Feral cats are needlessly killed by the millions in County facilities everywhere, including Brunswick County. They're also killed by individuals who don't understand them or don't care to. They're killed by the passing of "laws and ordinances" that are meant to keep humans "safe." Even cats that have been sterilized and are part of managed colonies are being killed because the attitude toward feral cats is they're a nuisance, disease-ridden, and don't deserve to live! If Animal Control hears one complaint--legitimate or not--about "those cats," they're more likely than not trapped and killed without question or further investigation. End of story.

However, as many towns and cities found out the hard way, killing entire healthy colonies is a bad thing. Once cats are eradicated, the area becomes overrun with prey species (rats, mice, snakes, etc.) again and the natural balance is upset.  Killing all the cats merely opens up territory for new, unaltered ferals and strays to move in and continue the cycle of breeding which is usually within 4-6 months, sometime earlier. This repopulation phenomenon is called the "vacuum effect." This is why eradication of feral cats DOES NOT work and is NOT effective in controlling colonies. New ones simply move in. The only effective method is spaying and neutering. Click HERE to read why killing feral cats doesn't work long-term.

Colonies can be small (5-6 cats) or large (50+) and colony size is affected by the availability of food and shelter. In addition, because cats proliferate abundantly, their numbers can increase exponentially. The more resources, the larger the group can become, provided each new member is accepted. If colonies breed at-will and there isn't enough food or shelter for the young adult cats, those cats will simply take up residence somewhere else and begin their own cycle of breeding. That's why TNR (trap-neuter-release) is paramount to controlling colony size (see below).

No, not in the conventional sense.  Feral cats are more akin to wildlife (born and raised in the woods). They are not social and getting them to trust humans is a long shot at best. Rarely does a non-socialized cat trust humans any further than the food bowl. In our experience, it's best to let them be who they are and live their lives in their wild home. (See next paragraph for exceptions. Also note: Wilmington residents may contact The Ruffian Foundation for relocation of feral cats who are in danger of losing their wild homes due to modern progress.)

A true feral cat is an unsocialized cat meaning it's never lived with humans and has a natural distrust of them. Ferals are cats in their natural, "wild" state and they exhibit behaviors close to those of their wild ancestors: cheetahs, lions, tigers, etc. Being wild, they prefer the safety of the their "secret hiding places" to the convenience of a comfy chair and human interaction. Ferals are not pets. Folks seem to either love feral cats or hate them, but they'll always be with us as part of our local "wildlife."

A stray cat is one that has been raised around humans, but, for some reason, no longer lives with them. Stray cats can be very feral or very social and any degree in between. Strays generally live outside and can be at home with their feral kin just as much as with humans.

Feral Cats:  A Love/Hate Relationship

True ferals are easily identified:  they run as fast as lightning at the first sight of human encroachment upon their safety zone. Sometimes we never know a feral colony is right in our own backyard because their lives depend on being unseen and undiscovered. 

Not all ferals will "stay" completely feral. Why? Some ferals cats may have actually had SOME interaction early in their lives, but ended up living in the wild and reverting to their feral state. If this once-social cat had a good experience with humans in earlier times, she MAY become somewhat social again and, after some time, reward the human with a tail-rub, head butt, or tolerate a pat or two on the head. She may even roll over and present her belly--but it isn't for rubbing! All this behavior is still guarded by her feral instinct--don't mistake it for friendly! Teeth and claws are on-demand in a flash. A once-social cat that has had a bad experience with humans likely will stay feral.

Feral cats can live to ripe old ages just like "pets;" but, granted, kitties living outdoors are more likely to fall prey to illness and predators both human and animal. Some studies say that most outside kitties live between 3-5 years while indoor pets average 16 years. Of course, there are exceptions.

Feral cats have their own unique personalities just as pets do, and ferals are very much missed when they've crossed the Rainbow Bridge just as much as other pets. Below is a beautiful memorial caretakers made to their beloved feral cat "BC" who lived a very long life on Holden Beach.

Like their wild "neighbors" (raccoon, possum and such), feral cats find shelter where they can: under bushes, in trees, old buildings, under porches or vehicles...just about anywhere they determine is safe. However, sometimes there isn't sufficient safe or weatherproof shelter. While building a shelter for feral cats isn't necessary, most of them will readily use it if they feel it's safe and well secluded from humans and predators. Remember, cats always need an exit strategy.

