Feral Cats – Trap Neuter Return

Trapping Protocol for Caretakers
Adapted from Alley Cat Allies

Before You Trap
We recommend that you establish a routine feeding schedule. Feed the cats at the same time and place each day and for at least one week prior to trapping.

The caretaker should assess the cat or cats you are trying to trap. Determine if some cats are tame (friendly) and can be adopted into homes. Decide how you will handle kittens you trap. Use the Alley Cat Allies tracking sheet to give each cat in the colony a name and document his or her features. This information will help with the veterinary records and allow us to gather information for tracking and for grants.

Withhold Food
You must withhold all food 24 hours before trapping. This will ensure that the cats are hungry enough to enter the trap. Also, surgery will be easier on the cats if they have not eaten for the past 24 hours.

While this may be hard for some, particularly if the cats appear hungry, remember you are doing what is best for the cats. You may continue to provide the cats with clean, fresh drinking water.

If the feeding area is a public area, post a sign stating that the cats are not to be fed and are being trapped to be spayed/neutered and returned to the area after recovery.

In order to trap effectively you will need:

  • Book or Magazine if you are trapping alone!
  • One humane box trap per cat. You will be more successful if you trap as many cats as possible in the first trapping session.
  • Zip ties or twist tie if setting trap prior to trapping session in order to get cats used to eating in the trap.
  • Scissors/box cutter if need to remove zip tie for trapping session.
  • A can of tuna in oil, sardines in oil, mackerel, or other enticing bait – and a spoon or fork!
  • Newspaper to line the bottom of each trap.
  • A large towel or a sheet for each trap or transfer cage, large enough to cover the entire trap on all sides. Immediately after a cat has been trapped cover the trap to calm the cat and lessen the risk of injury. 
  • Lids or small containers to hold bait (optional). You may also put bait directly on the newspaper.
  • Flashlight. If you are trapping early in the morning or late at night, you’ll need the flashlight to identify the cats you’ve caught.
  • Tracking sheet to ID cats and to record information.
  • Spoons or a scoop for the bait, and a can opener if you need one.
  • Extra cat food and clean water to leave after you trap for any cats you have already TNR’d or were unable to trap this time.
  • Tools like pliers, a pocket knife, and some WD40 for traps that might not work properly. Always check traps prior to arriving at trapping site.
  • Hand sanitizer, jug of water, and gloves for your protection.

(Note; Make sure to line your car with a heavy drop cloth and plastic to prevent cat waste from penetrating your seats.)

Start Trapping
To begin, prepare the traps away from the trapping site. Place the trap on a flat surface as you bait and set it. Do this so that if a trap doesn’t work properly or goes off too easily it will not scare off the cats.

Secure the front trap door open with a twist tie or zip tie so that it won’t keep falling shut while you work.

If you use newspaper, fold it lengthwise and place it inside the bottom of the trap, to disguise the wires on the bottom of the trap. Do not use newspaper if it is windy.

Place approximately one tablespoon of bait along the very back of the trap (you need long arms!). You can use a lid or container for this if you wish or just place it on the paper. Now drizzle some juice from the bait along the trap towards the entrance in a zigzag pattern. Place about one-fourth teaspoon of bait on the trip-plate, and one-fourth teaspoon about six inches inside the front of the trap. The cat will move his or her paws trying to get the zigzagged bait, thus springing the trap. It is important not to leave too much bait in the front or middle; this may satisfy the cat and she will leave without setting off the trap.

Now take the traps to the trapping site, most likely the feeding area. Place the trap on the ground and make certain it is stable and will not rock or tip. (Note: try to place the trap length-wise against a wall, a fence, etc., and not leave it out in the open.)

If you are using multiple traps, stagger them, and place them facing in different directions. Try to think like a cat and place the traps where they will be tempting. Move quietly and slowly, and try to remain relaxed so your mannerisms won’t frighten cats away. Do not make eye contact with the cats.

