Part of Ireland's TNR Manual

How to Help Community Cats

Adapted for Ireland from Alley Cat Allies Conduct TNR Guide.

Familiarise yourself with the Trap Neuter Return (TNR) process and, in order to ensure the safety and well being of the cats and reduce your own stress, make sure to plan all of your trapping endeavours in advance.

Before You Trap

Read the step-by-step instructions below

Preparation and understanding the process thoroughly before you trap is essential. Being prepared helps you anticipate potential problems and plan solutions ahead of time. Keep in mind that your trapping will be most effective if you employ Targeted Trapping.

Find and coordinate with the other caregivers about your plans to trap

If you are the primary caregiver, this is a good opportunity to educate the community and let them know you are caring for the cats. If there are other people feeding the cats, talk to them about Trap Neuter Return and try to coordinate efforts, particularly when it comes to feeding, withholding food before trapping and assessing the colony. It's a good idea to use CATalyst's literature to help explain what you are doing and why. Most colonies in Ireland will have some level of caregiver -  assess their level of care when you initially meet with them. They have the potential to be a huge help to you - and to save you a lot of work. Find out more about Working with Caregivers and Information for Caregivers.

Consent Form

If there is a primary caregiver for the colony, have them read and sign the Consent Form. Emphasise the cats will be returned to the location they came from. You will find a fair proportion of caregivers, though seeming to understand this fact, will suddenly suffer from memory loss when you come to return the cats - they don't want them back. This is not how TNR works and you must make this clear to them. The Consent Form not only protects you legally if there is any dispute, but is also a good way of emphasising that the cats will be returned.

Communicate with neighbours around the colony

Community partnerships, open communication and education are important parts of conducting Trap Neuter Return. Many people are not aware that community cats live and thrive outdoors and that neutering improves their lives - and they may have problems with the cats that can be easily addressed. You can prevent potential situations from escalating and avoid endangering the cats by introducing yourself as the person to contact if someone has questions or concerns. Learn more about helping cats and people co-exist in our Community Relations pages.

Best Practice

Involve caregivers and neighbours in the process as much as possible. They'll know the cats and their quirks far better than you ever will (unless you move in!). They may even be able to pick some of the cats up and put them in a carrier – saving you a lot of trapping time and energy. And you'll leave them with a positive feeling about you and TNR.

Assess the cats

While feeding, start a log of each cat and kitten you see, using the CATalyst Planning Form.

Better still, involve other caregivers and neighbours in the process. Go over the form with the primary caregiver first, filling in what you can, and then leave it in their hands. Set a date for when you'll return to go over the completed form with them - and phone a few days before to motivate them to complete it on time! Encourage them to take digital photos to identify the individual colony members. Some caregivers may not be willing, or able, to do this - in which case it's all up to you. Others enjoy the process, and their involvement, and will give you detail you couldn't dream of getting yourself as a casual visitor.

If you can't persuade a caregiver to go through the whole process, do at least go over the form with them when you've completed it. You'll need their input to determine if there are any cats you haven't seen (many may not make an appearance with a stranger around), any that the caregiver knows to be neutered already and other useful bits of information that you can't determine as a visitor.

This process will help you to:

  • identify individual cats and kittens
  • monitor the number of cats and their health
  • determine their approximate age
  • determine if any cats are already neutered
  • determine the numbers of trapping days, vet appointments and traps you will need
  • identify if some cats are stray or socialised (friendly to humans) and may be candidates for adoption into homes, or if you will need to be prepared for trapping and fostering kittens (learn more in our Socialised Cat and Feral and Stray Cats pages.)

Best Practice

While some TNR groups attempt to rehome stray and socialised cats, sadly the situation in Ireland makes it impractical. With so many socialised cats (many Irish 'ferals' are, in fact, quite friendly and used to humans) and so few homes, CATalyst recommends returning all healthy cats to their colony - at least until TNR improves the national situation.

It's important that you get to know the colony, the number of cats and their descriptions to ensure that all the cats have been trapped. This is also important for ongoing colony care, so you'll know if any cats are missing or if any new cats join the colony that need to be neutered. Use the CATalyst Planning Form to document each cat in the colony, and learn more about keeping good records in our Monitoring the Colony pages.

While you are assessing the colony, you will also have to consider their specific circumstances and safety. CATalyst does not recommend relocation (associated with the phrase Trap Neuter Release, rather than Return); it should only be done under extreme circumstances when the cats’ lives are in imminent danger. The best way to protect the cats is to ensure they are spayed and neutered immediately; then consider other plans that may be necessary, such as relocation. Be fully prepared before you decide to trap and move cats by reading our Guidelines for Safe Relocation of Feral Cats. A common reason caregivers feel they need to relocate a colony is poisoning threats. Learn more about how to deal with Poison Threats.

Be Prepared for these Special Scenarios

Your response to these scenarios will very much depend on your ethical position with regards to animal welfare/animal rights and kill/no-kill stances. See our Glossary for more information on these terms.

