Charlotte Community Cats: Strays | Humane Society of Charlotte (2023)

Charlotte Community Cats: Strays | Humane Society of Charlotte (1)

At the Humane Society of Charlotte, our goal is to support all four-legged members of our community. Typically, this means finding our whiskered friends kind and compassionate fur-ever homes.

But stray and feral felines, also called “community cats,” have different needs. These felines thrive outdoors and, depending on their level of socialization, may be too afraid of people for adoption to be an option.

Below, we discuss our Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program. Through this program, stray and feral cats in Charlotte can receive the care they deserve.

If you have any questions about TNR services at the Humane Society of Charlotte, call 704-333-4130 or send an email to

Jump Ahead

  • What Is a Community Cat?
  • How Can You Tell if a Cat Is Feral, Stray, or a Pet?
  • Our Charlotte Trap-Neuter-Return Program
  • Benefits of TNR
  • How To Help Stray and Feral Cats in Charlotte
  • Can I Get Rid of Stray Cats or Keep Them Out of My Yard?
  • I Found a Kitten. What Should I Do?
  • Stray Cats In Charlotte FAQs

What Is a Community Cat?

Charlotte Community Cats: Strays | Humane Society of Charlotte (2)

Community cats are unowned felines that roam outdoors. Though community cats may have a neighborhood caretaker who feeds them, these kitties are typically either stray or feral.

Though some people consider community cats a nuisance, they are not a threat to public health. Research shows that stray and feral cats don’t spread diseases like rabies and toxoplasmosis. In fact, felines rarely carry diseases that can make humans sick.

If anything, stray and feral cats serve their communities. As instinctive hunters, these kitties provide natural vermin control as they target mice, rats, and other small rodents.

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Though the terms “stray” and “feral” are often used interchangeably, there are key differences.

How Can You Tell if a Cat Is Feral, Stray, or a Pet?

You can tell the difference between feral, stray, and pet cats by observing the animal’s demeanor and physical appearance.

Feral Cats

A feral cat is an unsocialized outdoor cat who has had limited physical contact with humans. Most feral cats are fearful of people and are very unlikely to become indoor pets.

These felines may:

  • Seek hiding spots when approached by people
  • Crawl, crouch, or stay low to the ground
  • Avoid eye contact
  • Remain quiet; no meowing or purring
  • Lash out if cornered
  • Have a clean, well-kept coat

Stray Cats

A stray cat is a feline who was socialized at some point in its life. Under the right circumstances, a stray cat can become an indoor pet again. Since stray cats have experienced some degree of human socialization in the past, they are generally friendlier than feral felines.

These cats may:

  • Approach people, homes, and cars
  • Make eye contact
  • Walk with their tail high in the air
  • Meow or “answer” your voice
  • Appear dirty or disheveled
  • Allow limited petting

Pet Cats

Pet cats may exhibit behavior similar to strays. However, since these felines are more socialized, they are more likely to approach you and be accepting of touch. They may also be more vocal.

Our Charlotte Trap-Neuter-Return Program

The best way to help stray and feral cats in Charlotte live longer, healthier lives is through our Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program. TNR is a non-lethal strategy for managing community cat populations.

Charlotte Community Cats: Strays | Humane Society of Charlotte (3)

This program involves:

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  • Humanely trapping community cats
  • Spaying or neutering cats
  • Vaccinating cats against rabies and other diseases
  • Surgically removing the tip of one ear (“ear-tipping”)
  • Returning the cats to the location where they were trapped

The Humane Society of Charlotte provides TNR surgeries at a reduced rate of $35 per cat. We are offering community cat spay/neuter surgeries by appointment.

Schedule a TNR Appointment

What Is Ear-Tipping?

While a community cat is under anesthesia for spaying/neutering, the veterinarian will remove the tip of the left ear. This is called ear-tipping, and it is a universally-recognized sign of a community cat who has been spayed or neutered.

