Is It Bad to Feed Stray Cats? (Answered)

It’s natural to see stray cats and want to help them live a slightly more comfortable life by offering them food. After all, they’re facing a tough situation outdoors. But what are the consequences of feeding stray cats? Is it bad to feed stray cats? Or, are you doing something good by helping them out?

Read on to learn about the pros and cons of feeding stray cats and what actions you can take when you come across a stray in your neighborhood.

Key takeaways

  • There is more harm you can cause by feeding stray cats, including how it impacts local wildlife and your neighbors
  • A direct way to help stray cat populations is to support Trap-Neuter-Return programs
  • Feeding stray cats generally isn’t illegal but disrupting wildlife by placing out food they can access can be

Is it bad to feed stray cats?

While it may seem morally right to help out stray cats, there are consequences to your action that you may not have considered. Feeding stray cats will cause them to depend on your food and come back for more. This will also attract more cats, leading to reproduction, increased stray populations, and increased territorial fights between cats in the area. It will also have implications on local wildlife, your neighbors, pets, and animal shelters. For example, feeding strays will:

  • Impact the population of birds, reptiles, and mammals killed by increased stray cats
  • Spread diseases through viruses and bacteria to people and pets
  • Cause disruptions with loud noises and dug up gardens
  • Impact your neighbors when the colonies overflow to their property
  • Lead to malnourished stray cats when their population grows but your food source remains the same or stops

The one pro of feeding stray cats is the positive feeling you might feel when helping an animal out. However, make sure you can maintain the feeding schedule and adapt to the growing needs as the population of stray cats increases in your area. You can also feed them while also taking action to avoid population expansion.

How often should I feed stray cats?

While it’s strongly advised against feeding stray cats due to the various reasons previously listed, it’s understandable that it provides a good feeling like you are helping them out. Still, you shouldn’t commit to feeding the cats more than once a day. This ensures they still maintain their natural ability and drive to hunt and fend for themselves. If you want to feed stray cats, your actions will have fewer negative consequences if you also take additional actions to curb their population growth.

How to help

There are some direct ways to help stray cats and improve their lives besides feeding them. These methods can also allow you to continue to feed stray cats without negatively impacting their long-term health, especially as their population grows out of control in your area. You can:

  • Support Trap-Neuter-Return programs run by animal rescue groups to reduce stray populations without harming the cats
  • Foster docile strays that aren’t feral cats so they can find a forever home
  • Support animal shelters that help shelter, feed, and keep cats off the streets
  • Become a colony caretaker by contacting your local Humane Society

How do you tell if a cat is feral or stray?

Feral cats are wild cats born into the wild, not socialized to people, and are likely part of a colony. In contrast, stray cats are more socialized to people and have a better chance of getting adopted and becoming a pet. Trying to adopt and socialize a feral cat would be like trying to tame a raccoon – it’s not advised and would be very difficult.

Feral cats are more likely to be on guard around you with their backs up and won’t approach the food you put out until you’ve left. Stray cats may purr or hang out around you, including eating in front of you.

Is feeding stray cats illegal?

In most areas, it’s not illegal to feed stray cats, however, it can be harmful to local communities. You will have to call your local animal shelter to confirm the laws in your area about feeding stray cats. In some counties, it is illegal to place food outside even if it’s not illegal to specifically feed cats.

The food you leave out is accessible to wildlife and can be considered an intentional act to disrupt the wildlife’s normal behaviors. This would be illegal as an act of “Harassment of Animals.”


Feeding stray cats may seem like the morally right thing to do, and it does bring a good feeling inside. However, when you take a step back and see the big picture of how this act can cause a chain reaction of issues, you might want to consider an alternative. Helping to control the cat population and finding a home for the adoptable strays may be a better option to do a good deed for the stray cat population.