3.13.2011

#24 Always TRAP feral kittens, don't CHASE 'EM DOWN and BAG 'em!


Question: Why do you recommend trapping feral kittens even when one can chase them down and grab them?

Answer: Chasing down feral kittens is always a bad idea even when successful. The stress and anxiety for the kittens usually takes weeks to overcome. I imagine their instinct must convince the kittens that the person chasing them is set upon eating them. When that same person tries to pet them, and hold them, and nurture then, I'll take that bet as to how successful they will be.

Trapping removes a human presence
from the terrifying experience of being separated from their mother and the home they know. The human can then actually take a positive role when we offer food and reunite them with their siblings. The less they associate humans with their trauma, the faster we can gain their trust and tame them for adoption.

Here's my ideal scenario for a successful trapping of mom and kittens. BEFORE STARTING ANY TRAPPING, I feed the mom and kittens for several days from a trap I secure open with a cable-tie to make sure no one gets trapped before I'm ready. I put a big bowl of food in the back of the trap and a trail of food from front to back. The objective is to make sure even the shyest kittens and mom are not afraid to go into the trap BEFORE you start trapping. Trust me, doing this will save you hours and days of trap-watching. If you can't leave a trap out safely, try it even for the short time you are there feeding each day. Pad-lock the trap open and to a fence if there is any risk of the trap being stolen or tampered with. Hide it under a bush if you can safely leave it for all the cats to get confident going into it without hesitation.

Normally, moms trot out their litters to the feeding station at about 6 weeks old. If you saw when mom got skinny you can set up the trap (tied open) about six weeks later and start "training" mom to go into it even before she brings the kittens along too. Nursing moms are extremely hungry and sometimes, it is only when nursing that you can hope to trap a very wary female.

You probably won't see all the kittens the first day or two. There are usually a couple very shy ones that won't dare to follow mom the first day or two. Once mom and ALL the kittens have been seen going into the trap to eat without hesitation, ONLY THEN are you ready to start the trapping project.

I always try to trap mom first and get her safely out of the picture with no kitten witnesses. Moms usually leave the den in mid-afternoon to look for food while the litter is still sleeping. This is the perfect time to set the trap for her and whisk her away to a basement or garage, covering the trap with a sheet to keep her as calm as possible. (read blog # 17 about making sure the vet is experienced enough in spaying a lactating female)

I trap Mom in the conventional way, setting the trip plate but with the kittens, I switch to the bottle and string technique shown in the 2nd picture below. This way I can be sure a second or third kitten is not in the way of the door or gets caught when the door comes down. You may even get lucky and get 2 or 3 kittens at a time as they crowd into the back of the trap around the dish of food.

GET THE SHYEST KITTENS FIRST. Don't be in a hurry and greedily trap the first and bravest kittens to go into the trap. Learn how many there are before you start trapping and keep track of which ones are the last to come to the party. Dusk is the usual time for kittens to leave the den and come to the feeding station where you've "trained" them to go into the trap. The shy ones will "freak" if they witness the braver ones getting trapped. When you start to trap the kittens, let the brave ones eat and go if necessary to wait for the shy ones. You'll always get another chance with the brave ones. The shy ones are the smart ones and they won't give you a second chance for some time if you blow it the first time. They are used to mom being away for periods of time without worrying so don't worry about that. Wait until the shyest one, or hopefully two are in the trap eating together to pull the string for the first time. Even if a couple of the braver ones witness this, they'll come back soon enough but not vice versa. The shy/smart ones will high-tail it back to the den and not come out for a day or more. Get them first and you'll be done with everyone in short order. Even if the brave ones have eaten and gone, they won't hesitate coming back the next day and eagerly loading into the
trap. Don't be in a hurry. Wait until you get the shy one(s) first with no other shy witnesses if at all possible.

Even when I've given this advice, I often get the call asking, "what do I do now, I trapped all except but the shyest kitten and she won't go near the trap for 3 days now?

