Part of Ireland's TNR Manual

How to Help Community Cats

Adapted for Ireland from Alley Cat Allies Conduct TNR Guide.

Follow these simple steps to complete the trapping of the cat colony.

Set-up and prepare for trapping

Do all of your set up and preparation away from the colony site - remember, feral cats are generally fearful of people. Trapping will also go more smoothly if you don’t disrupt the cats’ feeding area. Throughout the entire trapping process, clinic stay, recovery and return, you should make the environment around the cats as calm and quiet as possible. This will help minimize their stress.

Twenty-four hours before trapping, withhold food, but always continue to provide water. This will ensure that the cats are hungry enough to go into the traps. Remind other caregivers and neighbours to withhold food as well (and remind them you're coming trapping!). And really stress the importance of this!

Best Practice

Withholding food is one of the worst areas of non-compliance with caregivers - they feel sorry for the poor wee starving felines and end up feeding them just before you get there - leaving you with a bunch of intact cats with full stomachs and no interest in the traps. So, explain why they need to withhold food. And then tell them again. Phone them the night before to remind them not to feed the cats and the time you're planning on turning up.

Prepare the traps

Line the bottom of the trap and tag the trap

Place newspaper, folded lengthwise to fit the width of the trap, inside the bottom of the trap to protect the cats’ paws. If it's windy, secure the newspaper to the trap with tape or pegs (this is done so the wind will not move the newspaper and frighten the cats) and while ensuring nothing interferes with the trapping mechanism or trap door.

Should you open the rear door, be sure to relock it before trapping. If your trap doesn't have a rear door, you can secure the front door open with a twist tie while you work, and then remove it for trapping. Don't forget to remove the tie or your trap will be useless!

You may need to have several different areas to set traps when trapping an entire colony; in this case, tag the traps with a description of the location so that you can return the cats exactly where you trapped them.

Best Practice

Not many groups in Ireland use newspaper in this way, and it's an optional practice. But it serves a number of functions: it protects the cats paws from the mechanism during trapping and while confined to the trap; it gives you the option of placing bait on the newspaper prior to fitting it in the trap, thus avoiding contortions placing the bait inside the trap, or messing the trap by dribbling food through the roof; and it means less mess on the trap itself, making clean-up easier.

Do ensure the newspaper, and anything used to secure it at windy sites, doesn't interfere with the trap mechanism or doors.


Bait the traps

First, ensure the trip plate and trap door are functioning properly. Place approximately one tablespoon of bait (tuna, sardines or other strong smelling food at the very back of the trap, so that the cat will step on the trigger plate while attempting to reach the food. You may choose to put the food in a lid or container for this, but make sure that it does not have sharp edges that could harm the cat once trapped, and be sure it won't interfere with the trapping mechanism. Drizzle some juice from the bait in a zigzag pattern along the trap floor toward the entrance. You should also place a tiny bit of food (½ teaspoon) just inside the entrance of the trap to encourage the cat to walk in. Do not use too much food at the entrance of the trap for two reasons:

  1. The cat must be hungry enough to continue to the trip plate.
  2. Cats should have a relatively empty stomach for at least 12 hours before surgery.

Alternatively, you can bait the newspaper in the same way before positioning it in the trap - make sure you place the newspaper the right way round in the trap, so that the bulk of the food is over the trip plate.

Set the traps

Place a trap on the ground and make certain it is stable and will not rock or tip - cats will not enter an unstable trap. Do not place the trap on a hillside or incline. Ensure that metal traps do not sit on particularly hot or cold pavement (those temperatures could make the metal painful to the cats' paw pads when they touch it). If you are using multiple traps, stagger them and have them facing different directions. Try to place the traps where they will attract a cat and be camouflaged, e.g. near a bush. If you noted cat access laneways in your preparation, place traps in those locations.

Move quietly and slowly so your movements will not frighten cats away. On your already prepared trap labels, fill in the exact location where you are setting the trap. This will make return much easier!

Keep track of the traps at all times

Traps should never be left unattended. Check the traps frequently from a distance. Choose a location to park your car and wait where you are far enough away to give the cats a sense of safety, but close enough so that you can see them. If you use a trap site that is out of your field of vision (eg. a shed or barn), wait somewhere close enough to hear when the trap is tripped. And, if this isn't possible or, like me, you're hard of hearing, use baby monitors or walkie talkies to ensure you know exactly when the trap is sprung.