Kittens and/or Nursing Mothers

You may come across kittens and/or nursing mothers in your trapping efforts. There are many factors for you to take into account before you decide what your plan of action will be, including the presence of the mother, the kittens’ ages and your own resources. Learn more in our Kittens Guide.

Always put kitten safety first when trapping by using the correct traps. You should have one trap per cat so that the kittens are less likely to follow each other into a single trap. Kitten traps exist, but our recommended traps work as well, so long as you're careful. You can manually spring the box traps with string and a water bottle to ensure that no kittens are by the trap door when it's triggered. And manual multi-cat traps and drop traps can be excellent for safely trapping kittens and their mum - find out more about safe, manual trapping at our Manual Traps page. Learn how to trap a mom and her kittens.

Follow proper post-surgery protocol for kittens and mothers.

Pregnant Queens

Are you going to have a queen's pregnancy terminated? Do you have reliable caregivers to keep an eye on her and her resulting kittens if you don't - and to make sure the kittens are neutered when they're old enough? This decision is complicated by the fact that it's very difficult to tell if a queen is pregnant in the early stages without surgery - and surgery will kill any fetus in the womb, regardless of intention.

Best Practice

Best Practice on pregnant queens is a tough one and we've no definitive answer for you. Some organisations will terminate right up to term. Some won't terminate at all. For those at the animal rights/no-kill end of the spectrum, termination up to seven weeks is an option (a feline foetus is only considered viable at seven weeks) and CATalyst recommend terminating up to seven weeks.

In a perfect world, where there are plenty homes for felines, we'd not recommend termination at all. However, in Ireland, nine kittens die for every one that finds a home (stats from ANVIL Ireland) and we feel allowing early pregnancies to come to term is unnecessarily contributing to that appalling situation.

Ill or Injured Cats

Plan ahead to ensure you can provide immediate care to, and make decisions about, an ill or injured cat. Have the phone number on hand of a veterinarian who works with feral cats - and whose practice will be open while you are trapping. Building up an emergency fund to help cover unexpected expenses could come in handy here.

Socialised Cats

Have a plan in place for how to help socialised cats. For instance, will you find potential foster or adoptive homes, work with a local cat rescue group or include the cats in your Trap Neuter Return program? Whatever your resources allow, it's important to neuter every cat in the colony. For more information and tips on finding homes for socialised cats, visit Finding Homes.

Best Practice

Keep in mind that TNR is about neutering, it's not about rescue. If you lean towards the animal rights/no-kill end of the spectrum you will want to consider teaming up with a rescue group to deal with socialised and sick animals, nursing mothers and their offspring and heavily pregnant mothers-to-be.

If you start dealing with rescue, you'll have a lot less money for TNR. While rescue helps individual animals, it doesn't change anything for the rest of the feline population over time. TNR is a solution that deals with overpopulation and, if implemented systematically, in the long-term will mean far fewer felines will need rescued.

Assess the site

If your colony is large and/or situated in an extensive/complicated location it's also worth making a note of 'cat lanes' of approach, ie. main routes the cats use to access and travel across the site.  Check all areas of the site, including the boundaries, looking in particular for cat-sized paths in long grass and soft ground, and cat-sized gaps in bushes (though any obvious paths will be relevant). Note these locations on your planning form as they may be good sites for your traps come trapping day.

Feed on a schedule at least two weeks prior to trapping

Establish a set time and place to feed the cats every day. This will get the cats used to coming out and eating while you are there (and help with your assessment process). If there's a caregiver, explain the schedule and assess if they'll stick to it to save you a daily trip. Find tools for assessing caregivers at Who are Caregivers?. For one to two weeks before TNR day, feed the cats as much as they can eat in a 30-minute period, and pick up the food after that period. An established schedule is essential to be sure the cats come to eat when you plan to trap.

Best Practice

Feed out of unset traps for one to two weeks prior to the trapping day, to get cats used to seeing and walking into them. Remove the back door, or rig the trap so it stays open. Remove traps after the cats eat so there is no risk of theft, damage or a cat accidentally being trapped.

Remember always to coordinate your feeding and trapping efforts with other caregivers. This will make best use of your time and resources. Learn more about feeding and colony care in our Colony Care Guide.

Ensure that the feeding station is appropriately placed

Position the feeding station in an area that is free of human traffic and is inconspicuous. You will have greater success in manipulating their schedule, getting them to show up and, consequently, trapping.

Find and coordinate with a feral friendly veterinarian or clinic

If possible, work with veterinarians with feral cat experience. You can find the nearest one to you at our Feral Friendly Vets listing or by posting on Feral Cats Ireland's facebook page – they're a great all-round resource for help and advice on TNR. Or, inspire and inform your own veterinarian with our TNR Veterinary Pack and our comprehensive feral cat veterinary resource centre.

