Frequently other cats, dogs, and wildlife will be attracted by the bait in your trap.  There is some risk that your pet could contract a disease from sharing food bowls with other pets or wildlife.  There is also some risk that you could attract a predator or competitor that could injure, kill or chase off your pet.  However, you have to balance this with the fact that food is also a very strong attractant, especially for a lost and hungry dog or cat.

Baiting the Trap with Food

  • Don’t skimp on the bait!  Use something that your pet would love and is preferably very smelly.  Some suggestions are rotisserie chicken or tuna in oil.
  • However, if your pet only prefers one specific food, this is probably the best bait to use.
  • The best combination is to put out some of the food that your pet is accustomed to eating and a small amount of his favorite treat.
  • Dribble a very small trail of bait from the trap entrance to the back of the trap.
  • If your food keeps freezing in cold weather, you might try switching to a dry food, preferably one that is fishy smelling and oily.
  • One suggestion for catching cats, is to tie a whole chicken leg (warmed is best) above the trap plate.  The cat will focus on this and is more likely to enter the trap.  If you use this method, make sure that the chicken is not accessible to any loose dogs.
  • If skunks are eating your food, then place the trap up on milk crates or cinder blocks.  Skunks are poor climbers and cannot jump.
  • If raccoons are eating your food, place out alternative food for the raccoons that cats don’t like such as marshmallows, fruit and peanut butter.
  • To avoid skunks and opossums, you can also place your trap up on a table as neither of these animals can jump.  However, make sure there is nothing that they can climb up on.  Make sure that the trap is secured so that it won’t fall off the table.
  • Coyotes are very shy of cage traps, so they are unlikely to enter a trap and eat the food even if they can manage to fit.  However, you can increase the safety of your trap by moving it to location that is inaccessible to coyotes such as under a porch or overturned boat.  Alternatively, you could try putting out a large bag of dog food or marrow bones to distract the coyotes, but this has the downside of attracting coyotes to the area of your trap.

Non-Food Bait Alternatives

If you are concerned about attracting other animals to your trap, you might want to try some of these non-food bait alternatives.  These alternatives may also be used in conjunction with food.  Keep in mind that your lost pet does need to find food to survive and if you do not put out food, then s/he may travel somewhere else where food is available.

  • Instead of using bait, you could try using a scent lure.
  • The most specific scent lure you can use is something that smells like your pet, another pet in your household that your pet is bonded to or something that smells like you if your pet is most strongly bonded to you.
    • Bedding
    • Fur
    • Feces (cat or dog only!):  place in the general area, but not right next to the food if you use any.  Dogs might not care but this is definitely against cat etiquette.
  • Cat specific scents:
    • These may also attract other cats and possibly bobcats.
    • Catnip – dried, essential oil, or spray.
      • Effective for most but not all cats.
      • Does not work on kittens (under 3-4 months).
      • Some brands are more effective than others.
    • Valarian root extract – available at health food stores.
    • Hawbaker’s Wildcat Lure #2 – available from trapping supplies (may attract bobcats)

Setting the Trap Immediately versus Pre-Baiting the Trap

An important decision you need to make is whether to pre-bait the trap or to set the trap immediately.  Pre-baiting involves locking the trap open and conditioning your lost pet to comfortably eat out of the trap before you set it.   An intermediate option would be to set up a feeding station with a surveillance camera, and then set the trap when you have visual confirmation that your pet is in the area.

Pros of Setting the Trap Immediately

  • You could get your pet back sooner.
  • If you catch your pet sooner, there is less risk of him/her getting injured, killed or scared out of the area.

Cons of Setting the Trap Immediately

  • Greater risk of your pet setting the trap off prematurely and escaping from the trap.  This makes catching him/her again extremely difficult.
  • Likely to capture many non-target animals.
  • If your pet sees other animals caught in the trap, s/he may become trap shy.
  • Very labor intensive and you could burn yourself out before your pet enters the trap.

Pros of Pre-Baiting

  • Trapping is very labor intensive.  By pre-baiting you avoid burning yourself out before you trap your pet.
  • Less chance of your pet setting the trap off prematurely and escaping.
  • You could condition your pet to eat out of the trap at a certain time.  This would reduce the amount of time that you need to monitor the trap once it’s set and also reduce the amount of time that your pet spends in the trap.

Cons of Pre-Baiting

  • It may take longer to catch your pet, and the longer s/he is loose, the greater the chance of him/her getting injured, killed or chased out of the area.
  • The longer a bait station is set, the more wildlife and other animals that may be attracted to the area.

How to Effectively Pre-Bait a Trap

  • When the trap is not set, use either a padlock to lock the trap door open or remove the rear door of the trap, so that the trap is not accidentally or intentionally closed without your knowledge.  A bungee cord or twine may also be used, but it is less secure.
  • If you are pre-baiting the trap and all your food is being eaten, try using a dry food dispenser in conjunction with smaller amounts of smelly attracting baits.  You could also puncture holes in a tuna can and secure this to a tree for a continuous bait odor that isn’t consumed.  This will need to be replaced when it becomes rancid.
  • If possible, place the food out at the same time(s) each day or night.  This may condition your pet to show up when the food is first placed out.
  • Start with the food in a plate or bowl about one foot from the trap entrance.  If you have any reason to believe that your pet would be fearful of the trap, then start with your food several feet away.
  • Each night that the food is eaten, move it a foot closer to the trap.  Then slowly start to move the food farther into the trap.  It may take 4-5 days to move the food from the front to the back of the trap.
  • If any night the food is not eaten, then move the food six inches away from the trap or towards the trap entrance (if the food is already in the trap).
  • This process is a lot more effective if you can verify that the animal eating the food is in fact your pet.  A surveillance or wildlife camera is the best option.  However, you can also try collecting tracks or fur samples to help determine if your pet is around.  You can try distributing a layer of sand around the trap entrance to check for cat tracks.  To collect fur samples, try taping a piece of white ConTact paper or a lint roller sheet to the entrance of the trap.