What should I do about the cat outside my door?
December 15, 2011 8:23 PM   Subscribe

There is a cat without collar or tags in the hallway of my apartment building. It's too late to knock on neighbors' doors to ask if it's theirs. I can hear it mewing outside my door. What should I do?
posted by Ash3000 to Grab Bag (62 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Take it in tonight, give it some cooked chicken cut into small pieces (not milk!) and a bowl of water, and set out a litter box if you can. In the morning, check around for an owner.
posted by ellF at 8:25 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Two things: let it hang out in your place for the night. That's questionable unless you have cat food/litter box (i have done this before with a cat who followed me home). You can cook some meat, don't char it and feed it to the cat. Don't give it milk.

Or you call animal control or the police non-emergency line.

Third, you could go pet it and see if it walks to a specific door.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 8:26 PM on December 15, 2011

Response by poster: I'm afraid we don't have cats ourselves, so we don't have any litter supplies. Also, we're vegetarian, so we don't have any meat around. I have put a small dish of water in the hallway already, as that's the first thing I thought of.

It does seem to be hanging out in front of one door more than the others, but it's unclear if that's because that's where it belongs, or if it's because that door is the middle in the hallway (and so the most frequently passed in its movements around the hall).
posted by Ash3000 at 8:29 PM on December 15, 2011

Response by poster: We do have some seitan, if that is something a cat could eat.
posted by Ash3000 at 8:31 PM on December 15, 2011

If I were in your position, I'd take it inside. It won't die of starvation in a night; litter would be good, but it's not the end of the world if it doesn't have access to it. A box with some shredded newsprint would work, too.

Also, cats are obligate carnivores. That means they must eat meat; while they might eat other things, they aren't (generally) good for their systems. Don't give the cat fake meat, if you have it.
posted by ellF at 8:32 PM on December 15, 2011 [5 favorites]

If you feel comfortable doing so, bring it into your place and put it in the bathroom.

You can go out and pick up a can or two of cat food and a "travel" litter box (comes pre-filled with litter) inexpensively at most 24-hr convenience stores. If you're going to keep the cat in your place overnight, you definitely want to give it a litter box or a safe place to do its business. Even a box top with shredded newspaper is better than nothing. You don't want to be cleaning up cat pee from a non-approved surface, it is very stinky.

I wouldn't feed the cat anything but meat or fish. (Baby food is ok ONLY if it does not have garlic or onion - both are toxic to cats.) Give him water and he is ok without food overnight.

As for tomorrow, you can talk to your building super or post a sign in the hall.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:34 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would knock on that door where it's hanging out most. There's a good chance that's its home, and the owners may not have noticed that it's out.

But if you won't do that, or it's not theirs, make a sign and post it in a highly visible spot -- on your door, on the hallway door, at the elevator, whatever's relevant -- FOUND CAT, etc etc
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:34 PM on December 15, 2011

Did you come close to the cat? Is it friendly?
When you come close, does it try to lead you somewhere, or ... ? Some cats sometimes seek human help, they'll take you where they need your help.

If any groceries are still open (walmart?) you could buy canned sardines. Or, you know, canned food :-) Do you eat eggs? You can give a raw egg YOLK. But if you don't have anything, then just water will be okay for a day, he won't starve.

If you don't have cat litter, you can put the cat in the bathroom, give the cat a blanket, and lock the door. The cat should eliminate in the bathtub or the sink, naturally.
Or you can put shredded paper on some box.

Yes, the cat will meow and meow, but he'll quiet down.

(I've had to do this with a couple cats before, when it was very cold, because I've seen FROZEN cats before)
posted by midnightmoonlight at 8:35 PM on December 15, 2011

>_< I meant close the door, not lock the door. Hehehe, forgive my tired brain.
posted by midnightmoonlight at 8:36 PM on December 15, 2011

Response by poster: It is a friendly cat. I've just gone out and knocked on the door where it's hanging out. No answer.
posted by Ash3000 at 8:39 PM on December 15, 2011

Is your apartment hallway a safe place for the cat?
Is there a building super who is awake/open for business at this hour?
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:42 PM on December 15, 2011

Bring him in, give him a box with newspaper and some water. If there are stores still open, get some cheap litter and food.
posted by Mavri at 8:50 PM on December 15, 2011

