How to Catch a Stray Cat Without a Trap

No trap? No problem! There are other ways to catch a stray cat when there’s no net or trap nearby.

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If you’re trying to catch a stray without a trap, you can wing it. Photo: Horia Varlan

Phoebe was one of those happenstance cats, the kind that find you unexpectedly.

I stopped at a local antiques shop, and she followed me in. She was a sociable girl and something of a regular there — but she was definitely a stray.

It was only about 6 degrees above 0 outside, and I didn’t feel right about leaving my new acquaintance behind. But how was I to get her into the car? Fortunately, the woman behind the counter found a grungy carrier from a previous rescue attempt lying outside the shop, and the cat went into it with a minimal amount of struggle.

The Havahart Option

Havahart traps are ideal for rescuing stray felines. But they don’t guarantee success, no matter what sort of tasty treats you bait them with.

Strays can, as Nina Malkin puts it in her book An Unlikely Cat Lady: Feral Adventures in the Backyard Jungle, “be pretty cagey around cages. Because they are suspicious and resist the allure bait. Because they avoid — either by strategy or dumb luck — engaging the trip plate, entering the trap to dine in style or by stepping around it or leaning over it.”

My friend Linda just had a first-hand experience with a trap malfunction. She had been feeding Julian, a stray black cat, for a couple of months while slowly gaining his trust. She had just gotten him to eat on her back porch, right next to the Havahart trap. Then Julian began limping, and Linda knew she had to pick up the pace and get him to the vet.

But even boiled chicken tenders weren’t going to get the little guy to step foot in the trap. Finally, she  started dribbling chicken-and-gravy cat food — “the whole gooey mess” — through the top of it. A  hungry stray can only withstand temptation so long, and Julian went for it.

The trap didn’t click shut. Linda ran over and lifted the latch, tripping it manually. Julian’s injury worked in her favor by slowing him down. Otherwise, he probably would have been off and running.

Havahart traps are ideal for rescuing stray cats. But they don’t guarantee success.

Catching a Stray Cat Without a Trap or Net

Sometimes you just have to wing it. You’re not usually carrying a trap with you unless, of course, you’re heading out specifically on a rescue mission. When you see a cat or kitten — sometimes more than one — in need of aid, you just have to make do with whatever happens to be at hand.

At least that’s how I’ve always worked. My brother Gary and I spent much of our summers chasing barn kittens up at our grandparents’ farm. We became, to our parents’ dismay, exceptional cat wranglers and brought many kittens home with us.

Obviously, this method requires quickness and dexterity. You also have to be prepared to hold on to a feline who suddenly seems to have grown extra paws and claws. Remember, if you let go, you’re going to have a totally spooked animal and no chance of recapturing him or her that particular day. Just suck it up. You can break out the Band-Aids and Bacitracin later.

Having another person with you can help, but it’s not necessary. If the cat is extremely skittish, it might even work against you.

Alternative Methods

A carrier comes in handy, and a large carrier usually works best. “Put some food in a carrying case,” advises Judy Levy, director of Animal Friends of Connecticut. “And while they’re busy eating, slam the door.” Or you might want to try coaxing the cat into  the carrier by laying down a food trail.

If you’ve got a situation involving a cat and her litter, put the kittens in the carrier. The mom-cat’s instinct will send her right in after her babies.

With “a really spooky cat,” Levy suggests rigging a string to the carrier’s door, one “strong enough to close it and hold it tight so that it doesn’t open if they push on it. And get there quick to close it.”

No carrier? Throw a towel or blanket over the stray and wrap him or her up in it as securely as possible.

The point is, there’s always a way — or, in Phoebe’s case, a providential, if slightly mildewed, carrier.

Additional Resources