TNR Scenarios: Nursing Mother Cat

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If you trapped a cat during Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) that may be nursing a litter of kittens, there are steps you can take as well as TNR programs and resources to help teach you how to care for both the mother cat and her kittens.

How to tell if a cat is nursing kittens

Examine her nipples. If the cat is in a trap, you may have to prop the trap up in a way that you can see underneath the cat. Do not take the cat out of the trap to examine her.

If the mother cat is lactating or nursing kittens, her mammary area will be swollen and pronounced, and she may have less fur around her nipples.

She’s already in the trap…how can I help?

If you have already trapped the mother cat and your visual examination indicates that she is lactating, do not release her from the trap. Now that she has experienced being trapped, she may become trap-savvy and extremely tricky to re-trap in the future. This may be your only chance to help get her spayed.

Contact the veterinary clinic where you are bringing cats to be spayed or neutered.

Let staff know you have a nursing mother cat you want to have spayed, and that you plan to return her outdoors afterwards so she can care for her kittens. Your veterinarian may be able to further adjust their schedule or procedures to prioritize the mother cat’s spay surgery and get her back to her kittens as soon as possible.

Check for kittens.

If you are able to locate the kittens assess whether they need your intervention. Learn how to tell how old a kitten is at and what to do if you find kittens outdoors at

Can a female cat be spayed while lactating?

Yes. Mother cats continue to produce milk even after being spayed. The typical recovery time for spay surgery is between 12 and 24 hours. The mother cat should be returned to her nursing kittens as soon as possible, which your veterinarian can help you determine. Lactating mother cats can be given warmed subcutaneous fluids post-operatively to help aid recovery.

What are flank (or side) spays?

Traditional spay techniques work fine for lactating mother cats, but your veterinarian may be familiar with a procedure referred to as a flank or side spay. In this procedure, the incision for the spay is done on a cat’s side instead of her belly. This may help avoid irritation to the incision, since it will be away from kneading kitten paws.

Return Mother Cat to Her Kittens ASAP After Spay

When you return the mother cat to the exact location where you trapped her, she will go back to her kittens and continue nursing and caring for them. Remember, the best practice for kittens born outdoors is to Leave Them Beâ„¢ with their mother. Allow the mother cat, the kittens’ best possible caregiver, to care for her kittens in her outdoor home, which is familiar and comfortable to her. Learn more about how to help mother cats and kittens at

As soon as kittens are ready (when they are two months old or weigh two pounds), they should be spayed or neutered.

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