Ear-tipping is extremely safe and humane. Since the cat is under anesthesia, they don’t experience any pain. The tipped ear also saves the cat the stress of being trapped a second time.

Of course, just because you see a cat with an intact left ear doesn’t mean it needs to be spayed or neutered. Some cats in your neighborhood may have a home and may have already been sterilized.

Benefits of TNR

TNR improves the quality of life for both stray and feral cats in Charlotte while minimizing any nuisances experienced by their human neighbors. It also helps animal welfare agencies better allocate resources and provide care to animals with the greatest need.

The benefits of this program, for each of these groups, include:

For Cats

  • Relieves animals of the constant stress of mating and pregnancy
  • Improves cats’ coats and helps them maintain a healthy weight
  • Reduces susceptibility to infectious diseases like rabies
  • Helps cats live longer, healthier lives

For Neighbors

  • Diminishes the size of cat colonies since sterilized cats can’t reproduce
  • Eliminates annoying mating behavior (e.g. roaming, yowling, spraying, fighting)
  • Saves taxpayer money by eliminating the need for animal control efforts

For Animal Shelters

  • Reduces shelter intake volume
  • Allows organizations to allocate resources to animals with the greatest need
  • Mitigates the risk of owned animals being added to the shelter population

How To Help Stray and Feral Cats in Charlotte

Charlotte Community Cats: Strays | Humane Society of Charlotte (4)

If you notice a stray or feral cat prowling outside your Charlotte home, what should you do?

Step 1: Look for an Ear-Tip

If the tip of the cat’s left ear is missing, it is a community cat that has already been sterilized. If the ear is still intact, move to step two.

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Step 2: Schedule An Appointment for TNR

We expect appointments to be in high demand, please ensure you are able to schedule an appointment before attempting to trap. Click here to schedule.

Step 3: Rent a Cat Trap

If you don’t have access to a humane cat trap, you can rent one through the Humane Society of Charlotte.

Trap rentals are available Monday through Wednesday between the hours of 9:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. The trap rental fee is $10 for 14 days.

Note that though the rental fee may be paid with cash, a credit card is needed to complete the trap rental agreement. If the trap is not returned by the agreed-upon date, a trap replacement fee of $80 will be applied to the card on file.

Step 4: Set the Trap

Place the trap in a quiet, hidden, and climate-controlled area. To lure the cat into the trap, use extra smelly treats like wet food or canned fish. For best results, read our stray cat trapping guidelines. Please do not attempt to trap a cat more than two days before your appointment.

Note: DO NOT set the trap on hot days or during extreme weather. A cat can die from hypothermia or heat stroke.

Step 5: Spay/Neuter Services

If and when you do catch the cat, cover the trap with a large towel or sheet to calm the kitty down. Then, bring the cat in the trap to the Humane Society of Charlotte on the day of your scheduled appointment.

Step 6: Release the Cat

When the cat has recovered from the sterilization surgery, release it in the same place you trapped it. Be sure to point the trap away from dangers like busy streets.

Can I Get Rid of Stray Cats or Keep Them Out of My Yard?

If a community cat is digging in your trash or leaving paw prints on your car, there are simple steps you can take to modify the stray or feral cat’s behavior.

For example, you may consider:

  • Securing your trash can lids with bungee cords
  • Scattering fragrant items like coffee grounds and orange peels in your garden
  • Installing underpinning (e.g. lattice, chicken wire) around your porch
  • Spraying areas with white vinegar to eliminate the strong scent of cat urine
  • Renting humane deterrents, such as motion-activated sprinklers or audible devices, from Charlotte Mecklenburg Animal Care and Control

Though these methods may deter felines from entering your yard, TNR is the most effective way to reduce the number of stray and feral cats living in your neighborhood.

I Found a Kitten. What Should I Do?

If you find a stray or feral kitten outside your Charlotte home, your first reaction may be to take it inside or call your local animal shelter. However, removing vulnerable kittens from their environment isn’t always the best decision because their mother may be nearby.

