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Helping Stray and Feral Cats

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Trap-Neuter-Return Programs: The Key to Helping Cats

Trap-neuter-return (TNR) endeavors are geared toward reducing the number of unwanted cats by catching and then neutering or spaying them. Also called trap-neuter-spay-return or trap-neuter-vaccinate-return, they are endorsed by both the ASPCA and Humane Society.

According to web site of the American Association of Feline Practitioners, stray and feral cats are “humanely trapped, examined, vaccinated, and surgically sterilized by veterinarians.” Feral cats are then returned to their familiar environment and, hopefully, cared for by volunteers, who may provide food and shelter, and monitor them for sickness.

Proponents say the advantages include:

  • Benefits for feral cats. Neutered cats tend to gain weight and have fewer health problems -- such as breast, testicular, and uterine cancer. Spaying also reduces the risks that go along with pregnancy. Fewer females in heat also means fewer toms attracted to an area, and so fewer risky cat fights. 
  • Benefits for people. Spaying and neutering feral cats offers population control. Behaviors like fighting and marking are also reduced, while benefits such as rodent control continue. Ultimately, less cat suffering also means less human suffering in the face of dying or injured cats. 

Not everyone is a fan of TNR. Some fish and wildlife advocates maintain that re-releasing feral cats after neutering simply constitutes re-abandonment and doesn’t permanently address the larger problem.

The Problem With Relocation and Eradication

Some people advocate relocating or “putting down” feral cats instead. Relocation may sound like a humane solution, but it is ultimately ineffective due to the “vacuum effect.” Feral cats gather where there are resources: food, water, and shelter. When an existing colony is relocated (or eradicated), before long a new flock of feral cats will discover the same resources and move in to “fill the vacuum.”

Relocation is unappealing for other reasons. Because cats are very territorial, a relocated cat may try to find its way home, suffering accident or death on the way. The relocation area may already have an established colony or it may lack food, water, or shelter. Unless a colony’s life is in danger, most experts agree that relocation is almost always a bad solution.

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