How to help free-roaming cats

Outdoor cats are sometimes owned cats whose owner lets them out. However, many outdoor cats are community cats (feral or stray cats). You can help these cats in different ways.

Stray cats

Stray cats may be friendly and approach you for food or attention. Sometimes, they may be too scared to let you get close. But they will usually eat if you put food down for them. Use caution, since you don't know how these cats will react.

There are many ways you can help these cats.

  • If the cat has identification, try to contact the owner.
  • If you can get the cat into a carrier, take them to a veterinarian or animal shelter to be scanned for a microchip.
  • Contact animal shelters, veterinary offices, and rescue groups to let them know about the cat you've found. Someone may have filed a lost report that is a match for the cat. Try to take a picture of the cat to help with identification. Here is Orange County Animal Services' Lost/Found page for filing a report: 
  • Ask neighbors and mail carriers if they're familiar with the cat.
  • Post signs and place free ads in local newspapers.
  • Post a found cat listing on social media.

It's helpful if you can provide shelter for the cat while you search for their owner. If no owner is found, you can try to find a good home for them, or adopt the cat yourself. If you take the cat home with you, have them examined by a veterinarian before introducing them to your other cats.

Feral cats

The cat you're helping may be feral if they approach you when extremely hungry but will only eat the food you've provided once you've walked away. A cat may be feral if they're still unapproachable and cannot be touched after many days of feeding. Don't try to handle a feral cat. Most feral cats can't be adopted because they are too frightened of people.

One possible sign that a cat is a spayed or neutered feral is a tipped or notched ear (if the tip or section of an ear has been surgically removed). A spayed or neutered stray cat may also have an ear tip or notched ear.

Stop overpopulation by spaying and neutering free-roaming cats!

If you are an Orange County resident and you're caring for free-roaming cats on your property, you may be able to have them spayed or neutered for free! Please email or call 919-932-4966.

Food and water are important parts of caring for community cats. But, if these cats are not spayed or neutered, the number of hungry cats may soon become unmanageable as more kittens are born. Check out these other local organizations that may be able to help with spaying and neutering for free-roaming cats:

AnimalKind has been a major partner of Orange County Animal Services since before a strategic plan for managing pet overpopulation was launched in 2010. They provide veterinary services and hundreds of spay/neuter surgeries each year on a low-cost or no-cost basis. Call 919-870-1660 or visit to find out how they can assist with community cats.

The Spay Neuter Assistance Program of NC, Inc (SNAP-NC) is a mobile spay/neuter clinic already in operation in Orange County, providing sterilization services at the Animal Services Center approximately every 10 to 14 days. Call 919-783-SNAP (7627) or visit to find out how they can assist with community cats.

Independent Animal Rescue (IAR) works with residents in problem cat areas where they can help with care and spay/neuter for a number of free-roaming cats. In addition, IAR takes feral kittens into their cat foster program where they are socialized and adopted rather than returning to the cycle of free-roaming cat colonies. More than half of the cats and kittens adopted from IAR now come from the feral program. Call IAR at 919-403-2221 or visit to learn more about their services.