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Prior to Trapping


  • Remind yourself that although the number of the cats in the colony may seem overwhelming, you must begin somewhere. Just get started, begin with one or two cats, and you’ll gain the confidence and skills to continue.

  • Find a trapping friend. Trapping can be stressful, but having a partner or two can make things much easier.

  • Find a veterinarian willing to treat feral cats. Most clinics see cats by appointments and with feral cats, appointments cannot always be kept. The clinic must be flexible. Find out specific costs including special circumstances such as pregnant females (many places will charge more to spay pregnant females). SCOOP uses the clinic, UCAN, in the Queensgate area; Ohio AlleyCat Resource in Madisonville; and the mobile MASH unit in the Silverton fire station parking lot.

  • Establish a protocol for euthanasia of very ill cats you trap whose illness has no treatment, or is beyond the treatment stage; a protocol for pregnant females (whether you want the vet to abort the kittens at any stage of pregnancy, or whether you want to be notified to discuss the details); and a protocol for FIV (feline AIDS) and FeLV (feline leukemia) testing. Do not allow a veterinarian to insist on procedures you do not want. Be clear ahead of time concerning what procedures you do and do not want for each cat. (See end of guidelines for a discussion of feline AIDS.)

  • Educate yourself about feline leukemia and feline AIDS and make a decision about testing or not testing. Neither disease is an immediate death sentence. Cats with AIDS can live a completely normal life span and can live with other cats who do not have AIDS. The disease is spread only through bite wounds. Cats with leukemia who are in good health can live a number of years, but should live only with other cats who have leukemia since the disease can be spread through mutual grooming, bites, food and water bowls, and the litter box. Research shows that feral and stray cats have these diseases at the same rate that house cats do. Many people who do TNR do not test cats for these diseases unless a cat is showing signs of illness. False positives and negatives do happen and any cat that is tested should be retested after 3 to 4 months of isolation. SCOOP does not recommend testing of cats in TNR programs unless the cat is very ill.

  • Make sure that you have a warm and quiet environment in which the cats, in their traps or in a cage, can recover from surgery while you monitor their recovery. A garage, or other sheltered, warm, protected place will be best. UCAN will keep the cat overnight the first night for free and additional nights are only $5.00 per day. This allows the cat a place to recover before he or she is released back to the colony.

  • Make sure that you have all of the necessary supplies: traps, towels, smelly food (such as tuna, salmon, or sardines), flashlight, heavy gloves, camera, log notebook, paper towels, wet wipes, spoons, plastic bags, lid for cans, etc. In addition, it’s a good idea to have a camera so that a picture of each cat trapped can be taken. That way if the cat goes into the trap a second time, you’ll know to release him or her.

  • Decide about ear tipping if you intend to release the cat. This is the best way to identify and keep track of which cats in the colony have already been spayed/neutered, not only for you, but for other rescuers or county shelters. The typical ear tip is 3/8 inch off of the tip of left ear. If the cat is tattooed only, it may need to be put under anesthetic for the tattoo to be seen—a stressful experience for the cat. If you plan to tame and adopt out feral kittens, ear tips are not necessary for them. 

Cat Trapping - Prior

Preparation for Trapping


  • When possible, get the cats used to being fed at the same place and time each day. Leave the trap (unset) at the feeding site for several days to a week so the cats will become accustomed to the sight and smell of it. You can also leave the trap set and have the cats eat out of the trap. Make sure you tie the trap door so it does not release when a cat enters it during this period. By allowing the cats to do this, they may not be afraid to enter the trap once you’re ready to trap.

  • If there are others who feed the cats, make sure they know the trapping plan so that all food is withheld for 12 hours prior to trapping.

  • Prepare the area where you will be holding the cat prior to or after surgery.

  • Prepare the vehicle that will be used for transport of trapped animals. Use some absorbent material such as a disposable pad underneath the trap.

  • Make sure the traps are clean. They should be thoroughly washed with bleached and rinsed after each use since the trap will carry the scent of the previously trapped cat and may deter new cats from entering.

  • Establish a daily feeding schedule so that you know what time the cats will arrive to be fed. Early morning or dusk is the best time to feed and subsequently trap. Trapping should be done right before or at their normal feeding time.

  • Before trapping the cat, provide fresh water, even when withholding food. Typically, a cat will not go into a trap unless it’s hungry.

  • The trap can be placed where the cats are accustomed to being fed. However, place the trap on level ground--do not place the trap on a hillside. Cats are less likely to enter a trap that is wobbly. If trapping in a public area, try to place the traps where they won’t be noticed by a passerby.

  • Do not trap in extremely cold or hot weather unless the trap is attended to and removed immediately once the cat is trapped. Such extreme elements are dangerous to a cat in a trap.

  • NEVER leave the trap unattended when there are kittens since more than one kitten may enter the cage and be harmed by the trap door. However, do not hang around within sight of the cats. If there are no kittens at the site, and you want to leave the trap unattended for some time, be prepared for raccoons to be trapped. Mother raccoons will hunt for food during the day since they do not want to leave their babies alone at night. Wear heavy gloves when releasing the raccoon. Make sure that you check the trap often since a cat in a trap can be injured by a larger predator.

