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After the surgery, the cats need a temperature-controlled, safe place to recover and should be monitored closely. Once they are ready to return to their outdoor homes, you can continue with your regular colony care.


  1. The cats should be returned to you in the same covered traps in which they were brought to the clinic, with clean newspaper inside. You will receive medical records, including rabies vaccine certificates. Be sure to save these!
  2. After surgery, allow the cat to recover overnight. Keep the cats indoors in their covered traps and make sure they are dry, in a temperature-controlled environment, and away from loud noises or dangers such as toxic fumes, other animals, or people. When the cats are recovering from anesthesia they are unable to regulate their body temperature. It is important that the recovery location is temperature-controlled to keep the cats from getting too hot or too cold. A basement or bathroom will usually do the trick.
  3. Put your safety first. Keep the traps covered to reduce the cats' stress. Never open the trap doors or allow the cats out of the trap. Do not stick your fingers through the bars or attempt to handle the cats.
  4. Monitor the cats. Check the cats often for their progress; keep an eye out for bleeding, infection, illness, and lack of appetite. If a cat is vomiting, bleeding, having difficulty breathing, or not waking up, get veterinary assistance immediately. Ask the clinic before the surgery how to reach them if there are surgical complications. If a cat is vomiting while still unconscious, her head should be turned to avoid choking. Sometimes this can be achieved by gently tipping the trap to no more than a 30 degree angle to change the cat’s position. Be careful when tipping the trap so that you don't harm the cat by jostling her too much.
  5. Feed and provide the cats with water after they regain consciousness. Wait eight hours after surgery before feeding adult cats. Kittens can be fed shortly after waking from anesthesia. When feeding the cats, lift the back door of the trap very slowly and allow only a small gap—one-half to one inch at most—to open. Slide a plastic lid with a little bit of food on it through the gap without putting your hand inside the trap. You may want to purchase or borrow a device called an “isolator” or “trap divider” for this purpose. An isolator can be very helpful, especially if you have a trap that does not have a back door. Always relock the trap door. (If you don’t have an isolator device to keep the cat in the back of the trap, and you feel you cannot even slide a plastic lid in without the cat trying to escape, then don’t feed them.)
  6. Hold cats until they recover. Cats usually need to be held for 24 hours after surgery, depending on recovery speed. Male cats and often females can be returned to the trapping site 12 to 24 hours following surgery, as long as they are fully awake and do not require further medical attention. In some cases, females may need 48 hours of recovery, depending on their specific circumstances. You may return nursing mothers as soon as possible, once they completely regain consciousness so they can get back to their kittens. Make sure all cats are fully conscious, clear-eyed, and alert before release. If a cat needs further care (longer than 48 hours), you will need to transfer her to a holding pen. You may also need to transfer cats to a clean trap in case the newspaper is soiled during recovery.

    In order to transfer a cat from a trap to another holding device like another trap, pen or carrier, you will need an isolator. Begin by putting the front of the covered trap and the front of the new device facing each other. Make sure the new device is covered. Next, insert the isolator in the middle of the trap where the cat is, forcing the cat to the back of the trap. Once this is done, open the front of the trap and the front of the new device. Make sure that the two fronts are touching and will not separate. Then lift the isolator and remove the cover. The cat should go toward the new covered device. As soon as the cat enters the new device, make sure the door is locked.
  7. Return the cats. Release the cat in the same place you trapped him or her. Open the front door of the trap and pull back the cover. Or, if the trap has a rear door, pull the cover away from the back door, pull that door up and off, then completely remove the cover and walk away. Do not be concerned if the cat hesitates a few moments before leaving. She is simply reorienting herself to her surroundings. Sometimes a cat can “disappear” for a few days after she is returned. She will appear eventually. Resume the feeding schedule and continue to provide food and water—she may eat when you are not around.
  8. Thoroughly clean the traps with a nontoxic disinfectant when the returning is complete. Whether the traps are borrowed or your own, they should be cleaned before they are stored. Then they will be ready for the next trapping adventure. Even traps that appear clean must be disinfected—the scent of the cat previously trapped may deter other cats from entering.
  9. Trap the remaining members of the colony if necessary, after a short break of a week or two, and complete the colony’s Trap-Neuter-Return effort. Be prepared for the fact that you may re-trap cats that are already eartipped. If you do, it is sometimes best to hold that cat in the covered trap until the cats you are aiming for have been trapped.
  10. Relocation of the cats should only be done as a last resort. Alley Cat Allies does not recommend relocation; it should be done only under extreme circumstances when the cats’ lives are in eminent danger. In that case, be fully prepared by reading our Guidelines for Safe Relocation of Feral Cats.

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