Cats have been domesticated for thousands of years, but some domestic cats return to a wild or feral state and end up as strays. Stray cats have to fend for themselves, finding food, water and shelter on their own.

But sometimes a stray cat will decide to adopt a particular person or family as their new owner. So do stray cats actually choose who they want to be their new owners? Let’s take a deeper look at the behavior and motivations of stray cats to find out.

If you’re short on time, here’s the quick answer: Stray cats do exhibit behaviors indicating they are choosing who they want to be their new owners, based on who provides food, shelter and care. Stray cats looking for an owner will return to and hang around homes where they’ve been fed and welcomed.

How Stray Cats Choose Where to Live

Looking for food and shelter

Stray cats, just like any other animal, have basic needs that must be met for survival. Food, water and shelter top the list. When a stray cat is looking for a place to call home, their first priority is finding locations that can provide these essentials.

They will explore neighborhoods, investigating any potential sources of food like trash bins or feeding stations. Buildings with overhangs, sheds, decks or crawlspaces become ideal shelter options. Stray cats are resourceful and will remember spots that meet their needs.

Once they find a location with accessible food and a sheltered spot to rest, stray cats tend to stick to these areas.

Returning to locations where needs are met

Stray cats display loyalty to locations where kind residents provide food, water or outdoor shelter. Once fed by a caring human, stray cats often return day after day. By regularly visiting the same houses, the stray cats forge a bond with that family.

The more dependably the cats’ needs are met at a certain home, the more likely they are to lurk around waiting for handouts. People who construct outdoor shelters or insulated cat houses give the strays refuge from the elements and a warm, dry place to rest.

The cats come to rely on these designated houses for their continued health and survival. They will patiently wait nearby, trusting their caregivers to provide essential provisions.

Exhibiting friendly behavior

While some strays remain aloof, others will gradually start to exhibit friendly behavior towards their benefactors. After becoming accustomed to kind residents, stray cats may approach them for attention.

Rubbing against legs, nudging hands, meowing or purring are signs they consider that person a friend. The more time a stray cat spends around the home of a caring resident, the more their trust builds. They recognize the address and associate it with having their needs consistently met.

The cats initiate contact and seem eager to get pets or treats when the resident is present. Their preferential treatment leads the stray cat to choose that home as their own territory. While cats are selective, their affection and loyalty can be won through patience, caregiving and respect.

Signs a Stray Cat Has Chosen You

Hanging around your home

One of the clearest signs a stray cat has chosen you is that it starts hanging around your home. Stray cats are naturally quite wary of humans, so if one feels comfortable enough to linger near your house, it means it feels safe around you.

You may notice the cat sunbathing on your porch, peeking in your windows, or brushing up against your legs when you’re gardening. This is a sign it wants to get to know you better!

Rubbing against you

When a cat rubs up against you, this is a way for it to mark you with its scent and claim you as part of its territory. For stray cats that are slow to trust, rubbing is a big sign of affection. If a stray cat starts actively rubbing on your legs when you’re near, especially while purring or kneading, it’s clearly choosing you.

😻 How sweet!

Kneading and purring

Kneading and purring are other giveaways that a stray cat is interested in you. Kneading is when a cat pushes in and out with its front paws, almost like it’s making bread dough. This motion releases calming endorphins and lets the cat mark you with its scent.

Pair kneading with loud purring, and that’s a stray cat giving you a high compliment! It feels extremely content around you.

Grooming in front of you

When cats groom themselves, it signals that they are relaxed and comfortable in their surroundings. If a stray cat starts purposefully grooming itself around you – especially delicate areas like its stomach and hindquarters – that’s a clear vote of confidence.

This vulnerable behavior means the cat feels safe and has chosen you as a protector. Aww! 🥰

Bringing gifts

While humans aren’t always thrilled when cats leave dead mice or birds on their doorstep, this gruesome gesture means a lot in the cat world. By bringing you “gifts” of prey it has hunted, the stray cat is trying to provide for you and teach you to hunt.

This shows it accepts you as part of its family. Make sure to give lots of praise whenever this happens!

