Step by Step TNR
Congratulations on your decision to start a TNR project. If you follow these instructions carefully, you can have your colony TNR’ed in about a week! You’ll prevent the births of countless homeless kittens and improve the lives of the cats and your community.
- Site Evaluation: If the cats are not on your property, ensure the site is safe for the cat(s) to continue to live in. If the cats are in imminent danger, plan a relocation as a last resort, as this is a very intensive process. Call Tree House’s TNR hotline to ask for assistance or see good relocation instructions at alleycat.org.
- Communicate with Community Members: Identify all parties who are feeding the cat(s) and let them know you are planning to do a TNR project. You may need to explain what TNR is and refer them to TNRchicago.org for more information. If you know other feeders exist, you may want to establish a joint-feeding schedule to share in responsibilities and ask that they offer to help pay for veterinary services and collaborate with you to practice proper colony management in accordance with our guidelines and the Cook County Managed Care of Feral Cats ordinance.
- Establish a routine feeding schedule: Feed the cat(s) at the same time and in the same place for at least one week prior to trapping.
- Assess the colony. Using a tracking sheet, document the cats and kittens in the colony. Note a description of each cat including their name, gender (if known), color, markings, and any known health factors, such as visible infections, injuries, and pregnant or nursing cats. Note if any are very friendly strays – can they be adopted? Are there any kittens that can be socialized and adopted?
- Obtain a trap. Get one humane box trap for each cat. Secure a sign that reads “Humane Trapping in Progress – Do Not Remove” to the trap. Tape a sign that reads “Feral Cat – Do Not Handle” to the trap door.
- Test the trap. Become familiar with the trap. Ensure that all pins are locked in place and that the trip-plate mechanism works. Use a lubricant such as WD-40 on moving parts if they.
- Decide which day you want to trap and make an appointment with a low-cost spay/neuter clinic. You may want to give yourself a week to feed in the traps and desensitize the cats to them.
3-5 Days Prior to Trapping
- Place the trap(s) in the feeding location. You can proceed in one of two ways depending on whether or not you can leave the traps out at the feeding site until you start trapping: 1) If you can safely leave the traps at the feeding site: Place an unset but open trap in the feeding location for a few days prior to trapping – feeding the cat in the trap each day. To do this, use sturdy plastic twist-ties to secure the back door in an open position. Line the floor of the trap with a layer of newspaper, and place the food at the opening of the trap. Each day, put the food deeper into the trap by a few inches. If trapping multiple cats, stagger the traps, facing them in different directions. Withhold food the day before trapping so the cat will be hungry enough to enter the trap on trapping day. Always make water available. 2) If you can’t leave the traps at the site, bring them for each feeding and repeat the above scenario. After the cats finish eating, pick up the traps and take them with you.
- Prepare your supplies: Plan on about a small can of tuna, sardines or something else stinky and appealing to use as bait for each cat. If you have had time to feed the week ahead and know what they like, use that. You’ll also need: Can opener, newspaper to line the bottoms of the traps, large towels or single fitted sheets work well to cover traps on all sides, paper plates if desired (can also put bair directly on paper, flashlight (if trapping when its dark) tracking sheet and pen, extra water and food, hand wipes or paper towels, thick gloves, WD_40 or other lubricant, pliers.
The Day Before Trapping
- Prepare your vehicle. Lay down a plastic tarp then cover with a thick layer of newspaper. Bring extra for use on return trip if necessary.
- Pack your supplies.
- Prepare the recovery area. The cat(s) will need to recover for 24-48 hours in a secure, dry, warm, isolated place. Depending on the weather, this could be a basement, garage, shed or spare room. Spread a large plastic garbage bag on the floor and cover it with several layers of newspaper or towels. When your living area must be used, it’s a good idea to spray the room with a flea control product. Condo and apartment dwellers might consider putting the trap in their bathtub.
- Reminder: You must withhold food for at least 12 hours prior to surgery. Fresh water should always be made available.
Trapping Day (one day prior to scheduled surgery*)
- Have the large towels/sheets and gloves ready for use.
- Place traps on level ground and remove twist-ties (if applicable).
- Line floor of trap(s) with fresh newspaper.
- Cover the rear of the traps. Using an old towel, pillowcase or sheet, cover the trap from the center down to the rear where the trip plate is. If it’s a windy day, use safety pins to secure it down.
- Do not put glass, or ceramic bowls in the trap. Once trapped, the cat may thrash around in the trap until the trap is completely covered. Any breakable objects pose a serious threat to the cat’s safety. The bait should go on paper plates or directly on the newspaper.
- Bait and set the trap(s) Use canned sardines, tuna or other smelly or preferred food to entice the cats into the trap. Put 2-3 very small spoonfuls of food in a path leading them from the front to the rear of the trap where the big portion lies beyond the trip plate. Make sure the “baited path” is just enough to whet their appetite. You can also sprinkle dry food or oil in a zig-zag path leading to the
- Observe the cats and the traps at a distance. Do not leave set traps unattended. Put on your gloves and get the draping cloths ready while waiting.
- Cover sprung traps with a towel or cloth. Immediately after the trap has been sprung, cover the trap on all sides to make the cat feel safe and to calm them down. Remove trapped cats from the feeding location until all cats have been trapped. Trapped cats should be observed at all times. If you trap a seriously injured or sick cat, rush him to a clinic immediately. Immediately release all nursing mother cats unless you are trying to trap her kittens. If you are not successful in trapping the kittens, release the mother cat and try again.
