Trapping from Start to Finish

Trapping from Start to Finish

Trapping is obviously more involved than just picking up a cat and bringing it to the clinic—but people can feel intimidated or overwhelmed because they believe that trapping is more difficult than it actually is.  You don’t have to be a trapping expert to successfully catch cats!  Every day, thousands of people do TNR for the first time.  A majority of the people who bring cats to our clinic on any given day are first-time trappers!  This page is intended to break down the trapping process and give instructions that are complete but still easy to understand.  If you have any questions, please call the Spay Neuter Hotline  TNR Scheduler at (602) 265-7729.

Appointment setting
Borrowing Traps
How to Trap
Appointment day
Releasing the cats
Returning the traps
Feral Cat Colony Care

Appointment setting
Call  the Spay Neuter Hotline TNR Scheduler at (602) 265-7729 to schedule an appointment.  Appointments for TNR spays and neuters are available on the same days we spay and neuter companion animals.  A full calendar can be found here.  Depending on the season, appointments may be immediately available or we may be booked up to 2 weeks out.  Please keep this in mind when you are calling.

Borrowing Traps
Depending on where you live, you may be able to pick up traps from us here at the clinic or we may refer you to a trap depot that is closer to you.  We will give you the contact information for the Trap Depot Manager after you set the appointment for sterilization.  Please contact your Trap Depot Manager as soon as you have set your appointment so that you can set up a time with them for you to pick up the traps.  Trap Depot Managers are volunteers with jobs, families, and other commitments, so please make sure that you call them immediately after you’ve set your appointment so that they have enough notice to schedule a time to meet with you.  When you pick up your traps, you will be given detailed instructions on how to use them.

There is no charge to borrow the traps, but we may ask to make a photocopy of a driver’s license and credit/debit card to secure the traps.  No charges will be run and we will destroy the photocopy as soon as the traps are returned.

How to Trap
Alley Cat Allies has a video that provides a great overview about trapping cats.  Reading the instructions below will provide you with more details about the trapping process, and trapping in Phoenix especially.

Feeding Schedule
Successful trapping starts with a regular feeding schedule.  Establishing a routine will train the cats to come around at specific time and place every day (for best results, feed twice a day—once in the morning and once in the evening).  Two days before your scheduled appointment, you will take away all their food, but still leave plenty of fresh water.  If you have neighbors who are also feeding the cats, make sure you ask them not to leave out any food.  A cat with a full belly is not likely to go into a trap!  It may be difficult to refrain from feeding them, but keep in mind that it is all in the cats’ best interest.  It probably hurts you more than it hurts them!   Cats are very hardy animals (which is why there are so many of them!) and a healthy cat should be just fine without food for a couple of days.  Continue to provide water!

Use the chart below to help you figure out your feeding and trapping schedule: 

Last Feeding No Food Trapping Day Scheduled appointment day
Saturday Sunday Monday Tuesday
Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday
Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Friday Saturday Sunday Monday


Setting the traps
Things you will need:
Trap covers
Enticing food, such as tuna in oil, mackerel, sardines, etc.
Non-breakable dish for food (plastic lids or paper plates work especially well!)
Newspaper for bottom of trap
Ant/insect repellant or food-grade diatomaceous earth
A safe holding area to keep the cats overnight before and after their surgeries
Plastic (tarp, garbage bag, shower curtain) to put under traps for holding area and transportation

Trapping Day!
On the day before your appointment, you will set the traps out in the regular feeding place at your regular feeding time (preferably the evening feeding).  Put food in the traps that cats would consider a delectable treat—tuna in oil works very well, and trappers have also reported success with sardines, salmon, mackerel, deli meats, and chicken.  Anything with a pungent scent will attract the cats.  The smellier, the better (for the cats)!

The cats should show up at their normal feeding time. The will have two reasons to get into the trap: they will very hungry because they haven’t eaten for a couple of days and there will be some very delicious food in the trap to further tempt them.  Each trap will come with a trap cover and you can put the cover on the trap when you set the trap (leaving the entry uncovered, of course) or you can wait until the cat is trapped to put the cover on so that the smell of the food is carried farther.  Different circumstances call for different methods.

Now, you wait.  Patience is the most important part of trapping.  DON’T leave the traps unattended, even in an enclosed/private area!  This could be dangerous for the cats for many reasons—other animals, ants, people, and weather to name a few.  Check on the traps at least every 30 minutes in the least disruptive way possible so you don’t scare the cats away.  By checking on the traps, you can make sure the cats are safe and you will know right away if you need to release a cat that is already fixed.

If all goes well, cats will start going into your traps.  If a cat becomes upset while in the trap, remove it from the trapping area.  If it isn’t upset or making any noise, go ahead and leave it until others are trapped or until untrapped cats leave the trapping area.  Going into the trapping area will just scare off the other cats and make trapping them more difficult, so stay away if at all possible.

