Here are answers to some common questions about community cats and TNR programs.
Why are there so many community cats?
Female cats can become pregnant around four months old and have multiple litters each year, so the number of outdoor cats in communities can rise fast if cats aren’t spayed or neutered.
Who takes care of community cats?
The Humane Society of the United States says around 10% of people feed community cats. These individuals, known as cat caregivers, generally provide food and water, help arrange spay/neuter services, get veterinary care in case of illness or injury, and help cats with shelter needs, such as boxes or containers where they can go for warmth and to get out of the rain.
Cat caregivers also keep an eye out for cats that appear to be socialized, for example pet cats that may have gotten out, so they can be reunited with their families or adopted into new homes.
These are volunteer members of the public, sometimes working with local community cat programs but often supplying food and care with their own funds. Having a coordinated local community cat program can help ensure that this care continues even if caregivers have to move or run into financial challenges.
What’s the solution for community cat overpopulation?
Over the years, many communities tried a trap-and-kill method of population control for community cats. Not only is this inhumane, but multiple studies have also shown that it is less effective than reducing populations over time through spay and neuter programs.
In effective trap-neuter-return (TNR) programs, cats are humanely trapped, spayed or neutered, vaccinated to protect public and cat health, and returned to their community to live out their lives. Cats that are young or are socialized can be put up for adoption if shelters have the capacity for care. Long-term community cats generally prefer to stay in their outdoor cat colony.
As a result of TNR programs, fewer cats breed and the population ultimately declines. At the same time, local animal shelter time and budgets can focus on other services that help local pets and pet owners.
TNR, TNVR, RTF – what do all the terms mean?
A variety of acronyms are used to talk about trap-neuter-return (TNR) type programs. In this toolkit, we generally use “TNR” as our shorthand, but we fully support the importance of vaccination as part of the TNR process. Here are some of the most common terms:
- TNR: trap-neuter-return
- TNVR: trap-neuter-vaccinate-return – most programs include vaccination; this acronym emphasizes vaccination as a key program component
- TVAR: trap-vaccinate-alter-return
- SNR: shelter-neuter-return, also known as RTF
- RTF: return-to-field – this refers to shelter-based programs in which cats impounded as strays are returned to their neighborhood after spay/neuter and vaccination
Shouldn’t community cats be in animal shelters?
According to data from Shelter Animals Count, almost 10% of cats that end up in shelters don’t make it out alive. This includes lost pets that are not reclaimed, but also community cats, who are often unadoptable because they’re not socialized to people and prefer their outdoor life.
Unless it has a return-to-field/shelter-neuter-return program, bringing a community cat to a shelter contributes to shelter overcrowding, takes up resources that could be helping adoptable pets find homes, and potentially leads to euthanasia for the cat.
Plus, some cats assumed to be community cats are actually owned cats with outdoor access or lost cats. This resource from Community Cat Coalition offers tips to determine the difference.
What is ear-tipping and how does it relate to TNR?
A tipped ear – where the very top portion of the left ear is removed – is the universal signal to animal welfare and members of the community that a cat has been part of a TNR program. It allows people to see from a distance that a free-roaming cat has been spayed/neutered and vaccinated so they are not mistakenly trapped a second time. The procedure is performed while the cat is anesthetized for spay/neuter surgery, so it is not painful for the cat.
Does it matter where community cats are returned after TNR?
Yes, cats should be returned to their territory for their own comfort and community, and because of something known as the “vacuum effect.” This is a biological concept identified across many species: When an animal population is removed from its home area, there will be a temporary dip in population but then that “vacuum” will quickly attract other members of the same species to use the same resources the prior group was using.
The vacuum effect is one of the important arguments against trap-and-kill programs – that the cat population will quickly rebound despite many cats being needlessly killed.
Isn’t living outside unhealthy for cats?
Community cats do encounter more risks, from predators, to weather, to infections. But experts say that generally outdoor cats can live a healthy life, particularly after being spayed or neutered, which makes them less likely to catch diseases that are spread by mating or mating-related fighting.
Plus, since most TNR programs include FVRCP and rabies vaccines, the cats are protected from three of the most contagious cat viruses: feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus and panleukopenia. As more and more cats in a community cat colony are vaccinated, the entire colony gets better and better protection from disease.
Aren’t community cats a public health risk?
Some people worry that community cats could transmit rabies or other diseases to humans or other animals. However, vaccination as part of TNR programs helps provide protection for the cats, their colony and those who come into contact with it. Studies have shown that community cats in colonies with caregivers often have infection rates similar to pet cats with outdoor access.
Want to know more? Check out our Community Cat Toolkit for an overview of community cat care, case studies, tools for citizens and more.