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Feral Cats: Trapping is the Kindest Solution

Andrew Rowan, former director of Tufts University’s Center for Animals and Public Policy, estimates that between 60 and 100 million homeless cats live in the United States. Many of these cats are feral or “wild” cats, the descendants of unaltered tame cats who were abandoned and gave birth to kittens who never had contact with humans. Although ferals are fearful of humans, they are still domesticated and ill-equipped to survive on their own. Feral cats do not die of “old age.” They are poisoned, shot, tortured by cruel people, attacked by other animals, or hit by cars, or they die of exposure, starvation, or highly contagious fatal diseases, such as rabies, feline AIDS, feline leukemia, and feline infectious peritonitis. In one feral cat colony, half of the 32 cats were shot by a man who claimed that they were “attacking” his children. Cats in another colony were shot with darts. A loose dog killed several cats in another colony.

Even easily treatable conditions can be deadly for cats who cannot be handled and regularly taken to a veterinarian. Minor cuts or puncture wounds can turn into raging infections and abscesses. Untreated upper respiratory infections lead to eyes and noses so caked with mucus that animals can barely see or breathe. Ferals often scratch their ears bloody, driven crazy by the pain and itching of ear mites and accompanying infections. Others die of blood loss or anemia from worms and fleas. Urinary tract infections, which frequently lead to blockage in male cats, cause extremely painful, lingering deaths if not treated.

Feral cats themselves are also a threat to wildlife. The American Bird Conservancy estimates that free-roaming cats kill millions of birds and small mammals in the U.S. every year, including endangered species, such as the least tern and the piping plover. 

Cats Can’t Live on “Bread” Alone

Many people who encounter feral cats start feeding them, but feeding alone can actually make the situation worse. Feeding ferals increases their ability to give birth to even more kittens who are destined to suffer and die premature deaths. It is essential to get these cats off the streets in order to prevent not only their own suffering, but that of their offspring. Feeding should only be done as a prelude to trapping, to get cats accustomed to eating in a certain place at a certain time.

Trapping Do’s and Don’ts

Before you trap, it is prudent to obtain written permission from the owner of the property on which the cats roam. Also, wear thick gloves, as handling feral cats can be dangerous for both the cat and the handler. Be gentle: Even humane traps (box traps) can terrify animals who have never been confined.

Line the bottom of the trap with a piece of cloth, a folded newspaper, or an old towel. It will not interfere with the spring mechanism, and the animal will be afforded a small measure of comfort.

Do not use the same towel/cloth again for the same purpose unless you have washed it well—animals are very sensitive to smells.

Do not set a trap and leave it unattended, even for a few minutes.

Anything could happen while you’re away. Set your trap, then back off, but stay within sight of it. Be patient. Plan to do your trapping when you have enough time to spend on site. Avoid trapping in bad or extremely hot weather. Cats are most likely to be up and about during early morning or late evening hours.

Place the trap on firm, flat ground so that it does not wobble when touched.

Turn the trap so that when the animals enter, they can keep an eye on your car, your door, you, or whatever danger they would not wish to turn their backs on.

Place a small trail of food leading to a large feeding clump at the back of the trap. Use a smelly canned food as bait, and place it on a paper plate or piece of newspaper. Avoid putting bowls or cans inside the trap. When animals enter, they may thrash around trying to escape, and a bowl could cause injury.

Immediately after the animal goes in, cover the trap with a towel or blanket (if you are trapping in cold weather) or a sheet (in hot weather). A trapped animal calms down more quickly when covered.

Gently carry the trap to your vehicle. The cat will be frightened, so be aware that even small movements or noises can aggravate the cat’s stress. Don’t slam doors. Always use a vehicle. Even if the animal you want to trap is just a few blocks away, drive or have a friend drive you. It can be difficult to walk even a short distance with a terrified cat struggling in a trap.

Make arrangements ahead of time for where to take the cat after he or she has been trapped. Never assume that the animal will be accepted unannounced. If you plan to rehabilitate and adopt out the cat, it is best to take the cat immediately to a veterinarian to be spayed or neutered, vaccinated, tested for leukemia and AIDS, and treated for worm and flea infestations.

If it isn’t possible to take the cat directly to a veterinarian or animal shelter, transfer him or her to a larger carrier equipped with a litter pan, food, and water by abutting the opened carrier to the trap and opening the trap door.

Never turn feral cats loose in the house—you may not see them again for days and will probably be faced with trapping them again to take them to a veterinarian or animal shelter.

