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Familiarize yourself with the Trap-Neuter-Return process and plan your trapping day in advance. In order to ensure the safety and well being of the cats and reduce your own stress, make sure to plan all of your trapping endeavors in advance.

Before You Trap

  1. Read the step-by-step instructions below. Understanding the process thoroughly before you trap is essential. Being prepared helps you anticipate potential problems and plan solutions ahead of time. Keep in mind that your trapping will be most effective if you employ targeted trapping
  2. Find and coordinate with the other caregivers about your plans to trap. If you are the primary caregiver, this is a good opportunity to educate the community and let them know you are caring for the cats. If there are other people feeding the cats, talk to them about Trap-Neuter-Return and try to coordinate efforts, particularly when it comes to feeding, withholding food before trapping, and assessing the colony. Alley Cat Allies’ literature, including doorhangers, can help explain what you are doing and why.
  3. Communicate with neighbors around the colony. Open communication and education are important parts of conducting Trap-Neuter-Return. Many people are not aware that feral cats live and thrive outdoors and that neutering improves their lives—and they may have problems with the cats that can be easily addressed. You can prevent potential situations from escalating and avoid endangering the cats by introducing yourself as the person to contact if someone has questions or concerns. Learn more about helping cats and people co-exist at our Community Relations Resource Center.
  4. Assess the cats. While feeding, start a log of each cat and kitten you see. This will help you monitor the number of cats and their health, determine their approximate age, and help you determine the numbers of appointments and traps you will need. It will also help you identify if some cats are stray—friendly to humans—and may be candidates for adoption into homes or if you will need to be prepared for trapping and fostering kittens (learn more in our Socialized Cat Guide and our Feral and Stray Cats—An Important Difference guide.) It is important that you get to know the colony, the number of cats, and their description to ensure that all of the cats have been trapped. This is also important for ongoing colony care so you will know if any cats are missing or if any new cats join the colony that need to be neutered. Use the ACA tracking sheet to document each cat in the colony and learn more about keeping good records in our How to Provide Care for Outdoor Cats Guide.

    While you are assessing the colony, you will also have to consider their specific circumstances and safety. Alley Cat Allies does not recommend relocation; it should be done only under extreme circumstances when the cats’ lives are in eminent danger. The best way to protect the cats is to ensure they are spayed and neutered immediately; then consider other plans that may be necessary, such as relocation. Be fully prepared before you decide to trap and move cats by reading our Guidelines for Safe Relocation of Feral Cats. A common reason caregivers feel they need to relocate a colony is poisoning threats. Learn more about how to deal with poison threats.
  5. Be Prepared for these Special Scenarios
    • Kittens and/or Nursing Mothers: You may come across kittens and/or nursing mothers in your trapping efforts. There are many factors for you to take into account before you decide what your plan of action will be, including the presence of the mother, the kittens’ age, and your own resources. Learn more in our Kittens GuideLearn how to trap and mom and her kittens. If you decide to include kittens and/or the nursing mother in Trap-Neuter-Return, it is important to use the proper traps (see equipment list) to ensure their safety. Follow proper post-surgery protocol for kittens and mothers.

      Always put kitten safety first when trapping by using the correct traps. You should have one trap per cat so that the kittens are less likely to follow each other into a single trap. Kitten traps exist, but Tomahawk 606s work as well. You can manually spring the box traps with string and a water bottle to ensure that no kittens are by the trap door when it's triggered. See a kitten trap.
    • Ill or Injured Cats: Plan ahead to ensure you can provide immediate care to, and make decisions about, an ill or injured cat. Have the phone number on hand of a veterinarian who works with feral cats—and whose practice will be open while you are trapping. Building up an emergency fund to help cover unexpected expenses could come in handy here.
    • Socialized Cats: Have a plan in place for how to help socialized cats. For instance, will you find potential foster or adoptive homes or include them in your Trap-Neuter-Return program? Get tips on finding homes for socialized cats.
  6. Feed on a schedule at least two weeks prior to trapping. To get the cats used to coming out and eating while you are there (and help with your assessment process), establish a set time and place to feed the cats every day. Pick up the food after about 30 minutes. The cats will quickly adapt to the feeding time and will come at that time each day. This is essential to making sure that they all come to eat when you plan to trap.

    Tip:
    Feed out of unset traps for one to two weeks prior to the trapping day, to get cats used to seeing and walking into them. Remove the back door, or rig the trap so it stays open. Remove traps after the cats eat so there is no risk of theft, damage, or a cat accidentally being trapped.

    Remember to coordinate your feeding and trapping efforts with other caregivers. This will make best use of your time and resources. Learn more about feeding and colony care in our Colony Care Guide.
  7. Ensure that the feeding station is appropriately placed. Position the feeding station in an area that is free of human traffic and is inconspicuous. You will have greater success in manipulating their schedule, getting them to show up, and consequently trapping.
  8. Find and Coordinate with a feral friendly veterinarian or clinic. Line up clinic or veterinary appointments before you trap. You don’t want to successfully trap cats and then have nowhere to take them. Make appointments for the number of traps you have, though you may not catch a cat in every trap. Find out if the clinic or veterinarian is familiar with trapping and make sure they are prepared if the reservation isn’t fulfilled completely. Ask them what number of cats they can spay and neuter in a single day. Plan your trapping session so that the cats are transported to the veterinarian or clinic as soon as possible. Make appointments for the same or following day to keep cats’ time in the traps at a minimum. 

    It is important to find a veterinarian or low-cost clinic familiar with or willing to learn how to work with feral cats. Your local Feral Friends can help. If the veterinarian you ultimately choose has no experience with feral cats, he or she can learn more about treating feral cats. Read more about working with a veterinarian.
  9. Set up your Holding/Recovery Area. Choose a dry, temperature-controlled (about 75 degrees), and safe overnight holding/recovery area for use before and after the cats’ surgeries. Some examples of acceptable locations include bathrooms, basements, garages—or possibly your veterinarian’s office, as discussed above. Make sure it is quiet and inaccessible to other animals. Ensure that all entries in and out (doors, windows, ceiling tiles, etc.) are closed at all times in the unlikely event that a cat should escape from his trap.
  10. Although it is not necessary, you may want to consider securing help for the day-of, either through recruiting volunteers or asking a friend. Trapping by yourself, especially for your first time, can be overwhelming and exhausting. Having a companion is also a good safety precaution if you are trapping at night or in an unfamiliar area.
  11. Gather all of the appropriate equipment. When trapping a colony, it is best to have at least one trap per cat. Alley Cat Allies suggests having more traps than cats, because you never know which locations will be most attractive to the cats or if a trap will malfunction. See our full list of suggested equipment.
  12. Practice setting traps ahead of time. If you have never set a trap, doing it near the trap site on the day-of is not the best place to learn. Be as comfortable as possible with your equipment, for your own peace of mind and the cats’ safety. View a demonstration of setting a Tru-Catch trap and setting a Tomahawk trap.
  13. Label the traps. Never leave your traps unattended. Fill in the tag with your name, phone number, and information on what you are doing, for example: Humane trapping for veterinary care in progress, cats will not be harmed and should not be touched. Waterproof the sign by enclosing it in a plastic covering or bag.
  14. Make a written plan for the day-of. Make sure your written plan includes every tool you need and step you must complete throughout the Trap-Neuter-Return process. Remember that many tasks must be completed before trapping can start. You must procure traps, and arrange for veterinary services, transportation, and a safe, indoor recovery space. 
  15. Pay attention to the weather. Never trap in extreme temperatures, hot or cold. They are dangerous conditions for cats to be in without food and exposed to the elements.

Next Step: Trapping