Anyone who has ever set up a feeding station, knows that it is nearly impossible to avoid attracting wildlife, especially raccoons, skunks and opossums. Nothing I have tried is highly effective, but here are some options to try.
An Elevated Feeding Station
One of the more effective methods is placing the food up on a platform or table. Even a 12 inch table may prevent skunks from eating your food since they are very poor climbers and cannot jump. A higher table may work to prevent raccoons or opossums since they cannot jump. However, you have to make sure that there isn’t any way for them to climb up. Obviously, this higher table only works for lost cats.
Here is an example of a raccoon-proof feeding station designed for feral cats.
Feed the Wildlife Alternative Foods
Some people give up on avoiding wildlife and instead place out some alternative foods to try and keep them from eating all of the cat or dog food. These should be placed within 10 feet of the actual feeding station and must include foods that the lost pet would be less interested in eating. Suggestions for raccoons include marshmallows, fruit and peanut butter. Some people in the Missing Cat Assistance Yahoo! Group, have found that marshmallow and peanut-butter sandwiches are very attractive to raccoons. However, I think that they have also found that this only dissuades the raccoons for so long and then they switch over and eat the cat food too.
Limit the Amount of Time the Food is Available
If you are getting sightings of your lost dog or cat during the day, then you might choose to only put food out during the day. This generally limits the attracted wildlife to birds and squirrels, which are more likely to be an attractant to a lost cat. Alternatively, you could also only provide the food at night for a few hours. The most effective method would be to put the food out an hour before sunrise and then pick it up again a few hours after sunset.
The last thing most people want to see show up at their feeding station is a large predator such as a coyote. However, if they just show up one night or don’t appear attracted to the food, they generally are not a concern. Research has shown that many coyotes are actually fearful of trail cameras (even infrared ones), so if you are using one of these for surveillance you will hopefully have limited coyote visits. On the other hand, if they show up for several nights in a row and are eating your food, then you might consider moving your feeding station. One option is to move it into a partially enclosed space such as a shed or inside a (locked open) trap, which the coyote cannot fit inside.
Foxes are generally less of a concern though they may still scare a cat or small dog away from the food. Seeing some foxes is actually a good sign because they generally establish their territories in areas with fewer coyotes or between coyote territories.
Don’t Transport Wildlife
It is against the law in most states to capture and transport nuisance wildlife to a new location.