Humane Trapping Guidelines

Effective, Safe, and Humane Trapping

Feral Cat being released from a trap

Photo by Joan Kanes

Please read the accompanying materials on safe and humane trap-neuter-return procedures. It is very important that trapping be done in a responsible manner to protect the person trapping, the veterinary staff, and the cats.

NOTE: All cats will be ear-tipped to indicate spay/neuter. Pregnant cats can be spayed.

Scheduling spay/neuter appointment and arrival

  • Make appointment by calling 434-964-3314 prior to any trapping attempt. Give 48 hours’ notice for postponement or cancellation of any appointment.
  • If you have not trapped before, someone will call and train you.
  • Arrive at Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA between 8:15 and 9:00 AM.
  • Cat must be brought in a Voices or CASPCA trap; cats in any other container will not be accepted.
  • The CASPCA will tell you when to pick up your cat.

Preparing to trap

  • Start feeding cats at the same time several days before surgery.
  • During this time, put some food inside the traps with the door tied open with wire–do not leave traps out overnight–they rust.
  • The day before trapping, reduce the amount of food so cats will be extra hungry when you trap. Do not feed within 12 hours of trapping.
  • Notify any neighbors who may feed the cats that you will be trapping and ask them not to feed cats the day before or the day of trapping.


  • You should trap the cats the day before scheduled surgery and keep them in a secure, climate-controlled space overnight.
  • Bait traps with food and set during the usual feeding time. Use a smelly tempting food such as tuna or canned cat food.
  • Set as many traps as you have appointments for, plus one extra. Do not trap in high winds or rain due to limited success.
  • Set traps on a level surface in the area where the cats are used to being fed. If trapping in a more public area, try to place the traps where passersby will not notice them. Bushes are places where cats often hide and provide good camouflage for the traps.
  • Do not cover traps with a sheet when trapping–-a breeze could flap the sheet and scare the cats.
  • Monitor traps from a distance. Never leave the traps unattended.
  • Once a cat is trapped, cover the trap with a sheet to calm the cat, especially if trapped cat is scaring the others by thrashing or vocalizing. Otherwise, try to wait until all cats are trapped to cover the traps so your movements don’t scare off the cats. If a cat is already ear-tipped indicating spay or neuter, release the cat and re-bait and reset the trap.
  • Take the traps to a secure, temperature-controlled spare room (garage or basement OK) until surgery. Place newspaper beneath each trap to absorb liquids.
  • The cats may have water and food but remove all food by 11:00 PM the night prior to surgery.
  • Never let any cat out of the trap prior to surgery! You will never get it back in or ever be able to trap it again.
  • For video guidance, consult Alley Cat Allies website “How to Trap an Entire Colony” or call their National Community Cat Helpline at 240-482-1980 ext. 330.

Safety Notes

  • Keep the traps covered. Do not attempt to touch the cat through the trap. The cat will not be comforted and you risk being scratched or bitten.
  • Do not let children or pets near the cats.
  • Do not release the cats from their traps until after surgery and the prescribed recovery period. You will never get the cat back in the trap, then or ever again.
  • If you catch a raccoon, skunk or possum, release the animal as follows:

    • Move slowly and quietly and cover the trap with a sheet.
    • Pull the sheet back from the releasing end–the animal will retreat under the towel.
    • Open the trap door and stand behind the trap.
    • Pull the sheet off and the animal should run out of the trap away from you.

After surgery

  • Cats are very susceptible to heat and cold while recovering from anesthesia. Keep the cats in their covered traps in a warm, quiet, safe area, such as a spare room, bathroom, or temperature-controlled basement or garage. Keep traps covered and place newspapers beneath the traps to absorb any liquids.
  • It is important to monitor the cats frequently. If you see any of the following symptoms or have concerns, call the CASPCA. DO NOT RELEASE THE CAT:

    • Loss of appetite for more than 2 days
    • Refusal to drink water for more than 1 day
    • Depression or lack of alertness
    • Vomiting or diarrhea
    • Any abnormalities of the incision such as bleeding, irritation, swelling, an open incision, or worsening redness
    • Difficulty urinating or labored breathing

  • Feed each cat a light meal the night after surgery with a shallow dish of water available at all times. Canned cat food is best since it has moisture that helps hydrate the cat. Please note it is normal for their appetites to be mildly suppressed for a day or two. You may feed normally tomorrow. When placing food and water in the trap:

    • Carefully open the door one or two inches only and quickly slide the dishes just inside.
    • Be careful not to stick your hand in any further than necessary.
    • Don’t keep the door open for any longer than necessary to slide in or remove dishes.
    • Close the trap quickly and make sure it is latched.

  • Release males after 24 hours; females after 48 hours if all seems well. Return each cat to her/his original location. Make sure each cat is fully alert before releasing from the trap. Point the open end of the trap away from any roads since most cats will run quickly out of the trap. Tilt up the back of the trap if needed or tap on the top of the trap to encourage the cat to leave. Never put your hand into the trap.

Returning traps

  • Wash the traps with antibacterial soap and rinse. Do not use bleach.
  • Wash any borrowed trap covers with laundry detergent and bleach.