- Plan Ahead
- Notify Neighbors
- Gather Equipment
- Bait and Set Traps
- Trap! Wait and Check, Wait and Check
- You Caught a Cat!
- To Trap or Not to Trap: The Lactating-Female Dilemma
- Capturing Kittens
- Pre-Surgery Holding Procedures
- Neuter and Spay
- Post-Surgical Care
- Return! Releasing the Cat
- Plan Ahead: If possible, get the cats used to being fed at the same place and time of day. This will then become the best trapping site and time.Borrow a humane trap (Fix Our Ferals, 510-215-9300). Never store traps in the set position (door open)—animals may wander into even unbaited traps and starve. After obtaining a trap, do not leave the trap out where it could fall into the hands of someone who might be abusive toward a trapped cat.
Prepare a safe place where you will hold the cat after trapping, for the night before surgery and for recovery after surgery. The space can be a garage, spare room, bathroom, or any other sheltered area that can be secured against intruders such as raccoons or people. Have on hand plastic to protect the floor, and absorbent newspapers to place on top of the plastic. Spraying the area with a cat-safe flea spray well before placing the cat there will discourage ants.
Make an appointment for the surgery with Fix Our Ferals – 510-215-9300. Do not trap until the evening before or, at the longest, the day before the scheduled surgery, so that the cat will not spend unnecessary anxious time in the trap.
Plan to trap at least 10 to 12 hours before surgery, so that food will not be in the cat’s stomach when anesthesia is administered. Vomiting under anesthesia can cause death from choking, or, if food gets into the lungs, can result in pneumonia.
- Notify Neighbors: If you don’t know all the cats in the area, notify neighbors either by talking to them or by posting a notice telling when you will be setting traps, and asking that people keep their own cats inside. Ask neighbors who feed outdoors to abstain from feeding on the entire day you plan to trap. Of course, you shouldn’t feed either (after you have finished trapping, do leave food for the cats who were not caught).
- Gather Equipment:
- Humane traps
- Cloth covers for the traps (large enough to cover top, sides, and ends)
- Newspaper and/or cardboard
- Plastic to protect the car
- Smelly food (e.g., canned fish-and-shrimp)
- Spoon or fork
- Can opener, if needed for the food
- Towels for your hands
- Wire-cutters (in case an opossum gets his snout caught—it’s happened!)
- Bait and Set Traps: Plan to set traps just before or at the cats’ normal feeding time. This is often at dusk. Don’t trap in the rain or on a hot day without adequate protection for the traps. Cats are vulnerable in the traps, so use common sense. Fold a piece of newspaper or cut cardboard to line the bottom of the trap: some cats don’t like walking on the wire surface. Test to make sure the liner doesn’t interfere with the tripping mechanism or prevent the door from closing properly (on windy days, flapping newspaper may scare cats away, but clothespins or small paper clamps will keep the paper still).Be sure the trap is placed on a level surface. A wobbly trap can scare the cat or spring the trap before the cat is completely inside. A cat who has escaped a sprung trap is likely to be extremely trap-shy afterwards.
If you are trapping in a public area, try to place traps where they cannot be noticed by passersby, so that no one will disturb the process, misunderstand your intentions, or steal your traps. Bushes or other camouflage will also make the cat feel more trusting of the trap. Leaves and vines from the cat’s environment can be woven into the wire of the trap to make a hard-to-trap cat let down her or his guard enough to enter the trap.
Do not use bowls in the trap; they could flip up and injure the cat if he or she struggles. Instead, place the food directly on the newspaper or cardboard.Some trappers spoon a small amount of food onto a scrap of newspaper on the ground where the rear of the trap will be placed. Press the rear of the trap (area behind the trip plate) down onto the food so that the foods squishes up through the wire. The cat will probably step on the trip plate as he/she works at getting the food. Dribbling bits of food or juice in a trail from the front of the trap to the back may entice the cat into the trap.
