Case of the month: A day in the life of a TNR (trap, neuter, release) cat

Posted by on 3 June 2014

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Case of the month: A day in the life of a TNR (trap, neuter, release) cat

Cat Rescue TNR

Over the last seven years the Vetcall team have developed a special relationship with Cat Rescue Christchurch.  

Cat Rescue is an independent Charitable Trust that focuses on reducing stray cat overpopulation by using the trap-neuter-release (TNR) method. Stray kittens under 8 weeks of age are socialized in foster homes, de-sexed, micro-chipped, vaccinated and then re-homed.

Vetcall provides the majority of veterinary services including de-sexing of cats and kittens in the TNR and Kitten Adoption program, examination and treatment of sick strays and kittens, and giving all kittens a thorough health check along with micro-chipping and first vaccination.

Cat Rescue Christchurch plays an essential and valuable role in the management and welfare of the local stray cat population and we are proud to be associated with the great work that they do.

A little background:

All around New Zealand, cats not friendly enough to be re-homed are trapped and killed in shelters, by councils or by pest control companies, and as well as being cruel, this does not solve the overpopulation problem as it frees up niches for more stray cats to move in and quickly breed up to population levels that the environment can handle. Many studies have shown that TNR is the only humane and effective way to reduce stray cat numbers.

Many New Zealanders feed stray cats because they do not want to see cats starve, but few feeders have these stray cats de-sexed. De-sexed cats are healthier as females are not producing litter after litter of kittens while they struggle to obtain enough food, and males are less likely to roam and fight. Fighting causes infections and spreads diseases like FeLV (feline leukemia virus) and FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus). De-sexed stray cats will not add to the ever growing population of stray and unwanted cats.

A colony of cats that are neutered and cared for are relatively healthy, and the population remains stable and reduces slowly over time. A network of neutered colonies is the most kind and efficient way to reduce the stray cat population.

So how does the TNR program work? 

Cat Rescue - EmmaTypically a member of the public or person feeding a colony gets in contact with Cat Rescue and advises them of the location of the colony.  The ‘Rescue Coordinator’ is notified and in consultation with involved parties, humane traps containing food are set overnight.  The following morning the traps are checked.  Trapped cats that have not already been de-sexed are transferred into transport cages and transported to Vetcall where they are kept in their cages in our dedicated isolation ward awaiting surgery. 

Cat Rescue - Angry-Kitty

The majority of the cats we deal with are unsocial and unable to be safely handled.  For this reason cats are weighed in their cages and then their body weight calculated. 

Cat Rescue - Time to chillAn intramuscular injectable anaesthetic/pain relief drug combination is given through the side of the cage by the nurse whilst the vet confines the cat to one corner of the cage (there is often a fair bit of adrenaline pumping for all involved at this time as some of the cats are very aggressive!). 

The anaesthetic takes a few minutes to take effect. The cat is then removed from the cage and given a check over and its sex established.  Its bladder is then expressed to make it more comfortable post-op and the surgical site prepared as usual.  The surgical technique is exactly the same as we use for pet cats except that dissolvable skin stitches are used in females.  Females receive additional long acting pain relief by injection as spay surgery is considerably more involved and painful compared to castration.  

Cat Rescue - The ear-tip

In most cases cats are ear tipped whilst under general anaesthetic.  The procedure is completely safe and involves removing approximately a quarter-inch off the tip of the cat's left ear in a straight line cut. Ear tipping identifies stray cats that have been de-sexed. It provides immediate visual identification that that cat is de-sexed and part of a managed colony. It also helps the Rescue Coordinator track which cats have been trapped and de-sexed, and identify newcomers who have not. 

Once a cat is trapped, the Rescue Coordinator looks for an ear tip. If the cat has an ear tip it is released immediately.  Occasionally a cat is trapped which is friendly and possibly somebody’s pet.  In these cases we check them for a micro-chip and evidence of being previously de-sexed (scar).  If no scar or micro-chip is found they are de-sexed as usual and on the advice of the Rescue Coordinator they may or may not be ear tipped. 


Cat Rescue - Post op, in recoveryCats recover from surgery in a newspaper lined covered cage.  Once they have made a full recovery they are provided with food, water and a litter tray and stay overnight in our isolation ward.

Cat Rescue - on the cat busThe Rescue Coordinator checks them the following morning to see that they are okay, and then they are transported back to where they came from and released.

In most cases cats are de-sexed within 24 hours of being trapped and released the day after surgery.

Cat Rescue - FREE















Cat Rescue Christchurch relies on donations and the help of hard working volunteers.  For more information about what they do or to make a donation, please see their website for more details.