Trapping your free-roaming cats to have them sterilized and vaccinated should be the first step in the management of your colony. You can borrow the Michiana Feral Cat Initiative’s traps, or you can buy your own. unfortunately, the best live traps for cats aren’t available in our local stores, but can be purchased online. We recommend the following brands: Safeguard, Tomahawk, or Tru-Catch. Havahart traps are available in local stores, and are also adequate. For your own sanity, make sure you get traps with doors on either end! This makes releasing cats, or feeding cats in the trap, much easier.
Before you trap:
- · Make sure you have a spay/neuter surgery scheduled before you even set your trap – don’t assume you can just squeeze your cat into a vet’s schedule. A cat should be held in a trap no more than 48 hours, to reduce the stress on the cat, and retrapping a cat that has already been trapped can be difficult.
- · Withhold food for 24 hours before setting your traps – the cats will be hungry, and more likely to enter the trap for food.
- · Have the following supplies: at least one trap for each cat; strong-smelling bait (tuna, sardines, wet cat food); have either newspaper or small paper plates to put the food on; sheets or large towels to place over the traps, large enough to cover the whole trap; gloves for your protection; newspaper or straw for bottom of trap (optional).
- Set your traps no more than 48 hours before your scheduled surgeries, and preferably more like 24 hours before, to reduce the amount of time the cats need to spend in the trap before surgery.
- You will probably want to trap at night or in the morning, when feral and free-roaming cats are out. However, you know your cats best! If they feed during the day normally, set your traps then.
- Prepare your traps in one place, away from the trapping site. Try not to set the trap off, it will scare the cats away!
- You can line the bottom of the trap with newspaper, or straw, if you want – this masks the wire bottom from the cats, and also can be more comfortable for them to lie on as they wait for surgery. However, cats tend to paw at this paper or straw and can often just create a big mess!
- Put the bait (approximately one tablespoon) at the very back of the trap. Drizzle some of the juice from the bait along the trap towards the entrance, to lure the cats in. You can also place about ¼ teaspoon of bait at the front of the trap as a lure – but don’t put too much, or the cat won’t have to go further in for more food.
- Place the traps at the trapping site, at the area where the cats are used to feeding. Make sure the trap is on flat ground. If you have multiple traps, place the openings of the traps in different directions. Cover the traps with the towels or sheets, but make sure that the front and back of the trap are not covered – a cat will not enter a trap if it cannot see the back. If possible, it’s effective to place traps in shrubs or bushes so they’re camouflaged.
- Once you have set the traps, leave the area – cats won’t come around if you’re there. If you’re at home, go inside; if you’re elsewhere, sit in your car. But remember:
- NEVER leave a trap unattended! The cat can get stressed and injure itself, or fall prey to other people or wildlife in the area; the traps can be stolen; some other type of animal could set it off; or someone might release the cat.
- Cats who have been trapped will often be stressed, and run back and forth in the trap violently. To help calm the cat down, cover the entire trap with the sheet or towel, so that all sides are covered. This should immediately calm the cat.
- If you’ve caught something other than a cat, release it as soon as possible (make sure you wear gloves) and reset the trap for a cat. Raccoons and opossums will often wonder in. As soon as you open the trap, they’ll scurry back out – just open one end of the trap and stand back.
After they’ve been trapped:
- · If you trap the cats a day or two before surgery, keep the cats in a safe, quiet place (preferably where it’s warm in the winter and cool in the summer). Keep the traps covered.
- · You will have to feed the cats while they’re in the trap if they’re trapped more than 12 hours before surgery, and provide water for them the whole time they’re in the trap. The best way to do this is to get a trap divider, which are sold online (you can find them on sites where you get live traps). Trap dividers allow you to keep the cat securely at one end of the cage, while you can open the other end and put food and water down, or clean out any soiled newspaper. This is why it’s important to get cages with two sides that open! The same care should be given to cats 24-48 hours after surgery.
- · Don’t give the cat food after 10 pm the night before surgery – this reduces the stress on the cat in surgery.
- · If a cat is known to be tame, you can transfer the cat from the trap into a transfer cage (sold on sites with traps) or a cat carrier, for easier transport. Do not try to do this with a truly feral cat – you don’t want to run the risk of losing the cat.
- · Good luck!
Eartipping is done by licensed veterinarians or their staff. A tiny bit of the left ear is cut off while the cat is under anesthesia. This allows for you to recognize the cats that you have already trapped and sterilized in the future, so that you don’t retrap them. This also allows animal control to know which cats are part of a managed colony, without trapping them or taking them into their shelter. Though microchipping is another way to identify cats, unfortunately this does not help you, or animal control, know whether the cat has been sterilized before you trap it and put it through more undue stress.
All cats will be vaccinated against rabies when they are sterilized. At an additional cost, cats can get the FVRCP vaccination or the vaccination for leukemia. However, because these vaccinations are costly, the Michiana Feral Cat Initiative typically does not include these vaccinations. The Michiana Feral Cat Initiative also does not advocate testing cats for FIV and leukemia.
- · Provide adequate food and water for your free-roaming cats all year round. If you are on vacation or unable to do so, arrange for someone else to feed the cats. They depend on you for dinner!
- · Feed cats in a designated spot, away from high-traffic areas or areas where the cats can be injured.
- · In order to minimize nuisance behavior – by cats and other animals – set up a feeding schedule for your cats once or twice a day. Don’t leave food out over night, or it will attract raccoons. If the cats know that their food will be set out at a particular time of day, and only be out for certain amount of time, they’ll learn to come by at that time. Feed them in the same place every time, and keep that area neat and clean. Make sure not to leave spoiled food out, as it can make the cats sick.
- · Have water available all the time. In the winter, water will often freeze. There are bowls for sale that can keep water heated – but they must be plugged in, and are costly. Other tips for preventing water from freezing: put water in a bowl made of thick plastic, like Tupperware – it takes longer for water to freeze in these types of bowls; use deep bowls with smaller openings; use black or dark-colored bowls that absorb the heat better; put the bowl somewhere where it’s exposed to the sun, if possible, and protected from wind and snow. For other tips: http://www.neighborhoodcats.org/HOW_TO_PREVENTING_WATER_FROM_FREEZING
- · If your neighbors complain about your feeding area, move the food to a more inconspicuous area on your property.
- · Michiana winters can get cold. Often free-roaming cats have already found suitable shelters for themselves, in abandoned buildings for instance. But colony caretakers should provide insulated shelters for the cats to get out of the cold, wet, and wind when they can. You can find directions on how to build a shelter at this site: http://www.neighborhoodcats.org/HOW_TO_FERAL_CAT_WINTER_SHELTER, or you can purchase a completed shelter through the Michiana Feral Cat Initiative for $30. To order a shelter, simply contact us by email.
- · Place shelters in inconspicuous areas on your property, away from high-traffic areas. The shelter should be placed near the feeding area, so that cats do not have to cross roads or neighbors’ property to move from one to the other.
- · Straw or woodchips are the preferred bedding to put in shelters – DO NOT use blankets, towels, or other cloth material, as it will absorb moisture and freeze, drawing body heat away from the cats.
- · Provide enough shelters to house all your cats (several can fit in one).
- · Keep records! Make sure you know how many cats you have in your colony, and keep notes on their surgery, vaccination, treatment, etc.
Tame Cats and Kittens
- · Make an effort to place tame cats, or weaned kittens under 10 weeks, with adoption groups or in homes.
10. For more colony care information, visit: