CVMA | Documents | Free-roaming, Abandoned, and Feral Cats - Position Statement

Free-roaming, Abandoned, and Feral Cats - Position Statement

April 4, 2014


The CVMA encourages and supports initiatives to address the issues associated with free-roaming, abandoned, and feral cats—to reduce feral cat numbers, improve the welfare of the cats themselves, and address public health risks. The CVMA recognizes that well-managed trap, neuter, and return (TNR) programs are an important strategy in the management of feral and abandoned free-roaming cats. Managed cat colonies should not be located in wildlife refuges or breeding areas, near habitats of threatened or endangered species, or in other ecologically sensitive areas. The CVMA encourages continued research into the dynamics of feral cat populations and TNR programs.


  1. Free-roaming cats” include neighbourhood or community-owned cats, barn cats, strays which were recently owned but are now lost, missing, or abandoned, and feral cats.  Feral cats are defined as those cats that are not sufficiently socialized to be handled by humans and therefore are unsuitable for living in a home environment.
  2. Community-wide initiatives are needed to address the issue of free-roaming cats (1).  Such initiatives should include programs which decrease the overall cat population such as community subsidized spay/neuter and TNR programs; culturally sensitive public education on responsible cat ownership; information about trustworthy sources for obtaining cats; and promotion of identification of cats to increase the percentage of strays returned to their owners. Capture and humane euthanasia may be necessary to preclude suffering (e.g., individual ill cats, or populations in harsh or remote areas where the feed source is removed, such as closure of a landfill site).
  3. Both permanent and visible identification of cats should be encouraged. The CVMA recommends electronic implants using the International Standards Organization (ISO) standard microchip technology (2).  The use of breakaway collars with identification tags including registered rabies tags will provide visible identification.
  4. The overall goals are fewer free-roaming cats, better health for such cats, and improved return rates of owned cats.  Sterilization through TNR reduces fighting and associated injuries and disease, as well as roaming and noise.
  5. TNR programs include, at a minimum, humane trapping, sterilization, vaccination against rabies, and identification of cats by ear tipping or tattoo. Many programs include broader vaccination protocols and treatment against parasites. Signs of success include colony stabilization and an ongoing decline in cat numbers, especially of kittens. Colonies do best with an ongoing caretaker.
  6. Some TNR programs include FeLV/FIV testing and euthanasia of cats that test positive. However, positive test results for individual cats should be interpreted with caution as the positive predictive value (ability to correctly identify true positives) decreases substantially with lower disease prevalence (3). In populations with a low prevalence of disease, euthanasia may be recommended for those cats that both demonstrate clinical signs of the diseases and test positive, whereas in populations with a high prevalence of disease, euthanasia of all cats that test positive is a sound approach.
  7. Studies show that a decrease in cat numbers will be achieved most effectively by an emphasis on spaying juvenile females younger than one year; adopting out young kittens, tame cats, and older cats that have become more sociable over time; and targeting populations in which cats can be neutered at a high rate (4-6).  It is more effective to neuter all cats in individual populations, i.e., one colony at a time, than to neuter a few cats from many separate populations. The resultant smaller colonies are easier to manage and less costly to maintain, which means sterilization can be kept at high levels.
  8. Historically, rabies control programs have removed and euthanized free-roaming animals and vaccinated owned animals. Such trap and eradicate policies result in a constantly multiplying supply of unvaccinated animals, while the result of TNR programmes is that more free-roaming animals will be protected against rabies (i.e., “herd immunity”) (7). This reduces the opportunity for an outbreak to become established, which helps to protect the health of owned animals and humans.
  9. The interactions of cats with native and introduced wildlife species are complex (8-10). Cats represent only one of many pressures on wildlife, with the primary pressures generally coming from human modification of the environment. It is important to recognize that urban and suburban settings, parks and islands are not the same, with each location having a distinct set of challenges.


  1. ICAM (International Companion Animal Management Coalition). Humane Cat Population Management Guidance. 2011. Available from:  Last accessed August 12, 2013.
  2. CVMA Position Statement “Microchip Implants” March 2009.
  3. Caraguel C, Vanderstichel R. The two-step Fagan nomogram: Ad hoc interpretation of a diagnostic test result without calculation. Evidence-based Medicine. In Press (ebmed-2013-101243). Abstract and nomogram available from:  Last accessed August 12, 2013.
  4. Levy JK, Gale DW, Gale LA. Evaluation of the effect of a long-term trap-neuter-return and adoption program on a free-roaming cat population. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2003;222:42–46.
  5. Foley P, Foley J, Levy J, Taik T. Analysis of the impact of trap-neuter-return programs on populations of feral cats.  J Am Vet Med Assoc 2005;227:1775-1781.
  6. Budke CM, Slater MR. Utilization of matrix population models to assess a 3-year single treatment nonsurgical contraception program versus surgical sterilization in feral cat populations. J Applied Animal Welfare Science 2009;12:277-292.
  7. Fine PE. Herd Immunity: History, theory, practice. Epidemiologic reviews 1993;15:265-302
  8. Cadotte M. Unintended trophic cascades from feral cat eradication. J Applied Ecology 2009;46:259.
  9. Slater MR. Feral cat issues: Effects of predation on wildlife. In: Rochlitz I, ed. The Welfare of Cats. Norwell, Massachusetts: Springer, 2005:158-164.
  10. Tantillo JA. Killing cats and killing birds: Philosophical issues pertaining to feral cats. In: August J, ed. Consultations in Feline Internal Medicine. St. Louis, Missouri: Elsevier Saunders, 2006:701-708  Available from:  Last accessed August 12, 2013.

Adopted July 2013