There are several reasons to make sure you always have an eye on the traps:

  • Leaving a cat uncovered in a trap for too long will increase the cat’s stress and could lead to injury since they thrash against the cage. (You may want to place a sheet over just the back part of the trap - not the front - before you place the trap so you can easily cover the entire thing after the cat is caught. This could also encourage the cat to go inside the trap since it appears to be a covered, safe place.)
  • When in a trap, the cat is exposed - and could be injured by other animals or a malicious person.
  • Traps may be stolen, damaged or sprung, or someone who does not understand your intentions may release a trapped cat. To be safe, take an exact count of your traps at the beginning and end of your trapping day.

In larger colonies there may be multiple trapping locations. It is important not to leave any traps unsupervised, so consider bringing multiple trappers to help. If you are trapping alone don’t put out more traps than you track visually and/or audibly.

Best Practice

Keep an eye on the traps at all times for the safety of the cats and to make sure your equipment is not taken or tampered with. Observe from a location far enough away that the cats will not be disturbed, but close enough so you can still see and/or hear all the traps.

Trap the cats

At this point there's not much you can do but wait - it's all up to the cats. Be prepared for the fact that you may trap cats that are already eartipped. If you do, it is sometimes best to hold that cat in the trap or transfer cage, covered, until the cats you are aiming for have been trapped.

Trapping a feral cat may take some time - be patient. It may take the cat a few minutes to go into the trap, so make sure the trap is sprung, and the cat securely trapped, before you approach the trap.

Hard-to-trap cats

Cats can become trap-shy (frightened to go near or enter a trap) or trap-savvy (mastered the art of removing food without triggering the trap). Don’t be discouraged. There are several unique but straightforward techniques to humanely trap hard-to-trap cats. Find out more about trapping Hard-to-Trap Cats.

Neutered cats

You will have identified any cats that are already neutered during the Preparation stage of your TNR effort, using the CATalyst Planning Form. These cats will not need to be included in your TNR effort, obviously. There are several ways to exclude them from the vet visit:

  • If they are socialised, and can be handled, separate these cats prior to setting up your traps and keep them contained, either in a building or cage, whichever is most convenient. And keep them separate until you have completed your trapping and are about to leave for the vets. It's often easiest to arrange for their caregiver to do this, as they are familiar with her.
  • If they are not socialised you may have to trap them. In which case, just note which cats they are, separate them when they are trapped, and release them when you have all the other cats trapped and are ready to head to the vets.
  • You may also consider using manual traps to avoid trapping neutered cats at all. But it's often easiest just to trap and release them.

Note: If any already neutered cats are showing signs of illness or injury, you may consider trapping them anyway to allow the vet to assess them and recommend treatment. If they are not eartipped, and anaesthesia is required to treat them, this is a perfect opportunity to eartip them at the same time.

After the cat has been trapped, spring into action

Well, don't exactly 'spring' - remember you're moving quietly and slowly at all times - instead, calmly walk over to the traps.

Cover the entire trap with a large towel or sheet before moving it. Covering the traps will help to keep the cats calm. Move trapped cats away to a quiet, safe area to avoid scaring any remaining, untrapped cats.

  • It's normal for cats to thrash around inside the trap - don't be alarmed! You may be tempted to release a thrashing cat because you fear that she'll hurt herself, but cats calm down once the trap is covered. Remember, you are doing this for her benefit. If she is released, she will continue to breed, and you may not be able to trap her again. Also, most injuries from traps are very minor, such as a bruised or bloody nose or a scratched paw pad.
  • You should never open the trap or try to touch a conscious or semi-conscious feral cat. Behave appropriately around trapped cats by being calm, quiet and not touching them, even if they appear friendly under normal circumstances.
  • When an entire colony is being trapped from the same area, it doesn't make sense to take each cat from the location directly after the trap is sprung. This could disturb the area and scare the other cats away. Instead, when you are setting the traps out you can partially cover them to help calm the cats once they are trapped. Since they will at least have part of the trap that is covered, they can feel safe and you can keep the trap where it is. This helps reduce stress to the trapped cat and reduce the odds of other cats being frightened away.
  • Keep in mind that these are guidelines and some situations will call for you to deviate from them. For example, if a cat is severely thrashing around you may need to go ahead and cover the trap and remove it from the area, or if you are trapping in cold weather, cats should be covered and moved to a warm location (like your car) as soon as they are trapped.
  • During a quiet moment when no other cats are investigating the set traps, or if the trapped cats are making noise and deterring other cats from approaching the traps, remove the full traps and put them in the holding vehicle. Rebait any traps that have had the bait eaten but have not sprung.

