Cat Trapping

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 and covered with a large towel during routine feeding so that the animal will get used to seeing and smelling it in the area.
Don’t feed the cats the day/night before you are going to trap so the cats will be hungry. Be sure to notify others who may feed the cats not to leave food out either.
Plan to trap so that you don’t have to keep the cat too long before surgery. Trapping the night before is usually the best approach. Cats should not eat 12 hours prior to surgery. Water should be available if the cat is held in the trap for more than 4 hours after capture.
Prepare the area where you will be holding the cats before and after the clinic. A garage or other sheltered, warm, protected are is best. Lay down newspapers to catch the inevitable stool, urine and food residue. You may want to use pieces of wood to elevate the traps off the newspapers. This allows the mess to fall through the wire away from the cats. Spraying the area ahead of time with a cat-safe flea spray (like Adams or Ovitrol) will discourage ants.
Prepare the vehicle you will use to transport them as well. Plastic may be an additional precaution. But remember that you will need to use newspapers or some other absorbent material in addition. Urine will roll right off the plastic and that isn’t what you want.
Plan your day of trapping carefully. 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 there are young kittens involved, remember that they should not be weaned from the mother before 4-6 weeks of age. If you are trapping a lactating female, you may want to wait until you have located the kittens and they are old enough to wean. If you wish to tame and foster the kittens to adopt out, they should be taken from the mother at 4-6 weeks. If you wait until the kittens are older than 4-6 weeks before trying to tame them you will find the job progressively harder with age.

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 to set traps.
Don’t trap in the rain or the heat of day without adequate protection for the trap. Cats are vulnerable in the traps and could drown during storms or suffer from heatstroke in the sun. Use common sense.
Plan placement of traps on a level surface in the area where the cats usually feed or have been seen. Cats are less likely to enter the trap if it wobbles. If trapping in a public area, try to place traps where they will not be noticed by passersby (who may not understand that you are not trying to harm the cat). Bushes are often places where cats hide and provide good camouflage for the trap.
Use smelly food to bait the trap. We find that canned Mackerel is very effective and relatively inexpensive. It is best not to put any bowls inside the trap to hold food since the animal can easily hurt itself on it in a panic. Paper coffee filters or small paper plates work well. (Smelly canned cat food also works)
If the situation requires that you are trapping very early morning on the day of the clinic, soak a small scrap of newspaper (2″ by 3-4″) 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 soaked newspaper scrap and place the trap on top of the food so the food is as far back in the trap as possible while still not accessible from outside the trap. (You want the cat to go all the way into the trap to avoid being injured when the trap door closes.) Press the trap down onto the food so that it squishes up through the wire. The idea is to make the food a little hard to get so that the cat has to go into the trap as far as possible and has to work at getting it long enough to trip the trap. (Some cats are very good at getting in and out of the traps without getting caught. We don’t want to make it too easy for them to get away with that trick. Also, having the food essentially outside of the trap prevents the cat from eating it in the trap before surgery and is less messy.)
After baiting the trap, open the trap door by pushing the top of the door in and pulling the bottom of the door upward. There is a small hook attached to the right side of the trap top. It hooks onto a tiny metal cylinder on the right 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.
Just before you are ready to leave the trap for the cat to enter, you may want to push the hood (ever so slightly) a little bit back off the cylinder to create a “hair trigger”. (Don’t get too carried away with this step or the trap will trip as soon as the cat takes a sniff!)

Waiting for Success

Never leave traps unattended in an unprotected area, but don’t hang around within sight of the cat (or you will scare it off). The trapped animal is vulnerable. Passersby may release the cat or steal the trap with the cat in it. Wait quietly in an area where you can still see the traps without disturbing the cats. Check traps every 15 minutes or so. You can often hear the traps trip from a distance. As soon as the intended cat is trapped, completely cover the trap to calm the cat and remove the trap from the area if other cats are not in sight. You may consider putting another trap in the same spot if it seems to be a “hot” one. Be sure to dispose of food left on the ground when you pick up the trap. (You don’t want to litter or give out any freebies and spoil any appetites!)
When you get the captured cat to a quiet area away from the other traps lift the cover and check for signs that you have the correct animal and not a pet or previously neutered feral. If you note that you have captured a lactating female check the area for kittens and remember that this female must be released 12 hours after surgery so she can care for and nurse her kittens. We will advise the veterinarian that this is a lactating female and has kittens she needs to return to. Cover the cat back up as soon as possible. Uncovered, the animal may panic and hurt itself thrashing around in the trap.
Of course, there is always the chance that you will catch some other wild animal attracted to the food or an unintended cat. Simply release the animal quietly as stated in the releasing procedures here.

Holding Procedures

After you have finished trapping, you will have to hold the cats overnight until you can take them to the clinic the following morning.
Place cats in the prepared protected area. The cat should not have any food after 8pm and not have any water after midnight the night before surgery the following morning. If the cat is in the trap long enough to need a meal, canned cat foods have some water content and they can be dropped through the wire in the trap without danger of coming into contact with the cat. One suggestion to give the cat some water is to place ice cubes into the trap by dropping them through the wire top of the trap.
Keep cats covered and check periodically. They will probably be very quiet as long as they are covered. Don’t stick fingers in the trap or allow children or pets near the traps. These are wild animals that 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. Check with your veterinarian and use caution.

Post Surgery Care

After surgery, the cat is placed in a carrier provided by Friends of Felines. You will pick up the cat(s) from the veterinarian’s office and provide them a safe recovery area. The recuperation time for feral cats is 24 to 48 hours. A food and water dish is placed on the inside of the front door of the carrier so food and water can be placed in them without opening the carrier. Do not open the carrier door! The cat recuperates in the carrier. Also see Post Operative Care and Recovery Instructions.

Releasing the Cats

If the cat does not seem to be recovering well from the surgery, consider having it checked out by a vet before releasing. When cats are ready for release, return them to the area that they were captured and release them there. Do not relocate them! It will be disoriented and most likely die. In all likelihood, area cats will drive it away.
If the veterinarian discovers a serious medical problem that cannot be treated, and the veterinarian deems that it is impossible for the cat to be returned safely to its colony, the decision to euthanize can be made by the veterinarian. Untreated abscesses and respiratory infections, and a number of other conditions, can mean suffering and a slow death.
The cat will be released back to the same spot where you trapped it. Make sure the spot you pick for release does not encourage the cat to run into danger (like a busy street) to get away from you. When ready, simply place the carrier on the ground with the door facing away from you and open the door. The cat will probably bolt immediately out of the carrier. If it is confused, just tilt the carrier so the back is slightly up and tap on the back of the carrier to encourage it to leave. Never put your hand in the carrier!
After releasing the cats, hose off traps and carriers and disinfect them with bleach. You can mix up 90% water and 10% bleach in a spray bottle. Spray the traps and carriers with the mixture, let set a few minutes and rinse off. Make sure all residue is out of the traps and carriers and ready for the next cat to use. Never store traps in the set position (door open); animals may wander into even unbaited traps and starve to death.

Helpful Hints

Bring a flashlight with you if trapping at night. It will come in handy for checking traps from a distance and might help you avoid a twisted ankle in the dark.
Bring a cap for the top of the Mackerel can. Nothing smells worse than fish juice spilled in the car. Don’t forget a spoon!
Females with kittens will be attracted by the sound of her 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 in the carrier.