In that case, I put mom in a trap and put that trap inside a larger trap or under a drop trap. (A small cat trap fits inside the bigger raccoon traps) The kitten will often come out to see the mom and can be trapped using the bottle and string shown in the other photo, or the pull string shown for the drop trap.Notice that the string is taught and ready to be pulled. This way it will not distract the cat in the trap as the string is pulled. They can be out and gone before you even get the string straight and taught. You can order this drop trap from Ashot Karamian at aak14@yahoo.com
(he also has several winter shelter designs on the shelter page of urbancatleague.org)

In the reverse situation, when mom isn't trapped first and won't go near the trap, here is what I do. Again the bottle and string are necessary because putting another trap inside a trap renders the trip plate unusable. Tie off the string taught for the same reason described below. Some people tie the string to the bottom of the bottle for less of a visual distraction. Hopefully the kitten will call out to mom. For the photos, the trap is out in the open, but trapping may work better in a secluded area or
with the end of the trap covered so mom will need to go into the trap to approach the kitten. Pictured here is a way to use the Pull-String Technique without the bottle. Set the trap door open with a pin tied to a string instead of the bottle. This is a top view for "techies," if you want to get fancy.



As with all things feral some adaptation to the individual cats temperament may be necessary.
Six weeks old is ok to separate mom and kittens. Start the kittens right away with socialization for adoption and TNR mom and return her for continued outdoor care. Don't forget to have her ear-tipped!

35 comments:

  1. Hi Mike, how long can the kittens be without the mom once they are 6 weeks or older?
    We have so far tried to trap all the kittens first and only then the mom, but this procedure makes it very difficult. Also, if we trap a feral cat and only then realize that she is lactating and we don't know how old the kittens are, what would you recommend to do?
    Claudia

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  2. 6 week old feral kittens should be taken in for taming and can be separated completely from the mother and weaned at that age
    For younger kittens, as I said, in our experience the kittens have all survived well even when we put back spayed lactating cats with very young kittens. If you have the option to find and trap the cat again later, you may want to release a lactating cat without spaying her. If you are far from home doing a project for people who won't trap the cat later, you may choose to go ahead and spay her but someone will have to trap the kittens later of course so you could trap the mom at that point again too. A drop trap may be needed if the mom is reluctant to go into the same kind of trap a second time..

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  3. Hi Mike, Thanks for your advice. Galway Cat Rescue (Ireland) started only last August, so this is our first kitten season and we are still in the process of learning and getting experience. By the way, we love your videos about kitten taming, they are fantastic.
    Claudia

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  4. EILISH McCoy07 December, 2011

    Hi we have discovered a mother & 3 kittens they are approx 8 weeks old-still traces of blue in their eyes- As novices we have managed to trap 2 kittens but the mother & other kitten remain elusive.the 2 kittens we have were separated for a week will they recognise each other? we did try them briefly together but a lot of hissing & spitting.
    Also do we return them to where they were after having then neutured
    or try to rehome them ? Are they feral at this stage 1 seems more so than the other.
    Thanks Eilish

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  5. Eilish,
    If you want to try to tame them for rehoming go to our website URBANCATLEAGUE.org and watch the taming video we have there showing techniques for socializing feral kittens for adoption. The last kittens trapped are usually the smartest and can be the most high-strung when it comes to taming. If they are as young as you describe, all can probably be tamed but the last ones may take more effort. Using food to win them over is the basis for our technique and removing all threat or impulse for them to fear approaching you. Mom and the last kitten can perhaps be neutered and returned together to be cared for if you aren't able to trap the kitten soon enough to socialize easily. To answer your question, when returning neutered cats back out, it is important to return them to the exact same place where they were trapped so they can resume life in their familiar habitat. Moving them to a new location rarely works without a period of confinement for them to calm down and adjust to the new location. Otherwise they may take off running when released and never return to the place you plan to care for them. 2-3 weeks is the commonly held belief for how long to confine cats in a new location before setting them free. You may always write with further questions to urbancatleague.tamingferals@gmail.com
    Sincerely, Mike

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  6. Hi Mike, Many ferals show up where I live, and a female that was a kitten last winter, gave birth to 3 kittens in one of the at barns we have out for them. I tried to trap her and the kittens but was unsuccessful. We feed her, and the other members of her group, and the kittens have just started coming out to play. I want to take them to our local shelter. Do you think they are old enough? I got them to lick some canned food a little... Two have eye issues and I am concerned with their health. Thanks! Amy

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    1. if u can not get them in to trap for a fews days leave both end up put food in it after fews day set it they will for get it

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  7. Anonymous06 June, 2012

    If they are running around and eating solid food they can be tamed for adoption. Make sure your shelter doesn't kill animals not readily adopted. The eyes can be saved if you bring them in and tame them so they will tolerate the eyes being cleaned and treated. Best, Mike

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  8. Hi, I have slowly been getting to know two feral kittens and their mother. The kittens will eat out of a spoon in my hand and I started getting them used to a trap, which they entered to eat food a number of times. I caught the shyest one first, then ten minutes later caught the brave one, only to have it escape from the trap cos I didn't latch the door properly! Do you think I will be able to trap the brave one again, especially since I had started to make friends with it? I do intend on catching the mother, TNR. Oh, by the way the kittens are over 10 weeks old. I intend on taming the kittens for adoption and getting them neutered.