If you'd like to provide additional, safe shelter, you can buy or build one. For shelter ideas and plans from very easy and inexpensive to more ambitious and expensive ones, go to Alley Cat Allies and search for "shelter building plans."

All feral cats (both males and females) should all be sterilized to prevent future litters. Sterilization helps not only stabilize the existing colony, it eliminates the formation of other colonies. How? If you only spay the females, the males will leave the colony when other cats are in estrus and start new families elsewhere--and probably bring the new wife and kids back to YOUR place to eat! The good thing about this is: you can now trap the new mom when she's finished nursing and sterilize the kits as early as 2-3 months old). Bad thing is: you've got more mouths to feed and care for.

(Click HERE for spay/neuter help with ferals in Brunswick County.)

TNR (trap-neuter-release) means trapping, sterilizing and then returning the kitty to it's wild home. This method of managing colonies of feral cats is preferred to killing and is effective and humane. The caretaker uses humane traps, takes them to a vet to be examined, tested for disease, vaccinated, and sterilized then releases the cats back to their own safe, familiar habitat. Caretakers also have a responsibility to monitor the colony for illness and injury, re-trap if necessary, and seek vet care. Some caretakers continue to feed the colony after their sterilized while others simply feed long enough to TNR. Your choice.

Click HERE for CHTA's Feral Trapping A-Z; click HERE for more trapping "how-to" from Alley Cat Allies; click HERE for information from the Kindness Clinic.  Why three sources? You can never be armed with enough trapping skills and tricks. Cats are very intelligent and sometimes it can prove difficult to outsmart them--but never give up!

Ear-Tipping  Most organizations that trap feral cats have the vet "ear-tip" the cat--a universal "sign" that a cat is sterilized so there is no guesswork when you see him or her roaming about. While kitty is still asleep, the vet clips the tip of one ear (usually the left but it doesn't matter), cauterizes it so it doesn't bleed, and that's it. Kitty is not harmed and will always be identified as sterilized. (Note: sterilized strays are not generally ear-tipped. If you're in doubt, have a vet check them out.)

Why is ear-tipping important? Without this marking, colony caretakers may end up taking the same cat to the vet again if the already-sterilized cat was trapped a second time (believe it or not, some of them just can't resist the bait). This eliminates double work: caretakers just release the kitty if he gets trapped again--no extra trip to the vet. It also alerts caretakers to a new (un-tipped) member of the colony so they can make plans to trap him or her. Also, to the general public, this signifies they don't have to worry about that cat reproducing in their community and that the cat has been vaccinated against rabies which is important!

Rabies is a serious disease and is communicable to humans and other animals! Never put yourself in harms' way when working with feral cats. Learn the facts about rabies at American Humane Association and the CDC. Note: the new NC rabies law helps prevent the automatic euthanasia or death of a pet bitten by a rabid animal. Learn how to save your pet by getting him or her a booster shot!

Alley Cat Allies is the Nation's foremost advocate and authority on Feral Cats. To learn more about caring for feral cats, click HERE to go to their site. It's a wealth of information and resources! You can also call them at 1-855-340-CATS (2287).

"What kind of crazy town makes it against the law to feed stray cats?"
Beatrice Zaretsky, age 69 (1996), threatened with a $2,500 fine
 for feeding abandoned cats!

Live &
 Let Live

Can Ferals
 be Adopted?

Degrees of "Feralness"

Socializing Feral Kittens

Feeding Ferals

If you decide to feed strays or feral cats, you are now an "official" caretaker and must also take responsibility for them. Be aware that once you begin feeding "your" ferals, other cats will likely come to feed from other locations and the numbers at your feeding stations may grow. You must also take steps not to leave any food out to attract area wildlife. Iif feasible, take up any uneaten food about 1/2 hour after feeding or leave just enough for everyone to finish all the food in a reasonal timeframe. IMPORTANT:  if you leave food during the day, make sure all food is removed (or eaten) by dusk so that leftovers don't attract unwanted wildlife.

