a lost, escaped, or abandoned house pet from nearby. Put up some “found cat” flyers in the alleys and your neighbors’ mailboxes. Post in Facebook groups: Lost Cats of Illinois, Lost Pets of IL, your local neighborhood, and any lost and found pet groups that serve your area. Postal carriers and dog walkers are also great sources of information about neighborhood animals.
If you’re able to take the cat into your home, secure the cat in a bathroom, basement, enclosed porch, or in any room by itself away from your pets so the cat does not transmit a disease or parasites. Cat viruses such as distemper and calicivirus are only transmissible to other cats. However, fleas, ear mites, upper respiratory infections and intestinal parasites can be transmitted to other species. If possible, apply an over-the-counter topical flea treatment between the cat’s shoulder blades. Do not put a flea collar on the cat. Flea collars are a choking hazard and ineffective. If you can’t bring the cat inside, see if you can find a friend or local neighborhood Facebook group who can.
If you cannot hold the cat, Chicago residents with proof of residency can email firstname.lastname@example.org and request intake at Chicago Animal Care & Control (CACC). Formerly known as the “city pound” CACC’s live outcome for cats has been on par with the national “no-kill” rate (93%+) in recent years, and is a safe place to relinquish a cat. Dozens of “Homeward Bound” approved rescue groups transfer cats out every day for their own foster and adoption programs.
If the cat runs from you such that you are not able to capture it, the cat may be a lost and scared house pet (stray). More likely, it is a feral cat (born outside and unsocialized to people). Check for an eartip, which is the international mark of a sterilized, vaccinated free-roaming cat. During surgery for spay/neuter ¼” is removed off the top of the left ear. Free-roaming cats are ear tipped to avoid repeated trapping.
Put some food out for the cat at the same time every day, to keep it in the area. Regardless if it’s feral or a lost house pet, feeding it will get the cat returning to the same place, which will make it easier to trap. You can then use a humane trap to capture the cat and take it to get scanned for a chip, and spayed/neutered if it’s not already.
If the cat is eartipped, known to be part of a nearby colony and it doesn’t appear injured or in distress, just leave it alone. It’s just exploring! If the cat is NOT eartipped, trap the cat using a humane trap, bring it to a low-cost spay-neuter clinic for a “TNR” (Trap-Neuter-Return) surgery, return the cat outside and continue to provide food and shelter. Most spay/neuter clinics require feral cats to be in humane traps.
If the cat is sick or injured, it may require more care than a spay/neuter clinic is able to provide. Many private vet practices do not see feral cats or may have other requirements. Call first and explain the situation.
The first step in helping kittens you find outside is assessing how old they are and determining if and when to intervene. Alley Cat Allies’ How Old is that Kitten is a great resource in estimating the age of kittens. Once you understand the kittens age, you can decide how to help them.
What to do with kittens is not an exact science. Each situation and each litter of kittens is different. There are, however, a few important rules of thumb:
- Never remove young kittens that can’t eat on their own. Kittens younger than 5 weeks should stay outside with mother, unless she is friendly and you can get them all inside together.
- Never remove kittens without first getting the mother cat, or trapping them all at the same time. Mother cats can disappear if their kittens are suddenly gone, only to have many subsequent litters
- Kittens that are older than 8-10 weeks, have not received any human contact outside and are truly feral, will be extremely difficult to socialize.
- Kittens 12 weeks and older should be Trapped-Neutered-Returned (TNR’d) unless they are already handlable and seeking affection
Refer to What to do with kittens for additional information.
If you are interested in socializing kittens yourself, please refer to our Socializing Kittens guidelines.
If you wish to adopt the kittens out directly from your home, be sure to get them spayed or neutered, vaccinated, dewormed, microchipped and treated for any fleas or ear mites. Take an adoption application, check references, call the applicant’s vet and ask for an adoption fee of at least $75.
Animal welfare organizations can also assist either in intaking kittens or in providing vetting while you foster them to get them ready for intake.
Are you caring for outdoor cats? Getting them all TNR’d (Trapped-Neutered-Returned), vaccinated and properly sheltered is the ideal way to not only help the cats stay safe and healthy, but will also reduce the stress on the cats and you: no more mating, fighting, yowling, tomcat urine-marking, the constant cycle of new kittens being born and the cats spreading cat diseases back and forth. In many areas you may even be facing fines, feeding bans and harassment from your neighbors. Stabilizing and managing your colony will go a long way to alleviating many issues caretakers and their colonies face.
TNR is a legally protected and encouraged practice in many places around the world, with municipal ordinances in place in many cities and counties in the US. Illinois has legalized TNR statewide with an amendment to the Illinois Animal Control Act. Cook County, IL has had one of the strongest ordinances in place since 2007. Coming into compliance with the Cook County ordinance cat colony protocols not only helps to protect the cats, it also protects your rights as a caretaker.
In Chicago, contact PAWS Chicago Community Cats team for assistance if you live in one of their following target area zip codes: 60623 60636 60621 60609 60628 60629 60617 60632.
