How to Catch a Stray Cat
To control the feline population, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) officially has adopted a policy called Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR), which recommends that all stray cats be humanely trapped in order to get them spayed or neutered. If you have a scruffy-looking stray that sits and meows on your front porch or a local tabby that frolics in your front yard, you may decide to catch the animal to help keep it healthy and safe. Whether it is a lost pet you can return to its owners or a feral kitty you can give a new home, when done right taking in a stray cat can be a boon to your community and a rewarding experience. Learn to trap a stray safely by preparing effectively, attracting the animal, and keeping it safe.
Observe the cat for a while.Before you catch or even approach a stray cat, you need to observe them for signs of disease and injury. For your own safety and the safety as a cat, it's important to evaluate the health of the animal and come up with a viable plan for determining when and how to help. If a cat has been frequenting a particular area for a few days, spend some time watching it closely. If it's a friendly cat, your job will be a lot easier. If not, you've got some work to do.
- If a cat behaves erratically, breathes heavily, drools excessively, or generally acts lethargic and unusual, call animal control. Do not attempt to approach cats exhibiting signs of disease.There are some diseases that cats carry that are zoonotic—or transferred to humans from animals and vice versa. A very frightening, and virtually untreatable disease is rabies transmitted by saliva through bites or cuts in the skin.Another danger is the dangerous infections that can set in from cat bites. Professionals who work at animal control have the necessary equipment and protection to safely capture sick stray cats.
- Not every cat needs to be caught. Don't try to catch well-fed looking cats with collars. Call your neighbors and inquire about whether or not anyone’s missing a stray, instead.
Veterinarian Pippa Elliott MRCVS makes this observation: "Feral cats that have previously been trapped and neutered, often have been 'ear tipped' or have a flat tip to one ear. If you see this, the cat is already doctored and doesn't need to be caught."
Get a live trap.Live traps are extremely safe and simple mechanisms that catch cats easily and humanely. You bait the trap with food, and then the doors of the cage will close when an animal wanders inside, trapping it safely. After trapping a stray cat, leave it in the live trap and transport it to the vet. Do not remove the animal from the trap.
- Local vets and animal shelters will lend you live traps for catching strays. You don’t have to buy one, though it might be a good tool to have on hand if you live in a rural area and commonly encounter strays and other animals in need of relocation.
- If you absolutely can't find or use a trap, use a cat carrier or a box to bait with food and trap the cat inside. Check with your vet before using a carrier to catch a cat some vets won't accept cats that are brought to them in anything except a live trap. A live trap is safer and more effective, but this can do in a pinch.
Avoid unreliable methods for catching a cat.Don’t attempt to catch a stray by picking it up or by using a pillowcase or other type of bag. These methods can anger and agitate strays, as well as injure them, and risk injuring yourself. Never, under any circumstances, should you handle a stray cat with your bare hands. Treat stray cats as you would a wild animal, even if you hope to domesticate the cat in the long run. Give it time.
Prepare an area in which to keep the cat.You'll need to have a suitable place for keeping the cat, even if you just plan on taking it to the vet and then re-releasing it. Ideally, you want to catch the cat as near as possible to the spay or neuter date, so you can take the cat immediately to the vet's office. If you need to house the cat for a little while before, though, you need to prepare a quiet room in the house for the cat to stay.
- Strays should be kept in out-of-the-way areas of your house that you can keep quiet so the cat will calm down and feel safe. Basements, spare bedrooms, and other temperature controlled areas that you can keep dark will help to calm cats and keep them feeling safe.
- If you're taking the cat to the vet in less than 12 hours, don't worry about feeding the animal. It'll be fine and it'll be much safer to avoid opening the cage and risking having to wrangle the cat again. Provide some clean water and let the cat stay in the live trap.
Set up an appointment to have the cat neutered and medically checked out.The ASPCA now promotes a policy called Trap Neuter Return (TNR). Whatever you intend to do with the animal after you’ve caught it, this needs to be the first step after catching it.
Trapping a Stray
Start feeding the cat a couple of days before you want to trap it.You want to make sure the cat will start having a reason to stay around the area, and then will have a reason to take the food that you've set into the trap.
- After making an appointment to have the cat treated at the vet, withhold food for a day or two leading up to the appointment, before you set your trap for the cat.
- Use regular dry cat food from the store, or canned cat food to feed the cats. In a pinch, a small amount of tuna or other canned fish will also attract cats if you’d rather not buy cat food.
- Don’t feed cats milk. Contrary to popular belief, cats have difficulty processing dairy, and you can end up with a mess on your hands by feeding cats milk. Feed strays solid cat food.
Set up the trap and bait it.Use the same variety of cat food or treats that you’ve been using to feed the cat. Set down paper or a pillowcase to smooth out the wire floor of the cage, and place food at the back of the cage so the cat has to walk all the way in to eat it, put a small amount of food at the entrance of the trap as a teaser, then set the spring on the trap.