Cat Trapping - Prep


  • Line the bottom of the trap with clean newspaper including the trip plate. Many cats will not walk on metal and it will also help keep their feet from going through when you pick up the trap. This also allows you to pour smelly bait juice on the newspaper. Make sure you do not use so much newspaper that it interferes with the trip plate or door closing. As an alternative, you can line the trap with leaves or brush. There is a chance that the newspaper may have a smell that deters the cat from entering. However, one way to avoid this is to pour the juice from the food all over the newspaper.

  • Cover the trap (except for the open end!) with a towel or blanket. This will help encourage the cat to enter the trap to eat instead of grabbing any food from the sides of the trap. If the cat is hesitant to enter after several tries, take off the towel until the cat is trapped. Some cats may be more hesitant to enter a small enclosed space. You won’t know this until you try.

  • Use smelly bait such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, or sardines. Place a very small amount at the front and throughout the trap, but put most of the bait at the back of the trap. If you use a small bowl, make sure it is in a paper bowl so the cat does not hurt itself. Put most of the food as far back as possible so that it is not accessible from the sides or back of the trap. You want the cat to go all the way into the trap so it is not injured when the trap door closes.

Cat Trapping - Setup

WHen the cat is trapped

  • Cover the entire trap with a towel or blanket immediately to calm the cat. If a towel has been used to cover the trap, simply check to see that you do not have a previously trapped cat or another animal, check for visible injuries, and then cover completely. When the trap is left uncovered, most feral cats will thrash around and can hurt themselves. If you have trapped a visibly lactating female, check the area for kittens. Make a decision to either take the cat for surgery, or release her. As long as she’s released within 12 hours, kittens over 8 weeks may be safe, but there is always a danger of predators killing them when their mother is gone. The mother cat will be distressed if she is trapped first and her young kittens are left without her. It’s always best to trap the kittens first and then the mother. Younger kittens cannot be without the mother cat for more than a few hours (more on kittens and mother cats later).

  • If you are not transporting the cat immediately to the vet, elevate the trap on top of bricks or pieces of wood at both ends with newspaper or a disposable pad underneath to catch food, urine, and stool. Make sure that the trap is in a protected, dry, warm area away from predators. After trapping, if a cat needs to stay in the trap for any extended period (more than a few hours), provide food and water. However, follow all guidelines for taking away food and water before surgery.

  • Do not attempt to touch the cat or kitten regardless of how small or how calm the cat or kitten is. It will be in the feral cat’s defensive nature to remain still and quiet after being trapped. Feral kittens do not meow as they’re taught that this attracts predators. Feral and many stray cats will be scared of people, view you as a predator, and will strike or bite in defense. Wear thick gloves when transporting the trap. In a few days after a kitten is put into a cage or very small room, you can attempt to handle the kitten if you’re wearing thick gloves. Wrapping the kitten in a towel on your lap and petting its’ back or head will be a good first attempt. Taming is a process requiring calmness and much patience. (See separate guidelines for taming.) Feral adults can take anywhere from a few days to many months to tame. You will not know if the cat has previously had a home and therefore will not be able to predict how quickly it will tame. For untamed adults, trap-neuter-return (TNR) is the best option if the cat is being returned to an area where it will have food and shelter.

  • If the cat is being trapped for the purpose of spay/neuter, or some other medical reason, leave the cat in the trap. Do not attempt to transfer a frightened kitten/cat to a carrier since the kitten/cat will quickly leap from the trap to escape and could injure you. If the kitten is too young to be spayed/neutered (kittens need to be at least 2 months and at least 2 pounds), transfer the kitten to a cage by placing the trap in the cage and making sure the trap door remains open safely (you can tie the door to secure it). Make sure there is a hooded litter box, small box, or some other area to hide in the cage and remove the trap from the cage after the kitten leaves it. Provide fresh food and water and a small litter box in the cage at all times.

  • Have a large cage in your garage for cats who need to convalesce, or partner with someone willing to house the cats in a quiet indoor place for a few days to a week after surgery, especially when antibiotics are needed. Antibiotics can be put into food or treats for cats who cannot be handled. If a small carrier is placed in a large cage, the cat often will stay in there for a large portion of the day and can easily be transported back to the colony. Do not place the cat in a cage outdoors since larger predators will pose a danger to the cat.

  • If the cat has been trapped for spay/neuter purposes, it is best to transport the cat immediately to a vet’s office. (No appointments are needed from Monday through Thursday at UCAN when cats are in traps.)

  • If you offer the cat food or water while it’s in the trap, open the trap door just a couple of inches and place the plate or bowl by the trap door, or back door. Try to use a plate or bowl that will not tip over easily. Do not open the trap or back door too wide or the cat may escape. As an alternative to opening the trap or back door, drop some canned or dry food onto the newspaper from the top of the trap. This may also allow you to distract the cat long enough to slip a bowl of food and water into the trap or back door—the opposite end to where the cat is. Canned food will allow the cat to have water. Do not offer food or water to cats who will be having surgery within 8 hours.

