Why Trap-Neuter-Return Is the Best Solution

TNR (Trap/Neuter/Return)  is growing increasingly popular and is being utilized in more and more communities across the nation.  This program can be attributed to its many proven advantages over other methods of animal control.  These advantages include a permanent reduction of feral and stray cat populations, cost savings to animal control and the elimination of nuisance behaviors like spraying and fighting.  In addition, by returning the spayed/neutered and rabies vaccinated feral cats to their territory, TNR provide the public health benefits of rat abatement and protection against rabies transmission from wildlife species.  The lower feral population also helps to lower any predation on birds and wildlife by the cats.

Efforts to simply remove the cats have historically failed; removing cats creates a vacuum effect, providing space for more reproducing cats to move into the area and start the breeding process and the problem all over again.  TNR is more cost-effective than trapping and killing feral cats.   The average cost of sterilization is approximately one-third the average cost incurred to trap, hold and destroy a feral cat.  Unlike any other method known, TNR presents a realistic possibility of a permanent, long-term solution to feral and stray cat overpopulation and all its associated problems. 

Groups endorsing TNR include:

  • AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association)
  • HSUS (Humane Society of the United States)
  • AHA (American Humane Association)
  • ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals)
  • Cat Fancier's Association
  • Alley Cat Allies


The Advantages of TNR


Population Reduction

TNR immediately stabilizes the size of a colony by eliminating new litters and removing adoptable cats.  Over time, a colony population is reduced by attrition and natural causes.  

  • Newburyport, Massachusetts: Newbury introduced a TNR program in 1992 to address its severe feral cat problem.  There were 300 feral cats living along the waterfront in 1992.  In the first year, 200 cats were trapped as part of the community-wide TNR program with 100 of those cats being adopted into homes.  By 1998, the program reached a 100% sterilization rate.  In 2007, there were only 6 cats living along the Newburyport waterfront.
  • San Francisco, California: The San Francisco SPCA has been working with feral cat caregivers to control the feral cat population since 1993.  The city showed a 71% drop in euthanasia rate for all cats after six years of TNR.

Reduced nuisance behavior and fewer complaints

Neutering feral and stray cats resolves most quality of life issues.  The noxious odor associated with the spraying of unaltered males is caused by testosterone in the urine.  Once the cat is fixed, this is no longer a problem.   The cessation of reproductive activity also brings an end to mating behavior and the noise associated with it, both the yowling of females in heat and the fighting among male cats.  In addition, neutered feral colonies tend to roam much less and so become much less visible.


Public health concerns addressed through TNR

Descriptions of feral cats as generally diseased are not founded in fact.  The truth is that feral cats are generally as healthy as domestic cats and present a miniscule health risk to humans. 

Rabies:    Cats pose a very low risk for contracting and spreading rabies as they are not a natural vector for the disease.  Feral cats by nature will avoid human contact.  On balance, the public health benefits of maintaining neutered, rabies-vaccinated feral cats in their environment through TNR far outweigh any possible public health threats.  TNR can remove much of the opportunity for rabies to be transmitted from raccoons to feral cats and then to humans by having the cats vaccinated against the virus at the time of neutering.  Vaccination of a large percentage of the feral cats in a given location may then create a barrier species for transmission of the virus from raccoons to humans:  “By keeping a critical mass (usually 80 percent) of feral cats vaccinated against rabies in managed colonies, a herd immunity effect may be produced, potentially providing a barrier between wildlife and humans and preventing one of the major public health threats caused by feral cats."

Rodent control:   The feral cat population has proven to be useful in helping maintain public health in another way: controlling rat and mice populations.  TNR allows the cats to remain in the environment and provide no-cost rodent control, while at the same time stemming future population growth and curbs nuisance behavior such as noise and odor.