The Pampered Kitty

How to Humanely Trap Feral Cats

The following article is reprinted from the Alley Cat Allies’ fact sheet “Humane Trapping Instructions for Feral Cats.” It contains all the basic instructions you’ll need for trapping individual cats. See “Mass Trapping” on the Info page at  for how to apply this basic knowledge to large-scale projects.


Trapping the feral cats, in order to have them sterilized and vaccinated is the first and most important step in a humane, nonlethal management plan for the feral cats you feed. While trapping may seem intimidating, following these steps will help make your efforts successful.

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.

You 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 you with the veterinary records as you begin your TNR program.

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, particularly if the cats appear hungry, remember you are doing what is best for them. Continue to provide the cats with clean, fresh drinking water.


In order to trap effectively you will need:

  • One humane box trap per cat. You will be more successful if you trap as many cats as possible in the first trapping session. You may also space out your traps by using a specially designed wire sided transfer cage, designed to fit with a humane box trap, so that there is no risk of the cat escaping as she moves into the transfer cage.
  • A can of tuna in oil, sardines in oil, mackerel, or other enticing bait.
  • Newspaper to line the bottom of each trap (optional).
  • A large towel or cloth for each trap or transfer cage, large enough to cover the entire trap on all sides. 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 trap or 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.
  • Pens or pencils and cage slips for each cat, and masking tape to attach cage slips to each trap (optional).
  • 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 TNRed 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 from Neighborhood Cats: if you are going to transport the cat in your car or especially a taxi, tape a plastic trash bag around the bottom of the trap [before catching the cat] to prevent urine from getting on the seat. Make sure this does not interfere with the trap mechanism by testing the trap after you’re done taping.)

Start Trapping

To begin, prepare the traps near your vehicle or 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.

Unlatch the rear door and take it off so you can get your hands inside the trap. If your trap does not have a rear door then you might want to secure the front door open with a twist tie so that it won’t keeping 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 can use a lid or container for this if you wish. Now drizzle some juice from the bait along the trap towards the entrance in a zigzag pattern. Place about one-fourth teaspoon of bait in the middle of the trap 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 from Neighborhood Cats:  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.

Set the traps. Leave the area quietly. The cats are unlikely to enter the traps if you are standing nearby. You may want to go sit in your car or take a walk for a while. If you are trapping in your yard you can go inside.

Traps should never be left unattended for more than two hours under any circumstances. It is preferable to quietly check the traps more frequently from a distance. You do not want to leave a cat in the trap for too long. Also, traps may be stolen, damaged, or set off. Someone who does not understand your intentions may release a trapped cat. (Note from Neighborhood Cats: 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.)

Have your towels or trap covers ready when you check the traps, in case you’ve caught a 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 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 drop-trap instead. We have instructions on how to build and use a drop-trap to catch the uncatchable feral cat.

After Trapping

After the cat has been caught, cover the entire trap with a towel or cloth before moving it. 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 not hurt himself 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 or her to the veterinary clinic.

Once you have trapped as many cats as you can, transport the cats in the traps to the veterinary hospital. 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 isolated room 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.

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 usually need to be held for 24 to 48 hours after surgery. Male cats can be returned to the trapping site 12 to 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 from Neighborhood Cats:Neighborhood Cats recommends a minimum of 48 hours recovery time for males and females.)

If the cat needs further care (longer than 48 hours) you will need to transfer her into a holding pen or cat playpen. (Note from Neighborhood Cats: We’ve routinely held cats recovering from mild illness safely in traps for up to two weeks – the trap must be at least 36 inches long.)

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. 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.

Equipment Traps


Safeguard Large Raccoon Trap with Rear Door
Model SG-36D ( 36″ x 12″ x 11″)
$56.00 with a 10% discount for ordering two or more

(Note from Jan Raffaele: Professional Equipment {} also sells a 36” x 12” x 11” rear-door trap, extremely good quality, for a much lower cost.)

This is our first choice as the best combination of trap and recovery cage. The trap is the right size, lightweight, has an easy-to-use trapping mechanism and is affordable. It has two design defects, however, that you need to be aware of when using them:

First – the trip plate is too small. We’ve often seen cats simply stepping or leaning over it to eat (not a happy sight on a cold night). The way around this problem is to extend the trip plate with a piece of cardboard. The cardboard should be the width of the trap and approximately 7 inches long. Lay one end of the cardboard over the front half of the trip plate and tape it on. Now when the cat steps on the cardboard, it sets off the trip plate. (But test it to make sure you taped the cardboard on far enough up the trip plate).

Second – the locking mechanism on the rear door is easy to do incorrectly. The key thing you must keep double-checking is that you’ve latched the hooks on the top of the door UNDER the cross-bars of the trap. If you don’t, the rear door is easily pushed open from below.

