By Vicky Anscombe on 01 June 2015

If you’re heading somewhere hot this year, there’s a good chance that your hotel, apartment or villa will have a local cat - maybe even a handful. And if you’re an animal lover, you’ll quickly become attached. You’ll feed them every day, pet them, and leave out water. You may even consider bringing them home.

We’ve spoken to Cats Protection and World Animal Protection about how you can make a difference to stray cats abroad, and what you can do to ensure they’re looked after when you've gone home.

Plenty of tourists are upset by seeing stray cats, and often try to feed/pet them during their stay. Does this do more good than harm? How can tourists make a difference to cats overseas without upsetting local people or encouraging ‘bad behaviour’ in the cats?

Cats Protection: We understand that many animal lovers are affected by the plight of cats abroad, particularly when they go on holiday and witness first-hand the poor conditions that some of these animals are in.

However, we feel that the best way to help these cats is to support organisations which are carrying out work locally, such as neutering programmes, as these are the most effective ways of improving cat welfare in the longer term.

World Animal Protection: Depending on where in the world you're on holiday, from a public health perspective, contact with cats and other animals can be harmful to tourists, especially in areas where rabies is endemic.

Other diseases, like parasites, can also be transmitted by cats - care and consideration should therefore be taken when around stray cats in a new country. To avoid encouraging begging behaviour, don't feed them.

Lots of people feed stray cats meat, milk, and bits out of their fridges, etc. If people are going to feed them, do you recommend they purchase cat food, as opposed to giving them scraps?

Cats Protection: We generally advise people not to feed cats that they think may be strays. In many cases, cats believed to be strays belong to someone local, and the cat may also be on a special diet for health reasons. Many cats are also lactose-intolerant, so it’s not advisable to give them cow’s milk.

If possible, try to take the cat to a nearest veterinary surgery. They should be able to scan the cat for a microchip for free and will try to make contact with the registered owners.

If there is no microchip, then contact local animal welfare charities who can add the cat to their lost and found register.

World Animal Protection: We agree with not feeding cats or giving cow’s milk, as per Cats Protection’s recommendations. Cats tend to remember where they are able to get food from, so if supplied with food by a tourist, this food source disappears - which can lead to starvation. It is therefore better not to feed them.

Taking a cat to the nearest veterinary surgery is a good option - however, not all countries have these facilities readily available. Microchipping and registration may not be common practice either. Cats in these areas may be largely un-owned or semi-owned and speaking to local animal welfare organisations might be of help to see if there are any neutering and education programmes in place.

Many people consider ‘adopting’ stray cats, and bringing them home. Do you encourage this? Is it a tricky process?

World Animal Protection: This can be very tricky, depending on where the cat is to be transported from and to. The UK, for example, has strict entry requirements for animals to prevent the introduction of exotic diseases (more information can be found here). There is at least a 21 day waiting period after the rabies vaccination has been given to enter the UK, and up to 6 months for some countries. This process can also be very costly.

As stated above, in terms of the welfare of the animal and the large number of cats already looking for new homes in the UK, it's better to consider adopting a cat in the UK instead.

Cats Protection: No, it’s not something we encourage. Many cats find the experience of being transported over long distances very stressful, and some can be carrying exotic illnesses which not only affect them as individuals but may be transmitted to resident UK cats.

Each year a number of cats that were adopted overseas are brought to Cats Protection because of their failure to adjust to a new home, climate and environment.

Cats Protection does not put healthy cats to sleep and tries its best to find each one a suitable home, but unwanted cats from overseas add to the thousands of cats which are already in desperate need of a home. We’d urge anyone thinking of adopting a cat to contact us.

Image credit: Flickr, with thanks to Andrey

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