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You’ve already proven to be a hero for the cats by trapping them and taking them to the veterinarian to be neutered and vaccinated through Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR). Now after their surgery, the cats will need your care and attention during the recovery period before they can be returned to their outdoor homes. Follow these tips for a smooth transition from spay and neuter surgery to return.
For a full in-depth guide to TNR, visit alleycat.org/TNRGuide.
From Recovery to Return
- The cats should be returned to you in the same covered traps in which you brought them to the clinic, with clean newspaper inside. You’ll receive their medical records, including rabies vaccination certificates. Keep these in a safe place but accessible in case you need to show them another veterinarian or shelter. And, these important documents make the case for the cats receiving proper care. See our tips on Recordkeeping.
- Allow the cats to recover overnight. The cats will need some time to recuperate after their surgery, so keep them indoors in their covered traps. Make sure they’re in a temperature-controlled environment—cats can’t regulate their body temperature while recovering from anesthesia. Keep the cats away from loud noises, no music and pets and people. Do not let children near them. A warm basement or bathroom is fine. For more information on the best recovery setup for a cat, visit alleycat.org/InTrapCare.
- Safety first! Keep the traps covered to ease the cats’ stress. Never (never) open the trap doors or let the cats out. As cute as they may look, don’t stick your fingers through the bars or try to handle them when they are awake.
- Obtain Emergency Phone Number from Clinic. Just in case any complications arise.
- Monitor the cats. Check the cats often and keep an eye out for any bleeding, possible inflammation, possible infection, and lack of appetite. If a cat is vomiting, having difficulty breathing, or not waking up, get veterinary assistance immediately. Before the surgery, know how to reach the clinic beforehand if there are problems during recovery. If a cat is vomiting while still unconscious (asleep), turn her head to avoid choking. You can do this by gently tipping the trap to no more than a 30 degree angle. Be careful and don’t jostle her too much.
- Give the cats food and water after they wake up. 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 slowly and only allow a small gap. Slide a plastic lid with a little bit of food on it through the gap—don’t put your hand inside. You can also use an isolator or trap divider to do this. If you don’t have an isolator and you feel you can’t slide a plastic lid in without the cat trying to escape, then don’t feed them. The cats will be OK, and they can eat once they are released.
- Cats usually need 24 hours to recover, but depending on recovery speed, adult cats can be returned to the trapping site 12 to 24 hours after surgery. In some cases, females require 48 hours to recover. Make sure all cats are fully conscious, clear-eyed, and alert before release. If a cat requires more than 48 hours of care, transfer her to a large crate or holding pen. You may also need to transfer a cat into a clean trap if the newspaper becomes soiled during recovery. Clean any soiled traps and reline them with fresh newspaper.
- Return the cats to the same location where you trapped them. Early morning is a good time, as it is quieter. Point the traps away from roads or high-traffic areas so the cats don’t run into them. Open the front door of the trap and then completely remove the cover. If the trap has a back door, move the cover away and pull the door up and off (if possible with your trap), then completely remove the cover and walk away. Be careful to keep your distance and keep your fingers and hands as far from the cat as possible when opening the trap. Watch videos of cats being returned and how to carry out TNR at youtube.com/AlleyCatAllies.
- Once you have returned the cats, provide food and water. If you are the cats’ caregiver, you can resume the cats’ regular feeding schedule. The cats may stay away from the area for a few days after being returned, but they will come back eventually.