Set the traps. Leave the area quietly. The cats are unlikely to enter the traps if you are standing nearby. If you are trapping in your yard you can go inside to watch/listen.

Traps should never be left unattended for more than one hour under any circumstance. It is preferable to quietly watch the traps from a distance at all times. You do not want to leave a cat unattended in the trap for too long. The cats will be stressed and agitated which is greatly reduced when the trap is covered quickly. Traps may also be stolen, damaged, or set off. Someone who does not understand your intentions may release a trapped cat. (Note: Sometimes it’s wise to chain and lock the trap onto a post, a window grill, a pipe, etc., so no one can walk off with the cat. If you will be trapping in a public area local animal control may lend you a trap.)

Have your towels or trap covers ready to cover the trapped cat. Trapping feral cats may take some time. Be patient. Once a cat appears, it may take a few minutes for him to go into the trap. Make sure the trap is sprung, and the cat securely trapped, before you come out to cover the trap.

Some Special Trapping Tips
If some cats won’t go into the traps, you may want to try feeding them in unset traps for several days before trapping. Feed the cats in the same place and time as always. Wire/zip tie the doors to the traps open and place the food inside. Once the cats see other cats eating inside the traps they will try it themselves. Once they become accustomed to the traps they will be easier to trap.

If you are still unable to trap a cat, or if the cat has learned how to steal bait without springing the trap, consider using a dog crate with a long string instead attached to the door and running through the back of the crate instead. Sometimes the larger crate will make them more comfortable in entering than a small trap.

feral kittenAfter Trapping
After the cat has been caught, cover the entire trap with a towel or cloth. Covering the traps will help to keep the cats calm. It is normal for the cat to thrash around inside the trap. It is very tempting to release him but he will calm down if the trap is covered. If a cat has already hurt himself, do not release him. Most injuries from traps are very minor, such as a bruised nose. The cat will calm down once the trap is covered.

If you trap a severely injured or sick cat, rush him to a veterinary clinic.

Once you have trapped as many cats as you can, transport the cat/s in the traps to the location previously arranged. If you need to hold the cats overnight, keep them in their traps and make sure they are dry and warm. They can stay in a basement or garage if the weather is poor. It is possible for the cat to die from hypothermia confined in a trap outside in cold weather. A simple guideline: If it is too cold outside for you, then it is too cold for the cats. Do not leave cats in traps exposed to excessive heat or sun. Further, do not leave them in out in visible areas where “evil-doers” may bother them.

After surgery, allow the cat to recover overnight in the same trap, still covered. Usually the veterinarian’s staff will replace any soiled newspaper in the bottom of the trap with fresh newspaper. If they do not do this, ask them to. Fresh newspaper will make the cats more comfortable during recovery.

Female cats need to be held for at least 3 days after surgery. Male cats can be returned to the trapping site 24 hours following surgery as long as they are fully awake and do not require further medical attention. Make sure all cats are fully conscious and alert before release. (Note: If available we recommend female cats recover in a large dog crate with access to a litter box, food & water according to post-surgery guidelines. The crate should be mostly covered with a large sheet. This crate should then be transported back to the site for release)

Release the cat in the same place you trapped him or her. Open the front door of the trap and pull back the cover. If the trap has a rear door, pull the door up and off, pull off the cover, then walk away. Do not be concerned if the cat hesitates a few moments before leaving. He is simply reorienting himself to his surroundings. It is not uncommon for the cat to stay away for a few days after release; he will return eventually. Keep leaving food and water out, he may eat when you’re not around.

Never release the cat into a new area. If the cat needs to be relocated, please use Alley Cat Allies Relocation Guidelines. Contact us for a copy. Relocating cats without the proper steps can endanger the cat’s life. She will try to return to her old home, and may become lost or attempt to cross major roads. Also, feral cats form strong bonds with other cats in their colonies. Separating a cat from her colony members and leaving her alone in a new environment will cause stress, depression, and loneliness.