How to Approach and Help a Stray Animal

This time on the Acoma Animal Clinic blog we are looking at something only a smidge outside the norm from our usual pieces. You see, usually when we’re blogging up a storm over here we are looking at the best ways to keep your pets healthy and the things surrounding them, this time however we are going to look at those less fortunate. Everyone has had an experience with a stray animal, not everyone knows how best to approach the situation!

How to Help a Stray Animal

Don’t Cause Any Accidents

The first thing you need to do is be sure that you are safe. Whether you are having to cross into a street or you are driving when you encounter the stray animal, make sure you don’t cause any accidents. Pull your car over completely, put on your hazards, or wait for the traffic to clear before attempting to help the stray.

Approaching A Stray Animal

Approaching a stray animal, safely depends on the type of animal. Cats and dogs both respond to different things in different ways.

Approaching a Stray Dog

Look for Aggression

Be on the look out for aggression. An aggressive dog will display certain body language cues indicating what is on its mind, including:

  • Eyes look larger than normal
  • Ears up and forward, alert
  • Lips pulled back baring teeth
  • Hair standing on the back
  • A stiff tail, it may have a slow wag

A dog may display any, all, or even in some rare cases none of these so if you suspect it may be aggressive for any reason, do not approach the stray dog.

Avoid Prolonged Eye Contact

Dogs understand prolonged eye contact as a form of domination, or asserting yourself above them in the hierarchy, a challenge to their status. To them these means you want to fight. When approach a strange, stray animal, instead look to one side of the dog or alternate where you are looking so as not to taunt them into aggression or scare them away!

Get the Dog’s Attention

Speak to the dog softly, or make simple soft clicking noises with your tongue. This will get the dog’s attention focused on you, ensuring you don’t spook them as you approach. A startled dog may run or get aggressive and attack.

Approach Slowly

When you have the dog’s attention, approach slowly preferably from a low, crouched position. Appearing smaller than you are will help ease the fear in the animal, though don’t go so far as to get on your hands and knees (that will only make it more difficult for you to react if the dog should flee or get defensive and attack).  In your approach, only get to within 10-15 of the animal and then stop.

When you are a short distance away, allow the dog to approach you. Call for it in a soothing voice, reach a handout, palm down to show that you are friendly. You can pat the ground in front of your or offer a treat or food.

Note: Remember to keep your cool! If at any point the dog begins to snarl or bares its teeth simply back away slowly. Running away could incite the dog to chase and bite. Don’t make eye contact and move slowly!

Watch For Rabies

Look for the tell-tale signs of rabies. If a dog is restless, aggressive, foams at the mouth, seems disorientated or having seizures, it very well may be suffering from rabies. Rabies can spread incredibly easily from bites so if you for any reason think the stray may have it, call a professional!

Check Each Other Out

After you’ve approached the dog and have gotten them at ease, let them examine you. They’ll sniff, nudge, and possibly even lick you to see what you are all about. Once the dog has gotten used to your presence you can examine their collar for tags and information if they have any.

Approaching a Stray Cat

Cats are, by nature, not as social as dogs so to even begin to approach one you’ll need to first earn their trust!

Watch for Aggression

Some strays may be aggressive or feral! While a cat that is frightened may hiss or growl, these are usual signs of fear and they may be reacting to all sorts of situations, from fear of you to being outside or away from its owner. If the cat howls, its eyes go larger than usual or its fur stands on end it is getting aggressive.

Note: Most stray cats will walk and behave similarly to house cats, with their tail up. Feral cats however may keep close to the ground, crawling or crouching and covering up their body with their tail. Feral cats also don’t make eye contact, nor will they beg, blink or purr at you. Know the difference in what kind of cat you’re handling.

Leave Out Dry Food

Leaving out a bowl of dry food where the cat can see it is a good start. Stray cats are likely hungry and they will stick around if they know there is a meal in it for them. Put the food somewhere the cat can easily reach and then back away. If you stay too close to the food dish the cat may not engage suspecting something is up. Instead put the food/water down and relax. You can continue to leave out food and water each day until the cat is more comfortable with the area.

Approach Slowly and Quietly

While the cat is eating from the bowl, after it has gotten used to your presence, approach. Talk quietly while you do so, speaking in soft tones so as not to scare the cat. Your goal is show the cat how friendly and non-threatening you are. If the cat gets startled, take a few steps back and allow it to calm down. Repeat as necessary until the cat realizes you are not a threat

Allow the Cat to Approach

If the cat isn’t responding or is running away at the slightest movement, try and let the cat come to you. Sit down or squat a few feet from the food or cat and speak softly. Let the cat know that you are nearby, but remain calm. When the cat is ready and feels safe, they will likely come to you either sitting just out of reach or even rubbing up against your leg. These are sure signs that the cat no longer views you as a possible threat. Progress!

Get Help

No matter the animal, once they trust you and you have gotten ahold of them you need to get help. If the pet has tags then you can call up their owner and get them back to them as soon as possible, if not you’ll want to take them to a vet or rescue shelter. Here they can scan for microchips and hopefully find their owners! If not, it’s possible the stray may have some immediate health needs, depending on the state you’ve found them in.

Be aware, taking pets in like this can cost you some money, so be prepared knowing how far along you are willing to hep this stray recover. If you’re unable to afford any necessary treatments, surrendering them to a rescue may be the best you can to do help, and that’s better than leaving them hurt in the wild.

If you are in the Tucson area and you have found a stray, don’t hesitate to give us a call, our office staff can give you the best advice for your exact situation and help guide you.

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