The first step in working with feral cats is to be sure they are spayed/neutered. In the case of male cats, you can sometimes visibly see their male parts as well as noticing thickening jowls and a muscular body. Yet with young males who are not developed or who have long thick fur, it is often difficult to see. Also a female is almost impossible to know if they have been spayed. Some vets today will put a small tattoo on the cats belly to identify the cat has been spayed/neutered. You often will not be able to see this.
Trap Neuter Return (TNR) is an essential part of caring for feral cats. The cats are humanely trapped, neutered and then returned to their current location. A caregiver is often available to feed and provide shelter for the cats. Alley Cat Allies is the only national advocacy organization dedicated to the protection and humane treatment of cats. You may find more information about TNR and feral cats by visiting their site.
Here I will list a few tips on humanely trapping a feral or stray cat.
1. One of the most useful tools is a good humane trap. I started with a Havahart trap that I purchased off Amazon for around $40. Many rescue organization or humane societies have traps that are available for loan. If you do not have a trap or you do not wish to purchase one, try rescue groups or the humane society. The Havahart trap was easy to use, but it was very loud when the trip plate went off. It really frightened the cat. It also was very sensitive and when I was having to set the trap under bushes or under my deck, it would often go off when I barely nudged it.
I searched and searched for a better trap and finally found one. It’s the Tru Catch LTD30. This trap is so simple to use. It also is so quiet when the trip plate goes off. Instead of banging shut, it just drops. I also love the rear door. I bought a divider so that I can easily get into the back of the trap to feed or change the newspaper or puppy pee pads. Here is a link.
2. Once you have a trap, it is important to find a vet that works with ferals. Many low cost spay and neuter clinics accept feral cats. I am fortunate that one of the clinics in my area does not require an appointment for feral cats. It really takes the pressure off of ensuring you can make the scheduled appointment. Humane societies often take feral cats for spay/neuter as well. Call around and find a clinic that meets your needs. Low cost clinics generally have you drop the cat off in the trap in the morning and then pick the cat back up in the late afternoon. The cats are not kept overnight. Besides spay/neuter, the cats will receive a rabies shot. You usually have the option of other vaccines, flea/tick treatment, deworming and tests for FIV and FeLV. The cat also can receive an ear tip to designate he/she has been spayed/neutered. All of my ferals received an ear tip.
3. Once you have a trap and a vet clinic lined up, it is time to place the trap. It is often advisable to begin feeding the cat in the unset trap for a few days. This gets the cat used to the trap. Yet some trap savvy cats are very spooked by the trap and will refuse to enter it. You may have to start feeding just outside of the trap and gradually move the food back every few days. I have fed the cat in the trap for a few days as well as just setting the trap and see what happens. It depends on how desperate I am to trap the cat and the current weather conditions as well as how often the cat comes. I have found that you can line the trap with newspapers or puppy pee pads. I prefer the puppy pee pads as they are not as noisy as newspaper. I find a 4 pack at the Dollar Tree.
When you are ready to trap, it is important to place the trap in the general location of where the cat normally eats. I have used tuna, sardines, chicken, wet cat food and even dry food as bait. I generally use tuna and drizzle a bit of the juice on the puppy peed pad and then a few small pieces leading to the back of the trap. Some of the cats I have trapped were startled by the tuna and preferred that I use their normal food. Sometimes you have to try a few different types of bait. Here is a link to a video from Alley Cat Allies on trapping. As well as one from Tru Catch.
Once the trap is set, be sure to keep an eye on the trap. Once the cat is inside, immediately cover the trap with a sheet or towel. This will help to calm the cat. Do not be surprised if the cat thrashes around. You can either immediately take the cat to the clinic or place the cat in the garage, basement or bathroom to wait for transport. If you need to trap the cat the night before, it is best that the cat be placed in a warm garage, basement or other location away from noise. If it is winter, I usually use my basement, but in warmer weather the garage is fine. Just keep the trap covered and away from other animals and humans. I prefer to trap in the morning, but sometimes this is not possible.
4. When the spay/neuter is complete, you often will need to bring the cat to your home for recovery. Males can usually be released the next morning while females may need up to 48 hours unless they are still nursing kittens when they can be released sooner. After surgery, all cats need to be kept in a temperature controlled environment above 60 degrees. When cats are recovering from anesthesia they are unable to regulate their body temperature. During the winter this will often mean a basement or small bathroom while in warmer weather a garage will do just fine. Keep the cats in the trap and keep the trap covered. You usually can offer a small amount of food or water that evening. Having a divider for the trap really helps with this. Before I had a divider I used a round paper coffee filter that I could slip inside the trap. You do not want to open the trap. You will want to check on the cats several times during the evening. I often keep a small light on and play soft music. Do not allow other animals near the cat and keep human contact to a minimum.
5. The next morning you can usually release the cat back to its original location. Transport the cat in the trap to its feeding area and open the trap to release the cat. Most will shoot out like a rocket. Don’t be surprised if the cat doesn’t return for a few days. I have had cats take a few hours to return, a day or two as well as some that do not return. Most will return so make sure fresh water and food will be available. The last step is to clean the trap. You can use warm soap water and a scrub brush. If necessary you can use a diluted bleach solution.