All About Community Cats


You may bring up to 2 trapped cats in the morning without an appointment. Drop off time is 7:15 AM – 10 AM Monday – Thursday for trapped cats. Pick-up will be at 6:45 AM the following morning.

What is a Community Cat?

Community cats can be found almost anywhere. They may be feral and seek shelter under porches or in sewer openings, avoiding contact with people. They may be seen wandering around an industrial site or an abandoned building, interested in people but not approaching. They may be lounging on a sidewalk and purr when people approach or want to be petted when they aren’t hunting mice in the hay mow. Regardless of where they live and how social they are; they are referred to as community cats. Iowa Humane Alliance recognizes that community cats are a major concern and advocates for Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) as the most effective and humane solution to control the population.

The Iowa Trap-Neuter-Return Resource and Assistance Program (ITRAP)

Iowa Humane Alliance has worked with hundreds of citizens who are feeding and caring for colonies of free-roaming cats (community cats) on their farms and in their neighborhoods. We are committed to facilitating the work of those who care for these cats and to offer TNR resources to assist them with humanely controlling the population growth and to improving the health of the colonies they care for. We also promote community awareness of the responsible care and treatment of community cats, including those that are not likely to become house pets because of lack of socialization.

ITRAP Services

  • Community cats are eligible for special pricing at the Iowa Humane Alliance Regional Spay/Neuter Clinic. Our Community Cat package includes spay or neuter surgery, a rabies vaccination and an ear tip (required) for only $35. A distemper/upper respiratory combo vaccination (FVRCP) can be added for $10.
  • We also have a Last Litter package option for female cats and their entire litter of kittens.
  • We work with partner organizations and funders to find ways to bring that cost even lower for large colonies of cats. We recognize the necessity of altering all cats in a colony in a short amount of time in order to end the population growth and will work with you to find ways to accomplish that goal.
  • We provide equipment loans, including live-humane traps and cat carriers, to individuals and groups to assist them in humanely trapping the cats to bring them to the clinic.
  • We offer training, counseling in responsible colony care giving, and workshops on humane trapping, and management of free-roaming cat colonies.

What is an Ear Tip?

Ear tipping is an effective and universally accepted method to identify a spayed or neutered and vaccinated feral or free-roaming cat. It is the removal of the distal one-quarter of a cat’s left ear, which is approximately 3/8 inch, or 1 cm, in an adult and proportionally smaller in a kitten.

This procedure is performed under sterile conditions while the cat is already anesthetized for spay or neuter surgery. There is little or no bleeding, it is relatively painless to the cat, it doesn’t cause any long term health problems and the ear tip does not significantly alter the appearance or beauty of the cat.

If you are caring for a colony of outdoor cats, ear tipping will assist you with keeping track of which cats have been altered and vaccinated.  If others are practicing TNR in your area, they will know to release a cat that has been trapped when they see an ear tip. Simply put, ear tipping protects your cats from the unnecessary stress of repeated trappings, trips to the clinic, and surgery to confirm that they have already been altered.

Ear tipping can also be useful demonstrating the value of responsible community cat management to neighbors and code enforcement or animal control personal.  This is an important step towards the goal of ending euthanasia as a form of animal population control.

What is Trap-Neuter-Return?

Trap-Neuter-Return programs are a humane alternative to mass euthanasia of the free-roaming cats living in our environment and, when well-managed, are more effective at reducing the population.

While tame free-roaming cats may be handled, many free roaming cats are feral (wild) or semi-feral. Those cats that cannot be safely handled are humanely Trapped, Neutered, and Returned (TNR) to their outdoor homes. A caregiver provides shelter, food, water and overall monitoring of the cats, and because they are altered, the birth of unwanted kittens decreases. TNR has proven to be the most cost effective and humane method to decrease cat overpopulation in free-roaming cats.

Getting Ready

  • Ensure you have the financial resources or funding for your TNR project and that you are aware of IHA’s appointment policies.
  • Establish a feeding schedule. Feed the cats at the same time and place each day, for a few days to a week prior to trapping. You will eventually place the traps in this area, so make sure it is a safe and level location.
  • If you need live-humane traps, you may check them out from the IHA Regional Spay/Neuter Clinic. We require a $50 deposit for each trap, which will be refunded when you return them.
  • You may bring up to 2 trapped cats in the morning without an appointment. Drop off time is 7:15 AM – 10 AM Monday – Thursday for trapped cats.**
  • If you plan on trapping more than 2 cats, an appointment is required. With advance planning, we can accommodate at many at 35 – 40 cats on one day. If you are working with a large number of cats, doing them all at once is by far the most effective way to curb the population growth of the colony. Please call the clinic in advance to schedule. We can help you with a strategy to complete the project!
  • Be sure to alert the neighbors that you will be trapping. Most will be very grateful. Ask them to keep their own cats inside on the days that you trap. Also ask your neighbors if their cats are spayed/neutered.



