The Essentials of TNR

This guide will provide you with the resources you?ll need to undertake a trap-neuter-return project.

By Cimeron Morrissey | Posted: May 5, 2010, 3 a.m. EST

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Feral cat
Ready to take on your first TNR (trap-neuter-return) project to help free-roaming cats? The following resource guide and checklist will help make your TNR efforts successful.


Is he really feral? Before you start your TNR project, you need to be sure that the cat you’ve found is truly feral and not someone’s pet. Cat Channel expert Becky Robinson of Alley Cat Allies tells you how to tell the difference.

Finding free or low-cost spay/neuter clinics. To find low-cost or free spay/neuter options in your area, contact your local feline rescue groups, Humane Society or SPCA, or visit Pets 911 website to search their national database.

Get advice or help from local feline advocates. Your local rescue groups and cat advocates will likely be able to loan you equipment, offer advice and support and maybe even help you with your endeavor. To find nearby rescue groups and local rescuers, check out the websites of Alley Cat Allies, Pets 911 (enter your zip code and click on “find shelters and rescues”) and Best Friends Animal Society.

Borrow or buy equipment. Contact local rescue groups, Humane Societies or SPCAs to see if they can loan you humane traps. If not, you can purchase equipment at the Tomahawk Live Trap website.

Get answers to all your feral cat questions. Both Best Friends Animal Society and Alley Cat Allies provide comprehensive guides to feral cats, including step-by-step trapping guidelines and how to provide TLC to TNR’d cats.

Use this checklist as a guide to see if you have everything you need for a TNR project.


  • A trap and line the bottom with newspaper or cardboard
  • Bait (such as wet food, tuna, etc)
  • A covering for the trap (such as a sheet or blanket)

Before trapping

  • Make an appointment at spay/neuter clinic
  • Plan transportation for the cats to be dropped-off, picked-up and later returned to their colony
  • Prepare a safe, dry, quiet indoor recovery location for the cats
  • Ensure that the cats have not been fed 24 hours prior to being trapped


  • Set the trap in a safe area and watch it from afar
  • Once the cat is trapped, cover the trap completely
  • Transport the cat to the spay/neuter clinic

After surgery

  • Keep the cat in a dry, safe indoor location and keep the cat in the trap at all times
  • Watch for signs of surgical complications or illness
  • Feed the cat 8 hours after surgery by carefully sliding food into the trap (but without allowing room for the cat to escape)
  • Once recovered, return the cat to the location where he was trapped

Cimeron Morrissey is an animal rescuer, an award-winning writer and Animal Planet’s 2007 Cat Hero of the Year. Using the steps and techniques listed above, she has successfully TNR’d over 300 cats.

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Reader Comments

Fairminded Fran    Tomales, CA

4/18/2013 2:33:14 PM

Thanks for the great article… we’ve shared it on our Facebook page! The issue of community cats and Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) is incredibly important… not just for the feral cat population, but for all of us humans as well!

For anyone looking for a way to teach children about these two issues, there’s a great new children’s book out called FAIRMINED FRAN AND THE THREE SMALL BLACK COMMUNITY CATS. The book tells the story of Fairminded Fran, a young girl who finds three, small, black cats living behind her school. Fran’s concern for the cats’ well-being compels her to find the best way to help. On her journey, she learns valuable lessons about the plight of feral cats from a variety of guiding figures: her teacher, the school’s maintenance man and an animal welfare social worker. In the end, Fairminded Fran must use her newfound knowledge about feral cats and the practice of TNR to convince her classmates to understand feral cats. Many educational professionals across the nation have already expressed strong support for the book as a teaching tool.

For a free preview, reviews or additional info about the book, visit: LINK

Or join our Facebook community at: LINK

Melanie    Ottawa, ON

1/18/2011 11:14:04 AM

Faith, where can you get these prong dividers? Definitely an essential piece of safety equipment! We need an Alley Cat Allies equivalent in Canada! If you aren't inspired to do the TNR work, at least help your local group with a donation.

Toniann    Brooklyn, NY

1/7/2011 5:52:34 PM

the article does not tell people that the ASPCA and the Humane society offer TNR course.

Faith    New York, NY

6/9/2010 12:48:35 PM

This article covers the basics of TNR but doesn't mention using trap dividers to recover a cat in a trap after surgery. Dividers are used as a barrier so the caretaker can safely clean the trap and also deliver food and water to the cat safely. Essentially they are a set of metal prongs held together by a cross bar. The prongs are slid down through the wire mesh openings of the live trap in order to keep the animal on one side of the trap while the caretaker changes papers or delivers food on the other side. This is a very important tool that will prevent the caretaker from getting bitten and prevent the feral cat from escaping while a door is open. When you cover one side of a trap with a cloth and leave the other side uncovered, a feral cat will move to the covered side. Then the caretaker puts the trap divider, or better yet, two trap dividers down and changes papers on the uncovered side. Then the dividers are taken out and the cloth cover is moved to the other side of the trap. Once again the feral will move to the covered area and the caretaker puts the trap divider in and is able to clean the other side of the trap. Without using trap dividers, it is really next to impossible to safely clean a trap, which you will need to do at least daily. It is also the safest way to put in and remove food and water from the trap. It is always important to practice TNR safely to prevent cat bites and unintended escapes before a cat is ready for release. TNR organizations vary on recommendations for the length of time to keep feral cats for recovery but in general, it is 24 to 48 hours for males and 48 to 72 hours for females. If the female was pregnant, it should be kept longer if possible.

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