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COVID-19 Guide: Tips and Considerations for Spay and Neuter including Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR)

Guide/How-to| Disaster Response, Trap-Neuter-Return

Appointments for spay and neuter surgery, especially low-cost, remain extremely limited across the country as COVID-19 continues to impact the world. In some cases, there is a waiting time of several months. This guide outlines Alley Cat Allies’ recommendations for safely accessing and contingency planning for the sterilization of cats, including Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR), with health, safety, and limited veterinarian availability in mind.

Our advice is informed by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID-19 guidelines.

Before You Begin

Right at the outset it is worth flagging the obvious: sterilization of cats during the COVID-19 pandemic is not business as usual. We could sugarcoat this for you, but we won’t. Life overall is much more unpredictable during the pandemic, and so is veterinary care.

Many veterinary clinics are operating with large backlogs or are short-staffed as a result of the pandemic and to accommodate COVID-19 precautions. Wait times for surgery appointments, including spay and neuter, can be upwards of weeks or months. Alongside trouble arranging spay and neuter surgeries, you make encounter overbooking issues, disappointing last-minute cancellations, and other setbacks.

You may also have concerns about the health of the cats and yourself. Know that with precautions, caring for cats, including community cats through TNR, has very low COVID-19 risks. TNR, for example, is conducted outside where social distancing is generally easy to maintain, and requires minimal contact with other people.

The information in this resource will provide you with more steps and recommendations to further ensure your safety.

Get Vaccinated to Save Lives

If you have not received the COVID-19 vaccine, we strongly recommend you do so as soon as possible. Getting vaccinated will protect you, your family—including its animal members—and the cats and kittens you care for.

You should know:

  • Cats CAN contract COVID-19 through contact with infected people. When you are vaccinated, they are safer.

Check National, State, and Local Guidelines

Before planning your spay or neuter appointment or embarking on your TNR effort, familiarize yourself with the most up-to-date guidance provided by your local health authority and the CDC about personal safety, isolation precautions, and reducing the spread of COVID-19. For example, your community may have specific guidelines regarding when and where to wear a mask.

Check your local COVID-19 statistics to see if your area is experiencing an increase in cases. If so, consider taking extra precautions.

If You Are Sick, Wait until You Are Well

You put yourself, others, and the cats at risk by disregarding COVID-19 quarantine parameters. If you have COVID-19, have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, or otherwise suspect that you have COVID-19, you should stay home or go to the hospital if needed.

Please stay inside for whatever length of time is required by your medical advisors and by authorities in your jurisdiction. Doing so is in everyone’s best interest.

Learn more in our COVID-19 Guide: Community Cat Caregivers.

Finding a Veterinarian During COVID-19

Finding spay and neuter services during the COVID-19 pandemic can be difficult. High-quality, high-volume, and low-cost spay and neuter clinics near you may be closed or operating at limited capacity.

Well in advance, call to ask if your preferred clinic is open and taking appointments. Keep in mind that even if a clinic is open, they may be facing a backlog of requests that could push your appointments to a later date than you initially planned.

Ask About COVID-19 Precautions

It always helps to know what COVID-19 policies your clinic has in place before you set out for your appointment. Some may have curbside drop-off and pickup, for example. Ask about your clinic’s new protocols and prepare to adhere to them.

If Necessary, Prioritize Female Cats for Sterilization

Your chosen clinic may have limited slots, so plan accordingly.

If appointments for spay and neuter are limited, prioritize cats who are in most urgent need of sterilization. We recommend prioritizing female cats. If practicing TNR, utilizing drop traps will allow you to trap specific cats.

If Your Usual Clinic is Closed

Most clinics have found a way to operate with COVID-19 protocols in place. However, there may be exceptions. If a clinic is closed, ask if there are plans to reopen and to be included in a list to be contacted once it does.

In the meantime, we recommend that you branch out, call around, and research other clinic options in the area—or maybe one a little further away.

If Setting Appointments for TNR

You may be able to find a clinic through our Feral Friends Network at alleycat.org/FindFeralFriends.

If your search fails to turn up any clinics, search for and contact TNR groups and advocates in your area instead through our Feral Friends Network. They may be able to recommend a veterinarian they know who is open.

Since some private practices may not be familiar with TNR, you can share our veterinary resources, including our  spay and neuter protocols. Visit our resource on working with a veterinarian for more information.

Consider Megestrol Acetate (MA)

It may well be that a spay and neuter surgery appointment cannot be obtained in a timely fashion, especially for female cats.

In these cases, ask your veterinarian about Megestrol Acetate (MA) as a non-surgical contraception option for female cats. MA is recommended as a short-term contraceptive during the pandemic by the Alliance for Contraception in Cats & Dogs (ACC&D).

Learn more about MA at alleycat.org/Contraception.

At the Veterinary Clinic

As detailed earlier in this guide, make sure you have called ahead of time to learn any new COVID-19 safety protocols at your clinic. Even if the clinic does not have specific protocols, maintain social distancing and wear your mask indoors and around others.

Use hand sanitizer or wash your hands after touching any paperwork or equipment veterinary staff gives to you. The veterinary staff may be sanitizing this equipment between each interaction, but it does not hurt to be cautious.

Many veterinarians are offering curbside drop-off and pick-up. Wear a mask while communicating with staff from your car. The cats will be taken from your car for surgery by veterinary staff. All you have to do is return to the designated pickup time and have the cats loaded back into your car.