Response by poster: Okay, the cat is hanging out at my door and mewing now. It knows this is not home. I've got the box set up and some water, though, and I'm going to go get it some food. I'm also going to slide a note under the door that seems to be its home.
posted by Ash3000 at 8:54 PM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

The cat will be fine. He or she is probably too freaked out to think about a litter box or food, but it's good to be prepared. Water is the most essential. You are doing a great thing by taking him (or her) inside. My bets are the the owner will wake up in the middle of the night or in the morning and realize the cat's not there. Put signs up in the hallway and in the elevator (if you have one).
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 8:57 PM on December 15, 2011

Right on, Ash3000. Thanks for doing the right thing -- and put up a "Found Cat!" poster or two in the hall, in case that door isn't the correct one.

posted by ellF at 8:58 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

This happened at my friend's apartment once. The cat belonged exactly one floor upstairs --- it was meowing at the right door on the wrong floor.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 9:01 PM on December 15, 2011

You're totally doing a super-kind deed. Good things will come back to you.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:05 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I let my cat roam the hall sometimes - but always with my supervision & I've trained him not to exit the apartment otherwise (try to run out when I'm opening/closing the door). He likes to go down stairs, but never up & I've seen him try to get into the apartment 1 floor down before. It seems cats do have a good sense of direction - but get confused by the sameness of different floors.

So +1 to qxntpqbbbqxl - the cat may belong to that apartment on a different floor. Put a sign in the elevator.
posted by MesoFilter at 9:09 PM on December 15, 2011

Yeah, you're doing good. If possible and reasonably safe, maybe leave your door open a bit so the cat can check out its surroundings and try to figure out what's going on.

Of course you'll want to go to bed at some point -- if the cat is still hanging around, bring it in (and keep the fresh water around). It'll still be able to figure out stuff tomorrow. It's not like it's going to die before then. Cats can cope.
posted by trip and a half at 9:14 PM on December 15, 2011

very sweet of you. If you have eggs at all, maybe make it scrambled eggs. I have two previously homeless cats, and they eat vegetables, cookies, cannoli (??) if they get their paws on it, but still I try not to let them have it, for all the reasons given above. But if I'm out of food and don't have meat, I'l make my cats eggs.

However, they won't starve in a night. The important thing would just be keeping it in your watch until tomorrow when you can find out whose it is.
posted by sweetkid at 9:18 PM on December 15, 2011

Just want to second everyone saying you're doing a good thing. Leave a note in the hall/slip one under the door, and confine the cat to a safe room in your house. Safe = no strings lying around that it can eat, nothing poisonous (poinsettias, lilacs, antifreeze, etc).

If you want to calm it, you can sit with it and pet it and let it explore whatever territory you feel comfortable letting it explore. It wants to check to be sure it's not in some other cat's territory. Confining it to the bathroom is fine; it is what you would do if you were adopting it. It's nice if you can give it a fabric (eg soft towel or bathmat) to sit on, to keep its feet off the cold floor.

Meowing is not necessarily a sign of distress, so don't be too freaked out by it. Some cats are just talky. If you extend a knuckle to him, will he bump it with his head or chin? Is his tail up in happy-flag position, and his ears up? Those are good signs.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:24 PM on December 15, 2011

Sorry, by "lilacs" I meant "lilies".
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:25 PM on December 15, 2011

I'd recommend keeping him in the bathroom overnight with the food, litter box an something soft to sleep on. Since it's an unfamiliar place, he/she may pee in the wrong place and cat piss really stinks. Stress of being in an unfamiliar environment might also cause it to have runny bowel movements. You wouldn't want to wake up with a steaming pile of diarrhea on your couch in the morning. And if it's a male, you run the risk of him spraying his scent all over the house. By the way, you're doing a really great thing, thank you!

No, cats don't eat gluten (seitan), it's not good for them. Are you kidding me? Not unless you want him to bloat and look 1000 months pregnant, and give you stinky stinky farts to smell up the whole house.

Ugh, wow. That was really uncalled for. Not everyone has knowledge of every fact of life. This person was trying to do something helpful and you found it necessary to drop this turd in the thread.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 9:30 PM on December 15, 2011

Response by poster: LobsterMitten: "If you extend a knuckle to him, will he bump it with his head or chin? Is his tail up in happy-flag position, and his ears up? Those are good signs."

