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How to Catch a Stray Cat Safely - Humane Cat Trapping

María Besteiros
By María Besteiros, Expert veterinary assistant and canine/feline hairdresser.. Updated: March 21, 2024
How to Catch a Stray Cat Safely - Humane Cat Trapping

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In most circumstances, we will ideally want to leave catching a stray cat to the professionals. Feline protection volunteers and wildlife welfare services are trained and experienced in humane cat trapping so it can be done as safely as possible. However, there are some circumstances where we are required to catch a stray cat for either the welfare of the cat or other animals in the area.

With AnimalWised, we provide a guide on how to catch a stray cat safely using humane cat trapping methods. We should make it clear that this should only be done when it is not possible to have a professional do it for us.

You may also be interested in: What to Do with a Feral Cat Colony


  1. Should I catch a stray cat?
  2. Materials needed to safely catch a stray cat
  3. How to safely catch a stray cat with food
  4. How to safely catch a stray cat with a net
  5. How to safely catch a cat with sedatives
  6. How to safely catch a stray cat with a trap cage

Should I catch a stray cat?

Before explaining how to catch a stray cat safely, we need to first decide whether it is something we should be doing. It is vital we are clear under which circumstances it is appropriate to trap any cat. One of the main considerations is cat colonies.

We often refer to stray cats as alley cats, cats which live near humans, but secreted away where we cannot see them. However, many cat populations in the cities are more controlled than we think. A cat colony is a group of cats which is supervised by various organizations, associations and volunteers who work to keep them alive and well.

Some cats in colonies are eventually taken into the shelter system or fostering so they can be adopted into a happy home. Others are better to remain outdoors. They also supervise trap-neuter-retun programs where they catch the alley cats, neuter them to prevent population booms and then return them to the colony.

Never trap a cat from a feral cat colony. You may be interfering with previous important animal welfare work. You may also be taking a cat away from their security and family. If you do not know whether a cat is part of a colony, then you should contact your local animal services to see what programs are operating in your area. They will also be able to provide some additional practical advice.

We also need to be sure that the cat is not homed. Many cat guardians will allow their cat to have access to the outdoors. Responsible owners will put a collar on them with contact information attached via tags. However, some cats may wriggle loose, have a medical condition or have some other reason why they do not wear one. This does not mean they are stray cats.

If we find a stray cat, we need to go to efforts to see whether they are homed. If we want to prevent a stray cat from bothering our home, you don't necessarily need to catch them at all. You can read our advice on how to shoo away a stray cat to know more.

Once you know for sure that trapping the alley cat is the best thing to do, you can follow our advice below.

Materials needed to safely catch a stray cat

One of the reasons we may need to catch a stray cat is their health is so poor. Perhaps they are sick, malnourished or have even suffered an accident. In these cases, you may be able to simply pick up the cat by wrapping them in a clean blanket or towel. Smaller kittens are usually easier to pick up than adult cats.

However, most healthy stray cats have not been properly socialized with humans. Their contact has been limited and, in many cases, traumatic due to abuse or neglect. The reaction of the stray may be fear, panic or even defensive aggression. For this reason, we need all the help we can get. Catching a cat is made easier with the following materials:

  • Pet carrier
  • Wet food
  • Gloves for handling animals
  • Net
  • Sedative pills
  • Trap cage

Also keep in mind that, it is important that as few people as possible attend. Make both an initial plan and have contingency plans to back yourself up. Do not make excessive noise, instead speak calmly and in a low tone. Avoid any sudden or violent gestures.

Once you do rescue a stray cat, they may be in poor health. Our guide to help a malnourished cat can help you know the correct protocol.

How to Catch a Stray Cat Safely - Humane Cat Trapping - Materials needed to safely catch a stray cat

How to safely catch a stray cat with food

Many stray cats are either hungry or happy to stock up on resources when they come across them. While this is unfortunate for their overall welfare, it can be helpful when trapping them.

