Part of Ireland's TNR Manual

How to Help Community Cats

Adapted for Ireland from Alley Cat Allies Conduct TNR Guide.

After the surgery, the cats need a temperature-controlled, safe place to recover and should be monitored closely. Once they are recovered from surgery you can return them to their colony.



The cats should be returned to you in the same covered equipment in which they were brought to the clinic, with clean newspaper inside.

Ask if any of the cats need special care, any that need an eye kept on them and/or any that need to be kept longer than usual before release. Note that, if any of the cats had to be euthanased some vets in Ireland will require you to take the bodies, most offer a cremation service for a fee.

If you are given medical records, be sure to save them. Most vets will require you to sign a Consent and/or Release form, either for each cat or for multiple cats, and you should do so. You may want to keep a copy for your own records. Some vets will supply you with written aftercare guidelines.

Put your safety first

Keep the traps covered to reduce the cats' stress. Never open the trap doors or allow the cats out of the trap. Do not stick your fingers through the bars or attempt to handle the cats.

After surgery, allow the cats to recover overnight

Keep the cats indoors in their covered housing and make sure they are dry, in a temperature-controlled environment, and away from loud noises or dangers such as toxic fumes, other animals or people. When the cats are recovering from anaesthesia they are unable to regulate their body temperature and it's important that the recovery location is temperature-controlled to keep the cats from getting too hot or too cold. A basement or bathroom will usually do the trick.

If any of the cats need special care, an extra heat source may be required such as hot water bottles, heat pads or heat lamps. Ensure hot water bottles are well wrapped so that the cats can't touch them directly. Similarly, ensure the cats are not in danger of coming into contact with the heat lamps. Check such cats regularly to ensure they don't overheat.

Monitor the cats

Check the cats often for their progress; keep an eye out for bleeding, infection, illness and/or lack of appetite. If a cat is vomiting, bleeding, having difficulty breathing or not waking up, get veterinary assistance immediately. Ask the clinic before the surgery how to reach them in an emergency if there are surgical complications. If a cat is vomiting while still unconscious, her head should be turned to avoid choking. Sometimes this can be achieved by gently tipping the trap to no more than a 30 degree angle to change the cat’s position. Be careful when tipping the trap so that you don't harm the cat by jostling her too much.

Very occasionally a cat will worry at their stitches. If there's a danger of them tearing the wound they will need to wear a lampshade collar. I've never had this happen with a feral cat, thank goodness, but if it does you'd need to ask your vet to deal with it as an emergency. I can't imagine getting a lampshade on a feral cat without anaesthesia. You will not be able to release such a cat until the wound is completely healed and the lampshade collar removed. Don't attempt to remove a lampshade collar from a feral cat yourself.

Best Practice

Do not hesitate to contact your vet if you are at all worried about any cats recovery, no matter what the time. Your vet will know best if intervention is necessary and should understand your concern.

Food & Water

Feed and provide the cats with water after they regain consciousness. Wait eight hours after surgery before feeding adult cats. Kittens can be fed shortly after waking from anaesthesia.

When feeding the cats:

If they're housed in a hospital cage

Encourage the cat to move into the litter tray end by covering that end of the trap only - leaving the bedding end uncovered. This is usually sufficient. If the cat needs further encouragement try blowing it towards the litter end (the cat will retreat from your blowing) or poking it gently with a locking rod or similar. Once the cat is at the correct end, insert the divider in the middle of the cage and ensure it's securely in place. This cleverly keeps the cat restricted, while giving you safe access to one half of the cage. Open the door above the bedding and place a food bowl with a little bit of food in it at the edge of the cage. Alternatively hook a chicken feeder with food onto the cage wall. Check the cat's water bowl at the same time and clean and refill if necessary. If the bedding or newspaper needs changed, this is the time to do it. Close and secure the door. And don't forget to remove the divider and recover the whole cage.

When the litter tray needs cleaned follow the same procedure, in this case encouraging the cat to the bedding end of the cage. If you need to clean the litter and provide food at the same time, clean the litter first.

If they're housed in their trap

Lift the back door of the trap very slowly and allow only a small gap - one-half to one inch at most - to open. Slide a plastic lid with a little bit of food on it through the gap without putting your hand inside the trap. You may want to purchase or borrow a device called an 'isolator' or 'trap divider' for this purpose. An isolator can be very helpful, especially if you have a trap that does not have a back door. Always relock the trap door.

If you don’t have an isolator device to keep the cat in the back of the trap, and you feel you can't even slide a plastic lid in without the cat trying to escape, then don’t feed them. If you're holding them for longer than 24 hours you'll have to transfer them to a hospital cage or similar to feed them.

Chicken feeders can be used to hold food and water in traps too, but it's practically impossible to secure them safely without the use of an isolator.

Hold cats until they recover

Cats usually need to be held for 24 hours after surgery, depending on recovery speed.

  • Male cats can be returned to the trapping site 24 hours following surgery, as long as they are fully awake and do not require further medical attention.
  • Females can also be returned within 24 hours in the same circumstances, but we recommend keeping females for three days to ensure the wound site is healing well before release.
  • You must return nursing mothers as soon as possible, once they completely regain consciousness, so they can get back to their kittens. Alternatively put a mother's kittens in the hospital cage with her for her three-day confinement. In the latter case be sure you haven't missed any kittens, as smallies won't survive without their mum.

Make sure all cats are fully conscious, clear-eyed and alert before release.

Any cats held for longer than 24 hours must be transferred to a hospital cage, or similar - they cannot be kept for that amount of time in a trap. If a cat needs further care and cannot be released within these time spans, you may need to transfer her to a holding pen.

Best Practice

According to Dr. Julie Levy, a leading feral cat veterinarian and researcher, a good rule of thumb is that all cats can be returned 24 hours after surgery, once they're clear-eyed and alert, unless advised otherwise by their veterinarian. The clinic may ask you to make exceptions for cats who are slow to recover, need continuing post-operative care or have specific issues.

CATalyst recommends holding females for longer - three days - unless they are very distressed, to ensure the wound site is healing well.

You may also want to consider holding cats longer in freezing weather, as anaesthesia drugs may impact their ability to regulate temperature.

However, it is always the goal to return the cats as soon as you can - 'rapid return' is associated with better outcomes - confinement for feral cats is extremely stressful.

Return the cats

Release the cats in the same place you trapped them. Early morning is a good time. Place the holding cages on solid ground and point them away from roads or high-traffic areas.

Pull the door of each cage or trap up and off, while standing well away from the door and the cat's direction of exit. Then completely remove the cover and walk away. Do not be concerned if the cat hesitates a few moments before leaving. She is simply reorienting herself to her surroundings.

Sometimes a cat can 'disappear' for a few days after she's returned. She will appear eventually. Resume the colony feeding schedule and continue to provide food and water - she may turn up and eat when you're not around.

Clean & disinfect the equipment

Thoroughly clean the traps and cages with a nontoxic disinfectant when the returning is complete. Whether the traps are borrowed or your own, they should be cleaned and disinfected before they are stored. Then they will be ready for the next trapping adventure. Even traps that appear clean must be disinfected - the scent of the cat previously trapped may deter other cats from entering. The exception to this is a trap that has held a queen in heat - it can sometimes be worth keeping such traps with the scent intact in order to entice hard-to-trap toms.

Next Step: Monitor the Colony


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Part of Ireland's TNR Manual

How to Help Community Cats