Trap Transfer

Best Practice

CATalyst recommends using a Hospital Cage for housing the cats pre- and post-surgery. It's one of the most humane environments for the purpose, designed for easy transfer from the trap, easy access to and plenty room for litter tray and food bowls, and it's easy to restrict your feral while you change food and litter.

The less time cats spend in the traps, the better.

Transfer the trapped cats to hospital or transfer cages as soon as possible after trapping. Line the cages with newspaper before the transfer. Ideally cats should be transferred in an enclosed space, such as a shed or garage, in case of escape, but this isn't always possible. Safe transfer is easiest carried out by two individuals, one supporting the cages while the other deals with the doors, covers and transfer. Find out the safest methods of transfer at our Trap Transfer pages.

It's surprising how often cats will obligingly transfer themselves from trap to cage. But some can be reluctant. If they won't oblige, blowing behind them, towards the cage, can encourage them along. Poking them (gently!)  in the right direction with a locking rod, or some kind of pokey thing can also help - though be sure NOT to use a locking rod from the cage you're transferring them to!

Litter trays and water bowls can be added to the holding cages either before or after transfer. As these can be disrupted during transfer and transport, it's usually better to add them once you get to the vets. The exception would be where you're trapping for a few hours - then it's best to provide the cats you've already caught with litter and water while you finish the job.

Best Practice

Use Vetbed bedding, cut to fit half the hospital cage, with newspaper underneath. This bedding is designed for post-surgery use, giving warmth and allowing liquids to pass through it, leaving it dry. Although your laundry bills will be higher than with simple newspaper, it's best for the cats comfort and health during their stay. Pete the Vet has a great review on Vetbed here.

Many TNR organisations will house the cats in their traps pre- and post-surgery due to financial or practical considerations. It's not ideal, but acceptable if there are no better options. In this instance, do be sure to check on the cats regularly in case they injure themselves on the trap mechanisms. It's also a good idea to cable-tie the trap doors closed to be sure the cats can't wiggle them open. If going down this route, inserting newspaper into the trap during trapping is a good idea. It suffices as bedding and should be changed with fresh newspaper by the vet staff during surgery.

Count your traps & cages

Count your traps and cages again when you are finished to ensure you didn’t leave any equipment behind.

Take the cats to a veterinarian or a spay/neuter clinic

Never move trapped cats in the trunk of a car or the open bed of a pickup truck, this is unsafe and it terrifies the cats. If traps must be stacked inside the vehicle, be sure to secure the traps with bungee cords or other restraints and place puppy pads or newspaper between the stacked traps. If an unsecured trap tips sideways or upside down, it can open and release the cat. If it seems precarious, it won’t work. Don’t take the risk.

You should have already made appointments for sterilisation and treatment before beginning to trap. Confirm that only dissolvable sutures will be used, eliminating the need for a follow-up visit to remove stitches, remind your vet that all cats must be Eartipped and that females require flank spays with as small a wound as possible. Most vets will require you to sign a Consent and/or Release Form, either for each cat or for multiple cats, and you should do so. You may want to keep a copy for your own records.

If your appointments are not the same day as the trapping, keep the cats indoors in their covered traps/cages and make sure they are dry, in a temperature-controlled environment, and away from dangers such as toxic fumes, other animals or people. Your trapping should coincide with the clinic’s ability to neuter right away - or the very next morning, so the cats don’t remain in their traps/cages for long.

Best Practice

It is possible for a cat to die from hypothermia or heat stroke when confined in a trap outside. A simple guideline - if it is too hot or cold outside for you, then it is too hot or cold for the cats.

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Part of Ireland's TNR Manual

How to Help Community Cats