About Trapping

Thank you for your desire to help feral cats in Sacramento.  If you've ever wanted to trap feral cats in order to get them fixed and returned to their colonies,  but weren't sure where to start, these instructions will serve as a good starting place.

Watch this great overview video on how to trap from the Kitten Lady.

Always have a plan before you begin trapping any feral cats. Your plan should include:
  • Establish a set feeding schedule. If you have traps ahead of your appointments, you can wire them open and feed out of them for a few days in order to acclimate the cats to the traps. This makes trapping much easier!
  • Know where a cat will be taken for TNR before it is trapped.
  • Know where the cat will recover after surgery.
  • If vouchers or appointments are necessary - be sure that they are in-place.
  • Do not leave traps unattended.
  • If the trap has a back door, be sure that it is secure before moving it.
  • Be sure the trap is sitting on a level surface and doesn't move.
  • Lining the trap with layers of newspaper is helpful. Be sure the paper does not hinder the trip plate of the trap.
  • Use the handle to pick up the trap. If a cat scratches or bites you, it must be quarantined for ten days. However, if there is no shelter space for this, the cat may be euthanized.
  • Once the cat is trapped, COVER THE TRAP with a towel or blanket to calm the cat and do not let it out of the trap until it is ready to be returned to its original location.

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 during a few routine feedings so the cats will get used to seeing and smelling it in the area. To increase your success, you can also wire the trap open for several days before you trap. Place food behind the trip plate to allow cats to enter and exit to eat and become accustomed to going inside. On the night you plan to trap, unwire the trap door. DO NOT leave the trap unattended because it must not be allowed to fall into the hands of someone who would be abusive toward a trapped cat.

Prepare the area where you will hold the cat before and after the clinic, in a garage, spare room, or other sheltered, warm, protected area. Lay down newspapers or other absorbent material under the trap for catching urine and feces. Spraying the area before placing the cat there with a cat-safe flea spray will discourage ants.

Prepare the vehicle you will use to transport the cats, possibly using plastic to protect it, plus absorbent newspapers so urine won't roll off the plastic onto the car.

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.
On the night you are trapping, do not feed outside the trap until you have finished trapping your targeted number of cats. Be sure to notify neighbors to keep companion animals inside. Trap the night before surgery is scheduled if possible, so the cat need not stay in the trap longer than necessary.


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. Don't trap in the rain or the heat of day without adequate protection for the trap. Cats are vulnerable in the traps; use common sense.

Place food (canned cat food, boiled chicken, tuna or mackerel) in a piece of aluminum foil and set it well behind the trip plate. Do not put bowls in the trap which could flip up and cause injury if the cat struggles violently. Line the bottom of the trap with an old towel or cardboard cut to fit the width and length of the trap. Cover all traps with old sheets or towels to help the cat feel comfortable and safe. Cats don't like walking on the wire surface and their feet can fall through when you pick up the trap, hurting the paws when you set the trap down. DO NOT LET LINER INTERFERE WITH THE TRIPPING MECHANISM or prevent the door from closing properly. It is best to withhold feedings on the night before you trap so that the cats are hungry and will enter the traps. Be sure to make water available at all times.

A level surface is extremely important for the area where the trap is placed. A wobbly trap can scare the cat or cause the trap to spring before the cat is completely inside. Try to place traps where they cannot be noticed by passersby, so no one will disturb the process or misunderstand your intentions. Bushes or other camouflage will make the cat feel more trusting of the trap.

After baiting the trap, if the trap has a back door, MAKE SURE THE BACK DOOR IS SECURELY LATCHED by pulling the tongue up over the protruding wire loop and fastening a clip, zip tie or heavy duty “twistem” on the outside of the tongue. Depending upon the manufacturer of the trap, each trap has a different method for setting the trapping mechanism. Review the process well ahead of your planned trapping time.

Always cover the trap with a large towel or piece of towel-sized material, leaving the end of the trap exposed where the cat should enter. The cover will help to camouflage the trap, and even more importantly will serve to calm the cat after it is caught, helping to prevent injury by struggling from fright.

Waiting For Success

Bring a flashlight with you if trapping at night. It is handy for checking traps from a distance and checking to see what animal you have trapped.

Never leave traps unattended. Stay far enough away to avoid scaring the cat, but stay within sight of the trap. The trapped animal is vulnerable. Passersby may release or do harm to the cat, or steal the trap. Check traps approximately every 30 minutes. You can often hear the traps trip.

As soon as the cat is trapped, completely cover the ends of the trap and remove the trap from the area, to prevent scaring other cats you may wish to trap that night. Dispose of any food left on the ground if you need to trap others, so they will remain hungry enough to be trapped.

Inspect the cat you have trapped. Remove the captured, totally covered cat to a quiet area and lift the cover to check for signs that you have an animal which is not a pet or previously altered feral. If the cat has the tip of one ear cut off or “tipped” this means this cat has already been trapped and is altered. Release this cat immediately.