  • While the cat is recovering from surgery, the vet can transfer the cat to a regular carrier if you prefer.

Cat Trapping - After

Releasing the cat

  • When the cat is ready for release, it’s always best to return the cat to the area in which it was captured and release the cat there. The colony is the cat’s home. If you can not return the cat to its colony due to some danger at the site (poison, large predators, heavy car traffic, etc.), follow proper relocating guidelines by confining the cat in a protected area and/or cage for about 3 to 4 weeks before releasing it in the new colony. If the cat is released to a new colony without proper relocation done, the cat will not stay. Also, keep in mind that a cat may not be accepted by other cats in the colony and could be injured, or forced by the other cats to leave.

  • Male cats can be released from 12 to 24 hours after surgery as long as they are alert, eating, and have no signs of illness. Female cats can take a longer time to heal (several days). It may be possible to release the female cat the next day after surgery if she is alert, eating, and has no signs of illness. Many frightened cats will not eat in a trap unless strong smelling food such as salmon, tuna, and sardines is used.

  • Whether male or female, never release a cat that is groggy from anesthetic as it could become a victim to predators.

  • Make sure you pick a release spot that does not encourage the cat to run into danger to get away from you, such as a busy street. Keep the door facing away from you when you open it. The cat will likely run from the trap, but if not, tilt it so the back is slightly up and tap on the trap. If the cat still will not leave, while wearing gloves, tie or prop the door open with a stick and leave the trap.

Cat Trapping - Release
Cat Trapping - Kittens

Kittens & nursing mothers

  • Never intentionally trap a nursing mother, since young kittens will quickly perish without her. Always trap/secure kittens first and then the mother.

  • Kittens under 3 to 4 weeks must be reunited with their mom as quickly as possible, or they will need to be bottle fed around the clock and helped with urination and defecation, as the mom cat would do. Many will start eating dry or canned food at about 4 to 5 weeks of age. It’s always best to keep feral kittens with the mother cat for at least the first 6 weeks of their life. When given daily contact with people and handling, feral kittens will tame in a cage even if the feral mother does not tame. Then when the kittens have found homes, the feral mother can be returned to the colony after being spayed.

  • To trap both a feral mother and her litter, wait until the mother is temporarily gone, place the kittens in a carrier, place the carrier behind the set trap, place a towel/blanket over both and wait for the mother to return. The mother will enter the trap to get to her kittens. Never use a kitten as bait in a trap since it could be accidentally harmed by the mother cat, or the trap. Young kittens (less than three weeks old cannot survive without their mother for more than several hours).

  • Kittens can begin reproducing at 5 to 6 months of age, so make sure that all stray and feral kittens are spayed/neutered.

Cat Trapping - Difficult

Difficult-to-trap cats

  • Put brush/leaves from the colony location in the trap, or on top of the trap.

  • Sprinkle catnip in the trap... or better yet, use fresh catnip if available.

  • Use fresh lunch meat instead of cat food.

  • Hang shiny toys, feathers, or toy mice from the back of the trap for kittens, etc.

  • Use Kentucky Fried Chicken, or any fried chicken, as bait—few cats can resist it.

  • Put the plate of food a few inches further back in the trap each day—make sure the trap door is tied so it can’t shut until the cat is comfortable eating out of the trap.

  • Set the trap at a hair trigger so that once in, the trap door will shut quickly.

  • Use a soft and clean towel instead of newspaper to line the floor of the trap.

  • Some cats will go into the trap if the trap is covered with a towel and some won’t. Try both ways. However, always cover with a towel after the cat is trapped.

  • Have you trapped a cat or kitten and need to trap a sibling or parent? Place the cat you have trapped (either while in a carrier or trap) behind or beside the set trap. 

  • If all fails, borrow a drop trap from an organization. 

  • Don't give up—you'll trap the cat!

Cat Trapping - General Tips

General tips

  • Bring a flashlight with you if trapping at dusk or night.

  • When trapping more than one cat in the same colony, you may need to vary the location of the trap so that things do not become so routine that trapping is hindered. Some mother cats will teach their kittens to not go into the trap—usually a result of having seen other cats be trapped at a specific area.

  • After trapping a cat, wash and change clothing before having contact with your own pets as a precaution against spreading contagious diseases. Make sure to use the appropriate bleach solution in the laundry. Wash you hands and arms as well using soap and water, or a 10% Clorox solution for your hands. Antibacterial cleaners alone will not be sufficient. Remember that cats do not have to look ill in order to have diseases that can be easily spread to other cats.

  • Isolate trapped kittens or cats from your own pets. Some serious diseases can incubate without symptoms. Have feral kittens and cats checked by a vet and tested for feline AIDS and leukemia before introducing them to your pets. However, FIV/FeLV testing is not suggested for kittens/cats who will be released. If signs of illness are present, some who do TNR will test at that point.

  • Keep a log of all trapped cats with a specific description, date of surgery and vaccinations, and a picture.

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