What is TNR?
TNR is the acronym for Trap Neuter Return, a comprehensive management strategy for humanely reducing
populations of free-roaming domestic felines. TNR generally includes: assessment of colonies; humane trapping,
maintenance with food, fresh water, and cover; and monitoring to assure that newcomers are altered immediately.
What is ear tipping?
While the cat is sedated following spay/neuter surgery, personnel snip about a quarter-inch from his or her left ear
to identify the animal as a humanely managed free-roaming cat who has been altered and rabies vaccinated.
Where did these cats come from?
Domestic felines have been with humans for at least 10,000 years. Europeans brought domestic cats to North
America as partners in rodent control. As human populations expanded and spread, so did those of domestic felines.
Today, free-roaming domestic cats are found everywhere, from city streets to rural back roads. These populations
originally resulted from pets who were not spayed or neutered and their progeny. Today more than 85 percent of
pet cats are altered while only 2 percent of free-roaming cats are altered – so the vast majority of free-roaming cats
come from other free-roaming cats who live behind restaurants and shopping malls, on industrial campuses, and in
our urban and suburban neighborhoods.
What’s the difference between a free-roaming cat and a feral cat?
All ferals are free-roaming cats but not all free-roaming cats are ferals. To become truly feral (rather than feral-
acting) takes multiple generations, without close contact with humans, for this domestic species to revert to a “wild”
lifestyle. Most free-roaming cats in our region are not feral but are loosely “owned” outdoor pets such as barn cats
or neighborhood cats, abandoned or lost indoor former pets, and their progeny. Because even a feral cat can
become tame, the relative status of individual cats can change throughout their lifetimes. This graphic from The Feral
Cat Project of Washington State shows how that works:
Isn’t the life of free-roaming cats so horrible that it’s better to kill them?
While risky, just like everyone else’s life, the life for a free-roaming cat doesn’t necessarily have to be a short and
harsh one. Various studies have shown that humanely managed free-roaming cats can live at least as long as
seven years and, in our experience, many animals live much longer. Other studies and observations have shown
that free-roaming cats evidence overall health comparable to that of owned animals. Provided they are spayed or
neutered and provided with food, water and cover, free-roaming domestic cats can live a decent natural life. Kittens
are at the most risk of injury and illness, and experts estimate that between 60-75 percent of them die before
reaching a year of age. In addition to improving the lives of adults, Trap Neuter Return prevents kittens from being
born to suffer and die in these numbers.
How many litters do these cats have each year?
Scientific studies and opinions indicate that a female cat can have two litters a year averaging three kittens per litter
and that reproductive cycles are associated with seasonal changes in sunlight. In our experience, although there
may be as many as three reproductive cycles per year, few if any cats bear three litters. The physical stress
presented by estrus, pregnancy, birth, and rearing of young probably prevents most free-roaming cats from
producing more than two litters each year.
Why don’t you remove all the cats and place them in homes?
Sadly, until we can dramatically reduce their numbers, there are far more cats and kittens than space in shelters
and rescues to house them or indoor homes available for them. In addition, as long as food is present (including
dumpsters and other garbage receptacles), cats from expanding colonies nearby spread into the available space.
What don’t you just relocate cats?
Free-roaming cats’ well-being depends on familiarity with their environment – where they eat and safely sleep,
other residents and their patterns, and knowledge of potential threats. Creating this familiarity in a new location is
a timely process that is not always successful and if their territory remains largely intact, new cats will simply move
in to replace them. In addition, as with indoor homes, far fewer opportunities for relocation exist than cats to fill
Why not just round up all the cats and kill them?
Even without regard to the ethical considerations, trapping and killing simply doesn’t work – the then president of
the National Animal Control Association eloquently referred to this approach in a 2008 Animal Sheltering article as
“bailing the ocean with a thimble.” In virtually all settings, cats can reproduce far faster than efforts to eradicate
them and cats from nearby colonies move into the open territory. Additionally, members of the public frequently
sabotage eradication efforts and the high cost of trapping and killing exceeds the community’s will to fund it.
Don’t cats kill a lot of wildlife?
Some free-roaming domestic cats, including indoor-outdoor pets, will kill wildlife. In the absence of sufficient and
regular food, free-roaming cats generally kill wildlife only in order to survive or teach their young how to survive.
Their success in this regard has been grossly overestimated by some well-meaning wildlife advocates. In our
experience, few cats can survive by hunting wildlife though they can contribute to rodent control in some settings.
Nonetheless, by reducing the population of free-roaming cats, we can reduce this stress on other species far more
likely to be far greater stressed by the human species and its effects on the environment.
Do I have to worry about getting rabies from a free-roaming cat?
More than 90 percent of all rabid animals reported to Centers for Disease Control each year are wildlife, along the
eastern United States primarily raccoons. From 2001 to early 2011, only 29 cases of rabies in humans were reported
to the CDC. The last reported case of rabies in a human in Pennsylvania was in 1984. Rabies vaccination is a key of
TNR and consequently, the more cats we manage via TNR, the more we vaccinate against rabies and the less likely
the highly unlikely scenario of cat-to-human transmission becomes.
PA Department of Agriculture 2011 Rabies Statistics
It's not my cat, so why should I have it fixed?
Nobody's cats are everybody's cats -- the large and increasing population of free-roaming cats in our region affects
everyone. Your taxes pay for shelter and animal-control contracts and services. The vast majority of animals handled
through these means are free-roaming cats. Why not help prevent them from being born to be managed so that
those precious tax dollars can be directed elsewhere? Free-roaming cats in your neighorhood also have other
effects -- called "nuisance behavior" -- which, aside from being unpleasant, often results in neighborhood disputes
that require intervention by police and health officers. Trap Neuter Return dramatically reduces this behavior since
most of it is directly related to hunger and reproduction.
Since females make the kittens, why bother to neuter males?
The equation here is simple: 1+1 = 8 every year, year after year. Two cats together can produce two litters of at
least four kittens each litter! Unaltered male free-roaming cats are part of the reproductive process -- and although
they may not take up permanent residence in your neighborhood, they are always on the look out for a fertile
female. (Females are fertile at only five months of age.) In addition, unaltered males live a tough life, roaming long
distances and fighting over territory with other males, and they engage in all the "nuisance behavior" that causes
issues with humans -- marking their territory with very strongly scented urine and engaging in noisy conflicts with
other unaltered males.
How young is it safe to alter a free-roaming cat?
Both male and female free-roaming kittens can be altered safely at three months of age (and about three pounds in
weight). They can also receive a rabies vaccine at that age. With less body fat than adults (in which anesthesia can
be stored), kittens recover more quickly from the affects of anesthesia. In addition, since they never experience
reproductive maturity, these animals can avoid a great many of the negative reproductive health effects such as
deadly uterine or urinary tract infections as well as live longer and healthier lives because they aren't investing all of
their energy in reproducing.
Is it safe to spay a female who is in heat, pregnant or lactating?
Altering cats who are pregnant, in estrus or lactating is perfectly safe for them. Mother cats who are lactating and
returned quickly to their litters will continue to lactate as long as their kittens are nursing. Although terminating
pregnancies may seem harsh, remember that 60-75 percent of kittens who are born will die before reaching a year
of age. This includes many kittens surrendered to shelters or animal control agencies who are killed for no reason
other than that there is no space for them. It is far kinder to prevent them from being born to suffer and die -- or
survive to compete for the few good homes that are available.