How to Use a Humane Trap to Catch a Feral Cat for Spaying or Neutering

If you’re a stray and feral cat caretaker, one of the main priorities will be spaying and neutering via a TNR — trap, neuter (or spay) and return program. In order to bring a feral or stray to a low-cost spay/neuter or TNR clinic, you will need to trap the cats using a humane trap.

The most common humane trap is called a “Havahart” trap. It’s a metal wire mesh box that’s rectangular in shape. It opens at opposite ends. The medium sized traps, designed for raccoons and possums, are ideal for cats.

Before you trap a cat, you must prepare the trap by placing several sections of newspaper on the bottom. This will absorb urine (many animals urinate when frightened) and it will serve to protect the animal’s feet from the wire mesh bottom.

There are two ends to the trap. One end is the trap end, with a sideways “V” that’s attached to a rod; the rod leads to a small plate on the trap floor. When the animal walks over the plate, the trap door closes. The other end is flat and the end panel slides up and down so you can access the interior. Place the newspapers at this end.

Place a small bowl of food on top of the newspapers. A number of foods are suitable. Cats tend to enjoy tuna, cold cuts and wet cat food. The bowl should sit at the very back of the trap; at the farthest point from the trap end.

Once the trap is baited, slide the panel door closed and set the trap end by pushing the sideways “V” closed, up toward the top of the trap. There is a clip that serves to secure the “back door” panel that’s situated at the end opposite the trap end; be sure to secure this clip; otherwise, the animal can slide open the back door and escape!

Place the trap in a location that’s frequented by your feral colony or strays. I put the trap near one of the usual feeding stations. Ideally, you should put the (unbaited, closed) trap out near the feeding area for several days in advance. Animals are cautious about new, unfamiliar objects, so it’s best to allow them to explore the trap before you attempt to use it.

To ensure you catch a cat, do not put out food (other than the bait food inside the trap) until you’ve successfully caught someone! If you’ve already spayed and neutered a  number of your cats, it may take several attempts to catch an un-fixed animal. Therefore, it’s wise to watch from a distance so you can quickly release already-fixed cats. (This is where ear tipping comes in handy, as you can determine at a glance whether the cat has been fixed!) Once you’ve caught an un-fixed cat, remember to put out food for the rest of the feral colony or other strays!

Check the trap often — at least once an hour — until you catch a cat. Then, bring the trap into your garage or another quiet, warm area. Use caution in the winter, as the cat will be unable to move around or cuddle with others to generate heat. Place a blanket over the trap to keep the cat warm and calm.

Generally, you should trap the cat the night before his or her spaying or neutering appointment. If possible, trap the cat fairly early in the evening, so you can ensure that the cat does not have food or water after 10:00 p.m. the night before surgery (this measure will reduce the chances of vomiting and aspirating during anesthesia.)

If you must keep the cat in the trap for longer than 12 hours, it’s best to move the cat into a large dog crate. This will enable you to provide the cat with a few blankets, a litter box, along with food and water. When it’s time for the cat’s appointment, you can transfer him back into the trap or a carrier (many TNR programs require that you deliver the cat in a Havahart trap.) In tomorrow’s article, we’ll discuss how to transfer a feral cat (or a stray who is not accustomed to direct contact with humans) into a kennel and then we’ll discuss how to maneuver the feral cat back into a trap without getting scratched up or bitten!

Also check out our related article on TNR programs for feral cats and strays.

Photo Source: Margus Saluste on

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Mia Carter is a professional journalist and animal lover. Her furry family members include 6 dogs and 12 cats. She is also a feral cat colony caretaker. Carter specializes in pet training and special needs pet care. All of her animals have special needs such as paralysis, blindness, deafness and FIV, just to name a few. She also serves as a pet foster parent and she actively rehabilitates and rescues local strays and feral kittens.

6 Responses

  1. Cley
    | Reply

    Hmm.. very helpful tips! I’m looking forward on your next post.. Thanks for sharing this! Good job..

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