Part of Ireland's TNR Manual
How to Help Community Cats
Adapted for Ireland from Alley Cat Allies Conduct TNR Guide.
If possible, work with veterinarians with feral cat experience. You can find the nearest one to you at our Feral Friendly Vets listing and/or by posting on Feral Cats Ireland's facebook page – they're a great all-round resource for help and advice on TNR. Or, inspire and inform your own veterinarian with CATalyst's TNR Veterinary Pack (hardcopy available from CATalyst) and our comprehensive feral cat veterinary resource centre.
When you find a veterinarian or veterinary clinic interested in treating feral cats, establish a protocol to ensure that everyone involved understands what to expect and that you receive all of the services the cats need. Each cat will require a general health check, a spay or neuter procedure (using anesthesia that can be administered while the cat is in the trap), eartipping, parasite control and other treatments as deemed necessary, such as treating presenting illnesses.
Consider the following to help you choose your veterinarian or clinic and prepare them for the cats' neuter surgeries:
Ask for the exact charge for spaying and neutering and all other treatments. Figure out the cost of veterinary care for a male and a female cat, so that you can estimate a budget for the whole colony. A few clinics provide many services for a flat rate. Others itemise all of the services that they provide, including parasite treatments, and may charge additionally for any treatments related to surgery, such as anaesthesia and pain medication. Ask which treatments are optional and then decide which services to request. CATalyst strongly recommends that all cats being sterilised be given aftercare pain medication unless there is a medical reason not to.
Some veterinarians will offer discounts because you are providing a community service - you will need a clinic that will give you discounts and low-cost options. Always tactfully ask about these – don't expect them, and be grateful for any you get. If the cost of sterilising the colony is too great, ask for financial help from neighbours and businesses where the colony resides. They may be happy to contribute because you are taking action that will benefit everyone.
If you are under the mistaken apprehension that vets are under some kind of obligation to provide low-cost or free services to charities and grass-roots groups (they're not) read this.
Ask them how many cats they can spay/neuter in a single day. This information will guide your trapping activity. Also find out if the clinic understands the unpredictable nature of trapping cats. You may intend to trap six cats, but only end up trapping four. Conversely, you may think there are six cats to be trapped and then end up discovering a seventh. It's important that the clinic be flexible in order to accommodate a few more or less cats than you expected.
Ensure that testing for FeLV and FIV is NOT a requirement. Animal Advocacy only recommends testing as part of well-designed TNR research projects, and protocols need to be followed for useful results. We are against routine testing for FeLV and FIV, and against euthanasing cats who test positive, unless ill beyond recovery. Learn more about FeLV and FIV testing implications and protocols.
There's a lot of misinformation in Ireland (and, indeed, the world) regarding FeLV/FIV - help us get the facts out there: if your vet is unclear or misinformed on these issues, refer them to our FIV/FeLV information pages.
CATalyst follows best practices based on research conducted by veterinary experts. Test results are not a diagnosis and tests can produce false positives, so we do not recommend testing for FIV/FeLV as part of TNR projects, nor euthanasing cats who test positive unless they are symptomatic, i.e. ill beyond recovery.
Currently in Ireland funding for TNR is minimal and we'd recommend you don't spend money on vaccines that you could be using for neutering. If that changes and funding becomes available (fingers crossed), FVRCP vaccines (also known as distemper or feline disease vaccines) are also recommended in MLV (modified live virus) form. Do keep in mind that, with limited funding, money is better spent on neutering. But find out which vaccinations your vets offer and how much they cost anyway - you may need the info further down the line. Rabies vaccines are not currently required in Ireland.
Find out more about TNR and Vaccines.
Best Practice for Rescues
In contrast to TNR projects, if you are rescuing and rehoming animals, whether they are going to a rescue centre or a foster home in between, vaccination is the second most important thing you can do for them after neutering, regardless of whether you are high- or low-volume rescue. In rescue situations always vaccinate after an incubation period of twelve days, if the animal is old enough and healthy enough. And keep animals isolated until they have been vaccinated.
Ill or Injured Cats
Know your vet's policies concerning cats who need extra medical attention. Make sure you know how they will charge for treatments. Ask that they call you before making any decisions about procedures, or how they will treat the cats - you need to be part of the decision-making process, financially and emotionally.
Ensure that you will be given the ability to make the ultimate decision regarding humane euthanasia, if necessary. And ensure you trust your vet to advise you on euthanasia when those times come - it's nearly always difficult to make the decision and it's important to be able to rely on your vet to help you make it. If you're really not sure, get a second opinion - but please don't leave an animal suffering unnecessarily because you find the decision hard.
Does your vet have age or weight requirements for kitten neuter? Ask for their kitten surgery protocol. Kittens can be safely spayed or neutered if they are healthy and weigh 1kg. If your vet is unaware of the benefits, or unsure of the practice, refer them to our Early-Age Spay & Neuter pages.
Consult with your veterinarian about feeding requirements for kittens prior to trapping; kittens may not need to have food withheld before surgery because their metabolism is faster than adult cats. To learn how to safely feed cats while they are in their traps, see our Post-Surgery pages.
Pregnant or In-Heat Females
Will they spay a pregnant female or a female in oestrus (in heat), and are they experienced in the procedure? Is there an extra fee for this?
Find out when they'll discharge cats after surgery, if they have different discharge times for males, females, pregnant females, etc. Do they hold cats overnight for recovery in their office and, if so, if there is an extra charge for this service?
Check that the clinic understands the importance of eartipping the cats and knows how to perform the procedure. Eartipping is the removal of the tip of a cat's left ear (approximately 3/8”). It's an effective and universally accepted method to identify a neutered feral cat. Refer your vet to our Vet Pack and Eartipping Factsheet for more information.
Be sure your vet knows:
- to use dissolvable stitches (you’re not going to be able to take the cats back to have stitches removed!)
- to use the flank approach for spays, not the midline approach
- to ensure the wound site is as small as possible, keyhole surgery preferable
- to eartip every cat and kitten they neuter
Also ensure that they'll remove all items they attached to the cats, such as tags, bandages, collars or other items that either may have identified them in the clinic or been part of their medical care. Make sure there is agreement ahead of time on treatment in winter months, such as shaving less fur for surgery preparation. Be sure to ask the veterinarian’s staff to replace any soiled newspaper in the bottom of the holding cage with fresh newspaper while the cats are anaesthetised. See our Surgery Recovery instructions for veterinarians.
Establishing a discount scheme with your chosen vet is imperative - paying full prices for TNR projects is simply not financially viable. But don't expect discounts, vets have to make a living after all - and show abject gratitude for any you receive (they'll like that!).
All TNR cats should be vet checked and treated for illness, treated for parasites, neutered and eartipped. Ideally they should be vaccinated with a modified live virus (MLV) vaccine - but we do NOT recommend vaccination if it means less money available for surgeries, which is very much the case with TNR funding in Ireland at present.
Line up clinic or veterinary appointments before you trap - you don’t want to successfully trap cats and then have nowhere to take them. Make appointments for the number of traps you have, though you may not catch a cat in every trap. Plan your trapping session so that the cats are transported to the veterinarian or clinic as soon as possible. Make appointments for the same or following day to keep cats’ time in the traps at a minimum.
To learn more about other considerations you should take into account. and issues veterinarians must know about when working with feral cats, visit our Veterinary Clinic pages.
For help with finding financial resources see our Fundraising pages.