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What is trap-neuter-return and is it an appropriate strategy for the management of unowned cats?

The management of unowned, semi-owned or feral cats is a complex and often emotive issue. Trap-neuter-return (TNR) is one method promoted, primarily in the United States, as a humane alternative to euthanasia for managing and reducing populations of unowned cats. This article provides a brief outline of what TNR is and whether it is an appropriate strategy for managing and reducing unowned cats. Further detail is provided in the attached RSPCA Australia Research Report.

What is TNR?

Trap-neuter-return relies on desexing (neutering) a large proportion of a specific cat population to prevent further breeding. It focuses on the management of cats in defined populations or ‘colonies’, where a colony is defined as a group of cats living in the same location and sharing a common food source. It involves capturing cats, desexing and returning them to the place where they were found (occasionally they are released elsewhere). The aim of TNR programs is to produce a stable, healthy cat colony with natural attrition expected to eventually reduce the numbers.

Most TNR programs are carried out in urban or peri-urban areas. Since the recruitment of cats to the colony includes abandoned and wandering animals, public education programs and more responsible pet ownership are alternative options to TNR.

Is TNR an appropriate strategy for the management of unowned cats in Australia?

As a long-term and broad-scale strategy for the management of unowned cats in most of Australia, TNR is difficult to recommend. There may be some well defined and contained areas, where an unowned cat population is having a limited influence on wildlife, where a TNR program could be an appropriate option. However, such a program would need to be well managed and have sufficient resources to continue over time. It would need to include desexing of adults, re-homing of kittens and adults that are socialised to humans, and euthanasia of older or sick animals.  It would also need to take account of the fact that the strategy of returning desexed cats to their trapping location may contravene existing animal welfare or pest/feral animal management legislation in some jurisdictions.

Since resources for cat control are limited, in most cases they would be better spent on education, increased community awareness about responsible cat ownership, targeted desexing programs particularly for low-income earners, and better laws and regulations. These strategies should reduce the number of owned animals and their offspring entering the unowned cat population.

Updated on May 1, 2019
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