Trapping Tips

Tips for Trapping

trappingWhen it comes to trapping community cats, planning is essential to ensure both your own safety and the safety of the animals. But with the right information and techniques, it’s easy to do! Read on for Napa Humane’s best practices for trapping, handling trapped cats before and after surgery, and releasing other trapped wildlife.


The Place
If possible, get the cats used to being fed at the same place and time of day. This will then become the best trapping site and time.

Prepare a different, safe place where you will hold the trapped cat the night before surgery and during recovery after surgery. This space can be a garage, spare room, bathroom, or any other sheltered area that can be secured against intruders such as raccoons or people. Use plastic to protect the floor, and absorbent newspapers on top of the plastic. Spray the area with a cat-safe flea spray ahead of time in order discourage ants.

The Trap
Buy, borrow or rent humane traps that capture an animal without hurting it.

Whether traps are borrowed or your own, they should be cleaned after each use, before they are stored. Even traps that appear clean must be disinfected-the scent of the cat previously trapped may deter other cats from entering.

* Never leave a trap out where it could fall into the hands of someone who might be abusive toward a trapped cat.
* Never use nets, darts, or tranquilizer guns, which are all dangerous and stressful to cats.

The Time
Have a plan for when you will take the cat(s) for its surgery (see Napa Humane TNR Program hours). Plan to trap at least 10 to 12 hours before surgery. If you don’t know all the cats in the area, notify neighbors either by talking to them or by posting a notice telling when you will be setting traps, and asking that people keep their own cats inside during that time.

The Lure
The key to trapping is food, of course, so try to withhold all food from the cats for 24 hours before trapping (but continue to provide water). This should make the cats hungry enough to go into the traps on trapping day… as long as everyone in the area cooperates. Ask neighbors who feed outdoors to abstain from feeding on the entire day you plan to trap.

(After you have finished trapping, do leave food for the cats who were not caught.)

The Transport
Plan ahead to make sure you can safely transport the cat in the trap. Always place the covered trap on a flat surface. If traps must be stacked inside a vehicle, be sure to secure the traps with bungee cords or other restraints so they don’t topple over. Have absorbent puppy pads or newspaper on hand to place between the stacked traps, in case of accidents.

A few pro tips
1. Place the trap near where the cats normally feed. For the safety of the cats, always place traps on flat and stable ground. If you’re using multiple traps, stagger them and face them in different directions. Try to place the traps in quiet and hidden areas, so cats are more comfortable going near them.

2. Tag the trap. Always label a trap with the location of where it was set up. Once you trap a cat, write a brief description of the cat on the tag, too. This will help the Clinic return the right cat to the right home.

3. Prep the trap. Line the bottom of the trap with one or two pages of newspaper folded lengthwise, so that the metal floor is more comfortable for kitty paws. If you’re concerned about accidentally trapping other wildlife in your area, leave the trap’s back door unlatched.

4. Bait the traps. The smellier, the better! Place about one tablespoon of bait (tuna in oil, sardines, or other strong-smelling food) at the very back of the trap so the cat will step on the trigger plate as it tries to reach the food. Drizzle a little bait juice along the trap floor toward the entrance to guide them in. You can also place a tiny bit of food (maybe ¼ teaspoon) just inside the entrance of the trap to encourage the cat to go in.

5. Monitor and keep track of traps. Traps should never be left unattended. Check frequently from a distance, so you don’t scare cats away. Keep a close eye out for trap malfunctions, in case you need to spring into action to prevent a cat from being injured. Even if you haven’t heard a trap shut, check the traps at least every 30 to 45 minutes. At night, use a flashlight to check from a distance whether the trap has been sprung. When one does spring shut, a flashlight will let you see what animal you have trapped.

A trapped cat will likely be very frightened, and thrash around trying to escape. Immediately cover the entire trap with a large towel or sheet to calm the kitty down. Secure the back door of the trap (if your trap has one), then carefully move the covered, trapped cat away to a quiet and safe area that’s temperature-controlled to prevent her from scaring off any remaining un-trapped cats.

For both your and the cat’s safety, don’t attempt to pick the cat up, or catch her with your hands or a blanket. As sweet as the cat seems, this can all change in the blink of an eye. Being picked up is extremely stressful to a cat who isn’t used to interacting with people.

If there’s something other than a cat in the trap, call Napa Wildlife Rescue at 707.224.4295 or see our “NOT A CAT?” guidelines below!

What to do with Mama Cats
Especially in spring and summer, you should lift the trap and try to check the cat’s belly. If the cat’s nipples are enlarged, pinkish, and surrounded by a ¼-inch circle clear of fur (or with matted fur), she may be nursing kittens. If you suspect that a cat is lactating, ask the veterinarian to verify.

Never knowingly trap a mother with kittens younger than 4-6 weeks old unless you are sure you can find and bottle-feed her kittens, as these kittens will be too young to eat on their own and may die of starvation or predators in her absence. Use infant milk-replacement and a bottle to feed them until the mother has recovered from her surgery. She can then be placed back with her kittens in a large cage or small room until the kittens are old enough to eat on their own (and be spayed or neutered themselves, of course).