Make sure you know how much the spays/neuters will cost - and any other costs that may arise during treatment, including parasite control and eartipping. Ensure they'll contact you before treating ill or injured cats, and if considering euthanasia - you need to be part of the decision-making process. Be sure your vet knows:

  • to use dissolvable stitches (you're not going to be able to take the cats back to have stitches removed!)
  • to use the flank approach for spays, not the midline approach
  • to ensure the wound site is as small as possible, keyhole surgery if possible
  • to eartip every cat and kitten they neuter
  • to check every cat and kitten for a microchip - there is always a possiblity that a much-loved stray has wandered into your colony

Preferably find a vet who's experienced in early-age neuter and willing to neuter pregnant and in-heat cats.

Line up clinic or veterinary appointments before you trap. You don’t want to successfully trap cats and then have nowhere to take them. Make appointments for the number of traps you have, though you may not catch a cat in every trap. Find out if the clinic or veterinarian is familiar with trapping and make sure they are prepared if the reservation isn’t fulfilled completely. Ask them how many cats they can spay/neuter in a single day. Plan your trapping session so that the cats are transported to the veterinarian or clinic as soon as possible. Make appointments for the same or following day to keep cats’ time in the traps at a minimum. Find out how soon after surgery you can pick the cats up to transfer to your recovery area. And ask the clinic how to reach them in an emergency if there are surgical complications during aftercare.

To learn more about other considerations you should take into account. and issues veterinarians must know about when working with feral cats, visit our pages for Veterinarians. For help with finding financial resources check our Fundraising pages.

Read more about working with veterinary staff.

Set up your holding/recovery area

Choose a dry, temperature-controlled (about 75°F/24°C), and safe overnight holding/recovery area for use before and after the cats’ surgeries. Some examples of acceptable locations include bathrooms, basements, garages - or possibly your veterinarian’s office, as discussed above. Make sure it is quiet and inaccessible to other animals. Ensure that all entries in and out (doors, windows, ceiling tiles, etc.) are closed at all times in the unlikely event that a cat should escape from her trap.

Consider securing help

Although it is not necessary, you may want to consider securing help for the day-of, either through recruiting volunteers or asking a friend. Trapping by yourself, especially for your first time, can be overwhelming and exhausting. Having a companion is also a good safety precaution if you are trapping at night or in an unfamiliar area.

Gather all appropriate equipment & paperwork

You'll need paperwork and equipment for any TNR project. Refer to our Basic TNR Kit for everything you might need, and be sure to have it all ready before the big day. Check out the following links to find more detailed information on appropriate Traps, Cages & Accessories, Paperwork and Other Essentials.

Best Practice

When trapping a colony, it's best to have at least one trap per cat. CATalyst suggests having more traps than cats where possible, because you never know which locations will be most attractive to the cats, or if a trap will malfunction. 

Prepare equipment & paperwork

If you have never set a trap, doing it near the trap site on the trapping day is not the best place to learn. You need to be as comfortable as possible with your equipment, for your own peace of mind and the cats’ safety. So practice ahead of time how to set and bait traps.

Ideally you'll have arranged some Training first with an established TNR group, rather than setting out on your own. But if there's no training near you, the TNR project is urgent, or it's been a while since you've trapped, practice setting traps and transfer procedures ahead of time. See Trapping for more details on procedures. It's not a bad idea to enlist the help of a friendly domestic feline if you go down this route - but be aware, although she'll give you an idea of how it all works, real life feral trapping involves much less obliging participants.

Never leave your traps unattended. If you haven't already, attach labels to all traps and cages with your name, contact details and information on what you are doing - for example: Humane trapping for veterinary care in progress, cats will not be harmed and should not be touched. Waterproof the sign by enclosing it in a plastic covering or bag.

Plan to use a vehicle that comfortably fits all traps and cages inside its climate-controlled area. You may be able to stack traps and cages on top of one another, as long as you have a way to secure them so that there is no way for them to fall or tip over. Just be sure to use a puppy pad or folded newspaper between the traps to protect cats in lower traps.

Print out copies of the paperwork you'll need and keep it organised and protected in a sturdy folder.

Make spay and neuter appointments

Pick the day you will trap, and make your neuter appointments. You should schedule the appointments to occur as close to the day of trapping as possible (preferably trap the day before or the morning of the appointment); the number of reservations should equal the number of cats you plan to trap.

Pay attention to the weather

Never trap in extreme temperatures, hot or cold. They are dangerous conditions for cats to be in without food and exposed to the elements.

Best Practice

Make a written plan for your trapping day. Make sure your written plan includes every tool you need and step you must complete throughout the Trap Neuter Return process. This doesn't have to be a huge task - you can simply print out the relevant pages from our online TNR Manual.

Remember that many tasks must be completed before trapping can start. You must liaise with caregivers and neighbours, set up the feeding schedule, procure traps and equipment, prepare paperwork and arrange for veterinary services, transportation and a safe, indoor recovery space.


Now you are ready to start trapping!

 Next Step: Trapping ...


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Part of Ireland's TNR Manual

How to Help Community Cats