An Overview of TNR: Trap Neuter Release of Feral Cats

An overview of trap neuter release of feral cats

I’m going to be writing a lot of posts about TNR, but I thought it made the most sense to start off with an overview of what it’s all about.

There are no hard and fast rules or protocols

Something important to keep in mind. There may be ideals in terms of recuperation time, or number of vaccines given for example, but the ideal is often not the reality. Standards of care vary in different countries as do resources, so everyone involved in caring for ferals does the best they can with what they have.

What do the letters TNR stand for?

Trap-Neuter-Return or Trap-Neuter-Release, both mean the same thing.

What is the process? What is it about?

The point of TNR is to help reduce the feral cat population, and the suffering of cats and kittens that usually goes on as a result.

Cats are trapped, brought to the vet (private or to a spay/neuter clinic), fixed, then released back where they were trapped.

Caretakers provide food and water, and often build shelters in the winter if they live in a cold climate. They also monitor the cats for any health issues, and trap them again for treatment if needed.  

An overview of TNR trap neuter release of feral cats

Who does it?

Some spay/neuter programs are government initiatives, but usually it’s just kind hearted souls who want to help. They take it upon themselves, individually or in groups, to trap and care for the cats.

At what age are cats fixed?

Adult cats are fixed as they’re caught, but kittens vary. Some say kittens should be 2 months old, others say 3. Some say the kitten should weigh at least 2 lbs, other 3.

Rescuers have told me some vets will not operate until the kitten is at least 4 months old. By then the females are already likely pregnant, so the opportunity to prevent some suffering was missed.  

What happens if a trapped cat is pregnant?

There are lots of opinions and strong emotions surrounding this issue. The whole purpose of TNR is to get feral cat populations under control, and allowing pregnant cats to give birth just adds to the problem.

In many instances the rescuer is one person working alone, and there is only so much they can cope with. They also often work full time jobs and do the best they can. Combine that with a shortage of foster homes to care for the kittens, and adopters willing to take them in, it’s understandable why many rescuers will allow vets to spay a pregnant cat. As heart breaking as I’m sure it is to do, it may very well be for the best.  

I came across an article addressing this issue, you may find interesting.   

Compassionate Foster Care for Pregnant Feral Cats

Are feral cats vaccinated?

It depends on the country, maybe even the city.

In some countries where funding is low, vaccinations are not given because they prefer all monies go directly to pay for spay/neuter surgeries.

Some places only give rabies shots, while still others may also give FVRCP (feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus and panleukopenia).

If you’re interested in knowing what vaccinations are given where you live, contact a feral cat rescue group in your area.

Is it possible to tell which cats have been fixed and which haven’t?

Ear tipping is a universal sign that shows a cat has been spayed or neutered. A piece of approximately 1 cm is removed from the tip of the left ear, in a straight line. This makes it easy for caretakers to quickly identify which cats have already been fixed.

Sometimes a V shaped notch is cut into the ear, and you may see some cats with the right ear done.

How soon after spaying/neutering can a feral cat be released?

There are factors that will influence the time frame, such as the amount of money available for a vet stay and number of volunteers offering space in their homes for the cats to recover.

They can go back onto the street as soon as 12-24 hours, some may need 48 hours and others, depending on how they’re doing, may need more time and care.  

How much does the surgery cost?

Prices will vary dramatically depending on where you live, if some kind of government funding is available, there are rescue groups in your area offering vouchers or you’re paying for it yourself.  

stray cat neutering

Why is TNR important?

There is a lot of conflicting information by “experts” about whether or not feral cats damage the environment, kill too much wildlife or carry diseases that can be transmitted  to humans. For me it’s important because unfixed cats will breed and breed, more cats and kittens will die of disease and starvation and that kind of suffering should not be allowed to continue.

Do TNR programs work?

TNR means fixing cats so they can’t breed. How can that not be considered a success?

Playing Whac-A-Mole with anti-cat rhetoric

Why are some people against TNR programs?

I’ll let you read about that for yourselves.

The Reality of Trap, Neuter, Release

Is TNR Spreading Rabies?

How can I get involved?

There are a ton of resources online about how to trap and care for a colony if you want to start on you own. If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed or want a support system, type “feral cat rescue and name of city” into your search engine to find others in your area. They’re often short-handed so should welcome your offer of support. Working with others also means less of a time commitment then taking this on as a solo project.


Do you have feral cats in your neighbourhood? Have you been looking for a way to help? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.  


Please help support my spay/neuter campaign by donating and sharing. You can find all the details on my GoFundMe page.


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