Feral Cats and Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR)

Some cats have never been owned or have been lost for so long they cannot live as pets anymore. We call these feral cats and they should be with the same caution as with wild animals. Since they cannot be adopted, we often turn to Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR). If you are interested in helping with TNR, contact your local shelter or animal control for advice and proper equipment. Here are some basics to start out with.


Feral cats can be dangerous to capture without the right equipment. Use caution! Some feral cats will let you approach or even pet them but may scratch or bite if you try to pick them up or trap them by hand. Shelters, animal control programs, humane societies and equipment rental businesses often lend or rent animal traps so you can help animals without risking your own health.

Once in the trap, cats should be held in the trap in a warm, dry, safe area indoors. They must kept in the traps without food or water overnight, as vomiting under anesthesia can be fatal.


Trapped feral cats should be taken to a clinic the next day to be fixed. There are many options for feral cat spay/neuter in this area, funded by donations and a minimal fee from the trapper. These clinics usually include basic vaccinations, flea preventatives, and treatment of minor medical issues to maximize quality of life for the feral cat. The cats are then marked in some way (usually an ear notch or tip) so that people know they have been fixed and won’t try to trap them again.


Once fixed and treated, feral cats can be released back into the area in which they were found. In this way they can live out their natural lives without contributing further to pet overpopulation.

Why not trap-and-kill?

Trap-and-kill programs may seem simpler and more efficient because they eliminate the current generation instead of the next one. However, simply eliminating feral cats from an area also eliminates competition for resources. This creates a vacuum that attracts more feral cats from neighboring communities, which means more must be trapped and killed. TNR programs are both more humane AND more effective at population control.