Try to raise the trap and look at the cat's belly to check for a lactating female. If the nipples are enlarged, pinkish and encircled by a 1/4 inch circle clear of fur or with matted fur, she may be nursing kittens. If you see you have captured a lactating female, make every attempt to find and trap the kittens using the above procedures for luring the kittens near the mother. If you cannot trap or find the kittens and do not know the age or location of the kittens, release the mother. If the veterinarian discovers at the clinic that the cat has young kittens, the lactating female must be released 10 to 12 hours after surgery so she can return to and nurse her kittens.

After inspecting the cat, cover the trap back up quickly. Uncovered, the cat may thrash around in panic and be hurt. DO NOT REMOVE THE CAT FROM THE TRAP OR ATTEMPT TO TRANSFER THE CAT TO A CRATE OR CARRIER PRIOR TO SURGERY. YOU MUST BRING THE CAT TO THE CLINIC IN THE TRAP ONLY!!



There is always the chance you will catch some other animal attracted to the food (raccoon, possum, skunk). Simply release the animal quietly and in the same spot it was trapped to prevent disorientation and dislocation. To help prevent the trapping of wildlife, always trap before dark and NEVER leave your traps set all night! In addition, never leave food out all night when caring for your colony. Always remove food before you leave. It’s preferable to feed your colony during daylight hours only. Raising your food on a platform or feral cat feeding station will help prevent the attraction of wildlife.

Young Kittens and Lactating Moms

Kittens should not be weaned from the mother before 4 to 5 weeks of age, if possible. If you have located kittens, try to trap them at the same time you trap the mother. 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 well-covered, with a second trap placed beside her. (Also, females in heat can be placed in a carrier to attract male cats who have been eluding the traps.) But never place the "bait" animal anywhere where it may be harmed by the trapped animal, or by other predators such as raccoons. Even Moms can hurt their babies if frightened enough. Be careful not to let the "bait" animal escape.

Do not leave kittens outside alone after trapping the mother, without attempting to trap them, and do not trap a mother with kittens younger than 4 to 6 weeks if you cannot find and bottle feed her kittens, as these kittens will be too young to eat on their own. It is best to release a female cat if you see she is lactating, if you are unaware of the age and location of her kittens, to prevent the death of young or possibly newborn kittens. Kittens are most easily tamed at 4 to 6 weeks of age, and become progressively harder to tame as they get older. We encourage taming and fostering the kittens to adopt out, but we do not currently have the resources to help with fosters and adoptions.

Holding Procedures

After you have trapped, you will probably have to hold the cats overnight until you take them to the clinic or vet the next morning. Place cats in the prepared protected area. Don't feed after midnight the night before surgery; if there is food left uneaten in the trap, drag it out with a stick. You can place a small bowl of water in the trap by opening the trap door just a couple of inches and scooting the bowl just inside. Use a bowl that won't be tipped over easily, such as a clean empty cat food or tuna can. Always do this in a closed space to prevent escape by accident, in which case the cat could be retrapped in the garage or room. Keep cats covered and check periodically. Most cats are very quiet as long as they are covered. Never stick fingers in the trap or allow children or pets near them. These cats may be very frightened and will scratch and bite. ALL ANIMAL BITES ARE SERIOUS. IF
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.

Post-surgical Care and Release

Follow the clinic or veterinarian's instructions for aftercare or medications, if any are required. If the cat was pregnant when spayed, especially late in term, she will need a longer time (3-4 days) to recover before release. In this case, try to locate and borrow a cage larger than the trap where she can be more comfortable for a few days. Generally, male cats (neuters) can be released 12-24 hours after surgery and can recover in their trap. Females (spays) who were not pregnant should be recovered at least 24-48 hours before release and should be transferred to a crate, carrier or cage for their recovery.

Always transfer the cat from the trap to a cage in an enclosed room. This is a two-person job. Match the back door (if the trap has one) or trap door of the trap with the cage door, covering any open space with cardboard or plywood. The cat will want to move from a vulnerable space to a dark secure one, so cover the cage you want him/her to move to with a dark cloth; when you have the doors touching, uncover the trap to make the cat want to move to the darkened cage. After he/she is in the cage, make sure to block the door with the cardboard until you can shut the cage door.

If a cat does not seem to be recovering well from the surgery, consider having a vet check him/ her before releasing. You can also call the feral cat clinic for help at 916-504-2818. Cats should be eating and defecating before release. However, many feral cats are so stressed they will not eat while captured. When cats are ready for release, return to the area in which they were captured and release them there. The best time is dusk, or very early morning, when the cat feels most safe from being seen.

Make sure the spot you pick for release does not encourage the cat to run into dangers (like a busy street) to get away from you. Keep the trap covered until you are ready to release. Then simply place the trap with the door facing away from you and open the door. DO NOT RELOCATE THE ANIMAL! This would cause severe disorientation and remove the cat from known food sources, causing death by starvation. In an unfamiliar location, area cats will most likely drive the newcomer away.

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