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Preparing the Trap

Supplies Needed: cardboard or newspaper, a towel or sheet (preferably dark colored), scissors or a box cutter, and twine, tape, or zip-ties, and in wet weather, a tarp, trash bag, or shower curtain.  Of course, don’t forget the bait.

  • Most pets do not like to walk on wire.  Use cardboard or newspaper to line the trap floor.  Be aware that you will probably need to change the trap lining after every animal that you catch because they will likely destroy it while trying to escape.
    • Trap set with cardboard. Note that it does not touch the trip plate.

      If using cardboard, make sure that you cut it small enough that it does not touch the trip plate and it does not prevent the trap door from closing properly.  This is very important because either mistake could cause your pet to escape the trap, and s/he will likely be much more difficult to trap a second time.  To prevent the cardboard from moving around, you could secure it to the bottom of the trap with twine, tape or zip-ties.

    • If using newspaper, take at least 3-4 sheets, fold them over and tape
      Trap lined with newspaper. Note that it is okay if it covers the trip plate.

      them together.  It is okay if the newspaper covers the trip plate and it is unlikely to interfere with the trap door.  The downside of newspaper is that it is more likely to blow in the wind and deteriorates quickly when damp.

    • Puppy pee pads are another good trap liner.
    • Some people choose to put a towel or cloth in the trap.  If you elect to do this, remember that you may need to replace this after every animal that you catch.  Towels also have an increased risk of getting caught in the trap door.
    • Another option is to line the bottom of the trap with dirt, pine needles, grass or leaves from the surrounding environment.  Note that some pets may be sensitive about walking on dry leaves, but in general this is a very effective method.  You just need to make sure that the trap still operates smoothly and no debris gets caught under the trip plate or in the trap door.
  • Cats are generally more comfortable entering a trap that looks like a tunnel (i.e. covered on the top and sides but open in back).  Dogs, on the other hand, may find a covered trap too confining to enter.  Only cover dog traps if you know your dog is comfortable in a confined space and/or it is likely to rain.
    • Cover the trap with a towel, sheet or blanket.  Only cover the top and
      Trap covered with towel. Note that back is left uncovered.

      sides and not the back of the trap.  Dark colors are better since they are less likely to attract human attention.  Ideally the towel or blanket should smell like the lost pet’s home.  For cats it is best to use something that smells like the lost cat while dogs are often attracted to something that smells like their owner or other dogs in the household.

    • If there is the chance of rain, you will want to either place the trap in a dry location or cover it with something waterproof like a tarp, trash bag (preferably heavy duty and unscented), or a shower curtain.  Place this under the towel or sheet so it does not make noise when rained on.  It is also very important that the cover is secured so it does not move in the wind.
  • Consider creating a small sign that describes what you are doing (Sample text:  “Please do not disturb.  Trapping lost cat.  For more information, please call 555-5555.”)  Laminate, tape or place in a page protector and attach near or on the trap.

Selecting a Location

  • Preferably place the trap where it is not in view of the general public.
  • Get your neighbor’s permission before trapping on their property.
  • Trap set up near point of escape for indoor-only cat.

    Do not place the trap in an open area.  Skittish pets prefer to stay under cover.  Good locations are along the edge of woods with dense undergrowth, under a porch or next to a building.  Try to blend the trap into the environment so that it isn’t too obvious.  However, most cats and many dogs will enter a trap that is only lightly camouflaged.  For an escaped indoor-only cat, a good location is adjacent to where they got outside.

  • Make sure that the ground is level and the trap does not wobble.
  • Use a chain or bike lock to secure your trap to a tree or other secure object so that no one takes your trap.
  • Plastic bowls or cans may be dangerous to a panicked, trapped animal.  Instead use  paper plates or folded newspaper to hold the bait.
  • If the trap has a rear door, make sure it is secured shut so it won’t accidentally open.

Setting the Trap

  • If possible, do not leave the trap unsupervised while set.  If you must leave the trap unsupervised (and usually this is the case), be sure to check the trap every 2-4 hours in good weather.
  • In hot weather, always place the trap in the shade and cover with a sheet or towel.  Consider providing water.  Check the trap more frequently.
  • In cold weather, add a warming device such as the SnuggleSafe Pet Heating Pad.  In this case, you may need to add a towel or cloth for added warmth.  Check the trap more frequently.
  • If possible, alarm the trap so that you will be alerted as soon as an animal is caught.  See the section on Trap Alarms for more information.
  • Check the pressure required to set off the trap.  Preferably set the trap at the lightest level possible where it won’t accidentally go off if an animal bumps into or paws at the trap.  To test this, set the trap on very light pressure, and then lightly hit the sides of the trap several times.
  • Make sure that anything you have placed inside the trap (such as cardboard or a food bowl) does not interfere with the door closing or the trip-plate being pushed down.
  • Make sure that you have a plan for releasing wildlife when you set the trap.  Don’t wait until you have a skunk in your trap to figure out how to get it out without getting sprayed!

Online Resources

For step-by-step instructions on how to actually set the trap (i.e. exactly how to raise the door and set the trigger), visit Alley Cat Allies.  They have instructions for the two most popular types of trap doors.