After bringing cats home from the vet, put them in a quiet place separated from other animals for a week or two to allow them to recover from surgery and become accustomed to their new surroundings. When the cats have recuperated, they can be released into the house, but it may take months (or years) of patience and kindness before the animals begin to trust you. Do not allow feral cats outside, even after months of living in your home. They are easily frightened and may bolt and become lost.

Because of the huge number of feral cats and the severe shortage of good homes, the difficulty of socialization, and the dangers lurking where most feral cats live, it may be necessary and the most compassionate choice to euthanize feral cats. You can ask your veterinarian to do this or, if your local shelter uses an injection of sodium pentobarbital, take the cats there. Please do not allow the prospect of euthanasia to deter you from trapping cats. If you leave them where they are, they will almost certainly die a painful death. A painless injection is far kinder than any fate that feral cats will meet if left to survive on their own.

Where to Get a Trap

If your local animal shelter will not lend you a box trap, invest in one of your own. Cat traps cost $40 to $50. Humane box traps are available from the following companies:

ACES (Animal Care Equipment & Services, Inc.)
P.O. Box 3275
Crestline, CA 92325

Heart of the Earth Marketing
205 High St.
Fruitdale, SD 57742
Tel.: 800-526-1644
Fax.: 605-892-0154

Tomahawk Live Trap Co.
P.O. Box 323
Tomahawk, WI 54487

Commenting is closed.
  • Zenaven says:

    I could use some advice. I have three rescue kitties. One was a wild feral of about 3 months old last November when I trapped and had her spayed. I loved the wildness right out of her. Well now I am feeding a half tame calico who has 4 kittens. They are living in a field behind our shed. Who do I trap first? How old do the kittens need to be? They look about 3 months old. They are eating good. Please help. Zenaven

  • Nena says:

    I’m surprised and angry at the comment made by Hope. It is very ignorant to believe that people that feed cats are the cause for these cats to be roaming around. Let me get something straight, unethical and careless people that throw their cats in the street, that later on become feral and start reproducing. They are the ones at fault! Not the person that feeds them, if they are being fed by a caretaker, then the cats are not going to your garbage, because the are getting fed! There are other critters that go after your garbage, not the cats that are already being fed! If people would get organized and work together, they could help each other and turn the ‘nuisance’ as you describe into something postive. Get a little educated!

  • Hope says:

    I wish people would think before they begin feeding ferel cats, especially if you live in a neighborhood where other people are affected by your choice. I live in a neighborhood and my neighbor insists upon feeding these cats. We have tons of them running around, having litter after litter of kittens. They have become a severe nuisance. I am a cat lover, but I cannot stand what is going on. I am constantly having to pick up trash out of my yard from these cats. I cannot let my puppy out in the yard without fear of her coming in contact with diseased fecal matter from these cats, or one of the cats itself that could spread some disease to my pet. I have a cat, whom I keep safely indoors. I have been a responsible pet owner and had my kitty neutered and keep him indoors. If you are going to insist upon helping these ferel cats, then take them in, spay or neuter them and KEEP THEM INSIDE or take them to the Humane Society!!! Nobody should have to deal with YOUR/SOMEONE’s choice to feed a cat that is left outside or release your pet because you can’t care for it. Nobcy should be limited in what they can do on their own property because YOU choose to feed ferel cats.

  • specialK says:

    DCAAC, Could you please give me some advice on trapping feral cats? There are a family of them living on the streets in my city and I have been feeding them but could really use some advice.

  • DCAAC says:

    Took the liberty to actually call Tufts University-Center For Animals And Public Policy.According to the now Director DR Allen Rutberg it is NOT their policy or position to use the bad things that CAN happen to euthanise healthy surviving feral cats.In fact they do offer some veterinarian service for these cats in their area-which suggests they haven’t written them off like the article implies.
    Listening to the so called experts on CNBC this morning bragg about their wealth I came up with a statistic of my own.Even though I contest the number 30-40 million feral cats because they kill them by the truck load at shelters,I’ll just go with that number-my actual cost to keep 35 cats alive with food and water is $5.00 a day or 15 cents a cat.That means we feed 1/millionth of the homeless cats quoted here.We only need 999,999 people out of the 310 million population to part with $5.00 a day and all of them are fed everyday.That is why I gag when someone says there isn’t enough resources.The combined facebook following the many cat organizations boast is over 40 million-these people cannot find 15 cents a day to part with to actually help these cats?Not to scare you but that would be 1.8 billion a year retail-but that is only 1 cent for every facebook user or gallon of gas used each year or even less for every animal product used.
    Now this will make you fall down-if you charged 25 cents for every stock trade made in a day just in the USA there would be no more starving people,cats or anything based on an average billion shares transfered a day.Do you watch the 30 cents a day feeds a starving child commercials-you don’t think you can feed all the starving people,cats and dogs with 91 billion dollars a year? And that is really just a drop in a bucket of what we waist in a day!
    Do you really believe there is not enough resources for this microscopic problem? US GDP is close to 15 trillion per year.
    Be one of the feeders with your change and make a change-no more starving cats?Please!

