Employing common sense when trapping, transporting and caring for recovering cats is essential for their well-being. Preparation can help your success.While it is important to stay positive, anticipating potential problems helps to plan solutions ahead of time. Consider that each colony and location presents it’s own unique circumstances. Make adjustments to accommodate them.
Setting a schedule
You do not need to be a colony caretaker or feeding cats to employ TNR! You may want to set the traps for when you see the highest volume of cats or in the very early morning or late evening when feral cats can become active and which minimizes their time spent in the trap. Expect that in addition to the time it takes to trap the cats, you will need to transport them to the spay/neuter clinic in the morning and pick them up in the afternoon (specific times vary).
For those that do feed cats, feeding at the same place and time each day establishes a routine making the assessment and management of a colony more successful and increases the likelihood that the majority of cats in the colony will come at that time. Most colony caretakers know the habits of the cats in their colony. On the day before you trap, withhold food (and if there are multiple caretakers, notify others in the area not to put out food). You may consider leaving unset traps in the area during routine feeding so cats become familiar with them.
Practice setting traps in advance.
If cats do not have a regular feeding time, then dusk is a great time to set traps when many nocturnal ferals emerge. At this time of day they feel less vulnerable. The later you set them minimizes their time in the trap. You may also set the traps for when you see the highest volume of cats or target particular cats during known times of sightings.
Preparing traps away from the trap site helps to not alarm the colony. Line the trap with folded newspaper, a dishtowel or pillowcase. It is more comfortable and cats do not like walking on the open mesh of the trap and this covers the raised plate when a trap is set.
Bait traps with about a tablespoon or two of strong smelling food placed at the very back of the trap. Mackerel or tuna works well to draw cats. Some people put a dab of food at the mouth or half way in to entice the cats to enter. Do not use cat food cans in traps as sharp edges can pose a danger. Use paper plates, small plastic containers or plastic or metal lids like those from jelly jars. Larger lids are good for making water filled moats around smaller lids during ant season. Cats are unlikely to enter traps swarming with ants and we don’t want them to. Some organizations use a tiny sprinkle of ant powder beneath the trap and others swear that dryer sheets repel them.
While veterinarians require that pets fast prior to surgery, people who leave traps set in secure places through the night do not know when the cat enters and eats. Exceptions are often made for feral cats.
Cover the set trap with a sheet or towel, exposing the opening of the trap. Keeping the trap covered helps to calm the cat. It is normal for panicked cats to thrash around inside the trap. You may be tempted to release them in fear they will hurt themselves, but they will calm down. Remember, you are doing this for their longterm well being. If they are released you may not be able to trap them again. Injuries from traps are minor, such as a scraped nose or a scratched paw pad.
Place traps in and around camouflaged areas like bushes, on a level surface. Never set or leave traps unattended in extreme weather conditions. Don’t place them where they will be exposed to afternoon sun, flash flooding, tampering, etc.
Spread traps out in both high and low traffic cat hang-outs and stagger them facing in different directions. Keep count of your traps! Setting a couple more traps than the number of cats you are trying to catch is helpful.
If you are trapping in a secure where both the traps and cats are guaranteed to be safe from tampering, you may leave the traps in place overnight.
If you are trapping in a vulnerable area and must observe the traps–you can wait quietly at a distance away from the traps, but where you will see or hear them shut.
During a lapse when no other cats are investigating the set traps, or if the trapped cats are making noise which seems to be deterring other cats from approaching the traps, remove the full traps from the primary trap site. Use your best judgement. Too much disruption of any kind prevents nearby cats from coming to the site or entering traps. Thirty minutes is a reasonable interval for checking traps.
Trapped cats should be placed in a quiet, safe, protected and ideally sheltered area before and after surgery. It is helpful to prepare this space in advance.
Line your car with plastic sheeting (a tarp, shower curtain, etc.) with newspaper or some bedding on top before transporting the trapped cats. Remain calm and move slowly while moving the cats and transporting them to surgery. Limit noise while transporting animals like keeping the radio off. It is important to minimize stress. Never transport cats in trunks of cars, or the open beds of a pick up truck.
After surgery, allow the cat to recover overnight in the same trap. Recovery areas
should be clean, dry, quiet and not in any extreme conditions. Continue keeping traps completely or mostly covered. When cats are recovering from anesthesia they are unable to regulate their body temperature. Do your best to keep the cats from getting too hot or too cold. An enclosed porch, garage, or basement is helpful. In the winter time you may need to insulate traps with warm bedding from above and below. In the summer, traps can be placed in your bathroom or even stacked carefully in the tub.
