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Colonies: make a plan

Make a plan for the actual colony you are going to work with

If you are making a choice of colonies to tackle, prioritise the one with the largest number of kittens to have the greatest welfare impact. Understanding the population is important to planning, especially, for example, knowing the ratio of male to female cats to estimate neutering costs because of the price differential. Make a full inventory of the cats you plan to trap as a baseline:

  • Include approximate ages, sex, colour and identification of any pregnant or sick cats and any kittens. Ensure that people doing the counting can differentiate between a healthy cat or kitten, and one which is ill or malnourished (assessment of cats’ health)
  • Repeat at regular intervals
  • If you are working at a larger scale you may need to take survey samples and use this to infer the whole population
  • If you are counting cats you will need to consider where and when you record sightings. You cannot simply count the number of cats at one site where cats are more commonly found, and then use that figure to calculate density across the whole area. GPS, Apps (eg the OSM Tracker app for Android) or Google maps can be useful for assessing initial populations, ensuring return to the correct location, and analysing the impact of the TNR programme. For example, in the survey planning using Google Maps and Streetview you can:
    • Check parking
    • Find where you are going
    • Check access to property from the street
    • Use aerial view to show the whole area with other potential sites where the cats go and which may be interconnected (and you may not notice from the road)
    • Use aerial view to show you any likely food source in an adjacent property
  • Other considerations when counting cats include weather, time of day, season and having a consistent methodology
  • Do not rely on estimates from other people about the number of cats, as they are often inaccurate. You may also need to consider that some cats may be duplicated if they move between closely located colonies
  • Have a fallback plan if the veterinary clinic clears slots ready to neuter cats but trappers are not able to catch the cats. For example, have some homing organisation cats starved on stand-by for neutering so the slot is not wasted. This will build up a relationship with the clinic so that they feel confident to book in significant operating time, knowing that they won’t be left without work if something goes wrong with the trapping.
Surveying is an essential part of effective TNR programmes – gathering data on the density of free-roaming cats, their welfare and reproductive activity, and many other indicators besides. It can be challenging though to stay on the correct survey route, record the same information about each animal and keep the data collected safe. If you are finding this difficult then the Talea app for Android devices may be for you.

This free app was developed by International Companion Animal Management Coalition (ICAM) in partnership with Wise Monkey Solutions. Further details, together with a step-by-step user guide, can be found at

On the cat counting theme…

The DC Cat Count, a unique collaboration between animal welfare organisations and conservation scientists, has a toolkit packed with recommendations and protocols for counting cats and collecting insightful data. This toolkit is for animal welfare organisations, municipalities or communities wanting to understand their cat populations better and evaluate population management programmes involving free-roaming unowned cats, owned cats, or cats in the care of homing organisations.


Some more TNR facts

  • There are likely to be more females than males – around 60-65%
  • The focus should be on neutering females in order to have a rapid impact on reproduction
  • Most cats you will see will be younger, as in some cases life expectancy will be very short with high mortality rates for kittens (sometimes as high as 75%)
  • Some colonies may share a genetic predisposition to certain conditions and you will often find colonies where all the cats are either healthy or very sickly
  • Whatever the number of cats you can see there will usually be about 50% more in the colony

Take details of who feeds the cats and whose property they are on:

  • You will need the cooperation of all feeders involved so that food is withdrawn prior to trapping
  • If the cats are not being fed then it may help to set up a short period of regular feeding, possibly using the unset traps in order to create a routine and familiarity

Have proof that you have permission from cat owners/carers (if there are any) and landowners to carry out TNR:

  • You must ensure that carers understand any likely outcomes – for example, if a sick/injured cat is likely to be euthanised or the kittens of pregnant cats aborted
  • Have an official contact number for the TNR programme that can be used by the public, vets and members of your team

Inform the local people of your plans to trap:

  • Let the local community know when and where you are planning to trap and why advising them to keep their pet cats in at the times you are trapping
  • You may also want to make a note of any pet cats that roam the area or sometimes appear at feeding times. It can be difficult to distinguish an unowned free-living cat from a pet cat that roams freely
  • Identification by collar for pets may be useful for the duration of the trapping period
  • If there is a population of owned cats that is not neutered it is recommended that you offer subsidised or free neutering to the owners as a way of controlling the wider population and reducing the future intake to the colony
  • You may decide to use media to raise awareness of the TNR programme – this may be via traditional methods such as newspapers/radio/TV or using social media
  • You may have access to volunteers or organisations with expertise in this area. The extent to which this is useful may depend on the size of the programme and/or the area you are covering

Make a plan with the vets you will be working with:

  • Establish how many cats they can take in for neutering, at what times and on what days
  • Ensure you have told the veterinarian what to do about testing for diseases like FIV, what other treatments they should give (if any), when it is appropriate to euthanise sick or injured cats, what to do about pregnant cats etc.
  • You will want to agree beforehand details such as:
    • Type of spay surgery (midline or flank)
    • Early neutering of kittens
    • Pain relief
    • Use of antibiotics
  • Most importantly you will need to make sure that they will ear tip all the cats to show that they have been neutered
  • Confirm the cost of their services and when they need to be paid
Useful resources:   

Response of feral cats to vaccination at the time of neutering

The Cat Group Policy Statements on:

The Cat Group is a collection of professional organisations in the UK dedicated to feline welfare through the development and promotion of policies and recommendations on the care and keeping of all cats


Key information:

Feral cats have shorter average life spans and poorer health than domestic pets and you will need to be realistic about options for treatment and outcomes for any sick or injured cats that you trap. Treatments available for pet cats that involve giving regular mediation or confinement cannot be given to feral cats because they cannot be handled or confined without stress.


Key information:

Bringing in veterinarians from other countries is a common way of trying to put TNR programmes into action. However, in reality, this can bring problems:

  • There may be a lack of adequate skills and training (especially if student vets are visiting to gain practical experience and their work is not strictly monitored by experienced vets)
  • There may be licensing restrictions to vets from outside the country being able to practise and a need for local licensed veterinary premises to be used
  • Unless these trips are also aimed at training local vets, there is a tendency for TNR programmes to just rely on outside help and there is a lack of continuity of colony management between visits
  • If visiting veterinarians bring medication or anaesthetic protocols which are not available in that country, training and continuity are difficult once they have left
  • It can be extremely helpful to bring in additional experienced outside veterinarians to assist in a local-led TNR programme which has the facilities for tackling large numbers, as mass neutering can enable a significant initial impact on numbers

Know what other facilities are available for the cats:

  • If you intend to home any friendly cats (stray or abandoned pet cats) or young kittens you come across as part of the TNR process you will need to ensure there is a good quality homing centre which will be able to take them initially and home them quickly. You will need to agree in advance the type and number of cats they can manage
  • If you are planning to use temporary accommodation such as foster homes, this must be well planned to avoid people becoming overwhelmed with too many cats or keeping them for too long
  • If you do not plan to home any cats, or if the quality of any local homing centre is poor (and cats are likely to catch disease or become distressed there), then return any friendly cats or young kittens to site after neutering
  • Setting up your own centre is costly and you must be absolutely certain that you are able to manage this well and have sufficient homes for pet cats to avoid their lengthy confinement

Don’t forget to check your equipment and safety procedures

Potential transfer of disease:

  • Be aware that you may transfer infectious diseases to your own cats after contact with unowned cats. As well as thoroughly washing your hands you may need to change your clothes and remove shoes before going into your home
  • Use a domestic wheelie bin as a trap-dipping bath to clean the traps

Preparing for trapping


Useful resources:

Managing community cats – A guide for municipal leaders from The Humane Society of the United States

> Trapping

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