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  9. Anonymous04 July, 2012

    you shouldn't have any trouble getting the brave one again if he has gone into the trap several times already to eat. That one mishap shouldn't keep him away for long. If you have the option to leave the trap out safely without it getting stolen or falling into bad hands, just tie it open again for a couple days and let him eat out of it and get his confidence back going inside. Don't leave food anywhere else. I'd get mom asap too since she may take off after her kittens are gone and get pregnant again right away. Hopefully she has a routine staying nearby and you can trap her soon too. Best, Mike

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    1. Hi Mike, thanks so much for your reply, I really appreciate it! I am very concerned about catching the mother - I know she shouldn't eat b4 surgery, but the thought of keeping her in a trap for a whole night makes me anxious for her. I wonder what you think about trapping her in the morning with newspaper under the cage with dry food sprinkled on it, so if she enters and triggers the trap straight away and I fetch her she wouldn't have really eaten anything. I've been feeding her in the cage early in the morning & I'm hoping to trap her this Friday as a ASPCA mobile neutering van is in my hood. The shy kitten in the apartment is hiding and I am just letting it be and keeping what it needs near by for now. Thanks a ton for your advice!

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    2. if keep in trap cover it it help claim them down

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  10. Anonymous04 July, 2012

    If you think you can do the morning routine that might work but you'll have no guarantee of getting her on schedule. I train cats to go into the trap for several days before trapping so I usually have good luck getting them to go all the way into the trap for just a teaspoon of tuna once they've learned the routine. Sometimes even just tuna juice on a paper towel will trick them, but you have to have "trained" them to be comfortable going in and out of the trap as explained in the blog entry above. That said, thousands of cats have done fine being trapped even three days before spay neuter and she would do fine overnight in the trap. Cover the trap with a sheet and you may even be able to give her one last good meal inside the trap up until midnight the night before (using a trap divider for safety). Either way it will be fine, but let the vet staff know if she has eaten a tiny amount that morning being trapped. They can put her last on the list for surgery so that she will digest the tiny amount and not vomit during anesthesia. It's a risk that vets take very seriously because the cat could get aspirate pneumonia if she vomits and gets liquid in her lungs. Trapping the night before is better so as not to have that additional worry on your mind. You'll probably be more upset knowing she's in the trap all night than she will be being there. Think of the end result and don't focus on her emotions, which we can't understand anyway.

    Don't let the kitten hide out and just get a free ride with food. Feed when you are in the room and take the food away when you leave. Go back as often as necessary but be there when he eats, even if it's across the room at first. Don't stare, act bored and allow him to relax around you. Then, work through the taming steps on the website print-out and in Part 2 of the taming video. Best, Mike

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  11. Hi Mike, I have been unable to catch the mother last night or this morning, since capturing the second kitten last night, I haven't seen a glimpse of her. I have another issue though..... the shy kitten is not so shy now, it is loud. I hardly slept last night as it meowed all night long, and was getting bolder and coming out and exploring the apartment, and not looking for food at all unfortunately. It is very focussed on me - meowing and staring at me all the time, coming closer to me but with no touching. I don't look at it, I talked to it a lot, then got up and tried to encourage her(?) to eat or play, and ended up completely ignoring it, but she(?) yelled all night until morning and now she is hiding and sleeping I presume to get ready for another night of blasting my ear off, she is also using a cushioned chair as a toilet and not the box I made. The thing is I have a studio apartment so we are in the same room together all the time. The bold kitten is in the bathroom, not eating, and has used the litter box. My bathroom is very small, not sure how I will be able to take a shower! I'm wondering if I should try and get both kittens in the bathroom? Sorry about the long post but any advice for this situation would be greatly appreciated, sincerely Ruth .... the loud one is up again and directly some meows my way and walking around looking for attention which I am ignoring, if only it knew that my pats, food and love wold help it so much to feel better!

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    1. Good news! After meowing circles around me this morning, 'loud' one formerly 'shy' one caved in to my designated feeding time and ate a small breakfast 4 feet away from me while I was standing with my back to her!!! I will head into the bathroom for the first training feeding session with 'brave' one, lets see if he is hungry!!

