Knowing how to safely trap cats is essential to the Trap, Neuter, Return program to reduce the proliferation of feral cats, and provide a safe, healthy environment for them.
Once the feral kitty is trapped, he or she can be transported to a TNR participating veterinarian to be spayed or neutered, and then, returned to his or her colony, if it’s safe (has adequate food, water, and shelter from the elements).
It’s one thing to want to help feral cats, but when it comes to trapping, it’s best to do some planning in advance.
First contact the local Trap, Neuter, Return (TNR) program, and find out how they handle feral cat populations. Is the cat injured? Is there a feral cat colony that keeps growing exponentially? Or is it a cat that is a total annoyance to you?. What is the goal of trapping the cat? The TNR program can be found by Googling TNR and feral cats in your county or state.
Usually, feral cats will not come close enough to humans to be picked up and placed in a cat carrier. There are rare, and they are very rare, exceptions.
Trappers need to have access to a trap, preferably a front/back release live trap. Either buy a trap, or check with the local (TNR) program to see if they have one to rent or borrow. Other trap rental options may be available from a local shelter – but remember animal shelters will most likely not accept feral cats, or if they are accepted, they most likely will be euthanized. However, some shelters will allow people to bring in a feral cat to be spay/neutered, and then re-adopt the kitty, paying the adoption fee for services rendered.
However, that’s not always the case, and that’s why it’s important to first contact a TNR program specializing in feral cats.
Alley Cat Allies, the national organization dedicated to helping feral cats, recommends using box traps are made of wire fabric with heavy steel rod reinforcements. Many feral organizations including Alley Cat Allies recommend Tomahawk Traps. Food, preferably something very smelly like tuna or fish to entice the cat’s interest, can be used as bait, and placed in the back end of the trap. It’s best to leave it right in the can. The idea is to entice the cat into the opposite end. When the cat steps on the metal plate, the door is triggered to close behind him. Some open traps have both sides open. That’s ok, as the plate will trigger the mechanism to shut the trap, confining the kitty for transport.However, this will frighten the cat and he will be terrified. So don’t be overly concerned if the cat is hissing, snarling, crying or growling. It’s normal from fear.
If the goal is have the cat spayed or neutered, make plans with the local TNR – feral cat organization ahead of time. Veterinarians usually have a designated time they will perform spay/neuter procedures. The pre-arranged appointment will determine when to trap because you’ll want to trap a few nights before, preferably the night before, the vet appointment. Confinement is terrifying for ferals, so avoid holding the cat in a trap for any longer than 12 hours before neutering, if possible. And once the cat has been trapped, chances are, you’ll never be able to trap the cat again.
However, cold winter trapping poses it’s challenges, and it might be best to try trapping two nights before the scheduled appointment. Make sure there’s ample hay in the trap so that cat can stay warm. Once the feline is trapped, cover the trap with blankets and move the trap to a location out of the elements. Push food and water into the trap as necessary. But don’t open it because the cat will bolt.
If the goal is to remove the cat from the present premises, check with the local shelter or animal control officer who will have advice on what procedure to follow.
For successful trapping, follow these suggested guidelines:
- Begin feeding the cat on a regular schedule, preferably early morning and late evening, in a safe area away from dogs or other animals that could cause them harm.
- Place the traps on a level surface in the area where the cats usually feed or have been seen. Make sure the trap is level because cats are less likely to enter a trap if it wobbles.
- Camouflage the trap. Bushes are often places where feral cats hide and provide good camouflage for the trap. Otherwise cover the trap with a blanket and make it less noticeable. Do not feed the cat the night before trapping because a hungry cat will be easier to trap.
- Use a small amount of very smelly food to bait the trap. Canned sardines or tuna is ideal and the juice can be used to make a trail leading to the trap. Feral cats will follow this trail to the entry of the cat trap. A can of very strong smelling cat food will work as well.
- After baiting the feral cat trap, open the trap door. Line the trap floor with newspapers or a cloth to encourage the cat to enter and give him comfortable, solid footing during transportation.
- Never leave a trap unattended. Have a neighbor or other person periodically check the trap, preferably a couple times a day.
- Use extreme caution when trapping during extreme heat or cold, or heavy rain, sleet, hail, or snow. The goal is to make sure the cat is safe.
- Once the cat has been caught, cover the trap with a light blanket or towel, and transport the cat to the vet or other destination as soon as possible.
The cat will need a little time to recuperate before releasing him. The TNR organization should have rules on how soon to return them to the colony and what the procedure is.
Upon return to the colony, open the trap or carrier, stand way back, and allow the cat to come out on his own. Some cats take several minutes to reorient themselves before leaving the trap.