How to Bond With a Stray Cat

Offer food regularly

Providing food is one of the best ways to gain a stray cat’s trust. Start by offering smelly, tasty wet food a couple times a day in the same spot. This allows the cat to associate you with something positive. Continue feeding at the same time daily.

Once the cat becomes comfortable with your presence, you can introduce dry food which can be left out at all times.

Provide fresh water

Leaving out a bowl of clean, fresh water shows cats you care about their well-being. Change the water daily to keep it appealing. Provide water in a quiet, sheltered area near where you feed the cat. Cats prefer wide, shallow bowls over narrow, deep ones. Ceramic and stainless steel bowls are best.

Give access to shelter

Giving a stray cat warm, dry shelter is crucial for bonding and gaining their trust. Provide a cardboard box or plastic storage container with a blanket inside, placed in a covered spot like a porch or garage. The shelter should be elevated off cold, wet ground and hidden from view.

Check that the cat is using it, and provide multiple shelters around your property if needed.

Let them adjust at their own pace

Don’t force interaction with a stray cat. Allow them to warm up to you at their own cautious pace. Sit or crouch several feet away while the cat eats, and avoid direct eye contact. Talk softly and move slowly when getting closer. Let the cat sniff your hand before attempting to pet.

With time and consistency, the cat will learn to trust and feel comfortable around you.

Be calm and patient

Bonding with a stray takes immense patience. Some cats take weeks or months to let their guard down and show affection. Avoid sudden movements and loud noises which may frighten them. Remain calm if the cat hisses or swats at first.

With regular care and kind treatment, the cat will eventually seek out your company.

Pet gently after they initiate

Allow the stray cat to initiate contact before you attempt petting. When the cat brushes up against you, extends its neck, or pushes its head into your hand, it’s giving permission to be petted. Start by gently stroking their head, chin and cheeks.

Avoid sensitive areas like the stomach, ears and paws until fully trusted. Petting releases oxytocin, strengthening the human-cat bond.

Considerations Before Adopting a Stray Cat

Check for identification

The first step when encountering a stray cat is to check if it has any identification, such as a collar with tags. This provides information about the cat’s name and owner. If identification is present, attempt to contact the owner.

According to the American Humane Society, over 90% of lost cats who enter shelters without ID are not reunited with their families. Having proper ID on a cat’s collar is crucial.

Have them scanned for a microchip

If the stray cat lacks identification, the next vital step is to take it to an animal shelter or veterinary clinic to get scanned for a microchip. A microchip is a small implant placed under the cat’s skin that contains registration information.

Over 52% of microchipped lost cats who enter shelters are successfully returned to their families. Getting the cat scanned can help get a lost pet back home.

Check with local shelters

In addition to scanning for a microchip, checking with local animal shelters about the stray cat is important. Provide shelters details about when and where you found the cat. Shelters may have records of lost cat reports that match the description of the stray you encountered.

Regularly checking shelter lost pet lists and notifying them if you find a stray cat can help locate potential owners.

Evaluate if you can provide proper care

If attempts to locate an owner are unsuccessful, the next consideration is evaluating if you can provide a good home for the stray cat. Important factors include being able to supply nutritious food, clean water, warm shelter/bedding, affection, exercise through play, and being able to arrange both routine and emergency veterinary care.

Cats also require safety from hazards, weather protection, and stimulation. Analyze your household and schedule to determine if adopting is viable.

Be prepared for medical expenses

Finally, adopting a stray cat means being financially and emotionally ready for any medical issues they may have. Strays often lack preventative veterinary care. Spaying/neutering, dental issues, parasites, wounds, viruses, or chronic conditions may need initial or ongoing treatment.

Begin with an exam, testing, and age-appropriate vaccinations. Having pet insurance or an emergency medical savings fund helps cover unpredictable expenses down the road. Providing good medical care improves strays’ health and wellbeing.


In conclusion, healthy stray cats are highly motivated to find a new home and will make choices about where and with whom to settle down based on their needs being met. By offering food, shelter, gentle care and patience, you may find yourself being chosen by a stray cat looking for a permanent home and human companion.

So if you see a stray cat that keeps coming around your home looking for handouts and affection, it likely has made the decision that it wants you to be its new owner. Take some time to make sure it doesn’t already have an owner, then enjoy being selected by your new furry friend!

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