  • Live-humane traps
  • Cans of tuna, sardines, or mackerel in oil, or other enticing bait.
  • Newspaper or a lightweight towel to line the bottom of each trap.
  • A large towel or cloth to cover each trap. This will calm the cat once in the trap.
  • Lids or scraps of cardboard to hold the bait.
  • Vehicle to transport the cats and a tarp or sheet to protect your vehicle.

Withholding Food

You must withhold ALL food from the cats you intend to trap for 24 hours before trapping.  This may involve asking neighbors to withhold food as well. This will ensure that the cats are hungry enough to enter the traps. Also, surgery is ideally performed on cats with empty stomachs. You should always provide clean drinking water.

Start Trapping

  • Make sure that you know how to work the trap BEFORE you begin to trap.
  • It is helpful to trap at the same time that you would normally feed the cats. They will be hungry and waiting for you to bring food.
  • Line the bottom of the trap, to the end of the trip plate, with newspaper or pillowcase.
  • Place a tablespoon of bait on your lid or cardboard.  Set it on the ground where you intend to place the trap.  Set the trap on top of it so that the bait comes up through the bars at the very back of the trap. Drizzle some juice from the bait along the trap toward the entrance in a zigzag pattern. Place about a half teaspoon of bait in the middle of the trap, near the trip-plate, and another half teaspoon a few inches from the entrance of the trap.  It is important not to leave too much food in the front and middle, as this may satisfy the cat before the trap is set off.
  • Set the traps in the usual feeding time and place.
  • If you are using multiple traps, stagger them, and place them facing in different directions, with at least a couple of feet in between each trap.
  • Move quietly and slowly and try to remain relaxed, so your behavior will not frighten the cats away.
    • Set each trap and cover it with a large towel or sheet.
    • Offer food to remaining cats once you are done trapping for the day.
  • Leave the area quietly. If the cats are used to being called for their food, do so before you leave. DO NOT LEAVE THE TRAP(S) UNATTENDED. Find a place away from the trap (in your car, house, behind a building) and wait for the cat to go in. A cat left alone in a trap for even short periods of time can be treated badly by other people or animals. They are also vulnerable to the weather. If you are trapping at your home, remember to trip or remove the trap before you go to bed at night.

After Trapping

  • NEVER attempt to touch or handle the cat! You could suffer a serious wound!
  • After the cats have been caught, keep the traps covered at all times. This will help calm them. Cats will often thrash around inside the trap and it may be tempting to release them. No matter what, NEVER LET A CAT OUT OF A TRAP WITHOUT BEING FIXED FIRST (even if you catch a cat you weren’t expecting). Cats become trap-shy easily, and you may not be able to catch that cat again.
  • If the feral cat has kittens, they will be fine without her for 12 hours, and mom cats will continue to nurse even if they are spayed (if tame, wait till kittens are 8 weeks). The IHA Clinic will check feral cats for lactation and call you to pick your cats up the same day if she is lactating so you can release her early.
  • Cats should be dropped off between 7:30 AM – 10 AM at the Iowa Humane Alliance Regional Spay/Neuter Clinic, 6540 6th St SW in Cedar Rapids, in the covered trap.
  • Unless other arrangements are made, the IHA Clinic will keep your trapped cat overnight.
  • Cats can be released the day after surgery, barring inclement weather. Please ensure cats have access to shelter, fresh water, and food.
  • Make sure cats are fully conscious and alert before release. Release the cats in the same area that you trapped them. It is not uncommon for the cats to stay away for a few days after release; they will return. Keep leaving food and water out.
  • NEVER release cats into an unfamiliar location without following relocation guidelines, which can be found online. Relocating cats without following the proper guidelines (which includes having a caretaker willing to accept them and confine them at first) is cruel and will endanger their lives.

Special Trapping Tips

If certain cats will not go into the traps, try feeding them in unset traps for several days before trapping. Wire the trap doors open. Feed the cats in the same place and time as usual, but place the food right inside the trap entrance. Gradually move the food farther into the trap, until the cat feels comfortable eating in the trap. Once they become accustomed to eating inside the traps, they should be easier to trap.

