The Cat Action Trust believes that the most humane and effective method of controlling a feral colony is by the Trap, Neuter and Return system.
If you haven't had much experience of trapping, then it might be helpful to go along with another Branch member to get some experience.
Preparation is Key!
Planning is vital as it is unlikely that you would get a 'second shot' at trapping a feral cat!
The first thing to do is to ensure that you have the permission of the landowner for being on their land! It is also advisable to ensure that your location is safe for you to be trapping; and that someone you know is aware of what you are doing and where (and when you are likely to be home!). If concerned take a friend with you!
Make sure you are well prepared! You could be sat for hours in the damp and cold at either the crack of dawn or late at night (as cats are crepuscular, that is they are most active evenings and mornings). Remember you are unlikely to be successful if it is raining – as cats don't like getting wet and so are unlikely to be 'out and about'!
When preparing to trap, make sure you have researched your colony well and you know how many cats there are there. It is also a good idea to try when the cats are hungry. It might be helpful to have a chat with whoever has been feeding them to see what their usual feed time is – and go just beforehand, or arrange for the cats not to be fed the day before you go, so that they are hungry and more likely to tolerate entering the trap.
Also, speak to your veterinary surgeon well in advance – to ensure that they are able to accommodate any cats that you trap for neutering (and any other treatment that may be required). It should be remembered that male cats who are caught early in the day could be returned to their colony the same evening; however females would have to stay in longer. It is important to ensure that you have facilities in place for the female cats after their operations. It is important to ask your veterinary surgeon to use absorbable sutures – as it would be impracticable to try and trap the female cats again in order to remove their stitches (or indeed to keep them in until they can have their sutures removed!).
Click here for information on what age to have a feral cat neutered
Pregnant females may be trapped and spayed; however, taking mother cat from her kittens should be avoided. Ideally, it would be better to wait until the kittens are 8 weeks old before mother is spayed.
Also, ear tipping all the cats whilst they are still under anaesthetic is essential in order to avoid them being re-trapped; and undergo unnecessary surgery.
It is also a good idea to ensure that you have funding in place for any veterinary treatment (including neutering etc) that may be required. Speak to your Branch for help when planning to go trapping. It is often best to ensure that trapping trips are co-ordinated to ensure best use of equipment and time; and to have fosterers ready should any kittens be trapped.
It might be helpful to think about packing the following:
- A trap! (see below)
- Transfer cage(s)
- Plenty of blankets to put over the cages
- A torch
- A blanket for you!
- Extra warm clothing for you
- Flask with a hot drink for you (and some snacks)
- A can opener and spoon for your bait
- Plenty of newspaper to place in your vehicle when transporting the cats
The Eeziset trap is relatively simple to operate (if you need to borrow a trap – contact your nearest Branch or Head Office).
It is worth remembering that the first few cats from a colony to be caught are often the easiest – so do try and catch as many as possible in your first session (in line with the number you having funding for and how many your vet can deal with!).
When setting the trap, use only a small amount of food as the cats should not be fed prior to surgery.
When deciding on a location for the trap, try and ensure that it is on a level surface as the cat will be less likely to enter the trap if it is wobbly.
Sometimes the noise of the door shutting may frighten more timid cats. This can be overcome with a strip of padded adhesive on the contact points of the door.
To outwit the cats who can sometimes hook out the food without stepping on the 'treddle', squash the food down hard at the back of the ‘treddle’, or suspend it in a muslin bag from the roof of the trap so that the cats must stand on the 'treddle' to reach it. Pilchards are recommended or hang a piece of chicken on a string!
The Transfer Cage (or 'Crush' cage) is essential as it allows you to re-use your trap immediately.
Once you have trapped a cat do not attempt to handle it; cover the trap with a blanket as this should have a calming effect on the cat. Transfer the cat to the 'Crush' cage with open end to open end of the trap. Cover the ‘Crush’ cage with a blanket. Don’t forget to check if the cat has already been ear tipped.
Cats can quickly become ‘trap shy’ and it may be necessary to disguise the trap by covering with cardboard or newspaper or, a week before trying to catch a difficult cat, put out an open ended 'dummy' trap or unset real trap, to get the cat ‘used to’ the real trap. Keep putting food in the ‘dummy’ trap.
Be sure to clean out your traps after use - cats are fastidious and will not use a heavily soiled trap. Also, a dirty trap could cause infection to spread.
Once back from the veterinary surgeon, release any ear-tipped (and ready to go) cats back at the site (or at an alternative site if the original area did not have any facilities – speak to your Branch regarding managed sites).
A Word of Caution
Resist the temptation to grab a feral cat by hand because of the risk of bites. Even the smallest kittens can inflict severe injury. If you are bitten or scratched and are concerned always seek medical advice.
Never leave a site with traps set – traps need to be checked regularly as cats are vulnerable when in the trap.
Don't leave traps in direct sunlight.
Always change your clothes and wash your hands before handling your own pets when you get home.
Encourage feeders to always take their rubbish away; and not to overfeed. Rotting food can attract rats and so make the cats even more unpopular.
If the cats are fed regularly and neutered they often cause very few issues!