How and Why to Help the Many Stray Cats in Greece

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You don’t need to spend long in Greece to notice there are lots of cats around. They can make friendly holiday/vacation companions at your favourite taverna and look cute in your snaps at the archaeological sites.

But life isn’t easy for the stray cat population, especially when the tourist season ends. They’re left to fend for themselves, living out of the big garbage/rubbish bins on the street.

Not infrequently, litters of kittens (and puppies) are dumped in the same bins or tied up in bags and drowned in the river. It is not unheard of for mass poisonings to mysteriously take place just before the start of tourist season, either.

A video from when I first came to Naxos

Some Greek cats are lucky enough to be part of a colony of cats that is looked after by local cat lovers. I know of Greek citizens who are able to get food provided by the council, and they create feeding stations in their local area.

Some are accepted and looked after by local businesses.

But what’s more common is for animal lovers, often foreigners living in the country, to fundraise to cover costs and volunteer to help the cats.

The situation is out of control, and there isn’t enough money or volunteers to support all the street cats in Greece. But we do what we can for the cats in our area.

Please take the time to read the information further down the page to understand the situation in Greece and why it’s left to kind-hearted souls to help these poor creatures.

🐈You might also like to read about how you can become a pet sitter and about my cat sit in Naxos.

How You Can Help Greek Cats

You can help our feline friends in several ways, both large and small. You can make a difference whether you’re just visiting for a short time on holiday/vacation or if you’re enjoying an extended stay as a digital nomad or immigrant.

Lots of islands and areas of the country have cat rescue/welfare groups set up. I try and include the information in the relevant guides I create on this site. But I’ll also make a list at the bottom of this post so you can find ones in the area you’re visiting.

Cats roaming the streets of Greece

Donate to Local Welfare Unions and Groups

You can donate money to help the existing organisations cover the cost of cat food and vet bills. Some places also accept food and cat litter donations.

But sometimes, it’s better to donate money. That way, they can put it towards buying suitable items in bulk, which is more cost-effective.

If you want to help from anywhere in the world, you can donate to the cats of Athens in this GoFundMe account I set up. It focuses on helping cats at a shelter I volunteer at in the southern suburbs of Athens.

Take a Stray to Be Neutered

One of the most impactful things you can do is take a cat to the vet during your stay. If there’s a cat welfare association in the area you visit, they’ll help you out with cages and advice for taking the cat to the vet.

Often, it’s volunteers and time that groups are most short of. So by giving a physical helping hand, you’re really making a difference.

Ideally, the cats need to stay in overnight after the procedure, so see if you can accommodate that. Many places, particularly Airbnbs are pet-friendly.

It’s usually ok for the cats to stay in the cage for the night, so theywon’t be roaming about. Sometimes, the vet doing the sterilisation can keep them, and you just go back to collect them in the morning.

It’s great if you can catch and neuter a male cat, but you’ll make an improvement for any cat that you can take.

Little Miss Black with a notch in her ear

Just look out for a marking on the cat’s ears to check whether it’s already been neutered. Sometimes, they have a stamp on the inside of their ear. But more commonly, a little notch or the tip of their ear gets removed to mark sterilised cats.

Take a Sick or Injured Cat to The Vet

While in some areas, local people are sympathetic to feeding strays, they’re often not good at getting involved with sterilisations or addressing sick cats they find. So you could help with this if you see an ill or injured cat.

One of the things you might notice is cat flu. It’s quite common and can be quite serious. It also spreads really quickly around colonies of stray cats.

I took this poorly boy to the vet in Andros. He was treated for flu and sterilised at the same time.

So, if you see a cat with a streaming nose that’s finding it hard to breathe, take it to the vet. If you contact the welfare group locally, they might be able to cover the cost for you.

​Similarly, if you see a cat in a bad way with some other kind of injury or condition, please take it to get medical attention. Sometimes, there are people locally who can foster the animals for a short time after they’ve been treated.

Adopt a Greek Cat

Although there are some feral cats who don’t seem to be used to humans at all, many cats in Greece are somewhat familiar with humans.

If you’ve fallen for a particularly friendly cat on holiday/vacation, you can change its whole world by adopting it and giving it a new life at home with you.

Saw this beauty on the beach in Andros

Unfortunately, it’s not as straightforward as buying a cat carrier and off you go. But as I proved with my rescue kitties from Milos, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

I heard these kittens crying at the side of the road in Milos. I rescued them, bottle-fed them and then looked after them until they were able to leave to be rehomed.

Cats usually need to be chipped and vaccinated against rabies before travelling. (Do this at the same time so the rabies vaccine can be allocated to the chip number.)

Then they have to wait for 21 days before travelling abroad. (Check with your country and state laws, since the issue isn’t them leaving the country, but entering yours.)

Volunteer at a Shelter

If you have some spare time to donate you can also volunteer at a shelter run by a local animal welfare organisation. (Check your right to do so. It’s classed as working even if you’re not getting paid.)

I took scratch pads for the shelter kitties

Since you can’t take cats out for walks, it’s generally better for them to be outside (in colonies for safety). So you won’t find as many cat shelters as there are for dogs. Cats kept at a cat sanctuary should really only be in cages if they’re sick or injured or if they’re tiny kittens.