What if two cats get in the same trap?
Occasionally, two cats will be trapped in the same trap.  This happens with kittens because they are smaller and tend to stick closer to each other or their mothers than adult cats do.  If two cats get in the same trap, you can separate them into their own traps if you’d like by holding the two traps together and opening the guillotine doors (the non-trap doors) facing each other.  Make sure that both traps are held down (it’s best if you have someone to help you) so that the traps don’t accidentally move and create enough space between them to allow one or both of the cats to escape.  Gently shoo one cat into the empty trap and quickly close the guillotine doors on each trap.

If you do not feel comfortable doing this yourself, the cats should be okay in the same trap as long as they are not fighting.  If you would like us to separate the cats for you when you get to your appointment, please bring your empty trap to the clinic when you drop the cats off and we will be happy to separate the cats for you.  If you do not have an empty trap, we can loan you one.  Each cat will need to go home and recover in their separate traps so they have enough room and to prevent fighting (even cats who are best friends can get cranky with each other after surgery).

What if I don’t catch all of the cats I made an appointment for?
Occasionally there are cats that won’t go into the traps right away.  Bring the cats you did trap in for their scheduled appointment—don’t just wait until you’ve caught every one to bring them in.  When you get to the clinic for your appointment, let the TNR scheduler know that you still have some cats that weren’t trapped.  Most of the time we can reschedule those cats for an appointment the next day.

Holding area
Make sure that you have somewhere safe to keep the cats in their traps overnight before and surgery.  It is best to keep the cats away from people, other animals, or loud noises in a spare bedroom or bathroom.  If you are unable to keep the cats in a climate-controlled area, you will need to make sure that they are protected from heat or cold.  A garage or shed is okay as long as there is enough ventilation and the temperature does not get too hot in the summer or too cold in the winter.  The temperature in the holding area is extremely important, as cats have a difficult time regulating their body temperature after surgery.  Even though the cats do live their lives outdoors, they have their own spots where they go to cool off or warm up.  When they are in the traps, they are unable to get to those places to be protected from the elements.   Leaving them exposed can be inhumane, dangerous, or even fatal.

In the Phoenix area, it is especially important that your feral cat holding area is in a climate controlled environment in the summer.  When the temperatures are in the 100’s during the day and dip only into the 80’s or 90’s at night, it is too hot to leave cats outside in the traps.  If it is impossible for you to keep the cats in a separate, climate controlled area of your house, ask your neighbors, friends, or family if they have some space where you can hold your cats overnight.  If not, follow the instructions for warm spring/fall weather, just make sure to check on the cat periodically to make sure it is still cool enough.

During the warmish weather of Phoenix spring or fall, make sure the trap covers are made from lightweight materials, such as sheets.  Lift a corner of the cover so that air comes into the traps.  Leave space between each trap for ventilation.  If possible, run fans nearby to help cool the area, but make sure the trap covers are secured so that they don’t blow off or flap around and scare the cats.  Wetting the trap covers slightly will create a cooling effect similar to an evaporative cooler.  Don’t place the traps on a hot surface such as concrete, brick, or asphalt.  Keep the cats out of direct sunlight.

In the winter, you can use a blanket to cover the traps for additional warmth.  Place the traps closer together and against a wall (while still making sure each trap gets enough fresh air) so the cats can share and retain the warmth better.   Using a space heater to help keep the cats warm is okay, as long as you carefully follow all the manufacturer’s safety instructions.

Appointment day
Most importantly, make sure that you transport the cats safely.  If you put the traps in your trunk, make sure that you have the back seat open so that fresh air flows in from the cabin.  The traps need to be secure so that they do not slide around or roll over.  If the trap rolls over, the trap door could open on its own and the cat could escape (there aren’t many things scarier than driving around with a loose cat in your car!).  Stacking the cats is not recommended as the traps could fall over or the cats could make messes on each other.  A plastic tarp of some sort under the traps is recommended to protect your upholstery.  Car rides are very scary even for tame cats, so please make sure you have the covers on all your traps to help keep the cats calm.

Altered Tails is located at 950 W Hatcher in the Sunnyslope neighborhood of Phoenix.  We are right on the northeast corner of 11th Ave and Hatcher, across the street from the Circle K.  Our entrance is in the back of the building, so you’ll enter the parking lot from 11th Ave.

Drop-off is at 7:30 AM only.  There is a separate Feral Cat Entrance that will lead you to the Feral Cat Room, just look for the sign on the outside of the building.   Once you get to the Feral Cat Room, you will have some paperwork to fill out.  Each cat will require its own form, but it’s really quick and easy to fill out—just your name and contact information, a description of the cat, and your signature.  If you would like to get vaccines for your feral cats, check the boxes on the form indicating which vaccines you would like.  If the form is not filled out completely, we cannot perform surgery.  If you’d like to download your form to fill it out ahead of time, click here.

We request a minimum donation of $25.00 per cat.  The cost of surgery for each cat far exceeds the requested donation so if you can pay more, it would be appreciated.  We accept cash, check or credit/debit card at the time you pick-up the cats.