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    2. I caught mother cat this morning and took her to an ASPCA mobile unit only to find out that they don't neuter ferals, and they DO NOT say this on their website, I'm at my wits end, with the mother in a trap and trying to find someone to help her on a Saturday. I'm amazed at the lack of support here in the Bronx for feral cats. The kittens meanwhile are driving me crazy with their incessant crying all night long, I'm about ready to throw in the towel, why don't none of these feral cat websites talk about the constant crying?

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  12. Anonymous08 July, 2012

    nycferalcat.org is the place to get the info about feral friendly vets in their info section, or email info@feralcat.org. Sorry about the ASPCA mix-up, I hope they gave you info for their spay/neuter clinic in Glendale Queens that DOES do ferals. You might have gone right over there from the mobile clinic if they'd thought to tell you. HSNY (humane society) does ferals for free with their program by appointment. You may have to wait awhile for an appt but explain your dilemma and that you have the cat in the trap already and they may help you right away. Valerie at NYC Feral Cat Initiative may be able to help 212 330-0033 extension 5. Leave a message and she may be able to get you in somewhere fast so you don't have to put the mom back.

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  13. Anonymous08 July, 2012

    Ruth, Congratulations working with the kittens. I hadn't ever heard of such vocal feral kittens but putting them together should help. Showering should be fine. They will be shocked at first but the second or third time they'll just think, "oh that thing again." Email me at urbancatleague.tamingferals@gmail.com for faster replies.
    Best, Mike

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  14. Thanks so much for your replies! I'm happy to report all is well! Finally on late Sat afternoon I got a call back from the Humane Society, (after I had left 3 messages), and they took my feral mother in on Sunday morning, yay! So now she is recuperating in my apartment for a few days. The local Neighborhood Cats org. were also great and scrambled around to get me a double doored cage with a divider so I can care for her, and I think I will be in touch with those nice ladies a lot more! Mike, I have all the family together now in my apartment, everybody is happier, 'loud one' did calm down a lot, I've learned that keeping the blind down on the window helps too, and 'brave one' is not isolated in the bathroom anymore. The kittens are making huge progress, eating very close to me with my hand on the plate and 'brave one' is licking baby food from my finger as of today. I am so relieved this is all working out much better, phew. The 'loud one' is definitely a little more skittish, so small steps for it, and funny enough it's meowing started up again after training and playing session this morning, yes, they are playing with me a little! The kittens seemed kind of 'lost', wandering around the apt after all their hard work this morning, which surprised me since they were playing with toys and each other all night long keeping me awake, you would have thought they would be tired! I kitten-proofed around the fridge and the stove so their perfect refuge is gone.

    I do have a big important question: I will be with the kittens constantly the whole of July and making as much progress with them as I can, but August I am away for the whole month and I cannot alter that. 1 - Neighborhood Cats told me that I will not be able to adopt the kittens if I do this, I either have to keep them or TNR them with their mother, is this true do you think? Right now I am thinking of keeping them. 2 - if I find someone to come in and take care of them or put them in another home for a month, how much will this affect their socialization with me? Will they digress? Will they plateau? Will I be able to pick up where I left off? I'm worried about this as I know the training is so critical at this age, and that interruptions in their training is not a good scenario. Thanks again!

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  15. Anonymous09 July, 2012

    Ruth,
    I think you should be able to tame the kittens completely before August when you leave. If you work with them regularly as you are doing, they should be in your lap eating very soon. It sounds like you are following the technique closely but check back to Part 2 of the video and the print-out on the website if you hit a plateau. With any luck you should be able to foster them with a sitter in August and they will not need anything more than "maintenance" care. If they were put in a pen like the one in blog #23 they would be fine to be with a babysitter to care for them while you are away.
    http://www.socialferals.blogspot.com/2011/01/taming-pen-on-sale-january-2011.html
    I'd imagine the babysitter could safely handle them to keep up the work if you can get to that point by then. Keep me posted on the progress. Hand on the plate and eating from the finger is right on schedule. Remember not to stare at them or show much interest. Pretend to be sleepy and sit sideways to them. Let them explore you with no engagement from your side. That will allow them to confidently check you out without any fear or hesitation. Spend as much time as you can with them. When you can handle them safely you can put them in a cattery pen out in the household when you're not actively working with them. A laser light is great for rounding them up back into the pen when it's time to roll them out into the living room to watch tv with you and see what life is like with people. Then roll them back into the small room to work during feeding time. Best, Mike

