TNR Scenarios: How to Help Sick or Injured Cats

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This information is not intended to act as veterinary or other license medical advice for animals/cats, or to be a substitute for the advice of a licensed veterinarian or other animal medical professional. As always, a licensed veterinarian should be consulted for any health issues related to a cat.

Roni was injured during the California wildfires in 2019 and made a full recovery.

Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) improves community cats’ lives, but there might be a time when you have to help a cat beyond getting her spayed. If you come across a community cat who looks sick or injured, she may need immediate veterinary attention. It’s important for you to have an action plan in place to provide the best care and make the right decisions to save the life of any sick or injured feline.

What to Do if You Find a Sick or Injured Cat

  • Consult a trusted, community cat-friendly veterinarian. A veterinary professional can help evaluate whether a cat needs to be brought to the clinic right away for an illness or injury. Prior to taking any action, contact your chosen veterinarian and describe the cat’s condition. If you can, share photos or videos of the cat. For community cats with mild issues, it may be best to allow them to heal in their outdoor home rather than trapping them. Remember that trapping is stressful for community cats and should only be done out of necessity, such as for spay and neuter or to treat more serious injuries or illnesses.
  • Consider options for long-term care. Based on the severity of illness or injury, a cat might need to be placed in a long-term holding area for recovery. Whether that recovery is done in your home or the veterinary clinic, plan beforehand so you don’t have to scramble at the last minute. Connect with your veterinarian and ask if they would be willing to house the cat during recovery, or for advice on how to create the best possible recovery space in your home. See our information on in-trap care and setting up a holding/recovery area at alleycat.org/InTrap.
  • Plan to fund any needed care. As a community cat advocate, it’s always wise to plan ahead for how you’ll pay for veterinary bills, including any beyond the usual spay and neuter, vaccination, and eartip. Use our tips on developing resources for cat care to help create an emergency medical fund, or for ideas on how to negotiate a payment plan with your veterinarian. You can also find financial resources at alleycat.org/Economy.
  • Know how to trap sick or injured cats. We have tips for safely trapping sick or injured kitties below. One of the best methods is using a Drop Trap, which gives you more control over when the trap is sprung, so you can safely enclose the sick or injured cat inside.

Where to Take a Sick or Injured Community Cat

If you do not already have a trusted community cat-friendly veterinarian or clinic, we have some advice on finding the right veterinary professional for your needs. Your partner veterinarian should be able to aid you not only in treating sick or injured community cats, but also in every aspect of your TNR work.

  • Find a full-service veterinary clinic or hospital. Get to know the veterinarians and animal hospitals in your area, especially those familiar with caring for community cats. If you already have a trusted veterinarian and veterinary team but they are not fully familiar with the specific protocol for TNR or community cats, direct them to our . If you know a TNR advocate or group in your area, consult with them. They may have recommendations for veterinarians who are willing and experienced with TNR.
  • Connect with Alley Cat Allies’ Feral Friends Network®. You may be able to find veterinarians in your area who are community cat friendly or even low cost. Or, you can find a local TNR advocate or group and ask if they have a veterinarian they can recommend. Search for members near you at alleycat.org/FindFeralFriends.
  • Ask about the animal hospital, clinic, or veterinarian’s euthanasia policy. Alley Cat Allies advocates euthanasia only for a terminal illness or untreatable injury. Unfortunately, some veterinarians who haven’t been trained to work with community cats believe in “euthanizing” (i.e. killing) community cats rather than treating them. Be sure the best decisions will be made for cats by asking questions and being aware of your veterinarian’s community cat policies.
  • Make sure your veterinarian is prepared. When doingTNR, it’s important to let your veterinarian know ahead of time that you might bring in sick or injured cats for treatment. At this point, the veterinarian should be knowledgeable about TNR and community cats and understand that the cats will need to be returned to their original outdoor home once they recover from treatment.

Trapping Sick or Injured Cats

If you haven’t already, review our general information on TNR at alleycat.org/TNRGuide and our information for hard-to-trap cats at alleycat.org/HardToTrap.

The information below include tips and considerations for safely trapping a sick or injured cat:

  • Use a Drop Trap. Drop traps are the best way to ensure you trap the right cat in the swiftest manner. This is especially important when you need to trap a sick or injured cat who needs veterinary attention.
  • Get creative. How you trap a sick or injured cat is highly dependent on the state the cat is in. For example, this is one of the only times where you may consider using a net. Use of a net should be a last resort but may be necessary, for example, if a cat is too injured or out of sorts to walk into a drop trap.If you use a net, make sure it is specifically made for cats (you may be able to borrow one from a local animal shelter or animal control agency. Just make sure you ask about their policy regarding loaning out equipment. Some shelters require trapped cats to be brought into the facility, where they may be killed rather than helped).When using a net, it’s important to wear protective clothing and thick gloves at all times.
  • Transfer the cat to a humane trap, with comfort padding if needed. Cats captured in nets need to be transferred to a humane trap immediately, without exception. This is also a time to consider the condition of the cat and if she will need padding in her trap to be more comfortable. For example, a cat with an injury may experience discomfort or soil a vehicle or the ground without a towel or blanket covering the bottom of the trap. Apply the padding of your choice before transferring the cat.
  • Get to the veterinarian right away. This is why having a partner with you to trap is so important! While one of you can take the cat to the veterinarian immediately, the other can continue the trapping effort.

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