Reduction of free-roaming cat population requires high-intensity neutering in spatial contiguity to mitigate compensatory effects.
When free-roaming in natural areas, the domestic cat (Felis silvestris catus) is ranked high among the most destructive alien species. Near human dwellings, it might pose a risk to humans, impair sanitation, and suffer from poor welfare. Cats' popularity as companion animals complicates their population control. Thus, culling is often replaced by a fertility control method called "trap-neuter-return/release" (TNR), considered more humane. Despite the extensive application of TNR, a long-term controlled study was never performed to test its effectiveness. We present a uniquely designed controlled field experiment for examining TNR effectiveness. The study was performed over a 12-y period, divided into preintervention and mixed- and full-intervention phases, and spanned a 20-km2 urban area. Trends of cat, intact-female, and kitten counts, cat reproduction, and carcass reports were compared among study phases and areas with different neutering intensities. The cat population increased during the first two study phases and did not decline in highly neutered populations, presumably due to cat immigration. Expansion of high-intensity neutering to the entire city in the full-intervention phase (>70% neutering percentage) reversed cat population growth, reaching an annual approximately 7% reduction. This population reduction was limited by a rebound increase in cat reproduction and longevity. We conclude that cat population management by TNR should be performed with high intensity, continuously, and in geographic contiguity to enable population reduction. To enhance management effectiveness and mitigate compensatory effects, we recommend further evaluating an integrated strategy that combines TNR with complementary methods (e.g., vital resource regulation, ill cat euthanasia, and adoption).