You will pick up the cats the same day before 5:00 PM (be prepared to pay a late fee if you get there after 5).  Feral cats are usually ready to go home at 4:00 PM, but feel free to call the Front Desk at (602) 943-SPAY to check on them.  When you arrive for pick-up, stop by the Front Desk to check out and then head back to the Feral Cat Room to load up your cats.  Make sure you take the trap covers home with you!

It is extremely important that you keep the cats in the traps overnight.  They are still groggy and wobbly from the anesthesia for several hours after surgery and releasing them while they are still woozy could be very dangerous.  You can release the cats the morning after surgery as long as they are alert and steady.

Cats who are still under the effects of anesthesia can be very unpredictable.  Even the sweetest, tamest cat can get scared and bite, so please make sure that you are very cautious when you handle the trap after surgery.  Again, feral cats are wild cats.  We do not recommend or encourage you to handle feral cats. If you feel safe approaching the trap (the cat is not jumping or spitting at you), you can open the guillotine door slightly and offer the cat a little bit of water when you get home.  Be careful that you do not open the door wide enough so that the cat can escape.   If the cat can keep the water down, you may offer food a couple of hours later.  Nausea is a common side-effect of the anesthetic, so don’t be worried if the cat does not want to eat or drink.  If the cat vomits, just take the water and food away and make sure that the cat is resting on its chest and not on its side or back.  Tilting the trap so the cat’s head is lower than its rump will help the cat vomit more easily—just don’t turn the trap upside-down or the trap door will open and the cat can escape.

Keep an eye on the cat for any excessive bleeding (check the newspaper lining the trap), unusual breathing, lack of movement, or anything else that appears unusual.  If you notice anything worrisome during business hours, call the Front Desk at Altered Tails at (602) 943-SPAY.  After hours, call your regular vet or an emergency vet clinic.  The nearest 24-hour veterinary facility to Altered Tails is Emergency Animal Clinic at 2260 W Glendale Ave and you can call them at (602) 995-3757.

Releasing the cats
If you notice that the cat is lethargic, bleeding, or has any other worrisome symptoms, do not release it.  Call the Front Desk at Altered Tails at (602) 943-SPAY.  After hours, call your regular vet or an emergency vet clinic.  The nearest 24-hour veterinary facility to Altered Tails is Emergency Animal Clinic at 2260 W Glendale Ave.  You can call them at (602) 995-3757.

When the cats are ready to be released (the morning after surgery), take the traps to the location where you originally trapped the cats.  Make sure the location is safe—no cars, dogs, other people, or anything else nearby that could be dangerous or scary to the cats.  An area with bushes or other hiding places is best.  Lift the guillotine door of the trap and stand behind the trap.  Depending on the cat, it may shoot out and run off immediately or you might have to wait until the cat reorients itself for a few minutes.  Don’t make any loud noises or do anything to shoo the cat out of the trap.

Occasionally, cats will “disappear” after TNR.  This doesn’t mean that the cat no longer trusts you or that something went wrong with the surgery.   Make sure to keep setting food and water out because the cats may still come to eat when you aren’t around.  It’s likely that the cat is just hiding out for a couple of days while it recovers from surgery and it will be back soon.  Neutering male cats also reduces their tendency to roam, so it’s possible that a cat that has “disappeared” has simply just returned to its home territory.

Returning the traps
Please disinfect the traps before you return them even if they don’t appear dirty.  Discard the newspaper lining in the regular trash.  Spray the trap with a bleach solution (bleach will kill germs that other cleaners won’t).  Scrub off any feces, dirt, food, or anything else stuck to the trap and then give it all a final rinse so that the bleach doesn’t corrode the metal or hurt the paws of the next cat to use the trap.  Be careful not to scrub the number off the metal plate on top.

Please throw the trap covers in the laundry with some bleach so they are also clean for the next person that uses them.  Even if the traps or covers don’t appear dirty, they need to be cleaned to remove the scent of your cats.  Another cat might not want to go into the trap if it smells like other cats.

Your trap rental agreement will have a “due date” for your traps.  Please return the traps by this date (or earlier!) so that they can be used for other people to trap their cats.  If you would like to extend the period of time for the trap loan or are unable to return the traps by the due date, please contact your Trap Depot Manager.

Feral Cat Colony Care
Continue to provide food and water for the cats, especially for the first few weeks after surgery so they remain healthy during the healing process.  Each cat who was spayed or neutered will have the tip of their left ear removed, so it will be easy to tell from a distance if any new, unaltered cats make a home in your colony.  Monitor your colony for newcomers frequently.  If you notice a cat that hasn’t had its ear tipped, please trap the cat, bring it to Altered Tails for sterilization, and return it to your colony.  For more information about colony care, such as setting up feeding stations, monitoring cats, and building winter shelters, please visit Alley Cat Allies’ Colony Care Guide.