If you are feeding feral (or any stray) cats, you have accepted responsibility for them.  That entails:

     1) Conducting ongoing Trap-Neuter-Return (sterilization) as needed which
             includes getting them vaccinated against rabies!
     2) Providing food and ensuring water is available.
     3) Monitoring available shelter.  
     4) Monitoring members of the colony and provide ongoing health care.
     5) Helping cats and people co-exist (education).
     6) Planning for back-up colony care.

Caretaker Responsibility

Where Do They Sleep?


Managing Colony SIze



More Info

On rare occasions, a once-social-now-feral cat will decide living with a human again isn't all that bad and makes the leap. We can entice, cajole, and bribe feral cats; but, ultimately, the cat decides whether we are worth the effort or not. There are no guarantees and it is best not to force the issue. Returning to the "social" life is completely up to the cat--not us!

Like wildlife, we believe feral cats are sentient and deserve to live out their lives unharmed by humans. Ferals also help control vermin mice, rats, snakes, etc. Unfortunately many animal control facilities (organizations and individuals, too) believe that, if a cat can’t live in a human home, it’s best to kill it to prevent it from a "horrible life." Folks who believe this use individual anecdotes of sick and abused cats to extrapolate that millions of these animals are better off dead than alive. Research shows otherwise. The bottom line is killing feral cats is neither in the cats’ best interests nor ours. Read on.

This is one of the biggest controversies: to feed or not to feed. While ferals are capable of sustaining themselves provided they have sufficient prey species,* they generally don't object to a human handout. Folks all over the county (and country) feed stray and feral cats even in the face of breaking local ordinances. While we don't advise breaking the law, we recognize this practice of feeding strays has always been done and most likely will continue ("underground" if necessary). Please check your local ordinances about feeding strays and ferals.

"Cat House" Carolina Style!

(Built and decorated by caring--and creative--caretakers)

Feral vs
 Stray Cat

Feral Cats: Misunderstood and Slaughtered by the Millions Everywhere!

These photos, taken by Coral Hull, is of the infamous "cat tree" just outside the tiny town of William Creek, South Australia.  The "town folk" see this as a solution to their feral cat problem; but to us, all it shows is how depraved some people can become.  If these people had even a tiny bit of compassion, they would work toward resolving overpoulation of--and living with--the feral cat instead of killing and displaying them in this grotesque manner.

I'm Chief and
 what I say goes!

I'm Queen Norie and
I really have the last say!

Olive & Arturo here...
just sharin' a meal.

*Birds are also on a cat's menu, but statistics show only one attempt out of 10 yields a result. The decline in bird population is now mostly attributed to decline in habitat and disease (pesticides, etc.). However, please don't tempt kitties by putting up a bird feeder right next to where you feed the cats! That's just asking for trouble and putting our bird friends in unnecessary danger.

Feral kittens CAN be SOCIALIZED if it's done early enough. The older they get, the harder it is--but it's not impossible either. However, stealing the kits away from mom means sometimes going around her and getting creative. Feral moms are especially wary of humans.

     Careful:  too much human contact while the kits are very young may result in mom moving or abandoning the kits! Do NOT take the kits until they're weaned at about 6-8 weeks--leave them alone if mom is still around and caring for them. They need mom for good nutrition and good manners! Click HERE to learn how to tame feral kittens.

Do you know? Newborn kits cannot "poo" on their own. They mom's help to stimulate elimination and will die without this assistance. Click HERE to learn more.

Nursing kittens need mom's special milk to grow strong and stay healthy--it has all those antibodies to build their immune systems. If you take the kits (or mom has died or gone missing), you MUST feed them a quality milk substitute!  Over-the-counter products such as KMR or others are available which have the necessary vitamins and minerals they need. However, in a pinch if you can't find a commercial milk substitute, click HERE for the next best milk replacement recipe made from items easily found at the grocery store.  Also, you MUST ABSOLUTELY make sure they "go potty" after they eat.  If they don't poo, they will DIE.   What goes IN must come OUT!

Feeding Stations

Enjoy our "Feral Gallery." The pictures on this page are of actual feral cats that are part of managed colonies. We'll add more--if they'll allow us to photograph them! 

About ants.   It's a fact: ants WILL find any morsel of food within minutes and will bite the cat when he tries to "take it away." If this is a concern, unscented petroleum jelly has been very successfully used to deter and even stop ants from getting into bowls. (Cats have great noses and can detect even slightly scented products. They may not eat from the bowl if the scent is offensive. Watch to see what happens and make adjustments if necessary.)