After you’ve baited the trap, make sure the back door of the trap is securely latched: pull the tongue up over the wire loop and fasten the clip outside the tongue.
To set the front door of the trap, push the top of the door in and pull the bottom of the door upward. The small hook attached to the right side of the trap hooks onto a tiny metal cylinder on the right side of the door. The open door raises the trip plate. When the cat steps on the plate, the door will pull free of the hook and the trap will close.
Optional: Cover the trap with a large towel or piece of towel-sized material when you set the trap, leaving the open end of the trap exposed. The cover will help to camouflage the trap, and, even more important, will serve to calm the cat after it is caught, so that she or he is less likely to sustain injuries from struggling to escape.
Those hard-to-catch cats: If the feeding site is secure enough that the trap will not be stolen, you can leave the trap unset (remove the back door entirely, or wire open the hinged door) during a few routine feedings, so the cat gets used to seeing and smelling the trap.
At first, place the food near the trap, then just outside the open door. After each successful feeding, move the food a few inches further into the trap, until the cat is comfortable eating at the far inner end of the trap. Then you can be confident that when the trap is set, the cat will go in.
- Trap! Wait and Check, Wait and Check: When you have set a trap, stay far enough away to escape notice by the cat, but stay within sight of the trap or within hearing distance of the trap door springing shut. Never leave traps unattended. The trapped animal is vulnerable: raccoons or dogs could attack it, or a passerby could release or harm the cat or steal the trap.At night, use a flashlight to check from a distance whether the trap has been sprung. When one does spring shut, a flashlight will let you see what animal you have trapped. Even if you haven’t heard a trap shut, check the traps at least every 30 to 45 minutes.If you have chosen not to cover the trap when you set it (some people think a cover will arouse the cat’s suspicions), always take your trap cover when you check the trap, so that you can cover the trapped cat immediately.
- You Caught a Cat! As soon as the cat is trapped, completely cover the top and sides of the trap and take that trap to your vehicle, so that the sounds of the trapped cat won’t scare others you hope to catch that night.If you hope to trap additional cats, dispose of any food left on the ground, so that the others will remain hungry enough to be trapped.
Inspect the cat you have trapped. Take the captured, totally covered cat to a quiet area and lift the cover to check for signs that the animal is not a pet or a previously altered feral. In the East Bay, the right ear either with a triangular notch or tipped (the tip of the ear cut off in a straight line) signifies that the cat has already been sterilized (if you’re not sure, be sure to alert the vet of this possibility, so a spay scar can be searched for before opening).
Important: Check to see whether you have caught a lactating female (see below).
After you have inspected the cat, cover the trap again. An uncovered cat may get hurt in his or her attempts to escape. There is always a chance you will catch some other animal—raccoon, opossum, skunk. Simply release the animal quietly, and in the same spot it was trapped, to prevent disorientation.If you catch a different cat from the one you hoped to get, still, if the cat is feral and not altered, do sterilize that one. A trapped cat learns from the experience, making trapping that cat again often difficult, sometimes impossible.
- To Trap or Not to Trap? The Lactating-Female Dilemma: Never knowingly trap a mother with kittens younger than 4 to 6 weeks unless you are sure you can find and bottle-feed her kittens, as these kittens will be too young to eat on their own. Especially in spring and summer, whenever you do trap a cat, lift the trap and try to check the cat’s belly. If the nipples are enlarged, pinkish, and surrounded by a 1/4 inch circle clear of fur or with matted fur, she may be nursing kittens.If you suspect that the cat is lactating, make every effort not to leave kittens outside alone after you have trapped the mother. They may die of starvation or predators while she is away. Check the trapping area for crying or hidden kittens. If they are under 4 weeks old, you may be able to capture them fairly easily. Buy infant milk-replacement and a bottle and feed them until the mother has returned from her surgery. She can then be placed back with her kittens in a large cage or small room until the kittens are old enough to eat on their own (and be spayed or neutered themselves, of course).
If you are not able to rescue the kittens, you will need to pick up the cat and release her that evening, as soon as she is awake and alert, and release her exactly where you trapped her.
