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Preparation for Trapping | Young Kittens and Lactating Moms | Setting the Traps | Waiting For Success | Holding Procedures | Post-surgical Care and Release |

Trapping Tips

Basic Feral Cat Trapping Tips Always have a plan before you begin trapping any feral cats. Your plan should include:

  • The veterinarian you'll be taking the cat to for spay/neuter.
  • Where the cat will recover after surgery.
  • Where the cat will be released after spay/neuter surgery.

If you are planning on bringing your cat to a Coalition for Community Cats clinic, please see the "Clinic Appointments" page for additional instructions. Trap/Neuter/Return (TNR) trapping instructions are generally geared for release of the feral cat back to where he/she was originally trapped.

  • Always read the feral cat trapping instructions thoroughly before you begin trapping.
  • Always contact the veterinarian you have chosen for spay/neuter and find out if they have any special days of the week that they spay/neuter ferals and if they have a limit on how many feral cats you can bring in for spay/neuter in one day. Some will limit you to 1 feral per day for example.
  • Don't trap over the weekend as most vets aren't open to do spay/neuter surgeries.
  • Check with the veterinarian on prices for any additional blood tests you might request such as FeLV(Feline Leukemia) and/or FIV(Feline Aids). Also ask about routine vaccinations such as FVRCP and rabies and any additional treatments and/or medications.
  • You usually will have only one chance to have the feral cat treated that you've trapped. So if you want any extras like flea treatment, ear cleaning/treating for ear mites, this would be the time to do it.
  • Check with the veterinarian to see if they will board the feral cat overnight (and prices) or if you are to pick the feral cat up from the vet on the day of spay/neuter surgery. If you are to pick the cat up the same day, try to have a space set aside in your house (such as a spare bathroom) where the cat will be dry and warm to recover from spay/neuter surgery.
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    Preparation for Trapping

    If possible, get the cats used to being fed at the same place and time of day. You might try leaving the trap UNSET during a few routine feedings so the cat will get used to seeing end smelling it in the area. DO NOT leave the trap unattended because it must not be allowed to fall into the hands of someone who would be abusive toward a trapped cat.

    On the night you are trapping, do not feed outside the trap until you have finished. Be sure to notify neighbors to keep companion animals inside. *DOWNLOAD "DO NOT FEED" FLYER HERE* Trap the night before surgery is scheduled if possible, so the cat need not stay in the trap longer than necessary. CATS SHOULD NOT EAT 12 HOURS PRIOR TO SURGERY. Remove all food the night before to prevent food remaining in the stomach at the time anesthesia is administered, or the cat may choke and could die. However, water should be made available.

    Prepare the area where you will hold the cat before and after the clinic, in a garage, spare room, or other sheltered, warm, protected area. Lay down newspapers or other absorbent material under the trap for catching urine and feces. Spraying the area before placing the cat there with a cat-safe flea spray will discourage ants. Prepare the vehicle you will use to transport the cats, possibly using plastic to protect it, plus absorbent newspapers so urine won't roll off the plastic onto the car. Remember that if you trap an animal and release it for some reason, it is unlikely that you will be able to catch it again ... they learn very quickly. If the cat is feral and not altered, bring the one you catch to the clinic and schedule the one you had planned to catch for the next clinic.

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    Young Kittens and Lactating Moms

    Kittens should not be weaned from the mother before 4 to 5 weeks of age, if possible. If you have located kittens, try to trap them at the same time you trap the mother. Females with kittens will be attracted by the sound of their kittens if the previously captured kittens are placed in a covered carrier just behind the trap.

    Similarly, kittens will be easier to trap if the previously captured mom is left well-covered, with a second trap placed beside her. (Also, females in heat can be placed in a carrier to attract male cats who have been eluding the traps.) But never place the "bait" animal anywhere where it may be harmed by the trapped animal, or by other predators such as raccoons. Even Moms can hurt their babies if frightened enough.

    Be careful not to let the "bait" animal escape. Do not leave kittens outside alone after trapping the mother, without attempting to trap them, and do not trap a mother with kittens younger than 4 to 6 weeks if you cannot find and bottle feed her kittens, as these kittens will be too young to eat on their own. It is best to release a female cat if you see she is lactating, if you are unaware of the age and location of her kittens, to prevent the death of young or possibly newborn kittens. Kittens are most easily tamed at 4 to 6 weeks of age, and become progressively harder to tame as they get older. We encourage taming and fostering the kittens to adopt out, but we do not currently have the resources to help with fosters and adoptions.

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    Setting the Traps

    Plan to set traps just before or at the cats' normal feeding time. This is often at night. Dusk is usually the best time. Don't trap in the rain or the heat of day without adequate protection for the trap. Cats are vulnerable in the traps; use common sense.

    Fold a piece of newspaper to line the bottom of the trap or cut a piece of cardboard; cats don't like walking on the wire surface and their feet can fall through when you pick up the trap, hurting the paws when you set the trap down. DO NOT LET LINER INTERFERE WITH THE TRIPPING MECHANISM or prevent the door from closing properly. A level surface is extremely important for the area where the trap is placed. A wobbly trap can scare the cat or cause the trap to spring before the cat is completely inside.

    Try to place traps where they cannot be noticed by passersby, so no one will disturb the process or misunderstand your intentions. Bushes or other camouflage will make the cat feel more trusting of the trap. Use smelly food to bait the trap. Canned mackerel, people-tuna, or warm chicken often work. Do not put bowls in the trap which could flip up and cause injury if the cat struggles violently. Soak a small scrap of newspaper in the mackerel juice and place it on the ground where you plan to place the rear of the trap. Spoon a small amount of food onto the scrap and place the very back of the trap on top of the food, behind the tripping plate but inaccessible from outside the trap. Press the trap down onto the food and squish the food up through the wire. This will make the food a little hard to get so the cat must go all the way to the back. You can also dribble a few tiny tidbits in a trail from the front to lead the cat into the trap.

