Frequently asked questions
Q: Why not just cull cats?
One theory says that if a food resource remains in place, removal of the existing cats may create a ‘vacuum effect’ that attracts a new group of cats.
Alley Cat Allies have a helpful explanation of the vacuum effect if cats are removed completely from an area.
Dr Kate Hurley has written a review of options for cat eradication showing the drawbacks of the various alternatives to TNR
Q: Is there any advantage to leaving the testes and ovaries rather than standard neutering where these are removed?
A: There have been suggestions that vasectomy and hysterectomy are preferable to standard neutering for unowned cats. However, this has not been fully studied and is a more complex surgery that is not widely available and, if it is in your area, may not be affordable within your resources. Also, these operations do not remove the organs which produce the sex hormones which are the cause of reproductive behaviour which can cause nuisance (noise, smell, fighting) which often increase people’s dislike of having cats on the streets. Fighting also increases the risk of wounds and infections which can be serious to cats which have no access to antibiotics etc. TNR is undertaken for both welfare and for nuisance-control reasons, so a full gonadectomy is indicated.
Q: What if I trap a pet cat that isn’t neutered?
A: If a pet cat is trapped and found not to have been neutered then you may consider neutering, with or without the owner’s permission. For example, notifying the public that their cats may be trapped and neutered in advance may be sufficient for you to go ahead with the surgery. You will need to check the local legality of this.
Q: What do I do if I trap a pregnant cat?
A: Pregnant cats may be clearly heavily pregnant, or you may not be able to tell until they have been anaesthetised and examined. In most cases, pregnant cats are best spayed and the kittens aborted, as the alternatives are problematic for both people and cats. Confining a street or feral cat with kittens for several weeks is extremely stressful for the cat. Releasing the cat without neutering is not an option if population control is the objective. Taking the kittens away and hand-rearing them is time-consuming and takes away valuable resources from the TNR programme. In addition, a positive outcome for the kittens is not guaranteed by hand-rearing.
Q: What about trapping nursing mothers?
A: Trapping and spaying a nursing mother may put her current litter at risk. However, releasing before neutering will mean that she will continue to reproduce and therefore risk the suffering of future litters of kittens and a further increase in population. If you identify a nursing cat ensure she is first to be spayed on the day of surgery so she can be released as soon as possible. A flank spay is also preferable in these cases.
Q: Can cats be happy and healthy living on the street?
A: Cats that have been neutered have healthy life spans. In 2003, a long-term study of a TNR programme in the USA noted that 83% of the cats present at the end of the observation period had been there for more than six years.
(Levy, Julie K, et al., “Evaluation of the Effect of a Long-Term Trap-Neuter-Return and Adoption Program on a Free-Roaming Cat Population,” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 222, no. 1 (2003): 42-46.)