Yes, the cat seems pretty happy, and started rubbing its head on me quite a while ago. It is now pretty hungrily eating some wet food (Fancy Feast was all they had at the 24-hour store), and I picked up some litter for the cardboard box, too.

The cat seems to want to hang out in my foyer. This may be partially because there's a mirror on the floor there, so it's got another "cat" to be with. It may also be because it's a small area, with little furniture, but a low shelf to hang out under. I've put down something soft in front of the mirror, and put the food and litter box there, too. I'll transfer it all to the bathroom when I go to bed.
posted by Ash3000 at 9:43 PM on December 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Also, I understand that photos are obligatory. (I'm trying to take a decent one for the flyer, and not having much success.)
posted by Ash3000 at 9:59 PM on December 15, 2011 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: I think this is probably the best one.
posted by Ash3000 at 10:07 PM on December 15, 2011 [4 favorites]

Cats are obligate carnivores. They eat only meat. Do not feed it anything not meat.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 10:30 PM on December 15, 2011

Oh you got him cat food, yeah, you're fine. You can find his owner in the morning. This is a happy story!

It was much more stressful the time a cat followed me TEN BLOCKS home from a bar and I had to put it in my basement (I had cats).

Do you really think the cat got in from outside? It is almost definitely someones in the building who is gone and the cat snuck out as they left. Trust me, they can be real dicks like that. Mine snuck out once and I saw it, ran and had to chase it back in where it promptly vomited everywhere from fright.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 10:33 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

What an awesome cat!

A thing to keep in mind: this may actually be your cat now. A cat moved in with me once. It had to be from a nearby apartment, but he climbed in my window and decided to stay. I tried everything suggested above and more to find out where he came from, but it turned out to be me and him for the long haul.

If that turns out to be the case, mazel tov!
posted by trip and a half at 10:34 PM on December 15, 2011

I will drop the stat that sadly only 2% of cats turned into the shelter are claimed. 2%! I don't even know how that's possible.

It doesn't have to be your cat, but if you can't find the owners........ it could be!
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 10:37 PM on December 15, 2011

Response by poster: Cat is exploring the apartment now. He (and I'm pretty sure it's a he) is checking out the bathroom right now. He was under the bed for a minute, but came out as soon as I called to him and crouched down. I think that's a pretty good sign.

Is there any way to tell if a cat has been neutered?
posted by Ash3000 at 10:46 PM on December 15, 2011

Pro tip: when turning a cardboard box into a temporary litter box, try to line the box with plastic. Best way is to get a large plastic bag (with no holes), put the box inside the bag, then fill the open top with litter (so, litter->bag->box). Note that some cats will poke holes in the plastic bag with their claws, but it's better than nothing. (What you have in the photo is probably OK for one or two light uses, though.)

Second tip: "obligate carnivore" means that cats must eat meat, not that anything else will poison them. Grass is attractive to lots of cats, and one of our foster kittens just let me know that she goes crazy for peas. Peas. She was doing tricks for peas. Just saying.

Still, chunks of wheat gluten (seitan) aren't really a good idea. Also, onions aren't good for them, and lilies are deadly poison. You should probably read about cat proofing if you have time.

That's a sweet-looking kitty! Have a lovely night.
posted by amtho at 11:04 PM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think you may have a new buddy, but give him a couple of days of (observed) roaming around. He'll be fine as long as you keep an eye on him (and give him some meat to eat and fresh water to drink), and if his former carers are around, they'll find each other.

If not, you sound like you might be willing and able to give him a home. That would be sweet. Cats are not a lot of work, aside from cleaning their litter. They like to just hang around and be their crazy cat selves.

I think only a vet can tell if he's been fixed, but if he's an abandoned pet (which, sadly, seems to me to be the most likely case), chances are that's already been taken care of.

Keep us posted, please!
posted by trip and a half at 11:05 PM on December 15, 2011

Response by poster: And another question (I've got a lot of them tonight): are the sides of my makeshift litter box too high? The shoe in the photo is for scale.
posted by Ash3000 at 11:06 PM on December 15, 2011

Nope. Not too high. Perfect size. Good on ya. But cut a U-shaped hole in the front panel so he can get in and out without having to jump it.

