What is Trap-Neuter-Return – A Complete Guide

Published by Annie Anderson
Last updated: March 31, 2024

The population of stray animals is on the rise and with that, the need to control it in some way has also come up. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to put all street animals into shelters or get them adopted, so alternate ways of solving this problem have been invented.

One of those ways is the “Trap-Neuter-Return” method or TNR for short. So, if you have the question “What is Trap-Neuter-Return”, this article will provide you with all the necessary information.

Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR)

If a colony of feral cats has been identified, volunteers will set up humane traps, and once these cats have been captured, they will be transported to a vet. There, they will be neutered to prevent future mating.

The importance and effectiveness of this method are displayed by the fact that it is preferred by Cats Protection, one of the largest feline charities in the UK.
What makes it so widely accepted is the fact that, aside from its efficaciousness, it is also humane, which is a crucial facet.

The name of the method is pretty self-explanatory, but we will get into a more in-depth explanation.


Trapping is done by using humane traps, which are similar to cat cages, in order to capture the cats in question and then be able to carry out the rest.

These traps are set up in the location of the colony and in such a way that will make cats voluntarily enter them, usually by putting food in them.

The reason these traps are used is so that people wouldn’t have to directly handle the cats. This is because feral cats can be extremely aggressive and can sometimes cause serious injuries to people in times when they feel threatened.


Neutering (sterilization, castration for males, spaying for females) is a process done by a professional veterinarian and its cause is to prevent the animal at hand from being able to reproduce in the future.

It also affects the animal’s behaviour, which is why many owners opt for this solution, as well.

An additional step that is done at the vet (to stray cats) is having their left ear “tipped” to make it recognizable from a distance that the cat had already been neutered. This is done under anesthesia and doesn’t hurt the animal.

It prevents the same cat from being trapped and taken to be neutered more than once, thus saving time and effort for the people involved and saving the cat stress of being captured multiple times.


Once the cats have been neutered and have recovered, they are returned to their previous location. Unfortunately, it is impossible to find a home for all stray cats, so they have to be put back into the streets.

If it is determined that the location is not safe for the colony, they will be relocated to a safer place.

Why is Trap-Neuter-Return A Good Solution?

The Trap Neuter Return method could seem cruel at first glance, if one doesn’t know what it entails and how it is done.

However, this is actually one of the best solutions to an increasingly present problem. To be able to understand why this is so, we need to explain what a big contributor to the issue is.

The initial thought is that every stray cat is in the streets because an owner has decided that they no longer want it. While that is true to an extent, there are also other factors that add to the multiplication of the feral cat population.

Stray cats mate amongst themselves and thus the population grows bigger. By neutering the already existing feral cats, that possibility is lowered, which means that there will be fewer street cats in the future.

Additionally, this method is done in a humane way and doesn’t harm cats, which is an important requirement in today’s day and age. Safety of the animals is a top priority in any operation such as this and that puts this solution above many others.

Furthermore, cats that have been neutered and returned to their previous environment have displayed improvements in their overall health and behaviour.

Their natural instincts for breeding can be overpowering and can make them more aggressive and unfriendly towards people and even other animals.

Once they have been rid of that, they have shown to be more approachable with people and animals. In turn, this can be seen as a contributor to more cats being adopted from the streets, due to their nature being friendly, rather than withdrawn and bad-tempered.

This method, in combination with others that are aimed at the (potential) owners, is probably the most effective at preventing the rise in numbers of stray cats in the future.


Of course, there are downsides to this method – primarily the difficulty of execution. A lot of time and effort needs to be put into it, which requires certain resources and oftentimes, that is difficult to secure.

Financial Resources

This method requires certain economic support, which is one of the biggest problems regarding it.

During the first phase (the trapping), there is the need for humane traps. These are often not cheap and sometimes, depending on the number of cats at hand, sometimes there is a need for more than one trap.

The good thing is that once these traps have been purchased, they can serve perfectly well for a number of years.

Furthermore, the veterinary bill can get hefty, and it needs to be paid every time, unlike the traps. Sometimes though, the vets will accept to do the job for free, but it’s not to be expected every time.

Usually, however, charity organizations have a vet clinic they work with and have some sort of an agreement with. The problem can arise when a smaller charity starts using this method, because they may not be as well connected, which can also mean that a collaboration with a veterinarian might not be possible, at least in the beginning.


Time plays a big part in this whole operation. Since it involves feral animals, their reactions are quite unpredictable, which means that capturing them can last upto several days

To add to that, it is usually done during the night, which is restricting in and of itself, making everything more difficult.

This means that either more people will have to work on it, or that fewer people will be working longer. That leads into the matter of human resources.


This method is usually conducted by volunteers, meaning that the number of available people can vary. Sometimes, there will be more than enough people to carry it out, while others, there won’t be nearly enough.

Additionally, volunteering means that this isn’t these people’s primary occupation, so the times they are available to be doing this is restricted. 

Nowadays, most people are short on time as it is, without the additional, long side tasks. Even if some people would like to get involved with doing something like this, many are unable to because of the unpredictable hours.

However, this doesn’t always have to be a problem, since the TNR operation is usually performed during the night, when most people aren’t busy.

To add to that, volunteers who are trusted with doing this task need to have some experience and knowledge with this sort of work. Obviously, some less experienced people can be involved too, but they need to be guided by those who know exactly what they are doing.


The Trap-Neuter-Return method has been proven to be one of the most effective and humane methods of controlling the rising numbers of the stray cat population. It has many benefits to it, but it’s not free of drawbacks. Its popularity certainly warrants the question “What is Trap-Neuter-Return” in anyone who is not familiar with it.

Here is a quick overview of everything that was covered in this article.

The TNR method requires capturing identified colonies of cats in a humane way, having them transported to a vet to be neutered and then returning them to their location.

The main benefits of this method are the fact that it allows for humane control of the number of cats in the streets, it’s humane and, aside from preventing future breeding, it affects the cats behaviour for the better.

There are also a few problems regarding it, such as financial resources, which can sometimes be lacking, the time it takes to execute it, as well as human resources which don’t always abound, need to be experienced and have the necessary free time.

Regardless of the downsides, this method is certainly one of the best in dealing with this increasing problem, and there’s no doubt that it will continue being at the forefront in the future.

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