But there might be one in your area that you can help with. At the one I go to, the tasks involve cleaning the cages, litter trays and bowls then replenshing everything. Plus, giving the cats cuddles and attention.

Feed a Colony

If you’re staying somewhere for ten days or so, you might be able to help out by temporarily feeding a colony. The kind people who do this daily sometimes need a break for a holiday or to travel to the mainland.

You could join the network of volunteers providing food to the street cats of Greece. You can read about my experience of doing this in Paros here.

For those of you staying over the winter who want to help out, you can provide extra food to the community cats in your area. In the harsh winters, providing sufficient food is more important than providing warm shelter.

Help feed stray cats in a colony in Paros with Paroscat

What Doesn’t Help

Sometimes, you come across things at the last minute. I’ve had my share of last-minute scrambles to help animals when I was running late for ferries or leaving an area.

But if you’ve found a cat in need, don’t wait until you’re leaving to let the local groups know about the issue.

As I highlighted above, the struggle is often with having people free to physically go and find or catch the animal. So don’t just dump it on the organisation when you go. Help out as much as you can during your stay, and they’ll do their best to support you.

Why Are There So Many Cats in Greece?

Seeing cats and dogs as pets or “companion animals”, as they say here, is a relatively new concept, so stray animals are common in Greece. Cats tend to be seen as vermin that live on the street.

I’ve had people say to me here they’ve never seen a cat in a house before.

A cat being cared for in Mykonos

This cat lives outside a supermarket

Cats sheltering from the wind in Mykonos

And although there’s a way to go, pet ownership is increasing. More Greek citizens are seeing cats as loving animals instead of pests.

The biggest issue is that the local councils/municipalities generally don’t have ongoing trap, neuter, release programmes to sterilise the street cats. So cat numbers keep increasing since one cat can have several kittens per litter and several litters per lifetime.

It’s frustrating that some islands, like Milos, have nothing in place at all. The government released a lot of money for this purpose and yet, some local authorities don’t seem to be applying for it. (Or if they are, they’re not spending it on the animals.)

Who Is Responsible for Cat Welfare in Greece?

Life on the street is hard for the stray cats of Greece, and the Greek Government is responsible for their welfare. It has a duty and an obligation to feed and care for them, including sterilisation/neutering and treating the ill and injured.

But, in my experience, the vast majority of municipalities shirk their responsibilities on both the mainland and the islands.

Kind locals provided shelters for cats in Tinos

Sometimes, the local councils tick a box and have feeding areas set up for strays in towns. But no one is responsible for the ongoing filling of the containers, so they’re always empty.

Or they do get filled by they’ve been designed really badly, and the dry food gets ruined in the winter by the weather.

In my experience, trying to get the municipalities to fulfil their obligations to the strays is really hard work. Like so many areas, there’s just no leadership.

But we have to look for the good while we fight the wrong, so I do hear the odd good tale. Like, in Tilos, the first zero waste Greek island, where I understand that the mayor, Maria Kamma-Aliferi, is directly involved with feeding a colony of cats.

Greek Cats FAQs

Why are there so many stray cats in Athens Greece?

Cats haven’t traditionally been seen as pets in Greece so they live on the street, multiplying rapidly. As you’ll see from what I’ve written above, there aren’t official measures in place to keep the cat population under control.

Can you stroke stray cats in Greece?

It’s generally safe to stroke stray cats in Greece. Rabies in Greece is pretty much eradicated and almost unheard of now in cats, certainly in the popular tourist areas.

Making friends in Tinos

This cat at Ancient Nemea was having a cuddle when I arrived. You’ll probably come home from Greece with more cat photos than anything else!

Can you feed stray cats in Greece?

Despite any notices you might have seen, you can feed cats dry food anywhere in Greece. But it’s ideal to do so via established feeding stations and colonies. That way, the cat isn’t left in the lurch when you return home.

If you do leave food out, do it somewhere safe. Like, not right on the edge of the road where they might be hit by a car.

My Experience Living in Greece with Cats

When I arrived, I didn’t think I’d manage more than two weeks in the country because there were so many stray cats. I kept seeing them dead on the road. And the living ones were in such a pitiful state it broke my heart.

I rescued a colony of six cats over my first winter in Naxos which whittled down to two. Little Miss Black and Jemima Puddleduck have traipsed around the islands with me until we settled in Athens.

Since then, I’ve continued volunteering at shelters, taking sick cats to the vet, rescuing kittens and fundraising to help more. It’s a drop in the ocean, but at least it’s made a difference in the lives of the few I have been able to help.

List of Cat Welfare Organisations in Greece

This isn’t an exhaustive list and I’ll probably add to it over time but here are some of the main groups by area.

Athens

Nine Lives Greece

Alma Libre – Hellenic Animal Rescue – this is a specialist group that rescues cats stuck in odd places. Like up a telegraph pole, in an inaccessible yard, well or other space. The local fire brigade’s supposed to help too, but these are usually quicker.

Naxos

N.A.W.S

Paros

Paroscat

P.A.W.S

Spetses

Spetses Cares for Animals

Syros

Syros Cats

Tinos

We Live Together

How and Why to Help the Many Stray Cats in Greece

Suzie Young

Suzie writes informative posts for solo, nervous or first-time travellers to Greece, Turkey and other countries on her 50-before-50 bucket list. She became a Greek resident in 2020 and intends to visit every inhabited island (13 down!).

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