Monitor the cats recovery and condition periodically.
They can be groggy or reactive as they recover from anesthesia which will wear off between 4 to 24 hours. It is accepted that in most circumstances, cats should be released the morning following the day of surgery.
Keep an eye out for bleeding, vomiting, difficulty breathing, cats not coming out from anesthesia and other potential problems. Should something arise, seek veterinary care immediately. The clinic where they were altered is likely to accomodate seeing them during their business hours.
The removal of the uppermost tip of a cat’s left ear while under anesthesia at the time of spay/neuter is the universal sign that the cat has been trapped and altered. Ear tipping is an essential part of TNR, preventing cats from having to undergo unnecessary transport, anesthesia or surgery. If you catch cats with “tipped ears” they can be released, although sometimes they are left in the trap until other cats in the colony are caught.
Make sure cats are clear-eyed and alert before release. Release the cat to the exact site or place in which it was trapped. Their survival depends on being returned to their original habitat. They know the food and water sources in their area and may have kittens hidden away (more on this in FAQ). Open the front door of the trap and gently pull back the covering. Do not be concerned if the cat hesitates before leaving. It is frightened and/or taking a moment to reorient to the surroundings. It is not uncommon for a cat to “disappear” for a few days after it is returned while it continues to recover.
Releasing cats at dawn is ideal. Avoid releasing them near roadways or during busy times of day. Resume the feeding schedule and continue to provide food and water–they may eat when you are not around.
Wash all traps and disinfect them with a mild solution of bleach water (1:32 ratio is sufficient) after each use. The scent of a previously trapped cat can deter others.
Some Frequently Asked Questions and Other Information
Relocation? Relocating feral cats and colonies is considered an absolute last resort and should only be under extreme circumstances when the cats’ lives are in eminent danger. There are specific methods for doing this. Crucial information about this process is found on the Alley Cat Allies’ website.
Doesn’t it take longer to recover from surgery? Trapped cats are usually released the following morning after surgery, once the effects of anesthesia have worn off. Keeping feral cats longer is stressful for both them and their caregiver. In some exceptional cases, the vet may suggest that you keep them longer or you may choose to if you have the means. Sometimes females that had a pregnancy terminated are kept longer. Cats held more than 48 hours need to be transferred into a larger kennel. Tips on achieving this are at the Alley Cat Allies website. Transferring animals should be done at the trap site in case a cat gets loose during the transfer.
Should I give food and water to the recovering trapped cats? It is common to not give food and water to recovering cats. Anesthesia can cause nausea and a dangerous inability to expel food and fluids if choked on. Most cats will choose to simply rest or may be too stressed to eat. It is also important to keep the surgical site dry.
If you choose to feed them post surgery and before release–mixing water in with wet food to the consistency of pancake batter will provide cats with both nutrition and moisture. Only give a small amount and do it as late as possible before going to bed. Slightly tilting the mouth of the trap opened a couple inches allows for a shallow dish or plate to be placed in at an angle. Kittens, older and thin cats may be candidates for feeding.
Kittens and nursing mothers? Practicing TNR when you first spot new cats eliminates the challenges posed by feral kittens and nursing mothers!!! However, many well intentioned people do not seek resources on TNR until they see kittens or experience nusiance behaviors. If the kittens are eating and drinking on their own, you can get the trapped mother altered. Veterinarians make an exception for lactating ferals with the understanding that cats that have been previously trapped can be much more difficult to re-trap.
Typically, kittens that are 5 weeks of age or so, while still nursing, show an interest in eating on their own. This also makes this age an ideal time to take them in for socialization and eventual placement in homes. They are old enough to eat on their own, yet tame quickly. Kittens as young as 3-4 weeks will eat gruel. Information on aging kittens, bottle feeding kittens, socializing feral kittens and more can be found on line.
If you can’t be sure if a female is lactating, a vet can confirm it at the time of surgery. In this case, the mother should be released once she fully regains consciousness within 4-6 hours of surgery so she can get back to them. Altered mothers will continue to produce milk when suckled.
There are excellent online articles on bottle feeding baby kittens, socializing feral kittens, caring for pregnant mothers and other related issues.
A feral with medical issues? Sometimes cats with medical needs discovered during the initial exam that can not be served at low cost spay/neuter clinics needs and need to be seen by a full service veterinarian. It is possible to treat feral cats for many health conditions in which they lead full lives.