Part of Ireland's TNR Manual

How to Help Community Cats

Adapted for Ireland from Alley Cat Allies Conduct TNR Guide.


A teacher at the school, your boss, the clerk at the supermarket - people all over Ireland care for outdoor cats every day. Like them, you've discovered cats in your community - and you want to help them.

Community Cats

It's guestimated that there are between hundreds of thousands and one million cats in Ireland. Many of them make their home outdoors and are known as community, or feral, cats (stats by ANVIL Ireland). When you consider that one female cat and her offspring can be responsible for 30 cats in an area in just one year, the numbers are hardly surprising.

And it might surprise you to know that there are no native wild cats in Ireland - every native cat can trace its ancestors back to a family pet, and 'wild' or 'feral' cats are no more than abandoned domestic cats or their descendants.

While community cats are domestic cats, like companion cats and stray cats, they differ in that they are often not socialised to people. They are wary of us and are best not adopted. They have a home - the outdoors.

And, there is a simple way you can help them: Trap Neuter Return. This program ends reproduction, stabilizes colony populations, and improves cats' lives. The behaviours and stresses associated with mating - pregnancy, yowling, spraying and fighting - stop. And there are no new litters of kittens.

Learn more about Ireland's felines.

What is Trap Neuter Return?

  1. Trap: Humanely (painlessly) trap all of the cats in a colony (a group of cats living outdoors together).
  2. Neuter: Take the cats in their traps to a veterinarian or clinic to be health checked, neutered, treated for parasites and eartipped (a universal symbol indicating they have been neutered).
  3. Return: Return the cats to their original outdoor home.

What NOT to do if you want to help cats

You may think that calling animal control is the best way to help them. But it isn't. Believe it or not, Irish animal control only deals with dogs!

While many rescue centres in Ireland are no-kill or low-kill, many others kill animals who are not adoptable. And remember that because community cats are often unsocialised to people, they are not adoptable. Most rescues won't take in feral cats simply because they don't belong in the shelter system.

This guide will help you help cats effectively and humanely

CATalyst, is an exciting initiative, whose mission is to inform, enable and inspire TNR projects throughout Ireland. This manual is just one component of our educational tool set, written in association with Drogeda Animal Rescue and Animal Advocacy, experienced practitioners in Irish animal welfare and TNR.

We've drawn heavily from material by Alley Cat Allies, who helped introduce TNR to the United States way back in 1990, adapting it to suit our own experiences of the feline situation in Ireland. They've helped hundreds of thousands of individuals and local organisations worldwide improve the lives of feral cats by providing expert guidance on how to implement Trap Neuter Return, and educating communities about the benefits of the program. Now CATalyst intends to do the same for Ireland. This guide reflects the standards we've collectively developed in our over 20-year histories - and it will show you how easy it is to help cats.

Armed with your new knowledge, you will be able to join thousands of people working to improve the lives of community cats!

The Irish TNR Network

Many individuals and organisations volunteer in TNR around Ireland. If you're looking for someone to help you out with your feral colony, there is a listing here. Unfortunately, there is no comprehensive listing of Irish TNR groups at the time of writing.

We'll update you with more information and contacts when this, our updated site, launches later in 2021. Keep an eye on our TNR Volunteers pages for updates.

Step 1: Preparation For Trapping

Five Things to Keep in Mind about Trapping:

  1. Only use a humane box trap or drop trap to trap a feral cat. Never use darts or tranquilizers to attempt to catch a cat. These methods are dangerous and stressful to the cats. Nets are also not recommended for the same reasons. Refer to our equipment list for recommended box trap models.
  2. NEVER attempt to pick up a feral cat - even a kitten, particularly to put her in a carrier or trap. No matter how sweet she seems, handling a cat who has never - or not recently - been touched will frighten and stress her. She may struggle to get away, and harm you in the process. Use the correct trapping practices outlined below and ensure the safety of both you and the cat. (Note: Some would kill a cat if she bit someone - you may be endangering the cat if you handle her.)
  3. Do what you can to trap all cats and kittens during your first trapping session. This is important because the more times cats are exposed to the trapping process, the more suspicious they become of traps. Keep in mind that your trapping will be most effective if you employ targeted trapping. Learn more about Targeted Trapping, a trapping approach that allows for complete results.
  4. Feral cats are cautious of people in general. This fact should influence every choice you make when trapping. They may feel even more frightened and threatened when faced with a new experience, like being trapped (caged) and transported to a veterinarian. This is true for cats who normally act docile around their caregivers as well. Feral cats will not communicate their needs (if they are hurt, in pain or frightened). Instead, they will thrash about, trying to escape when in their traps or they may simply 'shut down.' It is essential that you stay quiet, calm, and conscious of the cats' well-being during your trapping ventures.
  5. Every trapping effort is different. A colony's location – a college, a warehouse, a farm, an alley, a small business parking lot - will have unique elements for you to consider. Use your discretion and common sense to determine any additional steps to those provided in this guide, and tailor the basics to fit your colony's situation. For instance, you may need to work with college administrators, connect with other caregivers, or ensure you have enough traps and vehicles for a large colony.

But most importantly, before you trap a cat, PLAN. Take time to feel comfortable and confident. Review all of the Trap Neuter Return steps and scenarios on these pages, and in the Manual itself. This will help you be calm and unruffled when trapping - ensuring the safety and lowered stress level of the cats (and you!). And remember, you're doing what is best for the cats. Keep in mind that simply doing Trap Neuter Return significantly improves the cats' lives.

Before You Trap

Familiarise yourself with the TNR process and plan your trapping day in advance. Throughout all of your trapping endeavours, plan ahead to ensure the safety and well-being of the cats and reduce your own stress.

  • Coordinate with other caregivers who may be feeding the cats, and prepare the cats for trapping by feeding on a schedule and in a designated feeding area.
  • Determine how many traps, cages and neuter appointments you will need to schedule after assessing the colony.
  • Determine a safe, temperature-controlled location where you will be able to hold the cats after surgery while they recover.
  • Find and co-ordinate with a feral-friendly vet or clinic. Make appointments.
  • Gather and prepare all of the appropriate equipment and paperwork and understand how it all works ahead of time - and practice! It is important to test all traps, to ensure that the trip plates work.
  • Withhold food 24 hours before trapping - and you are ready to start trapping.

Go to our Preparation section to learn more.


  • Keep track of all equipment at all times.
  • On the big day, prepare the traps.
  • Set the traps and watch them from afar.
  • Once a cat is trapped, cover the trap - this will help keep the cat calm.
  • Ahead of time, learn how to deal with particularly hard-to-trap cats.
  • Safely transfer the cats to their housing cages.
  • After securing the traps and cages in your vehicle, head to the veterinarian or clinic for surgeries that day or the following day.

Go to our Trapping section to learn more.


  • Transport the cats safely back to your secure, indoor location where cats will be in a temperature-controlled environment, dry, and away from danger.
  • Monitor the cats for any problems or illness.
  • For your safety and the cats keep them in their covered cages at all times.
  • Feed the cats eight hours or so after surgery, kittens shortly after waking, and return the felines, following the guidelines in the Post-Surgery section.
  • Return the cats to the exact location where they were trapped.
  • Clean and disinfect the equipment.

Go to our Post-Surgery section to learn more. Find out more about surgery protocols in our Veterinary section.

Monitoring the Colony

  • TNR the remaining cats in the colony.
  • Maintain the feeding schedule.
  • TNR newcomers.
  • Keep records.

Go to our Monitoring the Colony section to learn more.

Next Step: Preparation ...

Read More

Part of Ireland's TNR Manual

How to Help Community Cats