Tru-catch Large Raccoon Trap with Rear Door
Model 36D ( 36″ x 12″ x 14″)
$62.90 with a 10% discount for ordering two or more

This trap comes in a close second. It’s extremely well made and durable (much more than the Safeguard traps). It has a nice big trip plate and an easy to use rear door (again in contrast to the Safeguard). Even though it’s also 36 inches long, the design of the trap door allows for more interior space than the Safeguard and so it makes a better holding cage.

Problems include its weight (it’s heavy)!  And it can be tricky to set the trigger mechanism properly. The first time we used it, we set the trigger for too much weight and the cat did not set it off. This is easily solved, but not until you’ve figured it out (you have to rest the trigger bar on the door towards the bottom of the trigger bar on the side). Also the trap door sticks out quite far when the trap is set, creating greater potential for a cat to knock the door closed before entering.

trapping-ferals-2Trap Dividers

The Tru-catch Trap Isolator for Large Raccoon Trap
Model TD-2
$12.00 with a 10% discount when ordering two or more

When using the Safeguard or Tru-Catch traps described above as holding cages, you’ll need trap dividers for cleaning and feeding – the dividers keep the cat isolated on one end while you clean the other (see below “Caring for Cats Held in Traps”). The Tru-catch Model TD-2 divider (also called an isolater) works well with both the traps recommended above.

Please note: The manufacturer recently changed the model number of the Tru-catch isolater recommended here. It is now Model TD-2. However, on their website, it was still listed at time of press as Model TD-1. Just make sure, whether you order on-line or over the phone, that you get the trap isolater meant for the Model 36D Tru-Catch trap.

How to Care for Cats in traps

During the trapping period and following surgery, the cats will be held in their traps – they should never be let out except while at the vet and when they’re being returned to their colony. We have encountered resistance at times from well-meaning people, including animal welfare professionals, who believe it’s cruel to leave a cat in a trap for more than 48 hours. Our experience is quite the contrary. Feral cats don’t act like domestics. Whether they’re in a large cage or a trap, they will tend to remain still in one place. They also prefer to be in tighter rather than wide open enclosures – apparently, they feel more secure. As long as the trap is long enough (at least 36 inches) for them to huddle at one end and eat at the other, and the trap is kept covered with a thin sheet, they will be fine.

The instructions here are written with multiple cats in mind, but apply equally if you’re only dealing with one or two cats.

Materials needed

  • Traps large enough to double as cages (preferably 36″ long) and with rear doors (a must!)
  • Trap dividers (at least two), sometimes called trap isolators – they look like small pitchforks.
  • Newspaper
  • Water dishes, small with flat bottoms
  • Food dishes, small
  • Cotton sheets (for trap covers)
  • Towels, small
  • Plastic ground cloth or tarp
  • (Optional) Long craft tables

Preparing the holding space

Spread the plastic ground cloth or tarp on the ground. This will protect any urine or other waste from getting on the floor. If you have tables, put them on the ground cloth – using tables to rest the traps on makes it easier to clean and feed, as opposed to having to bend down to the floor. If you use tables, cover them with plastic. Place the traps several inches apart either on the ground or on the table, each one covered with a sheet. Have the rear and front doors of all the traps facing the same way.

The holding space itself should be secure, dry, quiet and warm. (NOTE: In the hours after surgery, a cat’s body temperature will drop, so the recovery space during this time MUST be warm. Do not place post-surgery cats in a cold room.)

Cleaning and feeding

Use the trap dividers to isolate the cat on one end of the trap. You do this by lowering one divider through the bars of the trap from above, then by lowering a second divider right behind it, also from above.  We highly recommend you use two trap dividers until you’re very comfortable with the process and know each cat. We’ve seen aggressive cats push aside the tongs of a single divider that wasn’t perfectly inserted and escape, especially soon after they were trapped and were still wired. If you want to be even extra-safe, then lower one divider from the top and insert the second one horizontally through the trap from the side.

You can get the cat to move from one end of the trap to the other usually by uncovering the sheet on the end you want to work on. The cat will seek cover at the other end. Occasionally, you might have to poke him or give the trap a little shake to get him to move.

While the cat is isolated on one end, line the bottom of the trap on the other end with newspaper. This will serve as “litter.” If you try to use regular litter in a pan, the cat will just trash it and create even more of a mess. At the rear door end of the trap, put in the food and water in their dishes. (NOTE: NO FOOD OR WATER AFTER 10 P.M. THE NIGHT BEFORE SURGERY.)

Go to the other end of the trap and isolate the cat against the end you just worked on.  Again, line the bottom with newspaper and, if you’re at the trap door end, put in the small towel. The cats like lying on it, especially when it’s up against the slanted trap door. If possible, work on the trap door end first and the rear door side last. That way, there’s no chance the cat will end up sitting in the food and water after you’ve just put it in.

Ideally, repeat this process twice a day. This will keep the traps relatively clean and the cats calm. Don’t try to be perfect – the space will probably end up smelling, but when the cats are released, you just roll up all the plastic, throw it away and the smell will dissipate. While the cats are being neutered, you can replace the ground