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How to Trap Cats

Whether you wish to trap a stray cat to return to her home or trap a feral cat for the purposes of Trap-Neuter-Return, it's important to approach trapping a cat with compassion and careful planning. Below, Havahart® provides step-by-step trapping instructions to help you learn how to prepare for a catch, as well as some tips for caring for your cat once she's captured.

1 Make Arrangements

make arrangements to trap a cat

Before trapping a stray or feral cat, it's important that you know how you plan on caring for the cat while she's in your custody.

  • If you are trapping a stray cat, plan on locating her home as soon as possible.
  • If you plan on trapping a feral cat with the purpose of neutering or spaying, call your local humane league to locate a free or low-cost TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return) clinic. You may also call your vet to schedule an appointment.
  • Prepare a holding area for the cat. This should be a warm, dry and secure environment where you will keep the cat 2-3 days before and after the surgery.
  • Purchase cat food.
  • For TNR, plan to set your trap 2-3 days prior to your neutering appointment.

2 Choose a Cat Trap

choose a cat trap

When trapping a cat that you plan on taking care of for a few days, the cat should stay inside the cage at all times. This means you must select a trap that's comfortable and allows you to deliver food and clean up messes without the cat escaping. Important features to look for include:

  • rolled internal edges to prevent injury
  • a hinged auxiliary door that's easy to open and lock from the outside
  • a trap divider that will keep the cat from accessing the back door when it's open and protects you from contact with the cat

If you plan on trapping a cat and transporting her to her owner right away, you may not require a trap that will aid in short-term care. Any large-sized trap will do the trick.

Shop Traps »

3 Determine Trap Placement

determine a trap placement

The best locations for your trap include:

  • a feeding area where you or your neighbors have provided food, or where you notice cats have fed on scraps
  • 3-5 feet outside of its shelter
  • the area where you see or hear the cat most frequently

Place your trap on a flat, level surface with plenty of shade and visibility so that you can check on your trap often once it's set.

4 Select and Position Bait

Select and position bait
  • If you or your neighbors feed the cats regularly, use a food that your cat is used to eating.
  • If you aren't sure what your cat eats, try popular cat baits like oily fish or catnip.
  • The way in which you position your bait is critical - place the bait towards the back of the trap to ensure your cat steps on the trigger plate while attempting to reach the bait.

For more bait options and expert tips, read How To: Cat Baits »

carefully set your trap

5 Carefully Set Your Trap

Set your trap according to its manufacturer's instructions. If participating in TNR, set it 2-3 days prior to your cat's veterinary appointment.

Once your trap is set, test the trigger and close mechanism by applying pressure to the trigger plate, prompting the door to close.

Monitor your trap

6 Monitor Your Trap

It's important to keep an eye on your trap so that you can bring your cat to your holding area as soon as she is successfully in the cage. Cats are subject to hunger, thirst, freezing, overheating and/or predation if left trapped outdoors.

You've caught a cat

7 You've Caught a Cat!

  • Drape a cloth or piece of burlap over the cage to keep the cat calm.
  • Wear gloves when handling the trap.
  • Carefully transport the cage directly to the prepared holding area, where you will care for the cat.
  • TNR: Follow all veterinary instructions before and after the appointment. Your vet will likely recommend that you do not feed your cat the evening before surgery. Be prepared to care for the cat for 2-3 days after the procedure, before releasing her back to her habitat.

Expert Tips

  • Call your local humane society to determine trapping laws in your area before attempting to trap a cat.
  • When making an appointment with your vet or TNR clinic, inquire about available vaccinations to improve the health of your feral cat.
  • Before setting your trap, line the bottom lightly with newspaper to protect cats' sensitive paws.
  • A set trap should never be left unattended for long periods of time. If you plan on being unavailable at all during trapping, unset the trap until you return.
  • Check a feral cat's ears for an ear tip - this is a small slice in the ear the vet takes after neutering a feral cat to identify those that are fixed.
  • It's critical to the survival of your feral cat that you return her to the precise location where she was trapped in the first place.
  • Learn more about Trap-Neuter-Return here »

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