What is Trap Neuter Return

A simple explanation of Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) is that it is a method of managing free roaming and feral cat populations by humanely trapping the cats, surgically sterilizing them and returning them to their original territory.

TNR originated in Europe over 50 years ago, where it was practiced and perfected.

It’s now considered the most humane and effective method of feral cat control and is utilized around the world by animal welfare organizations working towards reducing problems associated with growing populations of stray and feral cats.


TNR is considered controversial by some in wildlife conservation but numerous studies have shown that when managed properly, it results in a reduction in the population of feral cats, which is both beneficial to people and to the cats themselves.

Before TNR, the only available method of controlling their population was through euthanasia.

stray cats photo
Photo by Rocky Mountain Feline Rescue

Stray and feral cats are at risk of injury, death and disease. Many of these risks are greatly reduced through TNR.

Once cats have been sterilized, they roam less, reducing their risk of injuries caused by road traffic accidents, they are much less inclined to fight, which results in fewer injuries and subsequent life threatening infections.

Most importantly they are less likely to seek out mates, which is not only the essential factor in population control but also greatly reduces the chances that they’ll catch a deadly disease from another cat.


TNR requires a team of dedicated volunteers to be effective. These volunteers start by assessing a colony to identify the number of cats and their condition as well as outreach and education in the community.

Once they have community support, they start trapping.

It is important all of the cats are captured to make sure that the TNR program will be effective.

trapped cats photo
Photo by Alex J Webster

When the cats have been trapped, they are assessed. If they are adoptable, they are placed into appropriate rehoming facilities.

Those that are terminally ill or injured so badly that treatment would be unsuccessful are euthanized.

The remaining cats are sterilized, vaccinated and have a small tip of their ear removed for identification so that they aren’t accidentally trapped again.


Ideally the colony is returned to its original home as a well kept colony of healthy cats will prevent new strays and feral cats from taking over the territory.

Occasionally it is necessary to relocate colonies and this is often to farm yards or other private property.

Finally, volunteers commit to monitoring and caring for the colony for the rest of its natural life.


TNR programs are beneficial to the cats and it seems they can help people too, with many prisons now involving their inmates in the management of feral cat colonies.

In Louisiana State prisons inmates involved in TNR were able to further their education while working with veterinary students to trap-neuter and return cats on the prison grounds.

As a result, three of those prisoners were able to qualify as certified veterinary technicians.

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