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To determine what to do if you find kittens, answer each of the questions below:

Do the kittens appear ill or injured?

If yes, contact a veterinary clinic or Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Animal Care & Control at 311 (or 704-336-7600 if you’re outside Mecklenburg County).

Are the kittens at least two months old?

At two months old, a kitten will eat on their own, have good coordination, and weigh about two pounds. If the kittens are of age and friendly, you can try to find them loving fur-ever homes. If the kittens are still young, leave the cats and periodically check to see if the mother returns.

Is the mother around?

If the mother returns within a few hours, she’s taking good care of her kittens. You can help by providing mom and babies with food and a dry, clean shelter.

Once the kittens have been weaned and can eat wet food, you can bring them into your home and prepare them for adoption. You can also attempt to trap the mother for TNR surgery.

If the mother never returns, the kittens are likely orphaned and will need round-the-clock care. In this case, contact Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Animal Care & Control at 311 (or 704-336-7600 if you’re outside Mecklenburg County).

Stray Cats in Charlotte FAQs

Is it safe for cats to live outside?

Outdoor cats are exposed to many dangers, from traffic to predators to disease. However, some feral cats in Charlotte thrive outdoors. Since living outside is all they know, transitioning to a traditional home setting would be very stressful.

Are community cats dangerous?

Generally, no. Though some community cats will scratch or bite if cornered, they tend to avoid human contact. Research also suggests that stray and feral cats rarely carry germs that could make a person sick.

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Can you adopt a community cat?

It depends. Feral cats with no previous human contact are very unlikely to become pets. However, stray cats can become pets if given the time to reacclimate to humans. You can also look on our site if you’d like to adopt a cat in Charlotte.


What to do if you find a stray cat in Charlotte NC? ›

If you believe you found a lost cat, you must contact Animal Control to report your find.

How do you tell if a cat is stray or owned? ›

Overall Appearance

Their coat should be neat, clean and well kept. They also normally have a collar. A stray is a cat that is lost or ran away from home so they normally have unkept or grungy coats compared to feral cats They should also be thinner since they don't know or aren't used to hunting for themselves.

What is the difference between feral and community cats? ›

What is the difference between a stray cat and a feral cat? Pet and stray cats are socialized to people. Feral cats are not socialized to people. While they are socialized to their feline family members and bonded to each other, they do not have that same relationship with people.

What to do if a stray cat has kittens in your yard? ›

Never put yourself in danger.

If a stray cat has just had kittens, it may be best to leave them for a few days. If anyone tries to move them, the mother may reject or even kill the kittens. After a few days, she'll move them anyway once she realises you know where they are.

What can you do about a lot of Stray cats? ›

How to Help Stray Cats
  1. Give Them Shelter. Feral cats need a space where they can escape the rain and extreme temperatures of winter and summer. ...
  2. Feed Them. ...
  3. Quench Their Thirst. ...
  4. Contact a Rescue Group Practicing Trap-Neuter-Return. ...
  5. Determine if Cats are Actually Homeless. ...
  6. Consider Finding a Home for a Stray.

Should I take in a Stray cat? ›

So, if the cat is apparently healthy and in good condition, it's probably best to leave her alone; don't attempt to catch her and take her to a shelter or pound. However, if the cat appears to be in poor health or you are unsure what to do, it's best to contact your local animal welfare organisation for advice.

Is it OK to take a stray cat home? ›

In some cases, cats are sadly abandoned by their owners and may not be welcome in their original home. If you would like to keep the cat, you usually can. As long as the cat is comfortable in your home and happy to make it theirs, there really are no restrictions.

Do stray cats pick their owners? ›

Today, many stray cats that roam freely throughout their imaginary territories of about 200 acres each choose their families the same way. Many of them are fed by different families for years until they select the one who provides the safest place and the most comfortable conditions.