Guidelines for TNR during Extreme Temperatures

TNR can be performed during extreme seasonal weather (hot and cold) as long as you are mindful of the weather and outdoor temperatures. You may need to hold a trapped cat post-surgery an extra day to ensure their recovery goes as smooth as possible. Here are some guidelines and tips to help you safely TNR community cats.

  • TRAPS NEED TO BE MONITORED CLOSELY. Check traps every 10  minutes while trapping in extreme conditions.
    • In cold weather, nighttime low temperatures should be at least 20 degrees Fahrenheit and the daytime lows should be at least 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Of course, the warmer the better.
    • In hot weather, the outside temp needs to be no more than 85 – 90 degrees Fahrenheit and the trap should be put in a shaded area.
  • Trapping should be done in the early morning hours of the day you intend to bring the cat in for surgery.
    • Cats can be brought to our clinic for surgery Monday through Thursday.
    • If you must trap the night before, the trapped cat needs to be housed out of the elements.
    • Place the trapped cat in a garage, shed, barn, basement, or attached porch.
    • In cold weather, cover the trap with a heavier blanket.
    • Place the trap on 2 x 4’s to keep it up off of the ground.
    • It can be difficult for a cat to stay warm in a trap.
      • You can place a towel or straw in the trap while setting it.
    • In hot weather, the trap should be covered with a light sheet and placed in shade during trapping.
    • Immediately remove the trapped cat from the heat once caught (garage, shed, barn, or basement).
      • Stressed cats may pant when caught. If the panting lasts more than 10 minutes, try to move the cat into an air conditioned area, or provide a quiet fan to help cool them.
      • If the panting continues, or you cannot provide air conditioning, you will need to release the cat back outside. This is a last resort.
  • It is best to bait the trap with a can of canned cat food.
    • This will provide moisture since the cat will not have water.
      • Do not try to remove the can, even if there is still food in it.
    • Use a short can of cat food (3 ½ or 5 ½ ounce can).
    • We will remove any remaining food prior to surgery.
  • Drop the trapped cat off at our clinic between 7:15 AM and 10 AM for surgery.
    • We will clean and reset the trap for the cat to return to after surgery
  • Pick up is the morning after surgery at 6:45 AM.

Inclement Weather

  • Patients under anesthesia are not able to maintain an adequate body temperature.
    • We take precautionary actions to help keep all patients warm during recovery.
    • Community cats may need to be held an extra day before being returned outside.
  • Factors influencing the decision to hold a trapped cat an extra day after surgery could be:
    • The weather- it is not ideal to release if it is raining or conditions are damp and soggy.
      • Too cold- if the daytime temperature is not going to be above freezing.
      • If the cat was ill or compromised at the time of surgery.
        • Discharge from the eyes or nose
        • Infected wounds
        • Bad teeth
        • Underweight
      • Females may need an extra day to recover where males may not.
  • Here are some tips if you are asked or decide to hold a cat an extra day after surgery:
    • Keep the trapped cat in a heated area (45 – 55 degrees Fahrenheit) when cold outside.
    • In hot weather, the area needs to be less than 85 degrees Fahrenheit or be in air conditioning when being held an extra day.
    • Keep the trap covered and up off of the floor.
    • Use the can in the trap as a water bowl. Give water with a watering can or turkey baster.
    • Trapped cats may need their trap cleaned.
    • Traps that open at both ends are easier to clean.
    • Use a tool to block the cat’s escape route forcing them to just one end of the trap.
      • Use a trap fork, potato fork, or dowel rods to block their escape route.
    • Clean one end of the trap and remove the fork.
    • Persuade the cat to the clean end, reinsert the fork, and clean the other dirty end.

Guidelines for Community Cat Care during Winter Months

Insulated Shelters

There are many styles for winter cat shelters; from novice level to expert carpenter. The simplest style is a styrofoam cooler, with the lid duct taped on, and a 6” diameter hole cut in the side. More complicated design plans are provided on the internet. For the best results, you will want to have straw bedding, the shelters elevated off the ground, and have a barrier protecting the shelters from the wind.

Fresh Water

Sometimes the importance of fresh water is forgotten, but community cats often have a more difficult time staying hydrated in the winter than finding food. Electric heated bowls work well if there is access to electricity. Otherwise having a large, black, flexible bowl filled with fresh water a couple of times a day will be important. A helpful hint, you can add a pinch of sugar to lower the freezing temperature of the water and increase calories for the cats.

Higher Calorie Food

A common community cat caretaker tactic is to mix kitten food in with their normal adult cat food to provide a calorie boost in the winter. The cats burn more calories to keep their bodies warm, so this increase in caloric intake is very helpful! Canned food is always a bonus!