There are an estimated 200,000-500,000 free-roaming cats on the streets of Chicago; stray, feral, abandoned, lost, indoor/outdoor pets, etc. Many thousands belong to managed feral cat colonies where they are trapped, neutered, sheltered and fed by colony caretakers. This is the case all over the country, and all over the world. There are very few community areas in Chicago and the suburbs that don’t have free-roaming cats. If this is your first encounter, don’t panic! There are steps and methods of addressing the situation ethically, humanely, logistically, and legally.
Talk to your neighbors about the cats to determine what they know; who might be feeding them, and if they are part of a nearby colony. If the cats are eartipped and known to be part of a nearby colony, and none appear injured or in distress, leave them alone – they’re just exploring! If some or all are not eartipped, or appear injured or in need of veterinary assistance, they should be trapped using a humane trap, and brought to a low-cost spay-neuter clinic for a “TNR” (trap-neuter-return) surgery, where their injuries can be assessed and possibly treated. Feral, unhandleable cats cannot be brought into any vet or clinic unless in a humane trap. If any of the cats seems to be lost housepets or you can pick them up and hold them because they’re so friendly, please scroll up to the “I Found A Cat” section.
Assuming the cat you’re looking to help is feral or too unsocialized and unhandleable to be put in a carrier and taken to a regular private vet, you must take the cat to a vet that sees ferals in traps.
Common injuries in outdoor cats:
Eye issues – most cats are born with the herpes virus and have highly varying immunity to it. Flare-ups of swollen eyelids and discharge are extremely common but tend to come and go. Herpes is viral, so antibiotics won’t help and the flare-up needs to run its course. If you start seeing yellowish green or creamy colored discharge, a secondary bacterial infection has set in and antibiotics are needed, which can be put into the food. You may have to isolate the cat in a wire dog crate if you are feeding multiple cats.
Limps/Wounds – limps can be fractures or breaks but are most often wounds or abscesses that can be treated with a time-released antibiotic injection called Convenia while the cat is under anesthesia. Borrow or rent a humane trap and make your vet appointment.
Giving up your pet is a stressful situation, and understanding what options are open to you and what might be best for your particular cat can be confusing. Resources to consider while researching your options:
FRIENDS AND FAMILY – asking friends and family and having them reach out to their friends and family members as well is the ideal first option. Do not try to simply give your pet away for free in random Facebook groups or Craig’s List etc.
OPEN INTAKE SHELTERS will accept any animal, regardless if its age, health or behavior. For Chicago residents with proof of residency, this would be Chicago Animal Care and Control (CACC) at 2741 S. Western. The Anti-Cruelty Society (ACS) at 510 N. LaSalle St. in River North does not require you to be a Chicago resident. Both have free parking and in non-COVID times do not require an appointment. Currently, however, you must email CACC for an intake/relinquishment appointment email@example.com. Call ACS at 312-644-8338 for an appointment. Chicago Animal Care & Control, while it is the “city pound,” is a safe place to relinquish a cat. We are very lucky in Chicago to have a municipal animal control that partners with over 200 rescue groups to produce a live outcome rate no-kills (93%) for cats. Numerous approved rescue groups are in and out every day, pulling the animals out for foster and adoption through their own networks.
MANAGED INTAKE SHELTERS (also known as “no-kill”) only take animals by appointment and will only take animals they have room for and that they think are suitable for shelter life and adoption. Click here to view the shelter list.
OLDER CATS do not thrive in the shelter environment and many managed intake shelters do not accept senior cats for this reason. The stress of the shelter environment can be devastating for them and they are known to stop eating, emotionally retreat, become fearful, and their health can decline. Senior cats do much better entering a new adoptive or temporary foster home rather than being given up to a shelter. It is always best for senior and older cats to be placed with a trusted friend or family member or with a foster-based rescue group. Foster-based rescues place their cats with families and adoptions are done from the home or at adoption events.
CAN’T AFFORD NECESSARY VETERINARY CARE? if you are considering giving up your pet because you cannot afford veterinary care, click here for financial and temporary pet housing assistance for a list of financial assistance programs!
TEMPORARY EMERGENCY FOSTER PROGRAMS if you need a temporary foster home for your cat due to temporary loss of housing, the Anti-Cruelty Society and PAWS Chicago both offer programs where your cat will be seen by vets and held in an approved foster home while you secure housing. To learn more, click here: Financial & Temporary Pet Housing Assistance
Hosting a working cat colony to deter rats from your property is the humane and effective solution for your family as well as feral, unsocialized cats who have been impounded or have no confirmed options to return to their colonies. Keep in mind it’s a time and labor investment, as you are responsible for the care and sheltering of the colony for their lifetimes. You will need to provide ongoing medical care and arrange back-up caretaking while you are out of town. Working cat caregivers often enjou a rewarding and fascinating relationship with their cats. Cats are apex predators and are very good at what they do. You will find they have unique personalities and display antics that are interesting and often amusing. Care for them well and they will take care of you. Please email for more information: firstname.lastname@example.org