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How to Catch a Feral Cat – The Right Way to Use a Cat Trap

Picture of a grey cat outside

If you’ve got a feral cat colony in your neighborhood, you understand how quickly their population can spiral out of control. Feral cats can be advantageous to communities by helping to keep rodents and other nuisance critters at bay. However, large numbers of these cats make competition for important resources such as shelter, food, and clean drinking water far more challenging and can lead to shortages, fights, and suffering. Though feral cats deserve the opportunity to enjoy their lives in the wild, it is a vital part of their survival strategy that they be spayed or neutered to prevent excessive breeding. This is a vital link to an effective protocol to encourage them to thrive as well as to prevent hardship. To do this, most rescues make use of live traps. Capturing a feral cat in a live trap is a difficult proposition. Since cats are incredibly intelligent, they can be very elusive and will often avoid becoming ensnared, even though it is for their own good. Learning to use a cat trap effectively is key to catching a feral cat to take them to a clinic for spaying and neutering before the cat’s release back into his environment. What is the right way to catch a feral cat? 

Top Tips for Using a Live Trap to Catch a Feral Cat

Because cats possess great intelligence, they are wary of live traps and will often avoid them even if a tasty meal or snack is left inside for them to enjoy. However, this doesn’t mean that live traps can’t be effective. It simply means you have to put your thinking cap on to outwit the feral feline in your life.

Here are some leading tips as to how to make use of a live trap to catch a feral cat:

  • Acclimate the cat to the trap

Feral cats will begin to trust traps enough to remain in them for short periods of time if they are set up within their environment and remain open for them to enjoy a meal from.

To gain a feral cat’s trust in this way, be sure the traps are not set but are simply open and complete with a food source. Consistency is key when using this method, so you will want to be certain to provide the feral cat with food at the same time and in the same place each day.

To help the feral cat to understand the trap is safe place to consume a meal, place the cat’s food in the opposite direction to what you would do if you were simply using food as a form of bait for trapping. This means placing the meal by the front of the trap with that door firmly shut. Tie back the back door, so the cat can easily see that there is no way for him to become permanently confined within the space.

Repeat this process over a period of several days. When the feral cat is now comfortable eating his daily meal from inside the trap, you can withhold food for a 24 hour period to ensure adequate hunger then prepare an attempt at trapping.

  • Consider the use of a large trap

Many feral cats will reject the opportunity to enter a small trap even if it means a respite from inclement weather. By nature, cats are more trusting of larger spaces, particularly if the opening to the trap is large. This is often a good first step to luring a cat inside for trapping.

  • Use extremely fragrant food as bait.

Hungry feral cats will be far more drawn to fragrant food sources. There are several different things you can try to help lure a feral cat into a live trap including baby food, catnip, valerian-root scented broths, or fish such as mackerel, sardines, or anchovies.

Since cats possess extremely powerful olfactory senses, it is vital that any trap remain free from odors that the cat may associate with human beings. To be sure of this, all traps should remain outdoors at all times. To help remove any potential lingering odors, you can wipe the trap down with a known cat attractant such as the oil from a can of sardines, silvervine, or catnip.

  • Make use of a trip plate

Many cats become leery of food placed inside a trap no matter how much time is invested in acclimating them to the concept. Some of them have even become experts at sneaking in to steal food without activating the trap’s closing mechanism. For cats of this nature, a little more ingenuity is required in the trapping process.

The most effective means of tripping up a crafty cat is by using a piece of corrugated cardboard which is securely fastened to the base of the trap. Through the use of masking tape, you can use a portion of the cardboard to cover the mesh located near the opening of the trap. The cardboard should be cut and placed in a fashion that it runs parallel to the entire trip plate. When the cat enters the trap and gingerly avoids the trip plate in order to eat his meal, he will accidentally trigger the release of the door, thereby becoming confined to the trap.

  • Consider camouflage

Camouflaging a trap so that it closely resembles its surrounding is an excellent way to trap a feral cat on the run. The simplest method of camouflage is to select a hiding spot underneath shrubbery, behind wooden boards, or even in another box. Feral cats love to enter dark spaces, thus making the trap’s hidden location more attractive to them.

To disguise the trap further, you can make use of materials such as burlap or even branches and old leaves to give the appearance of a wooded hole or hiding place. Placing these materials on the floor of the trap leave cats feeling they are walking in the woods and can deceive them into being trapped.

  • Use confined spaces and bait

Many cats simply cannot be contained in a live trap. For crafty felines of this sort, it is wise to consider a different approach. Some cats will come into a confined indoor space if lured inside. The bait can be anything from a rag scented to smell like a female in heat to very fragrant treats or food. Use the lure to get the cat into an indoor area where he will not have the opportunity to escape. Once safely contained indoors, you can attempt the use of a live trap from the area of confinement.

  • Take a rest for a few days

Sometimes a cat is simply onto you and is not going to fall victim to even the most clever trapping attempt. When this happens, it is often best to simply take a break, regroup, and come back at it with a fresh perspective in a few days’ time. 

Has your neighborhood’s feral cat colony gone out of control?

Live traps are an effective means for capturing cats for transportation to the veterinarian’s where they can be spayed and neutered for live release back into the environment. Follow our top tips for effective use of a live trap to see success in capturing the elusive feral cat on your property.

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