How to Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) Feral Cats

What is TNR?

Cats are humanely trapped, brought to a licensed veterinarian to be spayed or neutered, given a rabies vaccine, have their ear tipped for identification purposes and returned to their home – the outdoors area where they have been living.

This process is surprisingly easy and anyone can do it successfully on their first attempt.



What you will need:

  1. A humane trap.   If you don’t have a humane trap you can borrow one (see below).  You should borrow the trap 3-4 days before you plan to trap.
  2. A blanket or towel large enough to cover the trap.
  3. A sheet of plastic for your car.
  4. Canned cat food or tuna.
  5. A safe location to place the cat in its trap to recover for 18-24 hours after surgery.   It should be at least 55 degrees if you are trapping in the winter months.  If you or your neighbor does not have an appropriate space there may be resources available to you.
  6. A few sheets of newspaper for each trap being used.


Borrow or obtain a trap

Traps are available from several sources. Most organizations and individuals require a security deposit and will assist you in how to set up the trap.    Please return all traps in clean condition and do not leave them unattended where they can be stolen.  Please allow at least 36 hours for a response.   

Please see our P.A.N.T. Network page for help in your area.


Preparing to trap the cat(s)

  • Begin feeding the cat(s) on a regular basis.
  • Feed at the same time every day at least one week prior to trapping.   If you have a space to hold the cat prior to surgery it is recommended that you feed in the late afternoon or early evening.   If no such holding space is available,feed early in the morning (6:00 or 7:00 am)
  • Identify how many cats can be trapped.
  • Kittens must be at least 12 weeks old before they can be spayed or neutered. See How to Tell the Age of a Kitten.
  • If you have a pregnant mom, please make a note of it and let the clinic/veterinarian know ahead of time.   Some will spay a pregnant mom and some will not.   Mother cats with kittens should not be spayed until the kittens are taken away or until the kittens are 5 weeks old, whichever occurs first.  Nursing moms can still get pregnant so don’t delay.


Make an appointment for the spay/neuter surgery

Make sure that you don’t make an appointment for more cats than you can transport or for more than you have traps.   See spay/neuter resources for low cost clinics


At least two days prior to the trapping date, place the traps, unset,  near the feeding area.

This will get the cats accustomed to the traps and make them more likely to enter them when the time is right.


The evening before (or the morning of) your appointment set the traps.

  • First, away from the trapping area, set the trap and give it a slight shake to make sure it is securely set.    Line the trap with a couple of layers of newspaper. Don’t use newspaper on windy days.
  • Add a large (about ¼ can) chunk of canned cat food or preferably tuna to the farthest area in the back of the cage.  
  • Add a ½ tsp of canned cat food/tuna one-half way between the trap plate and the front door. 
  • Place the trap on a flat surface in the area where the cat normally feeds. 
  • If you are trapping more than one cat, place them several feet apart and attempt to situate them around a corner, against a fence or behind a garbage can so they are less likely to be frightened by one of them becoming trapped.   
  • Double check to make the trap is securely set.  Move quietly and calmly.  
  • Place a ½ teaspoon of cat food just outside the trap door, then another ½  tsp. about a foot away.  You are trying to lure the cat to the food and then encourage him/her to follow the trail of food into the trap.  Don’t put down large quantities so the cats are satisfied before getting to the food in the back of the cage.   
  • Stand back at least 50 feet (or sit in your car).   It is preferable that you stay in the area; if you can’t do not leave the traps unattended for more than one hour. 



Once the cat(s) is trapped

  • It will likely thrash around.   This is common. Do not get upset and release the cat. 
  • Cover the trap with a blanket or large towel so the cat is in darkness. This will immediately calm the cat.   
  • If you are trapping the night before your appointment, place the cat in a safe sheltered area such as a garage or shed or screened in porch and keep the towel over the trap to keep him calm.  It is wise to place plastic under the trap in case of soiling. If it is cold outside and the area is not heated, set the trap a few inches off the ground and use extra blankets to cover the trap.



  • Line your vehicle with a plastic sheet, place the cat, in the trap, on the plastic.
  • PARTIALLY cover the traps with plastic and a towel leaving plenty of ventilation.   The plastic will protect your car in case a cat urinates.  


Post-surgical care

  • The cat will be still under the effects of anesthesia when you pick him up later in the day unless your veterinarian holds him overnight.  
  • When you bring the cat back to the recovery space (a secure area in which the temperature is at least 55 degrees in the cooler months) it is critical that the cat remain in the trap.
  • Keep the towel or blanket over the trap.  
  • Later in the evening, you can sprinkle some dry cat food into the trap and open it ever so slightly and put a small container of water (a pet food can plastic cover works well).
  • The next day, give normal amounts of food and water.  
  • Females must stay confined to their trap for at least 2 nights; males must be confined for 12-18 hours.  They must be kept in a protected area. 
  • Cats can easily die from hypothermia or heat while they are recuperating.   A basement is best.   A garage, shed or screened in porch will do in warm weather.  If you need to wear a jacket then it’s much too cold to allow a cat to recuperate in an unheated area.     
  • After this period of recuperation, release the cat to its home – the outside where it has been living prior to TNR.