- Each trap will be operated slightly differently, but all are fairly basic. For the most part, you only need to open the trap door and secure it in place with the wire release bar. When the door closes, the animal will be trapped inside.
- Cover the trap with a towel or cloth without obscuring the entrance, to help obscure the trap and make it look less conspicuous. Some hard to catch cats prefer to be able to see through the back of the trap. If you are having trouble catching a cat try removing the cover or leaving the back exposed.
- Don't use a bowl to keep the food in. The cat might thrash around once caught and could hurt itself on any objects stuck inside the cage.
Check on the trap regularly.Live traps are very safe, but you don't want to leave a cat outdoors and exposed in an unattended trap for a long period of time. This means it is important to check up on it regularly and see whether or not you've made the catch. If so, bring it indoors to your prepared area, or take it to the vet immediately if it's time.
Take the cat indoors.Once the cat is trapped, cover the trap with the cloth and promptly move it to the holding area. The cat will be more calm if kept in the dark when you are moving it, so lower the light and keep a cover over the cage.
- Leave the cat in the trap. Don't let the cat out of the trap or try to transfer it to a cat carrier, or you're just going to have to start the whole process over again. After being caught and moved around, cats will want to hide in a small, cramped space, anyway, making the cage the ideal location for them at this time. The cat will be fine!
Finding the Stray a New Home
Have the cat neutered and medically treated if necessary.Have the cat neutered (male) or spayed (female) and at a minimum the cat should also have a rabies vaccination, treatment for any parasites (fleas or worms), vaccination for distemper, and a test for feline leukemia is also recommended. In many places, these services are offered for free as a general animal control policy.
Re-release the cat.Female cats should be kept under observation in a cage with access to a litter box and food and water for 5 days after the spay operations. Males can be released the day after the operation. You can return it back to the habitat from which it came, or take it elsewhere.
- If releasing the cat to a new area a caregiver needs to be available to help the cat become acclimated to its new environment, which can take several weeks. In general, this policy is promoted by the ASPCA as a way of helping to control the cat population. If the cat seemed to be getting on well in the environment, release it and put food, water and shelter out regularly. Cats that are released to areas they are not familiar with are unlikely to survive unless they have a caretaker because they do not have a source of food, water, or shelter. Other cats already in the area may also attack them in territory disputes.
Contact a local cat rescue organization or non-kill animal shelter.If you live in an urban area, releasing a stray might be irresponsible. Cat rescue and no-kill shelters are a much better option. They will likely be happy to do the work of finding the cat a good home.
- Feral cats are almost never adopted from shelters, as they have a high euthanasia rate of more than 90%. If the cat is unadoptable it is better to release to the area where it was caught.
- Many rescues will pay the cost of a stray cat's veterinary bills for you. Save your receipts.
- If you can, offer to foster the cat until a home is found. Some organizations have more cats than they have foster homes. Just don't take offense if they prefer to foster with someone who has experience with cats.
Try to find the cat a new home, if necessary.If you're sure the cat is not owned and you're uncomfortable or unable to take the cat elsewhere, find a suitable home for the cat yourself. You can advertise, ask around, and find a suitable candidate for keeping the cat for a pet.
- Ask around informally to see if any of your friends or relatives might be interested in looking after the cat. Start by asking trusted friends and acquaintances. This way the cat gets a good home, and you can visit it sometimes.
- Advertise the cat locally. Put the cat on Petfinder.com. Make sure the profile is honest about the cat's situation. You can also put an ad online or in the local classifieds.
Consider keeping the cat.Some stray cats make great pets once they adjust to life in a human home. Think carefully about whether you have the time, money and a good environment to take on a pet. If you plan on keeping the animal, make sure that it gets looked after thoroughly at the vet and that it's a safe animal to be around before letting it into your home.
QuestionHow do I pet a stray kitten that I've trapped?
Veterinarian, Royal College of Veterinary SurgeonsVeterinarian, Royal College of Veterinary SurgeonsExpert AnswerMake friends with the kitten by offering her tasty food or give her the opportunity to play with a toy on a string. Slowly win her confidence, rather than forcing your attention on her. She's likely to be fearful, so let her discover that you offer good things, and she will want to get to know you.Thanks!
QuestionWhat if the cat is smart and pushes the trap door open?
Veterinarian, Royal College of Veterinary SurgeonsVeterinarian, Royal College of Veterinary SurgeonsExpert AnswerMost human cat traps have a mechanism whereby the trap door is only able to be opened from the outside. Double check how the trap is set up, as it should be "cat-proof" once correctly positioned.Thanks!
QuestionMy cat is microchipped, and he escaped the house. How do I get him to come home?
Veterinarian, Royal College of Veterinary SurgeonsVeterinarian, Royal College of Veterinary SurgeonsExpert AnswerMany cats that are not used to being outside go to a place quite close to home and "freeze," too frightened to leave their new sanctuary. Walk around the neighborhood calling his name and shaking biscuits. Stop and listen every few steps, as he may be too frightened to emerge but will cry or call out. He's also more likely to venture out after dark, so call him then. Put posters up locally with a photo and a contact number, and ring the local vet clinics or shelters to see if he's been handed in.Thanks!
