Cats are the second most tested animal for rabies each year in Massachusetts. In order to reduce the cost of rabies prevention, trap-spay/neuter-return (TNR) programs for feral cats can be used to reduce the population of cats, thus reducing potential rabies exposure. This is significant to public health because reducing the free-roaming cat population may not only reduce exposure to rabies, but reduce rabies prevention costs, freeing resources which can be used on other interventions.
The effectiveness of TNR programs in Massachusetts was assessed using analysis of variance and analysis of covariance tests which compared the number of animals submitted for rabies testing per year by county. Spearman’s rank order correlation test was used to determine whether or not differences in the number of animals submitted for rabies testing were associated with the number of free-roaming cat population reduction interventions present in each county. The costs of TNR programs were assessed and compared to normal rabies prevention costs.
There were statistically significant differences (p<0.0001) between the number of animals tested in each county, and the differences appeared to be associated with the presence of TNR programs or low cost spay/neuter programs, but only slightly (correlation coefficient of -0.20).
TNR programs may be effective as a targeted approach with a small, known population, but it is not viable as a means of rabies prevention at the county level based on the small magnitude of correlation between interventions and reduction of animals submitted for rabies testing. Adopting TNR programs as prevention measures would likely increase spending on rabies prevention.
Free-roaming cat population control interventions are inversely associated with the number of animals submitted for rabies testing in Massachusetts counties. This indicates that TNR programs are effective for reducing free-roaming cat populations, but the magnitude of the testing reduction, while statistically significant, is still small.