Trapping Techniques 1: Set Up

What is a humane trap and where can I acquire one?

A humane trap (also called a live animal trap) is an animal trap designed to contain an animal without injuring or killing. It is basically a wire cage, with the door held open by means of a catch. Food is placed beyond a trip plate to lure an animal inside. When the animal steps on the trip plate, it releases the catch, which causes the door to drop down behind the animal, enclosing the animal inside.


1) Food is dribbled, leading into the trap. The animal enters the trap, 2) steps on the trip plate, 3) which releases the catch, the door drops closed behind the animal, trapping the animal inside.

While humane traps do not injure, they still may frighten the trapped animal. The trap that you want is the one with the quietest mechanism.

Traps are available for purchase at hardware stores such as Orchard Supply Hardware and available for loan or rent at some animal shelters. Additionally there are lost pet organizations that help monitor traps.

In some communities, renting a trap for a week or so equals the cost of a brand new trap. If that is the case, buy your own so that you do not prematurely stop trapping after only a week simply because the rental bill keeps increasing. Trapping for a single week is a relatively short period of time considering that many owners trap for several weeks before being reunited with their pet.

How many traps should I get?

If possible get two humane traps. Having two allows you to place a trap in two areas of a neighbor's property (e.g. garage and back yard) at the same time and reduces the time and any inconvenience that trapping may cause. If you live in a rural area with multiple locations that your kitty might be hiding, having two traps enables you to cover twice as much territory in the same amount of time.

What sort of preparations should I make before trapping?

• Get permission from neighbors to trap.

• Create a map of the neighborhood.

• Note on your map areas where there have been positive sightings and where you have seen cat hairs, paw prints, or poops.

• Note on your map areas attractive to your cat: heavy brush, decks, sheds, basement crawl spaces, open garages the day your pet disappeared, etc.

• Note on your map areas your pet would avoid (or possibly become victim to): any resident pets (particularly dogs), any areas where predators have been seen, high walls and chain link fences, construction or unusual activity the day your pet disappeared, etc.

• Note the names and addresses of neighbors from whom you've obtained permission to trap.

• Unless your trap is brand new, hose off the trap before using. Hose it off each time you trap a critter or see that food has been eaten to remove any other animal smells.


Demonstrating how dribbled bait lures a kitty in. . .

How do I set the trap?

Set the trap with about a 1/4 cup of cat food on something unbreakable like a paper plate. (See photo of uncovered trap above.) Place the dish beyond the trip plate. Get a piece of cardboard, place it underneath the trap, then dribble bits of food on it so that the food trail leads into the trap, then straight to the dish of food. By using cardboard, the trail of food does not leave a stinky mess when you are trapping on someone else's property, and it also lets you control where and when you want to bait (if you put the main lure in the trap, but there are multiple areas of the yard with old dribble scents, it might confuse your pet). Provide a bowl of water in warm weather. Place used socks near the opening of the trap if your pet is bonded to humans. Try spraying the trap itself and the surrounding area with calming Feliway. If the trap is visible from the street, padlock it securely to a fixed object so that it doesn't get stolen.


Some people cover the trap; others leave it uncovered. If you choose to cover yours, leave the front and back uncovered and make sure towel does not interfere with release mechanism.

Some people recommend covering the top and sides with a towel, while leaving the front and back end open, and making sure towel does not interfere with release mechanism. The theory is that if the cat can SEE through the trap, it thinks it can get clear passage (like through a tunnel) and is not so wary. Some people think a cat would feel safer with a completely unimpeded view and leave the trap uncovered. If your cat is the type that enjoys jumping in a cardboard box and just sits there, it may prefer concealment. If your cat is generally uncomfortable in enclosed spaces, leave the trap uncovered. Although Sage likes hiding in boxes, we left our trap uncovered simply because it didn't occur to us to cover it. When we finally trapped Sage, the trap was in an area that was next to a fence and minor cat highway, but for the most part relatively open and unprotected.

Rather than putting cardboard UNDER the trap, some people prefer covering the INSIDE floor of the trap with newspaper, grass, or nearby dirt (test it first to be sure it doesn't interfere with the door mechanism); this is for the cat that shies away from stepping on the metal wires.

Practice setting the trap inside your house and familiarize yourself with the different mechanisms. When you set it for real outside you want to be as quiet and unobtrusive as possible.

Set the trap before you go to bed and try to pick up the trap as early as convenient to reduce any trauma this might cause to a trapped animal.


. .. yummm. . .salmon for Becky Cat!

What foods should I set the trap with?

Use your cat's favorite food — the smellier the better — something that smells so wonderful that your kitty will move out from its hiding place to eat, even if a couple houses away. Some people have recommended Kentucky Fried Chicken Strips for the chicken lovers, bacon for the bacon lovers, and tuna or Jack Mackerel for the fish lovers. (Only use Jack Mackerel if your kitty has actually eaten and loves the stuff. .. other cats might find it rather pungent. Jack Mackerel is located at grocery stores near the canned tuna. Wear gloves though because mackerel very smelly and hard to get off of your hands and clothes.)

If you repeatedly trap raccoons or opossums, try providing food nearby (not in trap) that a raccoon or opossum might like, but that your cat would NOT like. Perhaps whole grain (try C.O.B. - Corn, Oats and Barley with molasses), alfalfa pellets (these two can be purchased at a livestock feed store or pet store), sweet fruit, or nuts. If wildlife fill up on fruit and grain first, they may be less likely to eat the cat food and trip the trap unnecessarily.

If ants are a problem, draw a chalk line around the trap (on the ground or on the cardboard); the chalk dust will deter the ants from crossing over and eating the food.

The food is gone but the trap's door was never tripped! How can that be?

Test your trap to be sure you have set it correctly, or adjust the sensitivity of the release mechanism to respond to less pressure. Sometimes small animals are able to get the food because they are too light to trip the trap or they simply hop over the trip plate.

Some very savvy animals poke their paws over the trip plate (or through the wires) and scoop up the food. If this is the case, use freshly cooked bacon (or roast beef or chicken) and clip it directly to the trip plate with a clothespin — the animal will trip the plate just by nibbling.

The trap has shut — but there is no animal inside!

Check that the trap has been set correctly, or adjust the release mechanism so that it responds to more pressure. On some traps like the Havahart pictured above, the latch that holds the door open may be rubbed (and tripped) from the outside. So it is definitely possible for an animal or object to accidentally trip the mechanism without entering or eating. Additionally, if the trap is too small (or the animal is large in relation to the trap) the door may drop down on top of its back — rather than closing properly — and the animal can simply back out of the trap.

My cat won't enter the trap.

If you know the location of your cat, but it simply refuses to enter the trap, follow the method that feral cat rescuers use: before actually setting the trap, put out food at a regular time and place; provide food next to a disabled trap, door secured open (see photo below), so that your cat will show up regularly for food and become used to the presence of the trap.


(l): Trap's door tied up, the more secure method; (r): A stick inserted between wires holds door up.

Every day, place the food gradually closer and closer to the trap, until your cat must enter the trap in order to eat. After he has successfully entered the trap to eat, set the trap for real the next day at the usual mealtime. If your cat still balks at entering the trap, withhold food one day, then trap the next day. The extra hunger will probably be enough to overcome the wariness.

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