Feral Cat TNR

Planning a feral cat TNR programme
The objective is to stabilise and then reduce the number of cats in a particular area. Cats are territorial, and the females do not move far, so you don’t need to tackle the whole town at the same time. Look for a group of cats that are within your team’s capabilities. Remember that cats breed very quickly, and within your chosen area you must be quick if the rate of neutering is to be greater than the rate of kitten production. Studies have shown that cat neutering programmes have to reach at least 85% of the targeted population in order to be effective. Below this, the remaining females breed rapidly to build the numbers up again. Start with a small group of cats where there is a good chance of success. This will give you confidence to take on bigger problems.

Do your research
This information will tell you the size of the problem, and some of the possible solutions.

  • How many cats are there in the area?
  • Keep a note-book with their descriptions.
  • How many of those are owned cats looking for a free meal and who owns them?
  • How many of the cats are stray or lost, and could be adopted/rehomed?
  • How many are feral (not socialised) and thus difficult/impossible to adopt?
  • What problems are the cats causing?
  • Can the feral cats be put back on site after neutering?
  • Who is feeding the cats, and will they cooperate with you?

Devise your strategy
This should include:

  • Education of cat owners
  • Gaining local support
  • Cooperation with feeders
  • Building a team
  • Fundraising
  • Using the media to get publicity

Most feral cats are descended from domestic cats that were abandoned or lost. Their kittens are difficult to socialise and catch. Cat owners need to understand how quickly a feral cat population can grow if they are careless about neutering their pets.

The general public may complain about the smell and noise of cats. Explain that these problems are greatly reduced by neutering. Veterinarians may need to be convinced of the importance of neutering male and female cats – is your vet prepared to cooperate with you?

Local authorities and landowners usually need to be convinced that population control through neutering is more effective in the long term than attempting to eradicate them by shooting or poisoning. Explain that a site suitable for cats will always attract cats, and it is better to have healthy neutered ones that you know than unneutered ones that you do not know.
You may need to obtain authorisation from a local authority to carry out a TNR programme. If so, obtain a permit to carry with you when trapping. In return, ask for assurances that cats in a control programme will be protected by the authority’s employees. In any case, always carry an identity card.

The most important people in the lives of feral cats are their feeders. They may need support. Ask them to keep the feeding sites clean and tidy, and to help you to monitor the health of the cats after neutering.

Finding alternative sites for feral cats is often difficult. Farms may welcome cats, but you should avoid placing them on sites where other cats have already established their territories and are likely to attack newcomers.
On sites where you will not be able to return the cats, and there are no alternative sites, then restrict your offer of help to removing kittens and tame adults. Do not get involved in an eradication scheme. This is important for the reputation of your group and it is important to always behave ethically.

To build your team, you need people who care about cats, who are prepared to learn to trap, or to use their car for transport to the veterinary surgery, or to foster kittens and help in rehoming. You will need to share the workload so that the programme is enjoyable and nobody is over-burdened.
How much money can you raise to pay for equipment and veterinary fees? And remember several charities working together can pool resources and attract more funding. You may be able to find a local veterinary surgery that is empathetic and will help with reduced fees or equipment.

Carrying out a feral cat TNR Programme

Select your area
You have done the research and assessed the problem. You know which cats can be re-homed. You know that feral cats can be put back there, and who will feed them and monitor their welfare.

Acquire your equipment
The more equipment you have, the faster you will be able to control the population of cats in the selected area. You could start with one trap and 2 TTRs (Trap/Transfer/Restrainer – see the photo on the right), but you will soon find that for the programme to work smoothly it is necessary to have at least two traps, 4 TTRs, and as many as 12 recovery baskets.

Procedures to be undertaken:

  • Castration of males
  • Spaying (ovario-hysterectomy) of females
  • Ear-tipping and/or identification methods. See here
  • Pain relief and, if necessary, antibiotic treatment
  • Treatment recommended against internal and external parasites (endo- and ectoparasites)
  • Vaccination and Rabies vaccination if required.
  • Traps on Bikes

Things to discuss with your vet :

  • What to do with pregnant females and young kittens. See here
  • Vaccination against feline diseases (if your budget permits)
  • Treatment of sick cats See here.
  • Euthanasia of very sick, old or injured cats See here.

The methods recommended should avoid the risks of bites and scratches, but accidents can happen. Anyone dealing with feral cats or street dogs should be vaccinated against tetanus and possibly rabies.
Bites and scratch wounds should be washed immediately and monitored for signs of inflammation. For safety it is advisable to work in pairs.

Train the trappers
A trapper needs to be familiar with the equipment and know how to lubricate it and make adjustments to the setting. Practise with domestic cats – they are usually willing to cooperate if a tasty bait is used. Practise is particularly important with manual traps in order to get the feel of the string or cord and to be sure that the door shuts firmly.

Feral cats behave like wild animals and trapping them requires the skills of a hunter, and great patience.
Ask the feeders to place the food always at the same place and at the same time of day, preferably at dawn or dusk. Cats are creatures of habit and learn quickly. If possible, put the trap there for a couple of days before trapping. Make sure it is on level ground and does not wobble. Fix the door in the open position and put food inside, so that the cats get used to entering it. Then reduce the food ration the day before trapping, so that the cats are hungry. Do not leave the trap unattended.

Trap the Cats
Set the trap(s) at feeding time, with a trail of their favourite food leading to the back of the footplate and wait. When trapped, the cat will thrash around but will become quieter if a cover or blanket is put over it. Move the trap away from the feeding site and leave it for a little while, until the cat has quietened down.

Transfer the cats
The transfer to the TTR must be done with care. Place the TTR firmly against the end of the trap, wedging it against a wall or tree to prevent movement. Then lift the slide-up doors of the TTR and the trap so that the cat can move from one to another. The mesh floor of the TTR may be covered with cardboard or newspaper to encourage the cat to move into it, and it may help to cover the TTR and uncover the trap. Then put the TTR in the car, on newspaper and plastic sheeting, and go back to trap another cat. Label each TTR so that you can identify the cat, using a code that corresponds with the code in your notebook.

A cat trapped early in the morning can be given an anaesthetic safely later the same day. After surgery, the cat should be returned to a clean basket with some bedding and put in a quiet place until it is fully conscious. Check at intervals to make sure that the cat is in a comfortable position and there is no bleeding. It is a good idea to cover the baskets once the cats are conscious to minimise stress. If the basket is not the original TTR, make sure you can still identify the cat.
A male cat can often be taken back to its site and released the same day. It is usual to keep females in their baskets and release them the next day. Have food and water ready for them. When the basket is opened the cat will probably make a rapid exit without stopping to say “thank you”.

Keep records
The record of which cat was trapped, when and where, and its subsequent history, is important. You need it for your own reports and statistics and to chart your successes, and you may also need to refer to it if there is a dispute over ownership.


Currently, SNIP International donates humane catching and holding equipment only through the International Companion Animal Welfare Conference (ICAWC) and the International Training Programme. For more information about these events, please contact DogsTrust Worldwide. Link to DogsTrust Worldwide.