TNR: When to Release a Feral Cat or Stray After Spaying or Neutering

The approach for caring for a stray or feral cat after spaying or neutering will largely depend on the animal’s behavior. In the case of a fairly tame cat, it’s best to keep the cat for 10 to 14 days, to ensure the incision heals properly. But in the case of true feral cats, it’s best to release the animal on the morning after surgery.

It may seem counter-intuitive to release an animal who has just had major surgery, but it’s really the best option in many cases. A true feral cat will be apt to get extremely distressed if he/she is caged. The cat may try to climb the walls or ceiling of the cage, he/she may bite at the cage and so forth — all in an attempt to escape. This places the feral at high risk of opening the incision before it’s healed. The cat may suffer other injuries such as broken teeth (due to biting at the cage bars.)

What’s more, a true feral cat will be under extreme stress while in captivity and this will adversely impact the animal’s ability to heal. Many cats will stop eating and drinking due to the stress, which also results in a potentially deadly decline. It’s also important to remember that feral cats and strays have a higher incidence of FIV — the feline version of HIV/AIDS. Therefore, the cat may already be facing a more difficult healing process.

Therefore, if the cat remained downright frantic and extremely frightened in the hours before surgery, it’s best to keep the cat overnight (to ensure the anesthesia is completely worn off). Then, offer food and water in the morning, and release.

If the cat is a bit frightened of human contact, but he or she was fairly calm prior to surgery, it’s typically best to keep the cat for monitoring during the healing process.

Male cats are less prone to complications following neutering surgery simply due to the nature of the operation. The incision is skin-deep; and the cat’s ability to run and jump essentially remains intact. Recovery from a neutering operation is fairly easy.

Female cats are much more prone to complications following spaying surgery because the veterinarian must cut through the muscles of the abdominal wall. The spaying incision is much larger than the male’s neutering incision and it’s located near the animal’s vital organs. Healing takes longer, since the body must repair the incision in the muscle and in the skin.

For females, running, climbing and jumping can be extremely painful and there’s a much higher risk of re-opening the incision. This places female cat in a very vulnerable position post-spaying surgery, as she will be less able to escape from predators.

Therefore, whenever possible, it’s best to keep a female cat for 10 to 14 days post-surgery. Male cats tend to heal faster, in 7 to 10 days.

In tomorrow’s article, we’ll discuss how to spot signs of an infection in a feral cat or stray. In the interim, check out our related articles with information on trapping a feral cat or stray for a TNR program, along with info on how to transfer a feral cat from a trap to a kennel if you’re keeping the animal for more than 12 hours. I’ve also written an article with information on how to transfer a feral cat from a kennel to a pet carrier in preparation for transport to a veterinary clinic.

Photo Source: Piotr Koczab 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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