While the mother cat is at the vet’s, check her trapping area for crying or hidden kittens. If they are under 4 weeks old, you may be able to capture them fairly easily. Older kittens will be easier to trap if the previously captured mom is left, covered, with a second trap placed beside her. However, be sure never to leave the “bait” animal unattended, or where it may be harmed by other predators, such as raccoons, or by people. Be careful not to let the “bait” cat escape: double-check the trap doors.

If you are not able to rescue the kittens, let the vet know you will need to pick up the mother cat and release her that same day. That evening, as soon as she is awake and alert, release her exactly where you trapped her.

Not a cat?
What to do if you trap wildlife

If you trap at night, there is always the possibility of trapping other wildlife. These animals are protected by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and by law, should never be relocated to another area. Relocating a wild animal even just a few miles away can cause serious risk to the animal and other animals in the area.

Anyone who traps wildlife is responsible for ensuring that as little harm as possible is caused when releasing the animal from the trap. We urge everyone to be compassionate and cautious. Do not release the animal if it appears to be sick or badly injured. Call Napa Wildlife Rescue at 707.224.4295.

If you are comfortable with wildlife and find a raccoon, skunk, opossum, or rat inside your cat trap, the following suggestions may be useful. However, if you are not comfortable releasing the animal on your own, please contact Napa Wildlife Rescue.

If you choose to release a wild animal and it bites you, DO NOT release it from the trap. Contact Animal Services at 707.253.4517. They will remove the trap and have the animal tested for rabies. This is a public service and will be done at no cost to you.

The most common wild animals that find their way into our cat traps are raccoons. Raccoons are strong, smart and aggressive creatures.

To release a raccoon from traps with back doors, stand on the opposite side of the trap to lift the door up, then slowly back away. You can use binder clips to support the back door handle so it is ready to grab, and a long dowel or lightweight pipe to grab under the handle and lift up the door. You may want to practice this first.

To release a raccoon from traps without back doors: NEVER use your hands to lift the trap door to release a raccoon or any other wild animal. Get a rope, dog leash, thin belt, or even a rolled up plastic bag to thread through the finger grip at the bottom of the trap door. Hold both ends of the rope in one hand, with the other hand push in the top of the trap door. Pull back on the rope as you step backwards (behind the trap) to lift the door.

As soon as you open the door, the raccoon will shoot out straight ahead. It wants to get away from you and the trap as fast as possible, so just like releasing a cat, you want to first point the trap toward bushes where it can run and hide-never towards traffic.

Rats, mice, etc.
Release these critters as you would a raccoon, standing behind the trap.

Opossums mean no harm. They will hiss at you like a cat and show you their fifty teeth, but that’s about it. Opossums are released in the same manner as raccoons.

Sometimes an opossum will get its jaws caught in the trap or play dead. If they bite at the cage in an attempt to escape, their narrow upper and lower jaws might push through the spaces between the cage wires. If they open their mouth a little wider while pulling back, their jaws will get stuck. Often the opossum’s struggling just makes it worse. The animal will dehydrate quicker because its mouth is open. It is unlikely you will be able to shake the possum out of the trap by turning it on one end. If an opossum is stuck and you are unable to release him, please call Napa Wildlife Rescue at 707.224.4295.

Skunks are reasonable creatures. Don’t surprise them and they will work with you. Here are two methods:

1. Approach the trapped skunk slowly and talk to it gently. Talking is mandatory! Skunks have poor eyesight and will need to know your position through your voice. Take a few steps and stop, take a few more steps and stop. Speak softly to the skunk and always MOVE SLOWLY.

If the skunk gets nervous, it will give you a “pre-spray” warning by stamping its front feet. You can’t miss it, it’s NOT subtle. If this happens, STAND STILL. After the skunk calms down in 15 seconds or so, you can continue to move forward. Keep talking gently. Release the skunk as you would a raccoon. When it’s over, you will feel a rush of victory!

2. If the above method is too scary for you, try this one. The chances of the skunk spraying are greater, but you will feel more protected. Cut head and arm holes in a large plastic garbage bag and pull it over your clothes. Get a blanket (best) or LARGE towel and saturate with water. SLOWLY walk towards the trap with the blanket held up in front of you like a shield.

Talk to the skunk. Slowly and gently drape the blanket over the trap. Then release the skunk from the trap. The wet blanket will do a good job of absorbing skunk spray, if any.

Here’s a recipe to neutralize skunk spray, just in case:

1 gallon water
1 quart hydrogen peroxide 3%*
¼ cup baking soda
1 good squirt Dawn or equivalent (about 1-2 teaspoons)

Mix ingredients together in a bucket when needed, then rub on affected area and leave for one to ten minutes. Rinse off with water.

Do not make and store this recipe in advance. The mix causes a mild chemical reaction and the expanding gases could burst the container.

*Hydrogen peroxide may cause bleaching. You can substitute white vinegar for a slightly less effective remedy.

Adapted from Alley Cat Allies. All rights reserved.

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