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Cat trapped in a cage outdoors

The essentials

  • Trap-neuter-return (TNR) is for all outdoor cats — TNR isn’t just for controlling populations of wild cats (also called ferals). It’s also used to prevent strays and friendly outdoor cats from contributing to overpopulation.
  • The trapping process is humane — TNR only uses special humane traps made just for cats. Cruel methods of catching cats are never used.
  • Ear-tipping shows a cat was TNR’d — During TNR, a tiny piece of one ear is surgically removed while sedated. This ear-tipping is a sign that the cat has already been through the TNR process, so it doesn’t get trapped again.

Have you ever seen a group of cats living outdoors in your neighborhood or in the parking garage near your workplace? These are community cats and can be a mix of friendly former pets, shy strays, and wild-born felines.

Wherever there are groups of cats, there are resources like food, water, and shelter. One or more residents in the area usually provide such resources. Responsible caregivers also manage the population through a widely accepted practice: trap-neuter-return (TNR).

Components of TNR

TNR is a multi-step process that has been in use since 1980. It’s considered the most effective approach to managing healthy outdoor cats. Here’s how it works:

  • Humane trapping. Caretakers use live traps that ensure the cats’ safety and comfort to capture them.
  • Veterinary care. Cats are spayed or neutered and vaccinated, including for rabies. They may also receive treatment for minor injuries.
  • Ear-tipping. A small snip of the ear tip identifies a sterilized cat, preventing re-trapping.
  • Recovery and release: The cats return to their outdoor home after a brief recovery.

Benefits of TNR

If you have cats living in your neighborhood, TNR offers many benefits.

  • Reduced breeding. Spaying and neutering prevent stray litters of kittens.
  • Stabilized colonies . Once sterilized, the cat population stops growing.
  • Curbed nuisance behaviors. Less mating competition means less fighting, yowling, and urine spraying.
  • Improved cat health. Vaccinations protect against diseases, and spaying/neutering promotes overall health.
  • Longer lifespans. Because of reduced territorial battles and roaming, there’s a lower risk of injuries and accidents.
  • Decreased shelter euthanasia. TNR keeps cats out of shelters, where overcrowding often leads to euthanasia.
  • Fewer impacts on wildlife. Reducing the number of outdoor cats means there are fewer hunting cats. Additionally, feeding these cats provides an easier, readily available food source and reduces hunting.

Common myths about TNR

Some people argue against TNR programs for outdoor cats. They often use the following arguments:

  • Shelters and sanctuaries can take them. Many shelters don’t have enough resources for unsocialized outdoor cats, and they are often euthanized.
  • Adoption is better. While ideal, many outdoor cats are too wild or shy to make good house pets. Some cats were abandoned because they peed in the house or had other behaviors that their owners didn’t like.
  • Relocating them solves it. Moving cats to a new area is very stressful for them. They may risk their lives trying to return to their original home area.
  • Stop feeding them and they’ll leave. Outdoor cats find food from many sources, not just people. Some people keep feeding even if threatened with fines.
  • Community cats are killing all the birds. Cats do hunt birds, small mammals, reptiles, and frogs. Studies around the impact of community cats are inconclusive.
  • Community cats are a health risk. Studies show outdoor cats pose minimal risk to human health or safety. They avoid people they don’t know and rarely attack unless provoked.

How to show support for TNR programs

Studies show that people prefer positive solutions to managing community cats, like education around co-existence and low-cost neutering. TNR programs are the best way to solve problems while treating cats with kindness. Here are some ways to support these efforts:

  • Find a local organization that does TNR.
  • Donate money to community cat groups.
  • Advocate for TNR policies in your community.
  • Educate your neighbors about the program.
  • Volunteer to help by learning how to become a trapper.

TNR is a win-win for cats and communities. It creates a more humane and sustainable future for outdoor cats while benefiting the public and other creatures inhabiting our neighborhoods.

Frequently asked questions

Do TNR cats live longer?

Yes, TNR cats generally live longer than unsterilized outdoor cats. Spaying and neutering eliminate many health problems. TNR cats also receive vaccines and medical care. With a managed colony and caretakers providing food and shelter, their quality of life improves.

What is the TNR method?

The TNR method involves trapping outdoor cats humanely. They get spayed or neutered and vaccinated by a vet then returned to their outdoor home. Community residents provide food and water and monitor for the arrival of any new cats that need to undergo TNR.

Why doesn’t killing feral cats work?

Killing cats doesn’t work as a long-term solution because new cats move into the empty territory to take advantage of the food that drew the old colony. Through TNR, the population stabilizes over time since no new kittens are born. Established groups of cats usually keep out newcomers.

Why is TNR not effective?

When done consistently, TNR is very effective at humanely reducing outdoor cat populations over time. Issues can arise if too few cats are trapped or new cats are abandoned in the colonies.

How can I tell if a cat has been through a TNR program?

TNR cats have the tip of one ear surgically removed while under anesthesia during the sterilization process. This ear-tip identifies them as part of a managed colony so they aren’t trapped again unnecessarily.