- Board cats overnight or take to low-cost clinic. *We recommend trapping the colony the evening before their scheduled surgery so you can be sure they are fasted and to give you an opportunity to trap again in the morning. If you must trap the same morning, be sure to use only a very small amount of bait and remove any remaining food from the trap immediately. Once all the cats have been trapped, gently load them into your vehicle and take them to the veterinarian or to your home for an overnight stay, if applicable.
Tips for the hard-to-catch cat
•Use a drop trap instead of a box trap. Call Tree House to borrow one. Google “drop-trap” and watch “how-to” video.
• Line the trap floor with leaves.
• Put the trap in a large box so the cat feels hidden.
• Withhold food for two days instead of just one. Never withhold food for more than two days.
• Try a variety of foods to entice him/her into the trap. Try to identify which food the cats like best.
Pre-surgery Overnight Stay
- Provide the cat fresh food and water. If possible use a divider (can be borrowed from Tree House) to keep the cat confined to one side of the trap while you carefully place food on a paper plate at the back of the trap along with a bowl of water. To do this: slowly approach the trap and pull the cover back slightly so you can see where the cat is. Do not look the cat in the eye. Talk in a soothing tone. When the cat is on one end of the trap, open the door on the other side about 1 ½” – 2” to insert the items. Immediately close the door, making sure it’s securely locked. Always wear long sleeves and heavy gloves when opening the door to provide food/water.
- Check in on the cat before bedtime. Remove any remaining food and ensure she has water and that the room temperature is acceptable. Try not to talk during this time, as it will only add to the cat’s anxiety. Again, avoid making eye contact with the cat as it is a sign of aggression.
Drop your cats off at the low-cost clinic of your choice*. Arrive early for the appointed drop-off time as lines can be long in the morning. Feral packages at Tree House include spay/neuter surgery, vaccinations for rabies and distemper, parasite treatment and left ear-tipped. The package costs $25. For an additional $6, you can have a microchip inserted as well. Microchipping ensures that your cat will always be returned to the colony in the even the cat is re-trapped. It is also mandatory under the Cook County ordinance to micrichip all feral cats that are part of managed colonies. Dissolvable sutures are used so there’s no need to trap again to have stitches removed. Unless a cat looks ill, we do not recommend testing for FIV or FeLV. For more information on this, please see the FIV/FeLV handout from Alley Cat Allies included in this packet. *If you decide to go to a private veterinary practice, please note their services and procedures may vary from those of the low-cost clinics in Chicago.
- When you arrive home, remove soiled newspaper from your car and replenish with fresh paper for the ride home from the veterinarian.
- Pick up the cat(s) from the clinic that evening. Be sure to pick up all records of the procedures performed that day. Make notations on your tracking sheet.
- Transport the cat(s) to your home for recovery. Keep the cat overnight in the same trap, covered with a towel or cloth. Put the trap(s) on the plastic/newspaper lining previously prepared.
- Provide food & water. Water should be made available at all times. Wait until six hours after surgery before providing food. Start out with a small amount of food. Check the food & water supply every 2-3 hours.
We recommend holding females for 24-48 hours after surgery. Males can be returned to the trapping site 12-24 hours later. Cats should be fully alert and well-fed before they’re released. They should also have eliminated solid and liquid was.
Normal behaviors during recovery include deep sleep, head bobbing, wobbly movements, fast breathing, and shivering. Slight bleeding from the left eartip is normal but should stop by the following day. Abnormal behaviors during recovery include continued bleeding from the surgery area, heavy vomiting, difficulty breathing, not waking up, and grogginess 48 hours after surgery. If a cat displays any of these signs, call the clinic where surgery was performed immediately.
The “R” is for Return
Release the cat in the same place where you trapped him or her. Never, release the cat into a new area unless relocation is absolutely necessary. Call the Tree House Feral Friends Counseling Line for more information about relocation.
- Put food and water down at the regular feeding spot.
- Release the cat. Open the door of the trap, remove the cover and walk away. Let the cat come out when he’s ready.
- Wash trap with 1:10 bleach solution and return to Tree House or other source.
- Return your Feral Cat Colony Tracking Sheet to Tree House or the sponsor organization of your choice.
- Continue to care for your feral community. Refer to TNRchicago.org at for helpful tips and links.
Continue to provide fresh food & water at designated feeding stations during regular feeding times at least once a day.
Remove uneaten food at night to prevent attracting wildlife.
Provide required veterinary care after TNR.
Monitor the colony. TNR all new members of the colony as soon as possible.
Waterproof shelters should be provided. Line with straw or wood chips and periodically spray for fleas. TNRchicago.org has instructions for building inexpensive cat shelters using materials made with plastic storage bins, Styrofoam insulation and straw.
We also recommend that you provide a covered feeding station and outdoor litter boxes or sand pits to keep things neat and sanitary. Keep food and litter areas clean and place them in discreet areas to avoid any potential issues with neighbors.
Communicate with your neighbors to let them know that you are caring for the community cats. Be ready to address any nuisance issues and to assist neighbors who need help trapping cats on their properties. Most of the time, once you become the neighborhood colony manager you also become something of a “TNR ambassador”. We are here to help you in this role. Please refer people to TNRchicago.org or to our counseling line at 773-784-5488 ext. 234 with any questions or concerns.
For more information on how to manage a colony including, winterizing tips, food and supplements, nuisance prevention and more call our counseling hotline or visit: TNRchicago.org.
Thank you for taking this important step to help outdoor cats and you community. Please do not hesitate to contact us at any time.