What does it mean when a stray cat comes to your house? ›

This means there is a very good chance you will have a close encounter with the feline kind if you haven't already. If you find a stray cat hanging around your house, or trying to gain access inside, it is more than likely looking for a safe haven with food, water, and a little bit of TLC.

What does it mean when a feral cat meows at you? ›

There are actually a number of reasons. Cats meow as a way of greeting you, to demand attention, to ask for food, to be let inside or outside, to find a mate (for cats who are not fixed), or if they are elderly and suffering from mental confusion, such as a result of the cat version of Alzheimer's Disease.

What is a friendly feral cat called? ›

Community Cats and Cat Colonies

Community cats are free-roaming cats that live outdoors and do not have an owner. These cats can be feral or friendly, young or old, sick or healthy. If a cat lives outside but has an owner, it is not considered a community cat.

Can a feral cat become a house pet? ›

You may have a chance of taming or domesticating a feral kitten. However, it's not generally recommended to tame a feral cat — and it's usually not possible to tame an adult one. Feral cats aren't used to human contact, and they probably won't ever be as docile and friendly as a domesticated cat.

Does feeding a stray cat make it yours? ›

If a keeper or caretaker has given a feral cat food and water every day for several years and has provided the animal with periodic veterinary care, that person is more likely to be viewed as an owner than a person who has merely fed a feral cat once a day for six months.

Will a stray mother cat abandon her kittens if you touch them? ›

It is a common misconception that a mother cat will not care for her kittens if they are touched, but don't worry she doesn't mind. However, don't be surprised if they're moved the next time you check on them! If you find neonatal kittens the best thing to do is leave them alone! Mom will most likely come back.

What happens if you take a stray cat to the vets? ›

Taking Your Stray Cat to the Vet

The vast majority of veterinarians will require you to use a cat carrier when bringing any cat to the vet. This helps ensure safety and security for all involved. Phillips recommends putting food in the crate or cat carrier. “First, just let the cat eat in the carrier for a few days.

What smell do cats hate? ›

As a general rule, cats are sensitive when it comes to smells, but there are a few scents they hate that might just surprise you. They can't stand citrus and as much as you might love the smell of fresh herbs, cats hate rosemary and thyme. Banana and mustard are a big no-no too, as well as lavender and eucalyptus.

What can I spray on my porch to keep cats away? ›

Humane deterrents are the best approach.... Smells that repel cats: To keep cats out of yards or gardens, plant the herb rue or sprinkle dried rue. Citrus or lemon scents (orange peels, lemon peels), garlic, ammonia, vinegar, coffee grinds, pipe tobacco, mustard, citronella, or eucalyptus all deter cats as well.

What is the lifespan of a feral cat? ›

What diseases do stray cats carry? ›

Free-roaming cats are an important source of zoonotic diseases including rabies, Toxoplasma gondii, cutaneous larval migrans, tularemia and plague.

What diseases do stray cats carry to humans? ›

The three most common protozoal diseases in cats and humans are cryptosporidiosis, giardiasis, and toxoplasmosis. Cryptosporidiosis can cause diarrhea, vomiting, fever, abdominal cramps, and dehydration in both cats and people.

Can I get fleas from petting a stray cat? ›

While it is possible that fleas and their eggs could be spread in an area by a stray cat (and then latch onto your pets), it is equally possible for fleas to spread from one pet to another at a dog park or through exposure to other animals – wild or domesticated.

Should you touch stray cats? ›

You can try extending your hand slowly and gently, but don't try to pet him. Let him approach and sniff your hand. He may sniff your hand and then rub it with his head, which is an invitation for a gentle pet. Remember, a stray cat that trusts you one day may not have the same level of trust the next.

Is it bad to relocate stray cats? ›

Relocation should only be considered as an absolute last resort, when the cats' lives are in danger unless you act. Cats are territorial and form strong bonds with their outdoor homes, so relocation is extremely stressful and riskyfor the cats AND for you.

