These step-by-step instructions will guide you through the process of trapping outdoor cats for TNR.  We are available to answer any questions or concerns throughout the trapping process; don’t hesitate to contact us! 

  1. Establish a regular feeding schedule and location.  This will help you determine the best time and place to trap your colony.
  2. Communicate with your neighbors within the cats’ territory (up to 1 mile). Let them know what you are doing and ask them to keep pet cats indoors during trapping and not to feed the outdoor cats while you are trapping. Water is ok. We have doorhangers available to assist with this.
  3. Set an appointment for spay/neuter of the cats.  Pet Community Center appointments for community cats are not for a single day, but for several days in a row to allow time for catching the cats. Start trapping at a time when you are able to trap several days in a row. Targeted trapping– catching all of the cats at the same time- is the most effective way to stop the growth of a colony with less effort than catching a few cats, releasing them, then trying to trap the rest of the colony without making the intact cats trap-shy. Often when the more outgoing cats are removed, the shyer cats are more visible. You will likely catch cats that you or other feeders didn’t know are in the colony.
  4. Borrow or Purchase Humane Live Traps.  Pet Community Center has free trap loan. The Cat Shoppe also loans out traps or you can purchase live traps from Tractor Supply, home improvement stores, or online. Do not set the trap until you have talked to a vet clinic about bringing the cat. You don’t want trap a cat and discover the clinic is closed!
  5. Determine where you will hold cats before the surgery and during recovery.  Cats must be moved to a temperature-controlled (60-80 degrees) location within 2 hours of being trapped. After surgery, cats need to recover indoors for 24 hours.  Cats need to be kept in the trap somewhere indoors (garage, basement, spare room, etc) at a temperature between 60 and 80 degrees.  This is to protect them from wild animals, to heal faster, and to stay warm.
  6. Be prepared for special circumstances such as trapping an injured animal.  If you have questions about what to do during special circumstances call us at 615-928-6353.   We strongly recommend that you do not release any healthy cats without spaying or neutering them first, and do not release injured cats without medical care. Do not release lactating females–bring them in immediately for surgery so they can be returned to their kittens. Lactating females can get pregnant, and they will still be able to feed their kittens after spay. Do not release kittens–bring them in so medical staff can determine if they are old enough for surgery. Kittens can be fixed at 2 pounds and can reproduce as young as 4 months. Traps may NOT be used to harm or relocate cats or wildlife.  Animals often don’t survive in an unfamiliar location, and nearby animals move in due to the vacuum effect.
  7. If possible, tie open a trap a couple days before trapping and start feeding in the front of the trap at each feeding location. Have the feeder push the bowl gradually towards the rear of the trap, until the cats are comfortable going in the traps. Do not put food outside the traps any time you have traps. This step, while not required, can shorten trapping time.
  8. Start your trapping project.  Bait and set your traps. Don’t put food bowls in the trap when trapping. Cats can drag the bowl towards the trip plate and avoid closing the trap. Instead, scatter the food within 2” of the back of the trap so the cat has to cross the trip plate and move around to get to it. Break large pieces of food up so the cat can’t grab a mouthful and run. Put 2-3 tiny piles of food (1/4 teaspoon) in a line from the front to the back of the trap to encourage the cat to go in the trap. Refresh wet foods at least twice a day, though every few hours is better. Periodically monitor traps, but do not leave traps unattended for more than two hours (one hour in extreme temperatures or in high-traffic areas). Dogs, coyotes and other animals can kill cats left in traps outside. The best times to trap are typically dawn, dusk and evening.  But it may depend on your feeding schedule.
  9. When you trap a cat, cover it with a towel or old sheet to keep it calm.  Keep the trap covered any time a cat is inside. Do not put your fingers in a trap or touch a feral or scared cat. Move it to the prepared indoor location, so it does not distress the other cats.  Do not let any cat or kitten out of a trap for any reason until it is ready to be released after recovery. Put the trap on puppy pads or newspaper with trash bags underneath to catch urine and feces when transporting or housing. Cats in traps should be fed twice daily with wet cat food.  Place the food on a plastic lid with a little water around it and slide it inside the trap or place trap on paper plate of canned food (food will squish up through the bars). Cats can stay in trap up to 2 days before surgery if needed.  Withhold food (but not water) by midnight the night before surgery.  If there is some bait in the trap, that is ok.
  10. If cats aren’t going in the trap:
    • Make sure the trap is working- the door shuts when the trip plate is pushed down.
    • Some cats prefer what they’re used to eating, but most cats are more likely to enter a trap when the food is tastier than their regular food. Try different foods (Sardines in oil, chicken, tuna, bacon, wet cat food, dry cat food.)
    • Some cats don’t like walking on trap bars. Line the bottom of the traps with newspaper and tape it down so it doesn’t blow in the wind. We don’t recommend putting newspaper or cardboard in traps routinely because it is unsafe to remove soiled paper when a cat is inside the trap.
      • Move the trap to a quieter location away from traffic- at the back of a building, under a bush, etc. Try camouflaging the trap. Some cats prefer no cover on the trap (especially if it’s blowing in the wind), others like going into a trap covered in a dark-colored, unscented towel/sheet, branches, or leaves. Make sure the trap will still shut.

      Contact us at 615-928-6353 for further advice and tools like drop traps and clear trap doors.

  11. Transport your cats to surgery.  Keeping them covered with a towel will reduce stress.  Never transport cats in the trunk of a car or in the open bed of a truck.
  12. What to do After Spay/Neuter Surgery

Relocating cats is dangerous and can be deadly to the cat if not done properly. Please contact us about information about relocating cats.

Read a more detailed version of step by step instructions at the Alley Cat Allies website.

Cole and Marmalade Demonstrate Tomahawk and Tru-Catch Traps

How to Lock Tru-Catch Rear Door

How to Use a Drop Trap



Outdoor cat transported to PCC