Catching Trap-Shy or Hard-to-Trap Cats

While some cats will readily enter a humane cat trap, others are reluctant to do so.  Cats that have been trapped in the past, such as former feral cats, are more likely to be "trap-shy."  Some cats may be trained or "tricked" into entering a humane trap, but others must be caught in more innovative traps.  If you have a trap-shy cat, you should consider getting professional help such as a phone consultation or on-site trapping assistance (see the Lost Pet Services Directory).  

Using a Humane Trap for Trap-Shy Cats

Before you conclude that you have a hard-to-trap cat, make sure that you are effectively using your humane trap.  Review the instructions on Setting a Trap.

Most importantly:

  • Is your trap big enough?  Minimum trap size for an average (10 lb) cat is 30" L x 9" W x 11" H, but larger is better.
  • Is the trap stable?  Make sure that the trap doesn’t move at all when your cat steps into it.
  • Did you cover the wire with something your cat would feel comfortable walking on?  Some cats don’t like the feel of wire under their feet.
  • Is the trap partially covered?  Many cats prefer to enter a trap that is covered on the top and sides but the back is left open making it appear like a tunnel.
  • Are you properly monitoring the trap?  If you are catching wildlife, make sure that you are getting them out of the trap as soon as possible.  

Try to have patience and keep the trap in the same location for at least one week.  As much as possible don’t change anything about the appearance and if possible keep to a routine when you put in food and check the trap.  Some cats just need time to adjust to the trap.  

If your cat still won’t enter the trap, then you have a few options to try.  If your cat is entering the trap, and eating the food without setting off the trap, see Trapping Troubleshooting.

Try a Larger Humane Trap

Many cats that won't enter a smaller humane trap will readily enter a larger trap.  Even a slightly larger trap with a 12" x 14" entrance may work.  However, a small dog, bobcat or fox-size trap works best.  These are usually around 42" L x 15" W x 20" H.  You may be able to borrow one of these from a local shelter or rescue group or buy one online.

Some large dog traps also work for cats and most cats will enter these pretty quickly.  However, there are a few important things you need to check before using a dog trap.

  • Does your cat weigh enough to set off the trap?  Many dog traps require only a few pounds to set off the trap, so this may be fine.   Test the trip plate to see if a lot of weight is required.
  • Are there any gaps where the cat can escape?  Some dog traps (like the Humane Way brand) have a gap on either side of the trap door.  If a cat can fit their head through a gap, they can probably squeeze their body through too (unless they are obese).  You may be able to block these gaps by zip-tying boards over the gaps.

Change Your Trap Set-Up

Some cats will enter a cat-size humane trap if you try some of these "tricks."

Try uncovering your trap

While most cats prefer a covered trap, some cats will more readily enter an uncovered trap.  If you do this, make sure to monitor the trap more carefully.  A cat in an uncovered trap is less protected from the weather AND they are more likely to panic because they feel exposed.

Try cleaning your trap

Many cats are caught in traps where other cats and/or wildlife have already been caught.  However, strange scents may discourage some cats from entering the trap.  Thoroughly clean your humane trap to remove odors of other animals trapped.  Don’t just use a detergent or bleach.  Also use an odor neutralizer if possible.  

Try camouflaging your trap

Blend your trap into the environment with one of these set-ups.  Sometimes camouflage can interfere with the trip plate going down or the trap door closing all the way.  So always test your trap to make sure it still works properly.

  • Cover the top and sides of the trap with leaves and branches.  Cover the bottom of the trap with grass, moss, or dirt.  One person even caught her trap-shy cat by completely covering a trap in dead leaves except for the entrance.  
  • Cover the trap with a large tarp that is over other stuff in your yard.  
  • Put the trap in a large box and line the inside of the trap with cardboard.  Works best for box-loving cats.

Training Your Cat to Enter the Trap Using Pre-Baiting

You may be able to condition or train a trap-shy cat to enter a humane cat trap using pre-baiting.  Pre-baiting the trap involves locking or tying the trap door open so that it will not close when an animal goes inside.  Bait is then placed outside the trap entrance and is slowly moved into trap each night that your cat eats the food.  The trap is not set until there is evidence of your cat fully entering the trap and eating the food.  This method requires monitoring the trap with a surveillance camera of some sort.