Are stray cats traumatized? ›

Unfortunately, street cats can face trauma and abuse that cats in loving homes do not. “Friendly cats that are on the streets, unlike ferals, will approach people for food,” Cross says.

Do stray cats get lonely? ›

Cats are social creatures by nature. The reason we say only some cats get lonely is because many have solitary survival instincts that kick in as an adult. Sadly, many cats live alone in the wild, but they are equipped to do so.

How do you know if a feral cat trusts you? ›

You will know when kitty's trust is growing. She will play, she will watch you with interest and not fear, she will come close and even touch and smell you. To get her ready for that first real petting, let her get used to your hand being close to her and moving toward her.

How do you know if a feral cat likes you? ›

Does Your Cat Trust You? Watch for These Signs!
  1. They love spending time with you! ...
  2. Your cat gives you the love blink. ...
  3. Your cat kneads you. ...
  4. Your cat rubs their face on you. ...
  5. The upside down cat. ...
  6. Grooming you. ...
  7. Your cat says hello. ...
  8. Your cat talks to you.

Why do stray cats cry like babies at night? ›

Cats tend to be most active at dusk and dawn. So they may well cry from boredom if they have nothing to occupy them at these times. This is especially true of cats who are outdoor cats but are kept inside at night.

What do feral cats do all day? ›

Some strays seek companionship and shelter in a colony, but many will look to humans to provide for them. To eat, these outdoor cats will hunt small game, pick through garbage, raid dog food dishes, and beg from humans.

What are the benefits of having a feral cat? ›

Community and feral cats may offer several benefits, including possibly decreasing isolation and offering a sense of purpose for the people who care for them, helping to control rodent populations, while stabilizing the cat population, and providing a sense of community.

Do feral cats purr? ›

The Feral Feline

Even though they are able to purr, scientists have discovered that it's not uncommon for feral cats not to purr. One theory as to why feral cats are more likely to be non-purrers than domestic cats is that wild cat mothers discourage purring in their kittens to prevent them from attracting predators.

Can you train a feral cat to use a litter box? ›

Recently homed feral and stray cats may have to be actively trained to use a box filled with clay litter, especially if they have been imprinted on something else. While some strays catch on quickly, others don't. Try a fine-grained sand-type litter rather than gravel-textured clay.

Will a feral cat be happy inside? ›

Most cats can learn to be happy indoor family members. Feral and strays from shelters have adapted to indoor living for years.

Can feral cats survive winter? ›

Yes, their thickened winter coats help feral and stray cats weather winter's chill, but they still need warm, dry, well-insulated and appropriate-sized shelters.

Do feral cats get attached to humans? ›

This type of animal has spent a long time in the wild and will be very wary of ever accepting human contact. If you can socialize a totally-feral cat, that cat will likely develop a deeply devoted bond with you, and you only, and you may want to consider keeping this cat as your pet.

Do stray cats get attached to one person? ›

It's part of their lingering wildness, and if they were strays, it's sometimes part of their emotional baggage. Trusting one human being is difficult enough for many cats — trusting more than one is overwhelming. But there are other possible explanations why some cats attach to only one person.

Do stray cats remember people who feed them? ›

However, most stray cats remember that humans feed them and try to stay near homes, carports, and other areas where people concentrate. When a regular caretaker notices a stray cat that is friendly, it is recommended to take the cat to a veterinarian to scan for a possible microchip.

What is the fading kitten syndrome? ›

What is “Fading Kitten Syndrome”? Fading kitten syndrome, sometimes referred as “failure to thrive”, describes a kitten that “crashes”, suddenly becoming ill or unresponsive, even if it was previously healthy.

Do cats get sad when you take their kittens away? ›

If kittens are removed before the age of 10 weeks and before they are fully weaned, this behavior from the mother cat may persist a bit longer, but not by much as she's instinctually programmed to leave her litter and cats do not "remember" or "grieve" for kittens in the way that a human parent would.

