Population characteristics of feral cats admitted to seven trap-neuter-return programs in the United States

J Feline Med Surg. 2006 Aug;8(4):279-84. doi: 10.1016/j.jfms.2006.02.004.


Internationally, large populations of feral cats constitute an important and controversial issue due to their impact on cat overpopulation, animal welfare, public health, and the environment, and to disagreement about what are the best methods for their control. Trap-neuter-return (TNR) programs are an increasingly popular alternative to mass euthanasia. The objective of this study was to determine the population characteristics of feral cats admitted to large-scale TNR programs from geographically diverse locations in the United States. Data from 103,643 feral cats admitted to TNR programs from 1993 to 2004 were evaluated. All groups reported more intact females (53.4%) than intact males (44.3%); only 2.3% of the cats were found to be previously sterilized. Overall, 15.9% of female cats were pregnant at the time of surgery. Pregnancy was highly seasonal and peaked between March and April for all of the groups. The average prenatal litter size was 4.1+/-0.1 fetuses per litter. Cryptorchidism was observed in 1.3% of male cats admitted for sterilization. A total of 0.4% of cats was euthanased because of the presence of debilitating conditions, and 0.4% died during the TNR clinics. Remarkably similar populations of cats with comparable seasonal variability were seen at each program, despite their wide geographical distribution. These results suggest that it is feasible to safely sterilize large numbers of feral cats and that the experiences of existing programs are a consistent source of information upon which to model new TNR programs.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Wild*
  • Castration / statistics & numerical data*
  • Castration / veterinary*
  • Cat Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Cat Diseases / surgery
  • Cats
  • Cryptorchidism / epidemiology
  • Cryptorchidism / surgery
  • Cryptorchidism / veterinary*
  • Euthanasia, Animal / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Male
  • Population Control / methods
  • Pregnancy
  • United States / epidemiology