How to save & take care of a kitten and feral cats - an advocacy tool kit

Talking About Cats: Helpful Terms and Definitions

White Paper| Cats and the Law, Community Change, Trap-Neuter-Return

Do you see a few words on our website and in our materials that you don’t recognize? As Alley Cat Allies grew into a global movement, we picked up unique lingo to describe the work we do to protect and improve cats’ lives. You can find definitions of our most commonly-used terms on this page.

Catch and kill:
Authorities remove cats from an area by trapping and killing or relocating them. For decades, this was the most common approach to community cats by local governments and animal control agencies. It is a cruel and ineffective method that only creates a vacuum effect. Trap-Neuter-Return should be implemented instead.
Colony:
A group of community cats who are bonded to each other and live together in a specific area outdoors. Colonies are sometimes maintained by community cat caregivers. Colonies depend on the care of compassionate people. Click here to learn how to care for a colony.
Community Cat:
An umbrella term that refers to any member of the domestic cat species who lives outside. Community cats can be stray or feral. They are not pet cats and their homes are outdoors. They often live together in groups called colonies. Learn more about caring for community cats.
Community Cat Caregiver:
A person who protects and improves the lives of community cats by regularly caring for one or two cats, or even a colony. Caregivers tend to the cats’ basic needs by providing food, water, shelter, and ongoing care. They often conduct Trap-Neuter-Return and adopt out any socialized cats they find.
Eartip:
The universal identifier of a spayed/neutered and vaccinated community cat. Eartipping is the painless removal of 3/8-inch of a cat’s left ear while the cat is under anesthesia for spay/neuter surgery. Eartips are a visual cue to citizens and animal control officers that a cat has gone through Trap-Neuter-Return and should be left alone. Learn more about eartipping.
Feral Cat:
A community cat who has never had any contact with humans or whose contact with humans has diminished over time. Feral cats are not socialized, so they are generally fearful of people and are unadoptable. They survive and thrive in colonies in their outdoor homes and do not rely on humans for their basic needs. The best way to help feral cats is through Trap-Neuter-Return. Learn more about feral cats and how they differ from other cats.
Indoor-Only Cat:
A pet cat who lives solely indoors with humans. These cats are socialized to and rely on people for their basic needs.
Indoor/Outdoor Cat:
A pet cat who spends time both indoors and outdoors. These cats are socialized to people and rely on them for basic needs.
Socialized:
A term referring to cats who are generally friendly with or accustomed to humans, or cats who enjoy companionship with us in our homes. Cats typically become socialized by interacting with people from an early age. Cats can have different levels of socialization depending on their personalities and circumstances. Learn more about socialization.
Stray Cat:
A community cat who was socialized to people at some point, but left or lost their indoor home as well as most human contact and dependence. They live outdoors and, over time, can become feral if they do not spend enough time around people. However, stray cats can become adoptable pet cats again if they are given enough human contact and attention. Learn more about stray cats and how they differ from other cats.
Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR):
The process of humanely trapping (with box traps) community cats, bringing them to a veterinarian to be spayed or neutered, vaccinated, and eartipped, and then returning them to their outdoor homes to live out their lives. TNR is the only humane and effective approach to community cats. You can learn more about this lifesaving method on our Trap-Neuter-Return web page.
Shelter-Neuter-Return (SNR):
A Trap-Neuter-Return program that has an animal shelter directly involved in the process. Shelters with an SNR program either refer any impounded community cats to a local TNR program, or spay/neuter, vaccinate, and return the cats to their outdoor colonies using shelter staff.
Unadoptable:
A term, usually referring to feral cats, that describes any cat who is not accustomed to people and therefore cannot be adopted into a home.
Vacuum Effect:
A phenomenon in which the removal of cats from an area opens the area to an eventual influx of new cats, either from neighboring territories or born from any remaining cats. These new cats move in to take advantage of resources like food, and quickly breed back to capacity. The vacuum effect has been scientifically documented in multiple animal species, and is why the catch and kill approach to community cats is pointless and ineffective. Learn more about the vacuum effect.