Cover the bottom of the bowl and 1/2 way up the sides with a bit more than a light smear (but not a huge glob) before setting in on the ground, board, or whatever you're using. Too little jelly and the ants will walk right through it--err on the site of too much if you have to. Yes, it's messy, but it works. Wipe bowl clean and refresh as needed. 

During winter, cats (and all animals) need more protein/calories to help keep them warm.  Mix both adult and kitten food (which is rich in protein and calories) to help get them through the winter when prey is scarce. Wean them off the combination mixture over about a week's time when weather begins to warm (prey is readily available) and resume feeding them only the adult food.

While ferals will generally eat most any cat food, feeding them an unbalanced, nutritionally deficient food does them no real favors. It actually can hurt their chances of staying healthy, so feed them the most nutritional food you can. Stay away from foods with dyes (colored kibble), preservatives, and food with grain products as the first ingredient. Cats are OBLIGATE CARNIVORES ... they eat ONLY meat. The food should like a protein (like chicken or fish) as the first ingredient. Although they may occasionally chew/eat grass, their digestive systems are not designed to deal with grain, veggies, and "byproducts." 

Raw foods are all the rage, but unless the cat catches it him/herself, don't give them raw "people" proteins. Some vets recommend that raw proteins such as chicken, fish, beef, etc., not be fed to cats because it may contain bacteria the cats are not used to getting.

If you can't resist occasionally feeding them some of "our" food, home cooked, unseasoned chicken or fish is an option. (Note: microwaving may make the protein rubbery or change the taste). You can give them the "broth," too, if you cooked the protein in liquid, but don't add salt, pepper or anything else: just meat and plain water. Canned tuna or salmon is good for a treat but not on a regular basis because it lacks the vitamins they need for good nutrition. Some vets also believe fish in cat food promotes feline allergies. (If the cat catches her own fish in a pond, that's different!)

Set up your feeding station in a safe area away from traffic--both cars and people. If there is shelter from rain, take advantage of it.  Cats need to feel safe as they eat. Almost anything can be used as a food bowl (or none at all). Search thrift shops and your kitchen for suitable feeding containers. Plates or other flat containers work well. Bowls should be relatively shallow instead of deep. Remember: multiple kitties will be headed for the food at one time and may share the "bowl." Choose the container accordingly and space them out so kitties have "elbow" room to eat--especially if some kitties don't get along with other ones.  

Here are some suggestions along with their pros/cons:

Some caretakers feed cats directly on the ground, on tree stumps, or untreated* "planks" of wood salvaged from construction sites or purchased at a home improvement store. Feeding directly onto the ground is the least preferred. Large tree stumps, planks or other natural surfaces work better.

     *Do not use treated wood--the kind used for outdoor projects. It contains toxins that leach out into the food. Paper plates are not recommended.

Paper plates, while biodegradable, can fly away and become a littering issue or turn upsidedown in wind dumping food on the ground. The one thing you DON'T want is to leave trash behind and possibly calling attention to the area. The fewer people wandering through the colony's "sacred space" the better.

Plastic or metal containers keep food cleaner than putting it on the ground, but bowls don't drain when they're full of rain water--you can always drill (or poke) some holes in them. If using bowls, ideally, they should be wiped cleaned before adding fresh food especially if the bowl is wet and moldy. Metal bowls don't harbor bacteria and are easy to wipe clean of oils, saliva, and debris. (Remember, other wildlife may be sampling kitty's food bowl--even if it's empty--and rabies can be contracted through saliva.)

Many caretakers who manage colonies that aren't near a water source switch bowls out at each feeding: clean ones go down with fresh food and the used ones go home for proper cleaning to be put out the next day. Some folks bring paper towels and a gallon of water to clean the bowls on-site. Please don't litter--take dirty paper towels and broken or unuseable bowls home.

If you can, put feeding containers or the entire station (if you feed them together on a plank or such) under cover (something you can make or use whatever is available: bushes, structures, junk cars) to prevent rain from getting into bowls.

I'm Catfish. I made the leap to Indoor Cat--I just couldn't resist, thanks to "JS." I'll always look over my shoulder, but I'll
never look back!