  • DCAAC says:

    It appears that even PETA may be one of those organizations that help animals when the publicity is there-they did not post my comment even though it is on track with all the majority of comments.I have 47 cats I care for everyday,34 outside.People publish this kind of non-sense to clear their own consciences for the animals they kill.And people use these kind of rationalizations to not help the cats.Everything they said is half true-all these things do happen only NOT 95% of the time.I drove through 3 ft. deep flood water and sat with 8 cats stranded out in the open during Hurricane Sandy in 80+mph rain most of the night.They were stranded in this weather from 10:00am to Mon. 4:00pm and none of them said “I’d rather be dead” and all of them are fine.A couple of big doses of anti-biotics in a ball of tuna will kill most infections.Revolution works longer than a month and it helps cats even when they have not been treated for years since birth.Birds and cars kill 1000X more birds than cats.Less than 20 cents of food,fresh water,some sort of box with a bed to get out of the weather,and a safe place from mean humans is all they need to survive.I have found the same thing as most of you-1.the so called cat experts make these rediculous observations without ever spending time out in the wild with them and 2.the so called cat organizations are publicity chasers who help themselves.We actually go out and build habitats,provide food,water,meds,and spend time taming these cats.We are Dare Citizens Against Animal Cruelty in NC and we are willing to operate through PETA and reliquish to them pictures of our work and daily reports of how our cats are surviving so that you can benefit from “our” work.Tell PETA stop publishing this non-sense and put us on the web for the people who DO want to help cats!

  • Zoe says:

    I’m disgusted by the ignorance of this article. I volunteer for a TNR charity in Ibiza,Spain. We have TNR’d 11,000 cats since the year 2000. To suggest rehoming ferals or trapping them to put them to sleep is ridiculous. The cats we TNR are fed, cared for and treated at vets when needs be. They can live their lives in peace.

  • kittylover says:

    I am sure that the only solution is to get laws passed to protect the cats, trap them, have them fixed and treated with Revolution, and their shots, make the counties donate a piece of land, fence it in, build habitats (this has been proven to work), and hire people to be caretakers. Once this is done, people can openly trap lost/homeless cats and drop them off where they know they will be loved and cared for. The city/counties should then have to help donate food, water, and medical supplies, and pay for the caretakers to take care of the cats. Eventually, since the cats are neutered, the problem will be under control. People who bring cats home and let them out unfixed are the problem and on their heads is the suffering of these poor abused animals.

  • kittylover says:

    Cats are sensitve, loving creatures who deserve a chance to have a loving home. They are resilient and strong – should they be punished because they are able to survive longer than a dog in the wild by sending them to a shelter and euthanizing them? How is it that all dogs find a home but a cat is a throw-away? If people were more responsible, this problem could be solved by setting up homeless shelters, spaying and neutering, and having a caretaker for each colony. All they require is food, water, shelter, and love. If you take them to the local shelter, they will euthanize them because, due to human negligence, the cats multiply too fast. Sabrina – you are a little angel because you see the truth. Most people are too self-centered to really try and help in a lot of cases. We feed a colony of 32 cats that my husband built shelters for and they are doing very well. We wish they could all have a home but our hands are tied. We cannot afford to take any more cats in and cannot really afford the money we spend to feed them but we cannot turn our backs on them. If we call for help, their answer is to trap them poke a stick at them and call them “too wild to control” and euthanize them. When we try to get help, none of the “groups” will help. They won’t even send food. There is an organization, Friends of Felines, who do pay to have them neutered, which is fantastic and helps a lot. I could go on and on – basically I just want people to get to know at least one cat and you will see the love and intelligence that they have to offer. You will not be sorry that you did. Our indoor cats give us great joy and I laugh all the time because they are so adorable and cute. They give me companionship and follow me around because I am imporant to them. They appreciate me.

  • Cat Lover says:

    Beth – Your post really saddens me. Any declawed cat will not survive in the wild. They need their claws in order to hunt and survive. I’m against declawing as I think it’s cruel, but even worse now for a feral cat to be maimed and have no way to hunt. Very wrong.

  • JulesK says:

    I definitely don’t agree with PETA’s stance on everything, but when it comes to taking a strong, logical stance against the misguided No Kill movement and the closely related (and equally misguided) perpetuation of street colonies, they really shine – and unfortunately, they seem to be the only voice against both of these terrible developments, which are contributing to real regression of animal welfare in first world countries where we should have this under control. Cats shouldn’t be left on the street to suffer, for one – even if it “feels” better. They’re also awfully hard on wildlife, no matter what advocates say.

  • Beth Laurer says:

    Before you put a feral cat to sleep, MAKE SURE TO CHECK THE ANIMAL SHELTER to see if anyone is missing their cat. Describe cat and ask them to check their lost call sheet to make sure cat doesn’t belong to anyone !!!!! I trapped a ferral cat, had it neutered, vacinated, and declawed because I intended to keep him. On a beautiful Nov 10, 2012 he went outside with me. I was talking to a neighbor and he disappeared. That was 7 weeks ago. I have put out fliers, called my vet (although with all the hundreds of cats, he may not even realize if you bring him in that he is my cat, not to mention there are more than one vet.) I check the animal shelter 2 times a week, but with different staff there, one may not communicate with other staff. PLEASE don’t just put a feral cat to sleep without checking the shelter several times. That is where I go twice a week to see if anyone has turned in muy beloved cat. I will NEVER let him outside again if I am lucky enough to ever get him back.

  • Jan says:

    My neighbors have been feeding ferral cats for years. I have been forced into traping and taking them to animal control. They are spraying my house, around doors windows, my yard furniture and the childrens play things in the back yard, playhouse, swings, slides, etc. My indoor cats (2) one male, one female, are fixed and shots are up to date. The male cat began spraying indoors around the doors, windows and sliding doors. He is now on medication, which is expensive and my shorten his life from side affects. I spoke to the neighbors, they don’t care. They think its cute to see all the kittens every year. If I had not starting traping and removing them the population would be in the hundreds they way they are breeding. My grandchildren aren’t very safe outdoors. The cats fight and often come to my yard to heal. My two year old grand daughter tried to pick up a badly injurded cat to help it. You can imagine what would have happened to her if I hadn’t stopped her in time. Now they have closed the Animal Control Department in our county. I have no choice now but to watch the population grow to ???? and just stay indoors. Not to mention what they are doing to the bird population.

  • Tish W says:

    @Sabrina, I agree with your point on some of these organizations. I have a feral momma who has given birth to over 24 kittens and every time I contacted them I was the same story and no help. I have kept 4 of the kittens all who have/had Fiv/Felv, they were fixed but two (Fred and Ed) got sick afterwards with Fip. As it turns out this momma cat had 2 more litters . Finally when she had her litter in July she moved them into my garage and once I realized she got them all in I shut the door down. Eventually I was able to get her and the babies into a spare room inside(it was an effort). With all babies adopted out 8 weeks later my next goal was getting her into a trap and have her spayed. It was a glorious day when this happened and over 4 years trying. Momma cat is now sitting on my bed at my feet as I write this. I accept that she may never sit on my lap or let me pick her up….who knows what the future holds. I know she is safe in my home and she seems happy to push her head into me to a for good petting. She lets me know when it’s enough by thumping me with her paws no nails extended. I have vetted all these cats and fixed them at my expense, no discounts or freebies from any of the organizations out there. Although I do understand they are strained but so am I as a person unemployed right now and I have had to foot the bills for someone else’s failure to care for or fix a pet.

  • john norton says:

    anyone who beleives that TNR( trap neuter release) is a humane solution please check the web site TNRREALITYCHECK.COM

  • Andrea S. says:

    For those of you needing HELP – try ALLEYCAT.ORG. They are a GREAT resource and can help even when you can’t find any or think there isn’t any. I worked for an animal shelter for 3 years and specifically to SABRINA & CLAIRE, they help where and when they can. For me, it was the least amount of money I ever made and also the HARDEST, most physical job I’ve ever had, but no employee is there for the $, we do it because we love animals so much. For the most part, shelters are so inundated with animals and calls, there’s never enough money, never enough help (even with volunteers), and never enough time. They do the BEST they can with what they have. I live near Chicago and I’ve seen a few shelters and it’s the same at each one I’ve visited. Help is out there — don’t give up!

