Trap, Neuter, Vaccinate, Return

Feral domestic cats can pose a significant threat to wildcats. 

Wildcats are now on the brink of extinction in Britain following widespread population declines as a result of centuries of persecution and habitat loss. More recently, the critically endangered wildcat population in Scotland has become increasingly threatened by interbreeding (also known as hybridisation) with feral domestic cats. Feral domestic cats and wildcats are different species, but they can interbreed and produce viable and fertile offspring. As the number of hybrid cats increases and the number of wildcats has declined, the wildcat gene pool has become increasingly diluted and the wildcat is now at risk of genetic extinction. Additionally, feral domestic cats can transmit infectious disease to wildcats.

Therefore, an integral part of the Saving Wildcats project is a feral cat Trap, Neuter, Vaccinate, Return (TNVR) programme in Badenoch and Strathspey. TNVR is a safe and humane non-lethal way to manage feral domestic cat populations. A small, healthy population of neutered and vaccinated feral cats pose no threat to wildcats and may help to protect wildcats by maintaining territories and keeping un-neutered feral cats out.

Responsible pet cat ownership, including neutering, vaccination and microchipping, improves pet cat health and is also vital to ensuring that our plans for wildcat restoration are successful. We recommend all pet cat owners contact their veterinary practice for advice on responsible cat ownership.


  • Identifying wild-living cats

    The Saving Wildcats team have a specific licence from NatureScot that allows us to carry out TNVR of feral domestic cats. This licence is a requirement for re-releasing feral domestic cats (a non-native species) in Scotland.

    Saving Wildcats receives reports of feral domestic cats from the public and identifies target cats for TNVR using camera traps. We then conduct extensive on-the-ground communications with local communities, followed by door-knocking and leafletting to try and establish whether the target cat is a feral cat, or owned pet cat.

    We do everything we can to avoid accidentally trapping pet cats, but if they still find their way into a trap, we will release them immediately. If your cat is collared or microchipped, this will make them much easier for us to rapidly identify.

  • Trap

    Once we have identified a target, we put out a cat-specific trap and try to entice the cat into the trap with either food or a valerian root lure (like catnip). This is always done with permission from the landowner.


    We cover the traps with bespoke waterproof trap-covers and put them under cover where possible (e.g. inside a barn). We do not set traps in bad weather.


    The traps are set overnight and checked first thing in the morning. Traps are monitored by cameras, to confirm the identity of the cats visiting the traps and to make sure no other wild species are trapped accidentally. The cat is then immediately transferred to a carrier and checked for any signs of ownership, such as a collar, a microchip, or friendly behaviour that suggests the cat has been socialised to people. If the cat appears to be owned, then it will be released immediately. The cat is also checked for an ear-tip – where the top 1cm of the left ear has been removed as this is the international symbol for a neutered feral cat. Ear-tipped cats are also released immediately.


    If the target cat has no signs of ownership or previous neutering, it is covered up in the carrier and quickly and quietly transported to our dedicated veterinary facility at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland's Highland Wildlife Park.

  • Neuter

    Neutering (also known as castration or spay) is a safe, quick and routine surgical procedure that stops cats from breeding. Surgery is performed at the same high medical standards for feral cats as for pet cats.

    Once a feral domestic cat arrives at the veterinary facility, it is taken to a holding area which is warm and quiet.

    The vets will then anaesthetise the cat and perform a full physical examination. The cat is then neutered and the tip of the left ear is removed, as this is the internationally recognised identification of a neutered cat. This ensures a feral cat does not unnecessarily undergo trapping and surgery multiple times in its lifetime.

  • Vaccinate

    Prior to neutering surgery, the cat is quickly tested for two feline viral diseases: Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV), via a simple blood test.


    Unfortunately, these diseases are both fatal, cannot be treated and can be transmitted to other cats (including owned pet cats). If the cat tests positive for either of these diseases or shows signs of other serious disease or injury which cannot be treated and would seriously impact the cats welfare or survival, a veterinary decision will be made to humanely euthanise the cat, on welfare grounds.


    Most cats test negative and are then vaccinated against common infectious viral diseases that affect domestic cats, including the flu viruses and feline leukaemia virus.


    Vaccinations help to protect cats from severe infectious diseases. We recommend that all pet owners vaccinate their pet cats as this can prevent them from developing serious disease or passing infections on to other cats in the area.


    Infectious diseases can be transmitted from infected domestic cats to wildcats, which is why vaccinating pet and feral domestic cats is so important.

  • Return

    After neutering, the cat is given appropriate pain relief, returned to its carrier and placed in the warm and quiet recovery room. The vets will monitor the cat and, once they are happy it is recovering well, it will be released.


    We must return the cat to where it was trapped as this is part of our licensing conditions. Additionally, it is generally considered best practice for the welfare of the cat to release it where it was trapped as feral domestic cats are territorial and will have established sources of food and shelter in certain areas.


    The cat is then monitored via trail cameras and provided with food for the first few days to make sure that it is recovering well.