If you can tell where he feels most comfortable, maybe put a soft towel or blanket near there in case he wants to slump out.
posted by trip and a half at 11:10 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: This is probably a really dumb question. I've just transferred all of the cat's stuff to the bathroom (as my own bedtime is long overdue). Should I leave the lights on or off?

(Also, we have achieved purring. Which is pretty awesome. And it seems like the cat really enjoys being with me, which is also awesome.)

Signs with photos are up on all floors of my building, in the elevator, and the laundry room now, btw.
posted by Ash3000 at 11:16 PM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

re: neutered status, here is a picture of an unneutered male cat.
The testicles are pretty obvious- if you can get a look at his butt you can for sure tell. If he's neutered, there'll be a little pouch where the testicles were, but it's pretty small.
Here's a thread on checking a cat's sex- if it's a girl, there's no way to tell if she's been fixed, though.

(Also, awww, kitty!)
posted by insufficient data at 11:19 PM on December 15, 2011

Leave the lights the way you usually leave them. It won't matter to the cat. Do remember though that cats are nocturnal critters. You should go to bed, though, knowing that you've done a Good Thing. The cat will be alright, thanks to you.
posted by trip and a half at 11:21 PM on December 15, 2011

Response by poster: Okay, the cat is in the bathroom (being a bit talkative, but doesn't sound distressed and I don't hear scratching at the door) with the lights on. Along with the food, water, litter box, and the black soft scarf I put in the first place he was hanging out, I've also brought in the mirror that he was hanging out next to before.

If he is indeed male, he's a neutered cat. No bulgy balls on this one.

Okay, folks, I'm going to bed.
posted by Ash3000 at 11:26 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is the sweetest thread I have seen in a good long while. Even if this fuzzbutt ends up having to go home to his place, I think you are going to have to accept that you are a born Owner.
posted by Iteki at 11:46 PM on December 15, 2011 [7 favorites]

Fancy Feast is a good choice, and your litter box looks good too. Lights off is fine for cats. You've done good.

What a handsome beast and purring too!
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:51 PM on December 15, 2011

Everything sounds great, way to go!

If you end up having A Cat, you can take him/her to the vet for a quick check to see if s/he has a microchip. You might be able to ID the owners that way. Hopefully the vet will also be able to tell you if kitty has been neutered or not.

Vet visits aren't that expensive for simple checkups, btw, and you can always ask beforehand how much they'll charge. I imagine if it's just to check a lost cat, no shots or meds, it could even be free (some vets are awesome like that), in any case cheap.

But hopefully this will be a best-case scenario and you'll have given a warm and snuggly place to a neighbor's gorgeous cat for the night :)
posted by fraula at 11:55 PM on December 15, 2011

If he belongs to someone, I do hope they come and claim them.

But in the absence of a collar and given his chances in a shelter, sometimes cats just find their person. I hope you are very happy together. Updates please!
posted by dmt at 12:37 AM on December 16, 2011

Was also stopping by to say that any vet will check for a microchip for free!
posted by jbenben at 4:11 AM on December 16, 2011

What a cute cat! I hope you find his owner. I just wanted to say that I live in an apartment and my cat has no idea which door is ours.

When I take him to the vet I let him out of the bag as we walk up the stairs and he tries every door which is in the same position as mine and I have to carry him away from them until we get to the right floor.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 4:16 AM on December 16, 2011

Was also stopping by to say that any vet will check for a microchip for free!

How did we not remember to mention this sooner? jbenben is totally right -- to expand a bit since it sounds like you've never had a cat before: many owned cats have a tiny (rice-grain sized) RFID microchip encoded with owner information, which can help. Scanning for these is simple and free.

If the cat has no collar, nobody claims him, and he isn't chipped, he's probably yours. In that case, assuming you do want to keep him, a quick vet check-up makes sense; cats are pretty low-maintenance pets, but you'll want someone to rule out any obvious issues.

Otherwise, you'll be helping to reunite a very handsome cat with his/her owner, which will certainly be warmly appreciated.
posted by ellF at 5:24 AM on December 16, 2011

Discovered this thread too late, so I'm chipping in with a couple factoids for future Good Samiaritans:

* shredded newspaper makes good litterbox material in a pinch.

