An orange cat lying on the ground outside next to a cat trap

Cats are not “smart.” Their brains are not sophisticated enough to understand that you’re trying to catch them to spay or neuter them. But they may be wary of the presence of new equipment in their environment or be reluctant to enter a confined space like a trap. In these situations, there are several options. A TruCatch FatCat 30FCD trap is both wider and taller than a standard trap. FatCat traps are great for trapping big-headed tom cats, injured cats and very pregnant cats. In Chicago, Tree House Humane Society has FatCat traps for lending.

Trap conditioning is a very effective method of gradually conditioning cats to eat inside of a humane trap. Begin by placing the trap where you normally feed cats and tie the doors open with a string or bungee cord so it doesn’t accidentally trip. Place food in front of the trap, but not inside. Cats will get used to seeing the trap and it will become part of their environment. Slowly move food into the trap a few inches each day.

Go at the cats’ pace. If cats won’t eat the food, back it out a bit until they do, then start again to keep moving the food further into the trap. Once the food is all the way in the back behind the trip plate and cats are eating inside the trap regularly, remove the string/bungee cord and set the trap. Several traps are usually needed with larger colonies, to spread out food so cats don’t fight over it. Multiple traps will also increase trapping success and enable you to better make clinic appointments. Trap conditioning is a very successful methodology. It  usually only fails when people aren’t disciplined enough to stick with it, or when people feed outside of the trap.

Drop Traps are also very useful in catching trap-wary cats. They are also ideal for trapping one cat in a colony of many already-sterilized cats. 

A cat trap set outside for stray cats
Open cat cage indoors with plastic bottle

The Water Bottle Trick

Sometimes cats will go part way into a trap, but won’t go all the way to the back to trigger the trip plate. In this situation, you can use the water bottle trick to trigger the door as the cat goes part way into the trap. Place a bottle under the corner of the trap door to hold it open. The trip plate can remain in the down position. Tie a long string to the bottle and hide out of site where the cat can’t see you. When the cat goes about half way into the trap and the cat’s tail is entirely inside the trap, swiftly pull the string so that the bottle falls down and the door closes. You can also use the water bottle trick if you are out trapping and your trap door is not closing because the trap is rusty/sticky, or in situations whereby you need to trap a certain cat from a colony.

The Engine and Caboose

The Engine and Caboose method is most commonly used when trapping a mama and kittens. If you are not able to trap a mama and all of her kittens at once, you can place an open trap lengthwise like train cars against a trap containing  the cats already trapped. Pull up the trap covers between the traps, so a cat entering the open trap can see all the way through to the cats already trapped. Often kittens will cry once trapped, which will help to attract mama or other kittens.

Stray cat cages outside covered with blankets
Stray cat cages outside covered with blankets
Stray cat cages outside covered with blankets

Playing “Meowing” Sounds

Playing recorded sounds of cats crying or meowing is also effective in attracting them, especially kittens. On YouTube, you can search for “mama cat calling kittens” and find many free videos with meowing sounds. To avoid having to keep tapping your phone to play the video again and again, YouTube lets you create a play list and add the same video as many times as you like.