Special Considerations for TNR

COVID-19 Additions to Your Trapping Kit

Stay safe during COVID-19 by adding the following equipment to your trapping kit.

  • Face masks—Make sure to wear one and ensure that it is properly fitted and in accordance with CDC and local guidelines. Bring multiple masks and keep some in your vehicle at all times so you’re covered even if you forget one, and so that you have spares to share.
  • Gloves—Bring spare pairs so you can change them periodically and so you have extras to share if needed. Remember, some gloves tear easily.
  • Hand sanitizer/Sanitizing wipes—Use these between glove changes and to clean the handles of humane traps.
  • Alley Cat Allies’ Social Distancing HandoutYou can find this free printable card here. Print and bring multiple copies. We will detail when and how to best use these later in this guide.

You can find our full TNR equipment guide at alleycat.org/Equipment. Please review this list a few days before you plan to trap and check the list again as you are packing to go. Planning before you start is always key for TNR success, but it is even more important now.

COVID-19 Social Distancing and Other TNR Precautions

Once your equipment is sorted out, your veterinary appointments are all set, and you’re in contact with the caregiver (if the cats have one), it’s time to start TNR!

It’s worth repeating that you should remember to practice CDC-recommended precautions and follow your local COVID-19 guidelines, which you can look up online.

Wear a mask at all times when around others.

Communicate with Caregivers Virtually

If you know you will be trapping in an area that is unfamiliar to you, and the cats already have a caregiver, make sure you have the contact information of that caregiver. To ensure success, you will want to communicate with the local caregiver in advance. This is always a good idea, but it is even more important during the pandemic.

Ask the caregiver to email or text photos showing where on the property the cats eat, sleep, and spend time. The caregiver may even be able to give you a “tour” over video chat of where exactly you should set your traps.

You may also consider asking the caregiver to communicate with their neighbors about your upcoming trapping effort. He or she may already have neighbors’ contact information or will be a trusted face distributing informational materials.

Alternatively, the caregiver can provide you with the contact information of close-by neighbors who are be most likely to benefit from knowing about the trapping before it begins.

Trap with One Partner—Preferably Someone Who Lives with You

Alley Cat Allies recommends trapping with a partner in normal circumstances, but there are new considerations during COVID-19. If possible, it is best to trap along with somebody who lives in your household already. That way fewer precautions will be necessary.

If that is not possible, maintain social distancing and wear a mask at all times when around your trapping partner. Take separate vehicles and use separate supplies. If both trappers must share equipment, like a humane trap, use gloves and wipe off the equipment with a sanitizing wipe before the other touches it.

Minimize the Number of People Involved

If there are other caregivers or residents who are involved with the cats, communicate with them through call or text on trapping day. If they live nearby or on the property where you are trapping, explain that—for their safety and yours—they should stay indoors and not come onto the trapping site.

If the caregiver must be present (sometimes community cats will only emerge if they hear their caregiver’s voice), ask that they wear a mask and maintain at least six feet of distance from others.

If you know your trapping area can become crowded, trap at a time when foot traffic is low. Early morning, for example, is one of the best times to trap anyway!

Communicating Safely with the Public

As many TNR advocates know, members of the community may be curious about what you are doing and ask questions.

To maintain social distancing while explaining your TNR work, we’ve created a Social Distancing and TNR Handout. It’s postcard size. Download the card then print and bring a stack of these cards with you into the field.

  • Keep a stack of the cards on a nearby table or chair if possible. Then people can walk up and pick them up without making contact with you.
  • You can also place a card on the ground or other available surface and back away so the other person can pick it up.
  • Consider including other printable Alley Cat Allies educational materials to share alongside the card. You can find them all at alleycat.org/Shop.
  • Create a small safety barrier (Tip: a couple pails and traffic cones will do the trick) near the trapping area. This will reduce foot traffic and is a great place to put a stack of the cards.

Assure anybody who is uncomfortable with your presence that you are maintaining social distancing and using all possible COVID-19 precautions based on CDC guidelines.

For more information on how to talk about your TNR work to the public or officials at this time, read the “Addressing Concerns from Others” section of our Feeding Community Cats During COVID-19 guide.

Increased Hygiene Vigilance Needed

Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before and after trapping and after dropping the cats off and picking them up at the veterinary clinic. If soap and water is not available, for example when you’re about to transport cats from the trapping site, use hand sanitizer or sanitizing wipes instead.

When you go home after dropping off the cats at the veterinarian for surgery, consider changing clothes and showering immediately. Do the same once the trapping is over, cats have been returned outdoors, and all supplies have been cleaned.

Cleaning equipment is always part of the TNR process but during the pandemic do so extra thoroughly after trapping is over.

How to Clean a Trap after TNR

Scrub every part of the trap and trap dividers with soap and water. Working in a well-ventilated area, spray a solution of one-part bleach (a CDC-recommended disinfectant for COVID-19) to 10 parts water on all surfaces. Rinse the bleach solution off after 10 minutes. Allow to air dry.

Cats Need You Right Now

You can learn more about what Alley Cat Allies is doing to help during the pandemic and explore other ways you can help at alleycat.org/Coronavirus.

Alley Cat Allies is committed to providing support to those on the front lines saving and improving the lives of cats during the pandemic and always. If you need assistance, advice, or materials, reach out to us at alleycat.org/GetHelp.