Keep Community Cats Comfortable While in Their Trap
When cats have to be in humane box traps, for Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) or other reasons, you can make the experience as pleasant as possible. Here, you’ll get the tips you need to keep trapped cats comfortable during their stay. Before we get started, please remember:
- DO NOT let a community cat out of her humane box. Once a cat is out of a trap it is extremely difficult to get her back in. Her first instinct will be to escape or hide. She will bolt if outdoors and, if indoors, she can and will squeeze herself into hard-to-reach places you didn’t even know where there. During TNR, the only times a community cat should be out of her trap is when she is sedated for surgery and when you return her to her outdoor home.
- Be careful when your hands or fingers are near the trap. A scared trapped cat may scratch or bite out of instinct to defend herself. This is just as much about your safety as the cats’.
Find more detailed information in Alley Cat Allies’ comprehensive Guide to Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) and Colony Care.
Before a cat steps a paw in, prepare your humane box trap with all the comforts you can provide.
Choose the right trap. There are different sizes of humane box trap if a cat needs a bigger or smaller one. Generally, Alley Cat Allies recommends models that have both front and back doors and are 36” long by 12” high to give the cats a good amount of space. See more humane trap options at alleycat.org/Equipment.
Have one trap per cat. There should only be one cat in each trap. Even if the cats or kittens are bonded, they need their own space to stay comfortable and for their spay and neuter surgeries.
Clean, clean, and clean again. Thoroughly sanitize each trap and trap divider before and after all trapping. Scrub every part of the trap and trap dividers, spray a solution of one-part bleach to 10 parts water on all surfaces, and then rinse it off after 10 minutes. Cats are safest in clean, sanitized traps where they aren’t stressed by the smells of previous cat inhabitants.
Make a cozy floor. You wouldn’t want to step or lie down on wire mesh and neither do cats. Line the bottom of your trap with layers of newspaper, an old towel, or other sturdy materials like thin cardboard. This flooring can be easily replaced to keep traps clean from messes made by food and elimination.
Once the cats are in their traps, it’s time to make sure they stay safe, healthy, and as stress-free as possible.
Ensure a short stay.Line up the cats’ spay and neuter appointments for as soon as possible after your planned trapping—and try not to exceed three days. Being in a strange place with strange smells and noises is scary for even the most socialized cat, so make sure the process goes as quickly as possible.
Cover it up. When a cat is in a trap, keep the trap covered at all times with a large towel or blanket so cats feel protected, safe, and calm. Make sure the cover is loose and doesn’t restrict airflow.
Set up a proper holding/recovery area. Cats need to be placed somewhere safe while in their traps. For TNR, they’ll need a place to stay before their spay and neuter surgeries and up to 48 hours or more after to recover. Your holding area should be able to comfortably fit all the trapped cats, temperature-controlled, closed off, and inaccessible to other animals. A basement, garage, or even a bathroom can work. Learn how to set up a holding area and other trapping tips.
Place the cats on stable ground. Don’t stack traps in the holding area or balance them on precarious objects. Keep the cats on one layer on solid floor. If the floor is not insulated—like a concrete floor in a garage or basement—elevate the traps a few inches off the ground using wood pallets or other stable materials.
Watch the temperature. The cats’ holding area must be in a temperature-controlled space kept at around 70 degrees. This is critical for cats recovering from anesthesia post-spay and neuter, since they can’t regulate their own body temperature.
Monitor regularly.It is important to monitor all cats in traps for any changes in their health or comfort. If a cat has undergone any sort of surgical procedure, you need to watch her carefully to make sure she’s healing correctly. Look for any signs of infection or illness, like lethargy or vomiting. If you spot symptoms, DO NOT open the trap. Instead, call for veterinary assistance right away and, if necessary, bring the cat into the clinic or veterinarian still in the trap.
Know the correct ways to feed and clean. ALWAYS use a trap divider whenever you clean and feed; you thread this forked tool through the trap to separate the cat from the area you’re working in. Clean any soiled material on the bottom of a trap regularly. Feed cats twice daily and provide water all day long by placing pre-filled dishes or bowls in the traps. If the cats are going to be spayed or neutered or receive other veterinary care, prepare to remove all food in advance as directed by a veterinarian. Learn more at alleycat.org/PostSurgery.
Transport cats properly.NEVER transport cats in the trunk of a car or the open bed of a pickup truck—it is dangerous and highly stressful for the cats. Make sure the traps are stable and won’t shift around or fall—use restraints like bungee cords if you have to. Don’t play loud music and try to avoid bumpy roads or sharp turns. Learn more about safely transporting cats in traps.
If two cats are bonded, keep them close. Arrange their traps so their doors press together and then cover the whole setup. If you see any signs of conflict, separate them again.
Be calm, quiet, and consistent. Move with soft steps and speak with soft voices. If the cats have to stay for multiple days, feed and clean their traps on a schedule at the same time each day. Cats feel safest when they know what to expect.
Give cats a bigger cage if you have to. If cats must be kept for several days due to illness or injury, transfer them to a larger cage, crate, or den for more space. We recommend the Feral Cat Recovery Cage from Tru Catch, which has an easy transfer door.
We know that circumstances and resources will differ from case to case. You can tailor these tips to your unique needs and what you have available, just remember to always keep the cats’ comfort in mind.