TNR Scenarios: How to Trap Kittens and Mother Cats

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Discovering a mother cat and her kittens while doing Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) can be an adorable yet challenging experience (mostly adorable, as long as you know what to do). In this guide, we will walk you through how to safely and successfully and safely trap a feral or stray mother cat and her kittens.

First, we recommend you review this information:
Our in-depth guide on Trap-Neuter-Return at alleycat.org/TNRGuide
Our information about safely trapping kittens at alleycat.org/TrappingKittens

Looking for general information about what to do if you find kittens outdoors? Visit alleycat.org/FoundAKitten.

Before You Trap

It’s important to assess whether or not it’s necessary to immediately trap a mother cat and her kittens. Some cases where you will need to trap include:

  • The kittens are 8 weeks old or older, meaning they and their mother should be spayed or neutered and vaccinated as soon as possible.
  • The kittens and/or mother cat are sick or injured and require veterinary attention.
  • The kittens are in an environment that is an immediate danger to their well-being.

We detail the above scenarios at alleycat.org/FoundAKitten.

If none of these circumstances apply, please Leave Them BeTM. This best practice involves allowing a mother cat to care for her kittens in their outdoor home until the kittens are 8 weeks old and are ready to be spayed or neutered. Learn more at alleycat.org/LeaveThemBe.

If you haven’t already, be sure to determine how old the kittens are. Our guide at alleycat.org/KittenProgression will help.

Kittens who are younger than 8 weeks old rely on their mother’s care, whereas weaned kittens are more independent. Those factors can impact the trapping tactics you use.

Don’t take mother cats or kittens to an animal shelter. The shelter environment is stressful and it’s very easy for kittens to become sick.

Also, most shelters don’t have the programs needed to provide the round-the-clock care that neonatal kittens require, and there is a risk that the kittens will be killed.

Let’s Get Trapping – How to Trap Mother and Kittens

The good news is that it can be easier to trap kittens than adult cats. Since most weaned kittens are naturally curious they often aren’t as cautious around traps and are eager to investigate.

Keep kittens’ safety in mind. Safety is always important while trapping, but take particular care when trapping kittens. Their small size raises additional considerations:

  • A kitten-sized humane box trap may be best. Yes, they are available! Smaller traps are not only easier for a kitten to trigger, they also encourage only one kitten to enter the trap at a time.
  • Take care with larger humane box traps. These traps work, too, but keep in mind that more than one kitten may go inside. That can be a problem if a kitten steps on the trip plate while another kitten is still in the trap entrance. Consider manually triggering the trap instead. You’ll find details in our tips below.

Trapping kittens first can be helpful in trapping their mother. Once kittens are in the trap, their mother will likely hear their meowing and come to see what’s happening. She’ll try to get close to her kittens, which can be the perfect incentive for her to enter another trap. Another tactic to try is using a recording of meowing of kittens to attract mother cats into a trap.

Tips for Successfully Trap a Mother Cat and Kittens

  • Think of the cat and kittens first. Act in their best interests – always.
  • Have enough traps. Set out at least one baited trap for each cat and kitten in the family. See if you can catch them all in separate traps. Remember: if you trap multiple cats in one trap you will need to separate them later. Check out the different kinds of equipment to help you do so.
  • Think like a cat. If you’re able to trap one kitten, immediately set the back of a second trap of a similar size end-to-end against the front of the trap holding the kitten. Their mother is likely to walk into the open second trap to reach her kitten. Be sure not to open the trap holding the kitten during this process.
  • Disguise your trap. To make sure the mother cat goes inside the trap and not around the back or sides, cover both traps with a blanket and only leave the area where the traps meet and the opening of the second trap exposed. That way, the mother cat will think she is seeing her kitten at the end of a tunnel and will feel safer entering the trap set for her.
  • It works the other way around, too. If you trap the mother cat first, keep her in the trap and use the same tactics above to trap her kittens. Once you’ve trapped one kitten, set up a new trap and repeat the process like a train.
  • Be adaptable. Consider using a trap that you manually trigger. You can use a drop trap, or use a full water bottle to prop open the door of an unset trap. Tie a string about 50 feet long to the water bottle. This will allow you to pull the string to close the trap door. Find more ideas at alleycat.org/HardToTrap.

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