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  17. Yay! The kittens are progressing fast! 'brave one' had all four paws on me today to get to that crack cocaine baby food, and also made that big step of looking at me, even 'loud one/shy one' is eating from my finger and put one six toed paw on me as well this morning. I'm completely ignoring them right now while they do whatever in the apartment. We are together all the time in my tiny studio apartment and I am working from home, so we are holed up 24/7. If I can find a sitter this cage would be ideal to keep them on track with their training. Thank-you so much for the confidence you have that they may be completely trained by August, that really helps! Ruth

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  18. this is an "unusual" case for me considering the mama is completely tame and comes in the house. the kittens are shy. looks like there are 2 - MAYBE there's a 3rd somewhere but i doubt it. i've watched the kittens feed only once (yesterday) as they've been very hidden. i'm wondering if i can feed them closer and closer to the house if they will eventually come inside to eat. the mama has already eaten inside before. i have one (large) trap, but i feel like the mama is so protective it will be very tricky. the kittens came very close to the house yesterday - right outside the door as we watched them from inside the glass.
    i recognize they would maybe get "lost" or try "hiding" in the house, however, they must come out for food eventually - and i'm thinking mom's presence may embolden them somewhat. then i can feed them in bathroom and hopefully close the door and start the socialization process asap.
    thanks,
    jackie

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  19. what i was trying to say (i lost my updates signing in) is that (as an update) the kittens are now comfortable enough in my presence to eat and play in front of me. i only have one large trap at the moment (one door). it's propped open and i've watched them play and eat in there at this point. a large part of my wanting to gradually lure them into the house is that i don't want to be attacked by mama cat. she is very, very protective of them. she won't be scared of me so much. she loves me and is very affectionate with me. please email me your response as well. thanks so much, jackie

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  20. Question:
    I have caught two 8-10 wk old kittens and mom has come and gone from the "crime scene" quite a few times now. She is not very old herself, maybe 8-9 months. When feeding this crew, mom was somewhat bullying the kittens, hissing & growling...back away from the food it's mine little one. Should I catch her now and reunite her with her kittens or keep them separated. I do not want to put them together in my bathroom if she is going to become violent towards them. Recommendations??

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    1. she trying to wean them most time they are preg again with in days or weeks while feed them most times ma eat first when them kittens

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  21. do not need ma at 8 to 10 weeks I foster them feral that is get ma soayed

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  22. that should be spayed I trap neuter ,spayed and return and set up feeding stations for 6 years now I foster to and ma should be spayed, kittens don't need ma at 8 weeks old they feed them selfs

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  23. Where Can I buy Residential Ceilings Perth and Colorbond Fencing Perth, Ceiling Insulation Perth, Gyprock Perth.

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  24. please help! I have trapped the mama cat and one of her kittens but the other has avoided the traps I've set. I don't know what to do! I've taken them to be neutered and wish to do the same with this kitten but he is so scared and shy. What can I do?

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  25. Anonymous27 June, 2014

    I got a feral female cat spayed when can I release her she has 4 kittens that are 8 weeks old

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  26. I am trying to trap 2 kittens about 3 -4 months old. I have trapped them but they both managed to escape. I want to trap them again with a more secure cage to keep them in. Will they still go into the trap or will they be wary.

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  27. Hi Mike my domestic kitty ran way and was gone for more than a month we have since found her using a trap she is home now but has become wild feral what can i do to get her back to the beautiful kitty she was....please help

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  28. Hi mike. We caught a feral cat yesterday and had an appointment to have her spayed today. The clinic failed to inform us that she was currently nursing kittens that are most likely around the 2 to 3 week mark. The vet informed us since the surgery was so difficult it was necessary to keep mom inside for a few days. I have been desperately looking for the kittens in the wooded area around out house, but have seen no sign of them. I have no idea what I should do next. Should I release mom or maybe take her out in the cage to see if she calls for them and they respond? I dont want her to get an infection from releasing her to soon, but I dont think I'll be able to recatch her and dont know if she'll lead me to the kittens. What would be your suggestion for this situation?

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  29. I have a mom and 4 kittens under my deck, the mom been with us for a week and we fed her she allows us to catch her. a few days later she brought her 4 kittens and they will never let us near them. We took the mom to get fixed and set up a live trap. While the mom was gone a kitten got trapped. We let her free, and she was no longer brave shortly after the kittens came on the deck and started to eat. That is the last we saw of them.

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