Advance planning and patience are the two keys to trapping a feral cat.
Step 1: Set-up a plan of action for the cat before it is trapped. If the cat is an active-response feral, will you neuter and release it back into the same area or transfer it to a colony (if the cat’s territory is unsafe)? If the cat is a passive-response feral, who will foster it? Do they have a safe room set-up for the cat? What kind of additional health screens will the feral need to protect the health of other cats in the foster family? Contact the veterinarian who will care for the feral. Make arrangements for sterilization, health screening and vaccinations with the clinic. I recommend a CBC and chemistries. Also, an FELV/FIV/FIP screen and fecal analysis by centrifugation for all feral cats. If a rescue organization is involved, make sure they have room for the additional cat before you trap it. A good pre-trap plan is critical to the health and well-being of the feral cat.
Step 2: Condition the feral cat to eating in a safe area. Feed the cat two small meals twice per day instead of one large one. This will keep the cat in the area. Place the food and water bowls close to a building, bush or fence to provide protection for the cat.
Step 3: Once your (future) cat knows the routine, introduce the trap. Place it in a safe area about twenty feet from the food and water bowls. Against the foundation of a building or fence is optimal. Lock the trap door in the open position. You might even wire it open to make sure it does not close prematurely. Test it several times. Cover the entire trap with burlap, a towel or old sheet to provide protection from the elements and make the cat feel safe inside. Secure the edges so that the fabric does not flap in the wind.
Step 4: When the cat is comfortable with the cage in the area, start moving the food and water bowl towards the trap. Move the bowls two to three feet once a day. If the cat refuses to eat, move the bowls back to where they were and wait a few days before tying again. When the cat is comfortable eating out of a bowl placed right in front of the entrance to the trap, it is time to move to step 5.
Step 5: Touch base with everyone involved in the plan for this cat. Let them know that you are getting close to trapping him or her. Place the food bowl just inside the trap. When the cat is comfortable eating from it, move it back into the cage. Move it a couple inches at a time until it is in the back of the trap. Give the cat several days (three to five) of eating with its entire body in the trap before moving on to step 6.
Step 6: Before you set the trap, contact everyone involved again and make sure they are ready for the cat. I recommend setting the trap Monday through Thursday when most veterinary clinics are open. Now here is the ingenious part . . . skip the evening meal in order to motivate the cat to enter the trap quickly the next morning!
Step 7: Unlock the trap door and set it. Check it a few times to make sure that it close will close at the appropriate time. Some cats like to rub on the trap door and cage sides before entering. My own feral cat did this. For thirty agonizing seconds, my husband watched Kalani rub on the corners of the trap door. He feared the cat would spring it at the wrong time and we would loose him forever.
Step 8: Once the trap is set, check it frequently. It is best if you have set it where you can watch through a window from inside a home or building. The cat will not have access to food or water when caught. Check it often.
Step 9: After you catch the cat, keep the trap covered and your hands away from the cage to avoid injury! This is true even if you have been able to pet the cat on prior occasions. Active-response cats will hiss and lounge through the bars. If you are bitten or scratched, clean the wound with soap and copious amounts of water. See a physician immediately. Tell the veterinarian involved about your exposure. Unvaccinated cats must be quarantined for rabies after biting a human. Place a garbage bag or other waterproof container under the trap in case the cat urinates or defecates. It will make clean-up much easier. Try to keep the environment around the cat as quiet as possible. Do not let well-meaning people lift the cover to get a peek. This means you too.
Remember, you only get one chance to trap a feral cat. Proceed slowly and with great patience. The cat will set the schedule, not you. I have enclosed a picture of the HAVAHART brand (from Lititz, PA) humane trap that I used to secure Kalani. He is a wonderful cat and a great addition to our family. I wish you the same success.