Trap, Spay/Neuter and Release (TNR) for Feral Cats and Strays

Many communities offer low-cost or no-cost spay-neuter clinics available to stray and feral cat caretakers. In fact, yesterday, we had one of our ferals spayed at one of these clinics, which is run by the city’s animal control department.

Spay-neuter and return programs, also known as TNR (trap, neuter and return) programs, are a humane alternative to euthanasia for ferals and strays, who can reproduce prolifically if left to their own devices. Intact males also tend to fight, which can result in infected injuries and the spread of illnesses like FIV — the feline version of HIV/AIDS.

The first step to getting your neighborhood ferals and strays spayed or neutered involves capturing them! Some friendly strays can be captured by hand, with little effort, whereas true ferals will need to be trapped using a humane trap, such as those manufactured by Havahart. Often, these traps can be borrowed from animal control or the organization that’s overseeing the TNR program.

It’s generally best to make an appointment before attempting to trap the ferals, as it can take a few weeks to get an appointment via one of these low-cost or no-cost TNR programs. Generally, you should attempt to trap the cat late in the afternoon or early evening on the day before your appointment. The animal will need to be without food or water after 10:00 p.m. the night before surgery.

Typically, ferals must be kept inside the humane trap overnight, so it’s wise to put down newspaper on the bottom to absorb any accidents. Strays who are a bit easier to handle may be kept in a dog kennel, which has room for a litter box. (You can also attempt this for a feral, if you’re comfortable transferring him/her from the trap, to the kennel and back into the trap. Most TNR programs require you to bring the cat to the clinic inside a humane trap.

You will need to bring the cat to the spay-neuter clinic in the early morning, typically around 8:00 a.m.

Most TNR programs provide the following services. Some services like de-worming, FIV testing or flea treatments may cost extra.

  • Spay (for females) or neuter (for males)
  • Microchipping
  • Ear-tipping
  • De-worming
  • Flea and tick treatments
  • FIV testing
  • Rabies vaccination

The major benefit of having a feral or stray cat microchipped: it will prevent them from getting euthanized. Many ferals or strays, especially those individuals who are FIV-positive, may be euthanized if they’re caught or otherwise handed over to animal control. Microchipped ferals will be returned to their caretaker, instead of being euthanized.

The microchips, in combination with ear-tipping (the removal of the very tip of the cat’s left ear — a universal sign that the animal is “fixed”) also serve as confirmation that the animal is spayed or neutered. This prevents females from undergoing unnecessary operations and it’s also useful for caretakers, who may care for a number of cats who look very similar.

Barrring complications, you’ll be asked to pick up the cat late in the afternoon or early evening. It’s generally ideal to transfer the cat into a kennel so they can have a litter box during recovery (the cat will receive fluids during surgery, so he or she will urinate quite a bit during the recovery period.) Many TNR program staff will allow you to bring a kennel (lined with newspaper — not blankets, which get soggy if the cat urinates) to pick-up and they’ll place the animal inside for you.

You can offer food and water to the cat the next morning (same-day feeding can result in vomiting due to the effects of anesthesia. This can be a messy situation if the cat is kept in a kennel.)

True ferals should be released the morning after surgery, whereas strays who are fairly comfortable around humans can be kept for several days. The key is to gauge the animal’s stress level. A true feral will find captivity extremely stressful and he or she may injure their incision by climbing or attempting to escape. The stress can also lead to opportunistic infection. Therefore, for ferals and strays who are extremely uncomfortable in captivity, it’s best to release them the next morning and monitor the cat from a distance.

Strays who are comfortable around humans and who are not extremely stressed out staying the kennel can be kept for several days to allow for healing and monitoring.

In a future article, we’ll explore the various signs of a problem in a feral cat or stray following a spay or neuter procedure, along with how to trap a feral cat or a stray who is unaccustomed to direct human contact.

Photo Source: Aljabak on

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Mia Carter is a professional journalist and animal lover. Her furry family members include 6 dogs and 12 cats. She is also a feral cat colony caretaker. Carter specializes in pet training and special needs pet care. All of her animals have special needs such as paralysis, blindness, deafness and FIV, just to name a few. She also serves as a pet foster parent and she actively rehabilitates and rescues local strays and feral kittens.

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