* Cats are carnivores, so no on the seitan. But Fancy Feast is just fine. Hell, the cheap stuff is fine for one night. As for "people food," straight tuna may not be a good idea if anyone's tempted to try that (it made my own cat throw up once), but all-meat baby food works. (Make sure it's meat and only meat, though -- no "chicken-and-carrot-stew" or anything like that. Just the ham-in-a-blender kind of stuff.)

* And no on the milk. That can also cause upset stomachs sometimes.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:52 AM on December 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

As far as neutering goes: every time I've had a cat fixed the vet has put a small tattoo on its belly -- I actually thought it was standard practice. It's possible for a boy cat to have little balls due to a medical condition; if you find a tattoo you can be sure.
posted by frobozz at 5:56 AM on December 16, 2011

Response by poster: We have a happy ending: Cat is actually Apollo, and does indeed belong to the neighbor whose door he was hanging out in front of most. He's got two cat brothers, and managed to slip out unnoticed when my neighbor was returning from her company Christmas party last night. When he wasn't on her bed pawing at her this morning, she got worried, but walked into the hall and immediately saw my flyer. Apollo (with a little coaxing) trotted out to meet her, and is safely back home.
posted by Ash3000 at 6:32 AM on December 16, 2011 [61 favorites]

As a multiple cat (and dog) owner, I love this thread so much!!

Thank you, Ash3000, for being a mensch! I am lighting a candle for you this weekend. :)
posted by mccxxiii at 7:15 AM on December 16, 2011

Apollo is a great name for such a handsome kitty! I just wanted to check in and say, I'm so glad you found his person, and I think keeping him overnight should give you at least once-a-week visitation rights for a purry fuzzy petfest, if you want to take that up with your neighbor. :D
posted by WidgetAlley at 7:33 AM on December 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well, rescue of one cat successfully completed. You clearly enjoyed spending time with him. Given that awful 2% stat upthread, how about another rescue from a shelter?

(Can you tell I'm itching to get a cat!)
posted by dmt at 8:15 AM on December 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Happy ending! Thanks for the update. I bet your neighbor was very grateful.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:59 AM on December 16, 2011

I love this thread! Well done, Ash, and I hope you enjoyed your impromptu pet sitting. I'm sure both Apollo and his owner appreciate your kindness. :)
posted by Falwless at 9:03 AM on December 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

In the spirit of holiday neighborliness, buy your neighbor a collar and a tag for Apollo!
posted by SuperSquirrel at 9:30 AM on December 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Great job, you're the best. Cats are amazing in case you decide to get one. They're best in pairs, IMO.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 10:15 AM on December 16, 2011

Well done all around!!

Not only did you do a good deed and make a furry friend (and perhaps the furry's owner, too,) but you followed the rules and posted a picture of the cat!

Now, all further cat question posters, go forth and post cat photos!
posted by BlueHorse at 8:19 PM on December 16, 2011

Response by poster: Extra happy ending: Apollo's owner came by this evening with a bottle of Bordeaux, and brought up a package that had been delivered for my girlfriend downstairs. We also learned that Apollo has visited this apartment many times before, when the tenants before us lived here. No wonder he warmed up to the place so quickly! We handed over the remaining Fancy Feast (I had gotten 3 cans) and litter.

I have to say, I don't think this whole thing could have turned out any better.
posted by Ash3000 at 9:28 PM on December 16, 2011 [10 favorites]

Allow me to anthropomorphize Apollo for a moment: "Wow, I really like what you've done with the space here! Very nice! I'll just hang out here for a bit, don't mind me..."

So glad this turned out well!
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:28 PM on December 16, 2011

I was going to watch a sappy Christmas movie this morning, but this thread fits the bill so much better!! A holiday miracle indeed :)
posted by sarahsynonymous at 8:19 AM on December 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just chiming in to say I love this thread.
posted by Jezebella at 7:55 PM on December 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Update: thanks, largely to this thread, I adopted a cat! Thanks Mefi, another mouth to feed... My four year old and I couldn't be happier with our new friend.
posted by dmt at 1:57 PM on March 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

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