Model for Humane Reduction of Feral Cat Populations
S. Chappell, DVM © 1999 Reprinted with author's permission.
[ As published
in California Veterinarian September/October 1999]
have long been aware of the importance of spay and neuter for client-owned
animals. However, the vast number of unowned felines have been largely
overlooked, thereby contributing to more shelter euthanasias and
animal suffering. Many attempts have been made on a small scale
to attack this problem. Initial efforts were made via trap and eradication
programs, but were unsuccessful for multiple reasons. Removing cats
from an established food source invites other cats to fill the "vacuum,"
and many are released from the traps by people who find the cats'
demise inappropriate.1,2 Conversely, trap, neuter and
release have since proven to control and reduce the numbers of cats
in feral colonies as well as their contribution to shelter populations.3
The Feral Cat
Coalition (FCC) in San Diego is a prime example of one of these
types of programs. Founded in 1992 by Dr. Rochelle Brinton and feral
cat caretakers, the FCC has since sterilized over 10,300 unowned
cats. Euthanasia of cats at the county shelters was at an all time
high at the inception of this program, with each feline internment
costing an estimated $121. After just two short years, and with
no other explanation, the total number of cats brought in dropped
by over 35%, and euthanasias dropped 40%, instead of the usual 10%
increase. (Fig. 1) The estimated tax savings for fewer cats euthanized
was calculated to $795,976. These numbers clearly indicate the positive
impact a trap, alter and release program can have on feline euthanasias
and tax dollars. It is the opinion of the author that similar programs
are needed and would be successful in any community.
County Animal Control Statistics 1988-1994
* Other included: return to wild, transfer to correct jurisdiction,
wildlife rehabilitation, stolen, escaped, DOA, died in kennel, died
in truck, died at contract veterinarian, misc.
for altering at FCC clinics must be feral or unowned and have a
caretaker (someone who will regularly feed the colony). It is important
to note that a large number of "feral" cats are actually
abandoned and may be quite tame, but must lack obvious signs of
ownership (i.e. collars, tattoos, etc.). Caretakers book appointments
through a screener who verifies that the cats are unowned and advises
the caretaker of mandatory ear-tipping.
can be anesthetized via intramuscular injections through the trap
wire, transferred to an anesthetic box/chamber or even by delivering
gas into a clear plastic bag enclosing the trap. The preferred method
at FCC clinics is an intramuscular injection of a telazol cocktail.4
This cocktail was chosen largely because of its relative low cost,
and small volume to be administered. The cocktail is mixed as follows:
1 vial telazol
100mg xylazine (large animal Rompun 1cc)
Of this mixture,
approximately .1cc/10# is administered IM through the cage wire.
Cats may occasionally need additional doses (.02cc/cat) if not maintained
on gas. Although actual handling of awake cats is minimized with
this method, rabies prophylaxis is recommended for the personnel
who help with anesthesia. Yohimbine is kept on hand in a crash kit
and administered as directed for cats that are shocky or slow to
are clipped and prepped using standard aseptic technique on "spay
boards" which are simple acrylic boards with notches cut for
leg ties. Spay boards allow multiple surgeons to operate in one
space during large volume clinics and provide for ease of transport
from one station to the next. All ovariohysterectomies are performed
using sterile gloves and packs for each cat and should be done through
the smallest incision possible. It has been found over the years
that cats were less likely to disrupt incisions when the linea and
skin were closed with 5-0 stainless steel wire. This small gauge
wire lends itself to easy handling, will not untie and causes virtually
no tissue reaction. Use of gut sutures in the subcutaneous layer
is discouraged as it tends to cause inflammation leading to chewing
and dehiscence. Two throws per knot are sufficient for closure.
Suture ends are cut close to the knot to allow little material for
cats to pull on should they try to remove the wires.
Male cats are
routinely neutered at FCC clinics although vasectomy could be an
option especially if dominant males could be identified. Potential
drawbacks to vasectomizing males would include continued fighting
with possible transference of viral diseases among the colony, spraying
and eventual introduction of an intact male to a susceptible female
population. Abscess surgeries, enucleations, tail and toe amputations
are often performed at FCC clinics as deemed necessary. Drains are
not placed due to inability for removal, but dissolvable sutures
may be used for these procedures as dehiscence here would not be
or removal of the top ¼ inch of the right ear, is required so if
the cat is trapped again, it is identified as an altered cat and
wonÕt have to undergo anesthesia and surgery again. This is also
a deterrent to people bringing pets into the feral clinics.
line is used, as opposed to a notch, to ensure that fight injuries
will not be mistaken for ear-tipping. Just prior to surgery, hold
measured tip of ear between thumb and forefinger in as straight
a line as possible. Using sharp scissors (not a scalpel), cut ¼
inch for most cats with normal sized earsÑ1/6 inch for kittens or
very small-eared cats. Perform one clean, straight cut, to minimize
bleeding. Moisten some styptic powder with a little water to make
paste. Apply the paste to the ear to prevent bleeding. Watch cat
for bleeding. If bleeding does occur, apply a hemostat for a short
while; in most cases, this will not be necessary.
Cats are trapped
the night before surgery in humane traps (Tomahawk or Hav-a-heart)
using a small amount of mackerel on a paper plate placed under the
wire bottom of the trap. Cats are brought to the FCC clinics in
their traps or plastic airline crates covered with a towel to help
minimize stress. Cardboard carriers are refused as cats can easily
escape and are not suited for recovery.
Cats are transported
to recovery for ear tipping, antibiotic injection and rabies vaccination.
FCC has included rabies inoculation as a routine procedure for public
health reasons, other vaccines are optional but would be paid for
by the caretaker. Small kittens are kept warm and administered Karo
syrup gingivally to speed recovery. Late term pregnancies over five
weeks are automatically given subcutaneous fluids. Advantage is
applied to cats suffering extreme flea allergy dermatitis.
are discharged the same day to their prospective caretakers. Males
are released as soon as fully ambulatory; females are kept in traps
at least 24 hours. Lactating females should be released early to
reduce risk to nursing kittens. All cats should be released at their
point of capture allowing return to their colonies. Discharge instructions
are handed out to caretakers upon pickup.
are resuscitated at FCC clinics due to the large number of domesticated
kittens already needing homes. Severely debilitated cats are euthanized
at the discretion of the attending veterinarian. FCC ferals are
managed with "herd health" in mind. Due to the nonprofit
nature of the group and the large number of cats altered at each
clinic (avg 120/clinic). Routine FeLV/FIV testing has not been done,
but is certainly recommended when feasible.
of feral populations benefits the cats as well as the public welfare.
Trap, neuter and release programs have proven themselves in San
Diego and many other communities across the nation. Thanks to an
infusion of funds from the Duffield Trust (MaddieÕs Fund), vouchers
may be used in the future to attend to these feral felines. By adapting
FCC protocols to fit individual communities, any veterinarian can
contribute to alleviating this overpopulation problem.
information regarding FCC protocols can be found at www.feralcat.com.
Karl I. Neutering of feral cats as an alternative to eradication
programs. JAVMA 203(3):449452. 1993.
Sarah. Why feral eradication wonÕt work. (from www.feralcat.com/sarah2.html
Karen. National pet alliance report on trap/alter/release programs.
Cat FanciersÕ Almanac July: 92-94, 1995.
- Ko. Jeff
C.H. et al. An alternative drug combination for use in declawing
and castrating cats. Veterinary Medicine Nov: 1061-1065, 1993.
S. Chappell DVM
El Cajon Valley Veterinary Hospital
560 North Johnson Avenue
El Cajon CA 92020
Be sure to
visit the Feral