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Tips for Cold Weather Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR)
Yes, you can conduct Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) during the cold winter season, wherever in the world you live. In fact, it’s one of the most important times of year to do so!
In colder regions, female cats go into heat and could already be pregnant by the time the snow melts. That’s why most kittens are born in the springtime, or whenever the weather in an area begins to warm up. Doing TNR in the cold months is the best way to Beat the Heat® and get out ahead of this “kitten season.”
Spaying and neutering also improve cats’ overall health. Healthier cats are better equipped to stay safe and warm in the elements.
So don’t be afraid to break out the humane traps in the cold season! Remember, cats live and thrive in all sorts of climates, including during the harsh winters in areas like Canada and even Siberia. Wherever community cats are, you can do TNR all year round.
Follow all the best practices and steps of TNR you normally would (visit alleycat.org/TNRGuide) while keeping these special cold weather considerations in mind:
Use your best judgment. This may seem obvious, but if the weather is too severe for you to be out in it, don’t do TNR. The cats may already be hiding in the places they know are safe and warm. Check local school and government weather-related closures as a guide to whether you should be out and about.
Remember to check with the veterinary clinic you’re working with to make sure it’s not closed due to inclement weather. You don’t want to show up to a locked door with trapped cats in hand!
Don’t trap if dangerous weather is forecasted. Even if you think the day will be nice, double check. Look at weather forecasts for the day you plan to trap AND the day you plan to return the cats after they’ve recovered from surgery.
We don’t want you to have to keep community cats for longer than necessary because a severe cold snap (and we mean severe, not just a little colder than usual) or blizzard blew in halfway through the TNR process. The less time community cats spend confined indoors, the better—for them and for you.
If dangerous conditions are on the way, wait for a longer stretch of milder weather before starting TNR at all.
Try to trap during warmer times of day. No one wants to be out in the frostiest, darkest winter nights—including cats! In cold seasons, community cats may adjust their usual nocturnal schedules to instead be out and about mostly in the afternoon, when the weather isn’t as nippy.
Observe the cats carefully to determine their most active hours. Then, set out your traps during those times. Better yet, plan ahead and set up a feeding schedule to get the cats acclimated to eating at this warmer time of day. Feed them out of unset traps so they get used to those, too!
Use oil-based bait. Bait packed in oil won’t freeze as easily as water. If you think your bait might still be freezing, replace it periodically. Just make sure there are no cats around so you don’t scare them off.
Don’t leave traps unattended. It’s harder for a community cat to stay warm while confined in a trap. When doing TNR in the cold, keep an eye on your traps at all times so you can move the cats out of the chill as soon as they’re trapped.
Double check your holding/recovery area. Setting up a dry, temperature-controlled (about 75˚F is best) recovery or holding area for cats is a standard part of TNR. It’s especially important when it’s cold out! You want to make sure you can whisk the cats into a warm space the moment they’re trapped so they can stay safe and comfortable before their spay and neuter surgeries.
Do a careful check to ensure the space you set up is appropriate for cold weather TNR. For example, a garage could be an ideal holding area when you do TNR in the warmer seasons, but it may get too chilly in the colder seasons if it isn’t temperature controlled. Also keep in mind that temperatures dip during the night and make sure the holding area stays at a consistent temperature at all times.
Remember to always keep cats in their traps while they’re in your holding area!
Make cold weather suggestions to your veterinarian. Before a cat’s surgery, you can suggest that your veterinarian shave a smaller patch of fur than usual to ensure the cat maintains the fullest possible coat—cats’ natural and effective insulation and cold protection. A spay surgery usually involves shaving off a large patch of the fur on a female cat’s stomach, but the less fur she loses during the cold months, the better.
Yes, it’s OK to return cats in the cold. If the weather is around the typical temperature for your area in the coldest season, as cold as that may be, community cats are used to it and will be fine. You don’t need to, and shouldn’t, wait for a warmer day to return them outdoors. As long as the cats are alert, bright-eyed, and fully conscious after their surgery, they can go home.
If you live in an area where the weather gets extremely cold, Alley Cat Allies recommends having insulated outdoor cat shelters ready for community cats to bed down in and keep warm after they are returned. You can find DIY and for sale options in our shelter gallery at alleycat.org/ShelterGallery.
For more information on helping community cats stay warm in their outdoor homes during the coldest weather, visit alleycat.org/WinterTips.
Hold male cats for no more than 24 hours and female cats no more than 48 hours. Return community cats to their outdoor home as soon as possible after their surgery, including in colder weather. No matter how nice your holding area, community cats are extremely stressed by confinement. They need to go back to the home they know and their feline family outdoors.
When the weather is cold, it’s important to first make sure the anesthesia from surgery has fully worn off before returning a cat outdoors. Anesthetic drugs can impair a cat’s ability to regulate her body temperature. All you have to do is ensure the cats are clear- eyed and alert, which usually does not take more than 24 hours post operation.
If there are any exceptions, adjust for that as well. For example, your veterinary clinic may ask you to hold a cat longer if she is slow to recover or needs continuing post-operative care. But barring any medical issues, return cats as soon as they’re ready, which will most often be within 24 hours for neutered male cats.