    After baiting the trap, if the trap has a back door, MAKE SURE THE BACK DOOR IS SECURELY LATCHED by pulling the tongue up over the protruding wire loop and fastening the clip on the outside of the tongue. To set the front door of the trap, open the front by pushing the top of the door in and pulling the bottom of the door upward. There is a small hook attached to one side of the trap. It hooks onto a tiny metal cylinder on the side of the door. The hook holds the door in an open position which also raises the trip plate. When the cat steps on the plate it will cause the hook to release the door and close the trap. Always cover the trap with a large towel or piece of towel-sized material, leaving the end of the trap exposed where the cat should enter. The cover will help to camouflage the trap, and even more importantly will serve to calm the cat after it is caught, helping to prevent injury by struggling from fright.

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    Waiting For Success

    Bring a flashlight with you if trapping at night. It is handy for checking traps from a distance and checking to see what animal you have trapped. Never leave traps unattended. Stay far enough away to avoid scaring the cat, but stay within sight of the trap. The trapped animal is vulnerable. Passersby may release or do harm to the cat, or steal the trap. Check traps approximately every 30 minutes. You can often hear the traps trip.

    As soon as the cat is trapped, completely cover the ends of the trap and remove the trap from the area, to prevent scaring other cats you may wish to trap that night. Dispose of any food left on the ground if you need to trap others, so they will remain hungry enough to be trapped. Inspect the cat you have trapped. Remove the captured, totally covered cat to a quiet area and lift the cover to check for signs that you have an animal which is not a pet or previously altered feral. If the cat has the tip of one ear cut off or "tipped" this means this cat has already been trapped and is altered. Release this cat immediately.

    Try to raise the trap and look at the cat's belly to check for a lactating female. If the nipples are enlarged, pinkish and encircled by a 1/4 inch circle clear of fur or with matted fur, she may be nursing kittens. If you see you have captured a lactating female, make every attempt to find and trap the kittens using the above procedures for luring the kittens near the mother. If you cannot trap or find the kittens and do not know the age or location of the kittens, release the mother. If the veterinarian discovers at the clinic that the cat has young kittens, the lactating female must be released 10 to 12 hours after surgery so she can return to and nurse her kittens. After inspecting the cat, cover the trap back up quickly. Uncovered, the cat may thrash around in panic and be hurt. There is always the chance you will catch some other animal attracted to the food (raccoon, possum, skunk). Simply release the animal quietly and in the same spot it was trapped to prevent disorientation and dislocation.

    Holding Procedures

    After you have trapped, you will probably have to hold the cats overnight until you take them to the clinic or vet. Place cats in the prepared protected area. Don't feed within 12 hours of surgery; if there is food left uneaten in the trap, drag it out with a stick. You can place a small bowl of water in the trap by opening the trap door just a couple of inches and scooting the bowl just inside. Use a bowl that won't be tipped over easily, such as a clean empty cat food or tuna can. Always do this in a closed space to prevent escape by accident, in which case the cat could be retrapped in the garage or room. Keep cats covered and check periodically. Most cats are very quiet as long as they are covered.

    Never stick fingers in the trap or allow children or pets near them. These cats may be very frightened and will scratch and bite. ALL ANIMAL BITES ARE SERIOUS. IF YOU ARE BITTEN SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION AND DO NOT RELEASE THE CAT. IT MUST BE QUARANTINED. CONTACT YOUR VET FOR QUARANTINE INSTRUCTIONS. Wash and change clothes before having contact with your own pets as a precaution against spreading any contagious diseases the cats might carry. Always get feral kittens checked out by a vet and isolate them from your pets. Some deadly diseases can incubate without symptoms.

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    Post-surgical Care and Release

    Follow veterinarian's instructions for aftercare medications, if any are required. If the cat was pregnant when spayed, especially late in term, she will need a longer time (4-6 days) to recover before release. In this case, try to locate and borrow a cage larger than the trap where she can be more comfortable for a few days.

    Generally, male cats (neuters) can be released 12-24 hours after surgery and can recover in their trap or a crate. Females (spays) who were not pregnant should be recovered at least 24-48 hours before release and should be transferred to a crate, carrier or cage for their recovery.

    Always transfer the cat from the trap to a cage in an enclosed room. This is a two-person job. Match the back door (if the trap has one) or trap door of the trap with the cage door, covering any open space with cardboard or plywood. The cat will want to move from a vulnerable space to a dark secure one, so cover the cage you want him/her to move to with a dark cloth; when you have the doors touching, uncover the trap to make the cat want to move to the darkened cage. After he/she is in the cage, make sure to block the door with the cardboard until you can shut the cage door. If a cat does not seem to be recovering well from the surgery, consider having a vet check him/ her before releasing.

    When cats are ready for release, return to the area in which they were captured and release them there. The best time is dusk, or very early morning, when the cat feels most safe from being seen. Make sure the spot you pick for release does not encourage the cat to run into dangers (like a busy street) to get away from you. Keep the trap covered until you are ready to release. Then simply place the trap with the door facing away from you and open the door. DO NOT RELOCATE THE ANIMAL! This would cause severe disorientation and remove the cat from known food sources, causing death by starvation. In an unfamiliar location, area cats will most likely drive the newcomer away.

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