Guide/How-to| Trap-Neuter-Return

A basic box trap is a painless and humane method of safely capturing cats. Regardless of the level of socialization, do not attempt to pick up a cat to put her in a carrier. Use a humane box trap or drop trap to ensure the safety of the cats and you. (Never use darts or tranquilizers to attempt to catch a cat. These methods are dangerous and stressful to the cats.)

  1. Make sure you have enough traps for the entire colony—one trap per cat and a few extra in case a trap malfunctions. If your goal is to trap a colony of 20 cats, then set about 25 traps on your first attempt. If you do not have access to that many traps at one time you will have to trap the cats in shifts.
  2. You may be able to borrow some traps in your area, from a local Feral Friend or animal shelter. Always determine an animal shelter’s policy toward feral cats before borrowing—some may require you to return the trap and the cat.
  3. There are several companies that make and/or sell humane box traps. The companies listed below are two we have come to use after decades of testing and trapping, though they do not represent a comprehensive list. Experienced trappers have their own preferences. If you borrow traps from local caregivers or trappers or a Feral Friend, ask them to teach you how to work with each specific trap.Listing these companies here does not in any way imply an endorsement by Alley Cat Allies, nor is Alley Cat Allies responsible for the content of the websites or the utility of the equipment.
    Tru-Catch Traps:
    Tru-Catch Trap/Manufacturing Systems, Inc.
    300 Industrial St.
    PO Box 816
    Belle Fourche, SD 57717-0816

    Phone: 800.247.6132 or 650.892.2717

    Tomahawk Traps:
    Tomahawk LiveTrap Co.
    P.O. Box 325
    Tomahawk, Wisconsin 54487
    Phone: 800.272.8727 or 715.453.3550

    Fax: 715.453.4326

  4. Research the correct size trap. The standard size traps for feral cats are usually referred to as the “cat” size. Trappers sometimes find the “kitten” or “squirrel” size handy, but they are not always necessary, since kittens can be caught in cat-size traps. Trapping tom cats may also require the larger “raccoon” size trap.
  5. Look for the right features and consider additional equipment needs.
    • TRAP back doorBack Door – One of the most important features in a trap is a back door that shuts like a guillotine. This is essential when handling a cat you cannot touch.
    • TRAP drop trapTransfer Cage – Once you have caught a cat in a trap, leave her there. But if you must put her in a different cage, such as a holding cage, use a transfer cage with a matching guillotine door and conduct the transfer in a closed room.
    • TRAP isolatorIsolator (aka catacomb or trap divider) – This looks like a large pick (or comb). The isolator is inserted into the top of a trap or cage to force the cat into a small portion of the cage for anesthesia. (This device can be used in place of a squeeze cage by your veterinarian.)
    • TRAP feral cat denFeral Cat Den (aka Feral Cat Handler) – When you must hold a cat for several days for recovery from an injury or extensive surgery, the den provides a quiet hiding place. The den can be placed in a larger holding pen or large cage where the cat is being held, along with a litter box, food, and water. The cat enters the den by a porthole on the side that you easily slide shut once the cat is inside. You can then take the cat for cleaning, treatment, or transportation. A vertical sliding door makes it easy to transfer the cat to another cage or return the cat to the den for recovery after surgery.
    • TRAP drop trapDrop Traps – If you are dealing with a particularly hard-to-trap cat, you may want to consider building a drop trap. Drop traps allow you to catch a cat without having to force it into a confined space. These traps are generally large, mesh covered squares that, when triggered by you with a rope, fall down over the cat. All drop traps allow you to easily transfer the cat from the drop trap to a regular humane trap. Using a drop trap is often a last resort, because it either requires you to build your own or find one to use. Most drop traps are cumbersome enough to require the help of another trapper.

Other Items for Trapping

In addition to traps, you will need a few essentials:

  • Bait for traps: Several large pop-top cans of tuna, mackerel, sardines or other smelly bait, preferably oil packed (if you don’t bring pop-top cans, be sure to bring a can opener)
  • Plastic forks or spoons (to scoop out the bait)
  • Newspapers, which will be used to line the bottom of the traps
  • Tape to hold newspaper to trap floor, if necessary (especially for windy days), and the labels to traps
  • Trap covers: Enough big (i.e., beach size) towels, blankets, or sheets to fully cover each trap after cats are caught
  • Small food storage container (big enough to hold open cans of tuna still in use, to prevent spillage)
  • Dry and canned cat food and water (to leave after trapping for cats not trapped)
  • Box of baggies (for tuna lids, used plastic silverware, etc.)
  • A roll of paper towels
  • One pair of thick gloves per trapper (wear these for your safety while carrying cats in traps)
  • Antibacterial hand wipes, baby wipes, or antibacterial gel (for cleaning yourself, the traps, and any messes)
  • Tools such as pliers and some WD-40 for traps that might not work properly
  • First-Aid kit
  • Bungee cords (to secure traps in your car so they don’t slide around)
  • Feral Cat Colony Tracking System and pen or pencil and clipboard
  • Cardboard, large plastic trash bags, or towels to line the inside of your vehicle. Puppy pads also work well, should there be accidents.
  • Binoculars and camera
  • Flashlight
  • Drinking water and snacks (for you)
  • Appropriate weather-related clothing and practical shoes
  • Alley Cat Allies brochures (to pass out to people who stop by to ask what you’re doing)