The first way to catch a stray cat with food is to simply leave a can or dish of wet food at the back of a pet carrier with the door open. When the cat enters to eat the food, you can close the door and trap them. The food needs to be wet food which the cat cannot pick up easily. For example, if you leave some cooked chicken inside, the cat can simply pick it up and run off.

Once the cat is completely inside the carrier, we need to approach gently and close the door quickly. We need to be close enough to approach, but hidden enough so the cat cannot see us. It is a good idea to wear animal handling gloves in case the cat has a violent reaction. These need to be made from heavy material, otherwise the cat can bite through them. Remember, we must see a doctor and have the wound cleaned by a professional if bitten by a stray cat as we may need tetanus or other shots.

We can also use a piece of string or cord to close over the carrier door from a distance. However, we need to be sure it will work, which is not always as easy as it sounds. It takes skill and practice.

Finally, if there is no rush in safely trapping the stray cat, we may be able to leave food out for them every day. Little by little, the stray may get used to our presence and we can safely take them away when the time is appropriate.

How to safely catch a stray cat with a net

The process of catching a stray cat safely can be done gradually using the least invasive measures. The ideal scenario is the cat going into a carrier and then being taken away when the door is closed. Unfortunately, this scenario is not always possible.

Certain situations will require different tactics. We can use a net to try to catch a stray cat, but it needs to be one which is designed for the purpose. This means one which is attached to a pole, is heavy enough to hold the cat without hurting it and which can be turned over to trap the animal humanely. Not all nets will be suitable for this.

We can use a similar trap to catch the cat by putting food somewhere the cat can reach. Make sure this is somewhere with as few escape routes as possible. Remember, the cat may struggle to break free and injure themselves in doing so. We need to be swift and have a carrier ready to put the cat in and bring them to safety.

How to safely catch a cat with sedatives

If nothing else works, we may be able to choose the option of sedating a cat. However, only veterinarians can prescribe these pills and we will need to speak to them to authorize it. They will also provide the information regarding the correct safe dosage. Do not use human medications or medications previously prescribed for another cat.

In these cases, we can insert the sedatives into food which we leave out for the cat. This may not make the cat unconscious, but it may be helpful to stun them enough to trap them safely. This is not a recommend method, unless no other avenues can be pursued. There are several problems with this option:

  • That the cat does not swallow the pills.
  • That the prescribed dose does not have an effect or is too slight.
  • If we do not catch them, but they have been sedated they can be in danger. They can pass out in a road and be run over or even be attacked by another animal.

In conclusion, this method has a chance of success, but the probability that it will fail is high. Therefore, it must be reserved for specific cases or highly controlled situations.

How to Catch a Stray Cat Safely - Humane Cat Trapping - How to safely catch a cat with sedatives

How to safely catch a stray cat with a trap cage

When a carrier is not a sufficient trap, a so-called cat trap cage may be used. These are also known as humane cat traps and may be included in a stray cat rescue kits. These are structures which are larger than most carriers which have sheltered places inside. They also have a mechanism which traps the cat inside when they go past a certain point.

The main problem with cat trap cages is that we cannot be selective. If we leave the trap outside, any local cat or even a different animal can enter the trap. We also need to ensure the trap is checked very regularly, otherwise the animal might be in for too long and their welfare is affected. What is beneficial is that, once the cat is rescued, you can travel with the stray in the cage until you get to a veterinarian or other safe place.

We should not make the trapping of a cat our responsibility unless necessary. It is better to leave the rescue to wildlife rehabbers and animal welfare experts. Also, before we think to trap them at all, we may be able to bring the cat to safety by simply earning their trust. This is something you can see by looking at the video below:

If you want to read similar articles to How to Catch a Stray Cat Safely - Humane Cat Trapping, we recommend you visit our Basic care category.

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How to Catch a Stray Cat Safely - Humane Cat Trapping