- Capturing Kittens: 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, covered, with a second trap placed beside her. However, be sure never to leave the “bait” animal unattended, or where it may be harmed by other predators, such as raccoons, or by people. Be careful not to let the “bait” cat escape: double-check the trap doors.
- Pre-Surgery Holding Procedures: After you have trapped, you will probably have to hold the cats overnight before you take them to the vet. Place cats in the prepared, protected area (see above).Don’t feed within 12 hours of surgery; if there is food in the trap, drag it out with a stick. However, water should be made available.
For the cats’ safety, always clean and care for trapped cats in a closed room. If any cats slip out of the cages, it will be crucial that they remain in a small space, where you can retrap them. You can slide clean newspaper in from either end of the trap. If you prefer cardboard, slide the clean piece under the dirty one, then remove the used cardboard.
To give the cat water, open the door a couple of inches and scoot a small container just inside the door. An empty cat-food or tuna can makes a good, stable water bowl. Remember to remove the water container before taking the cat to the vet.Keep the cats covered and check them periodically. Most cats will remain very quiet as long as they are covered.
Never stick a finger in the trap or allow children or pets near them. Trapped, frightened cats are likely to scratch and bite. Change your clothes and wash your hands before touching your own pets, to reduce the risk of spreading disease.Always isolate feral kittens and have them examined by a vet before allowing contact with your pets, even if they seem perfectly healthy.Double-check all doors of the trap or carrier before moving the cat.
- Neuter and Spay: Call Fix Our Ferals, 510-215-9300, for information.
- Post-Surgical Care: The usual holding periods for recovery from surgery are:
- Male neuters – Release the next day if no health issues are apparent.
- Female spays – Hold for at least 24 hours and release if no other health issues are apparent.
- Lactating females with uncaptured kittens: need to be released as soon as they are fully awake (see above)
- Cats with infections (e.g., abscesses) usually need antibiotics for a week.
For the longer periods, try to borrow a cage larger than the trap, or wire two traps together, so that the cat can be a bit more comfortable.
- Cage transfers are a two-person job.
- Always transfer the cat from the trap to a cage in an enclosed room.
- Match the back door of the trap with the cage door, covering any open space with cardboard or plywood.
- Cover both the trap the cat is in and the cage you want the cat to enter. Then slowly uncover the trap. The cat will want to move from a vulnerable space to a dark secure one.
- When the cat has moved into the cage, make sure to block the door with the cardboard until the last moment before shutting it.
Water and food should be offered the same night as the surgery, if the cat seems alert. Some cats will eat the food as soon as it’s offered; others may be too frightened to eat.
If the cat will not eat food by the end of the day following surgery, tempt him or her with exquisite cuisine: people food such as tuna or chicken (no bones, please). Some need a jump-start to regain appetite.
If a cat does not seem to be recovering well from the surgery, please consider having a vet check before release.
- Return! Releasing the Cat: When cats are ready for release, release them in the same place they were captured, to avoid disorientation.Do not relocate the animals! Relocation without proper acclimation procedures removes the cats from their known food source. Other cats will defend their turf by driving off newcomers, and thus the abruptly relocated cats will most likely starve. If you need to relocate the cats, follow the procedures described on this page.
The best time for release is dusk or very early morning, when fewer people are around and darkness provides cover for the cat. Keep the trap covered until you are ready to release.Make sure the spot you pick for release does not encourage the cat to run into danger (such as a busy street) to get away from you. Point the opening into foliage or a good hiding place. Set the trap down and lift a corner of the cover to let the cat can get his or her bearings for a few moments. Don’t remove the cover completely, or the cat may ram into the cage, thinking it is open.With the door facing away from you, simply open the door and move away.When the cat has left the area, take the trap home. Clean it thoroughly, using disinfectant, to avoid spreading disease between colonies.
Good luck with the cats you feed! When they’ve been fixed, consider spreading your know-how to help other neighborhoods.