See Pre-Baiting the Trap for detailed instructions. 

Using a Drop Trap for Trap-Shy Cats

Drop traps are often used by cat rescue groups to capture trap-shy feral cats.  The drop trap is essentially a large box propped up with a stick.  Cats that are uncomfortable entering a humane cage trap will often readily walk under a drop trap.  This type of trap must be monitored and manually closed (with a rope or remote control).  When the lost cat enters the trap and settles down to eat the food, the rope is pulled and the trap drops down capturing the cat.

Here is a demo of a drop trap in use.

Where to Get a Drop Trap

You may be able to borrow a drop trap from a local cat rescue or trap-neuter-return (TNR) group.  TNR groups catch feral cats and get them spayed or neutered.  The cats are then returned to where they were caught.  A feral cat feeder volunteer usually continues to feed the cats and may provide them with outdoor shelters.

Look for shelters or rescue groups on PetFinder.com.  Try locating someone to assist with drop trapping using the Feral Friends Network on Alley Cat Allies.  Check for a local Missing Animal Response Technician or Pet Detective.

You can buy a Tomahawk Drop Trap from their site or Amazon.com.  Be aware that you also need a transfer cage or humane trap with a a sliding door to get your cat out of the drop trap.

If you're handy or know someone that is, you might choose to build a drop trap.  Check out the Drop Trap Design Bank or the instructions available on Neighborhood Cats.

Safely Trapping with a Drop Trap

Drop trapping requires some practice because there is risk that the cat will escape or be injured if done incorrectly.  Be sure to read ALL the instructions and practice before trying to drop trap.  

Visit Neighborhood Cats and download their detailed Instructions on using the Tomahawk Drop Trap.  The Drop Trap Design Bank also has some good instructions and tips.  The video below provides some detailed instruction on using a drop trap, but I'd still suggest reading at least one of the sites listed above.

Drop Trapping Tips

  • Practice, practice, practice before trying to trap your cat.  You don't necessarily need to catch any animals, but at least practice pulling the rope at the same distance you will be trapping.
  • Cats are very, very fast.  Be patient!  Wait for your cat to settle down and eat before you trigger the trap.  If your cat is sitting, standing or looking at you, they are likely to escape.
  • Make sure that there isn't any slack in the rope and pull the rope very quickly.  Alternatively, you could use a remote control trigger.  Available at Tomahawk or build your own.
  • For best results, set up the drop trap for several days with food.  Prop the trap up on something solid like a log or milk crate so there's no risk of it falling.  Set up a surveillance camera and don't try trapping until your cat is comfortable eating underneath.  Knowing when your cat is likely to show up can also reduce the amount of monitoring needed.

Have a Plan Before You Catch Your Cat!

Make sure you have a plan on how to get your cat out of the drop trap once caught.  The last thing you want to do is lose your cat again!  I never recommend lifting the drop trap to try and remove your cat.  Hopefully, you have a drop trap with a sliding door AND a transfer cage with a sliding door.  This is the safest way to remove your cat.  

If you don't have a transfer cage, you can try to use a crate or Havahart humane trap to get your cat out, but there's definite risk they might escape.  

If you built a drop trap without a sliding door or if you don't have a transfer cage, you can try these alternative methods.  

  • Set the drop trap up on a large sheet or netting.  Once caught, wrap the sheet or net around the entire drop trap and secure closed on top.  Carry the cat and drop trap into the house, garage or car before attempting to remove your cat.
  • Set the drop trap on a piece of plywood that is the same size or larger than the drop trap.  Once caught, carry the board with the drop trap into the house, garage or car.  To make this set-up more secure, you could attach the board to the drop trap (see below).  Alternatively, secure the board to the drop trap after your cat is trapped by using a tie-down strap or zip ties.  

Enclosure Traps and Other Options

Coming soon!  If you would like more information at this time, please submit a question on the forum.