What does it mean when a stray cat brings you her kittens? ›

If a feral or stray cat is bringing kittens to you, that means she trusts you and must think quite highly of you.

What is the difference between a stray cat and a feral cat? ›

What is the difference between a stray cat and a feral cat? Pet and stray cats are socialized to people. Feral cats are not socialized to people. While they are socialized to their feline family members and bonded to each other, they do not have that same relationship with people.

How do you know if a stray cat has a disease? ›

Cats that are ill will usually show changes in overall appearance, energy level, sociability, coat appearance and/or amount of shedding, appetite, litterbox usage, breathing, or discharges from the eyes or nose. In general, any sudden change should alert you that your cat needs veterinary attention.

What to do if a stray cat comes into your house? ›

If you find a stray cat, you should first attempt to find their owner. You can keep the cat safe until you do so by offering them shelter and food, but you should get them scanned for a microchip and check any lost and found pages online first.

How do you get a stray cat back home? ›

Start by leaving a strong-smelling cat food, like one with tuna, outside where you've seen the cat. Try to put the food out at the same time every day, and watch from a distance to see if she eats it. You may need to watch through a window from inside your home at first.

How do you get a stray cat to bring you her kittens? ›

Keep them together in a confined area with a box or other shelter inside this area where the mom cat can hide (if she is feral). The kittens will come out to see you and the mom cat will hide in the box/carrier. Handle the kittens daily to get them used to people and then put them back with mom.

Why does a stray cat keep coming to my porch? ›

As mentioned before, a stray cat may come to your house because it needs shelter, food or water. To keep yourself, and your pets safe, there are a few things you should do when a stray arrives at your front door.

What does it mean when a cat keeps coming in your yard? ›

Domestic cats, feral cats, and homeless strays may wander into your yard or garden due to curiosity, mating, hunting, feeding, and establishing territory. Some may be looking for a new place to call home.

What does it mean when a stray cat meows at you? ›

There are actually a number of reasons. Cats meow as a way of greeting you, to demand attention, to ask for food, to be let inside or outside, to find a mate (for cats who are not fixed), or if they are elderly and suffering from mental confusion, such as a result of the cat version of Alzheimer's Disease.

Can a stray cat be friendly? ›

Some stray cats will be friendly right off the bat, but with others, it may take time and patience to establish trust. “If a cat is not comfortable with humans, they will mostly scratch or bite if you attempt to handle them.

Is it safe to feed stray cats? ›

Should I feed a stray cat? Feeding a stray cat will likely make it your cat. Scared and lost cats will enjoy coming back to your home as a source of food. We strongly recommend going beyond feeding stray cats and reaching out to a veterinarian and no-kill shelter to ensure the cat is healthy and safe.

How long does it take for a stray cat to trust you? ›

It may take up to 4 weeks for the cats to ultimately feel comfortable. The more feral the cat, the longer this process can take, as a less-socialized cat will take longer to bond to a new person and place.

How far do cats travel from home? ›

Male wanderers tend to stay within a territory of about 150 acres, while females stay closer to home, roaming only about 40 acres. This means that your average male cat is likely to stay within 1500 feet of home, while your average female tends not to go much farther than 75 yards from your door.

Is it safe to bring home a stray kitten? ›

Provide mom and her kittens with food, a dry and clean shelter, and continue to monitor their well-being. Once the kittens are able to eat wet food on their own, around 4-5 weeks old, you can bring them into your home to provide foster care and prepare them for adoption*.

Should you take kittens from a feral cat? ›

5-6 weeks is the optimal age to take the kittens from a feral Mama Cat for socialization and adoption placement, and any time after 8 weeks for Trap-Neuter-Return (spay/neuter, vaccination, eartip, and return to their colony). For kittens of friendly cats, they should remain with Mama Cat until at least 8-10 weeks old.


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