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Feral Cats and TNR

Many people believe that stray cats and feral cats are one and the same. While feral cats and stray cats are the same species, they differ greatly. It is important to be able to spot these differences so you can know how best to interact with and care for outdoor cats that may live near you.

What is a “Feral” Cat?

A stray cat is a pet cat that is lost or abandoned by its previous home. Stray cats may enjoy close interaction with people. Feral cats are wild, prefer little-to-no contact with humans, and are well-suited to living outdoors. Feral cats are the offspring of lost or abandoned pet cats or other feral cats. They are not accustomed to contact with people and are typically too fearful and wild to handle.


Without intervention, feral cat populations can quickly get out of control. In fact, female cats may become pregnant as early as four months of age and can have two to three litters per year. Being pregnant and nursing kittens is very stressful for female cats that are struggling to survive. More than half of feral kittens likely die due to malnutrition. Commonly, people will take on the responsibility of feeding outdoor cats regularly. However, this will only perpetuate the problem of cat overpopulation if the cats are not sterilized.

Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) is a strategy for improving the lives of feral cats and humanely reducing their numbers. The name for Trap-Neuter-Return is quite literal. First, feral cats are trapped in live traps by caretakers or rescues. These trapped cats are then brought to a local veterinarian for sterilization. Lastly, these cats are returned to their original capture site to continue living their life as they did before. At a minimum, feral cats that are TNR’d are spayed or neutered, vaccinated against rabies, and surgically ear-tipped on one ear. An ear tip is the universally recognized sign of a cat that has been TNR’d.

Why is TNR Important?

Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) is generally accepted to be the most humane and effective way to control feral cat overpopulation. Once spayed, female feral cats tend to live much healthier lives because they will no longer have to provide nutrients to litter after litter. Male cats have a reduced need to roam and defend territory once they are neutered, thus reducing their chances of injury.

Other efforts to control feral cat populations typically include relocating cats. This method is usually less effective because feral cats can typically reproduce faster than they can be removed from the environment. TNR operates on the idea that once an entire colony is TNR’d, the existing cats claim the resources within their territory, which deters other cats from entering. If all cats in a feral colony are TNR’d, there is no longer a fight for food and shelter, and all cats may have a healthier, safer life as a result.

TCAP now offers free feral sterilizations for the first 12 feral cats per surgery day at our eight main locations in Denton, Fort Worth, Burleson, Allen, Arlington, Garland, Hurst, and Weatherford on regular surgery days. Cats must be in individual live traps, and their ear will be tipped. Caretakers just pay $5.00 for a rabies vaccine. Extra fees apply if the cat is crypt orchid or pregnant.

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