  • MaryAnn CC says:

    Last week I found a cute kitten. I took it in and went to banfieldhospital in pet smart and bought the wellness so that she will get spayed when she is old enough. She weighed 1 ounce, and is 4 weeks old. she is so cute. I was also feeding many ferel cats for the past 2 years. They hang around myhouse I live is a community and the neighbors are complaining that they handg around.

    It h as been really hot this so I decided to trap the cat and bring her to a shelter, I feel really bad because I know that she will probably be euthanized. After I read the information on your website, I feel more comfortable. I also think that this is the most humane way to help them. But I will still feel bad because I will see her face all the time in my head, I hve 3 cats 2 adopted, 1 dog, and 2 guiena pigs. I wish I can have a place for them and I would take care of all the stray animals.

  • Sabrina says:

    I have to say that I agree wholeheartedly with Claire. I live in an apartment where my front door opens into the yard. There are so many feral cats back there…I rescued one last year and he’s been with me ever since. He had an abscess and a fever so high if I didnt take him to the vet he’d have died. Now, I found a Main Coon/Tabby mix back there and she started losing hair in chunks. I trapped her and brought her to the vet yesterday. However, before I took these cats into my home I started feeding them because I lived so close to them. I was faced with them every day out there alone, hungry, dirty and lonely. The two that I took inside put a great deal of trust in me. They are still scared and I’m having a lot of trouble socializing them. My existing cat already swiped at the sweet new one for no reason…but my point it, that while I was feeding these cats – I had to contend with angry neighbors scaring them away, throwing water on them to keep them out of her yard and the surrounding area. I’ve fought with people to try to make them understand that these animals need help. It’s not only the people who are hard headed though. The agencies that are supposed to be there to help people like me are just fronts. They dont really care about the animals…they are only in it for whatever money they can get! The vets, the shelters, the non profit agencies…they dont do a damned thing to help! I took in these cats and paid out of my own pocket to get them medical attention and give them a home. I even had to buy the damned trap that I used yesterday! I’m so sick of seeing these places claim that they do everything to help animal situations and then when you call you get “sorry, there’s nothing we can do” or “sorry, my hands are tied”. It’s ridiculous and it should be criminal!!

  • joss28 says:

    Feral Cats should be spayed and neutered. Talk to your neighbors and tell them you will be the colony leader of the cats.

  • Lisa Gowing says:

    I have been feeding stray cats at an vacant apartment building for 2 1/2 years. Recently, I found out that they are going to demolish the building. I have taken home 3 of the cats but the other ones will not trust me. I do not know what to do. I cannot catch them. Does anyone know of a lost-cost solution? The cats are located in Toledo Ohio.

  • Donna says:

    Target Department Store of Lynchburg, VA has sponored having all feral cats spayed and neutered. The problem is we have to let them loose back into their own environment where they are still homeless. The good thing is they are not multiplying.

  • Claire says:

    I had to end a feral cat colony in my neighborhood because I got caught between a rock and a hard place. A lady down the street from me that worked blue collar for the airport brought home a few ferals and did nothing but turn them loose. Well, two became four, four became eight, eight became sixteen. The latest mama cat abandoned her litter. I started feeding two kittens. To make a long story short, somehow ALL of them started showing up at MY door to feed. My neighbors on both sides did non-stop complaining. There was no way to feed the two I started to feed without feeding the entire colony. All but one wound up at Animal Control because I contacted hundreds of “rescue” organizations and no one would help. My advice: As “hard-nosed” as it is, DO NOT FEED A FERAL UNLESS YOU WANT TO BE FACED WITH EITHER CARING FOR IT OR HAVING IT EUTHANIZED. I FOUND ALL “RESCUE” ORGANIZATIONS TO BE NOTHING MORE THAN BOGUS TAX SHELTERS AND AN ITEM FOR PEOPLE TO PUT ON THEIR RESUMES. THIS HAS BEEN LIFE-ALTERING FOR ME. I WILL NEVER, EVER, EVER FORGET THE CATS I TOOK TO THEIR DEATH, WHICH STARTED WITH ALL GOOD INTENTIONS FROM ME. NEVER.

  • Jim Maschek says:

    My Feral Cats that I take care of receive the best of care through a mobile Vet, that I personally pay for. This Mobile Vet is at the colony’s at least once a month. I have people scheduled every day to be at the colony’s to make sure every thing is ok. Like an aderation thing. Now there is a natural wildlife issue, that I can not controll. However, I do not want these cats trapped, & taking to any shelters, because it is a certain death sentence. Thank-You for reading this, Jim Maschek