QuestionWhat can I do if I don't have a trap? What food should I use?
Veterinarian, Royal College of Veterinary SurgeonsVeterinarian, Royal College of Veterinary SurgeonsExpert AnswerSpeak to your local vet, rescue shelter, or welfare society, and they should be happy to lend you a trap. Alternatively, lure the cat close with food. If it is friendly enough to pet, pick it up in a big bath towel. However, do not try picking a truly feral cat up. Put down a fish-based cat food or tuna to attract the cat.Thanks!
QuestionHow do I get my cat to come home?
Veterinarian, Royal College of Veterinary SurgeonsVeterinarian, Royal College of Veterinary SurgeonsExpert AnswerMake sure the cat is neutered, as this reduces the urge to stray. Also, make sure your home is a really pleasant place to be by petting and playing with your cat, providing a clean tray, and giving him his own food and water bowls. If he regularly strays, then keep him in and only let him out when he's hungry, so that you can shake biscuits to attract his attention and get him back. Also, consider clicker training the cat and teaching him to come when you call his name.Thanks!
QuestionHow do I get young kittens out from under a shed?
Veterinarian, Royal College of Veterinary SurgeonsVeterinarian, Royal College of Veterinary SurgeonsExpert AnswerYou can try and win their trust by enticing them with tasty morsels of food and speaking to them so they become used to your presence. Alternatively, put smelly food out (such as pilchards or mackerel) and capture them from a distance with a butterfly net. Or you can speak to a cat rescue charity about borrowing a humane trap and bait it with food.Thanks!
QuestionWhat if the cat has kittens, but they're outside?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerProvide some food, water, and shelter for the cat--preferably in a quiet part of your yard that does not get much "traffic." Let the mother cat see you setting the food out, and consider offering her some treats from time to time. Over time, she may learn to trust you and come close to you. She may also let you handle her kittens. Until then, do not touch her or her kittens, or you will risk scaring her away.Thanks!
QuestionHow do I catch a cat without any cage or bait?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThanks!
QuestionWhat if the cat cannot be taken into the home but we want to care for it?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThe cat should be seen by a vet before considering keeping it. If you are not allowed to have the cat inside the house, you will also need to make a shelter for it in the backyard, so that it has somewhere safe to sleep and keep out of the bad weather. Otherwise, it may just end up straying again. See https://www.wikihow.com/Take-in-a-Stray-Cat for more ideas on what you might do.Thanks!
QuestionWhat if I want to keep the stray cat?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerBuy all of the materials needed to take care of a cat, and take the cat to the vet to make sure that it gets the required shots and is disease-free.Thanks!
Before you try to trap a stray cat, feed it for 2-3 days so it has a reason to stay in the area. Then, set up the trap with the same food you’ve been using, placing a small teaser at the front of the cage and more treats at the back. Check your trap regularly to make sure you don’t leave the cat trapped outside for a long time. Once you’ve caught the cat, arrange to have it medically treated at a vet and contact a local cat rescue shelter to organize a new home for it. Alternatively, if you’re looking for a pet, consider keeping the cat!
- Some rescues and animal welfare organizations will lend you a live trap for free.
- Cats can be picky about people. If the cat doesn't seem to warm up to you, ask a friend to try instead.
- Domesticating feral cats can be tough. If the cat is a part of a feral cat colony, the ASPCA recommends the Trap-Neuter-Return method. Capture it, take it to the vet, and then return it to the colony to live out the rest of its life.
- Wear thick clothing when attempting to catch a stray, in case the cat tries to claw you.
- Do not take the cat to a pet store or high-kill shelter. Research any organization before turning the cat over to them.
- Determine if the cat is a stray or feral. You may need help from a cat rescue group to do this. One thing to look for is that feral cats are almost never vocal.
- Even if you don't have a shelter nearby, check the Internet for shelters in nearby counties. They may be able to help you.
- It's okay to pick up small kittens by the scruff of their neck, but doing so on an adult cat will hurt them. They can also twist their bodies around and scratch you in this position.
- Be careful about separating kittens and mothers. Kittens shouldn't be weaned from their mothers before 4-6 weeks, so if you capture a nursing mother, on the other hand, her kittens might die if left on their own.
- Animal bites are serious! If you get bit, seek medical attention and keep the cat quarantined in case it has rabies or some other communicable disease.
- Strays can carry diseases such as feline leukemia and distemper. Wash your hands and clothing thoroughly before handling your own pets. Keep the stray away from your pets and their things, including their carrier and litter box, until you have had a chance to take it to a vet.
- Never feed an owned cat unless you have permission from their owner. It could have dietary issues like diabetes. Or the cat might get used to being fed outside and abandon its owner.
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