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How to Catch a Stray Kitten Safely & Humanely: 10 Vet-Approved Tips

Chris Dinesen Rogers

By Chris Dinesen Rogers

stray kittens hiding in an enclosed place

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Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Amanda Charles

Veterinarian, BVSc GPCert (Derm) MRCVS

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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An estimated 32 million feral cats 1 live in the United States, although many consider that a gross understatement, putting the number likely over 60 million 2. While some may consider them a pest solution for rodents, these animals bring their own baggage to the table with zoonotic or diseases transferable to humans, conflicts with other pets, and devastating losses to wild bird populations.

A stray kitten is vulnerable to many threats, from other cats to predators to vehicles. A cat of this age may not have the necessary street smarts to survive. Catching a seemingly homeless kitty is more like an act of mercy than dealing with a nuisance animal. However, it’s not as easy as it may sound. A feral animal is probably more fearful and more likely to bite and scratch, so caution is imperative.

Before You Begin

We strongly urge you to consider trapping versus capturing a stray kitten, unless they are very young. If you’re unsuccessful, the animal will be on high alert, making a second attempt nothing short of impossible. There’s also a risk of injury. Kitten claws and teeth are surprisingly sharp and can do some significant damage. Remember that you’re dealing with a frightened animal that will defend itself when necessary.

It’s worth noting you’re also probably dealing with a cat that hasn’t been vaccinated or been dewormed. It may also have parasites that can pose health risks to you and your family. Trapping keeps a safe distance between you and the kitten before you can get it to the vet or a shelter.

abandoned kittens in the street
Image Credit: Andrii A, Shutterstock

The 10 Vet-Approved Tips on How to Catch a Stray Kitten Safely & Humanely

Some people “rescue” animals that don’t need help. Think of baby bunnies that some get from the wild that are actually weaned and ready to strike off on their own. The same caution applies to kittens, although the mother may still be in the area. Cats are born altricial 3 or helpless at birth. Their eyes are closed, and they need their mother to feed and care for them. It benefits both the kittens and the mother.

She can hunt and leave her offspring alone. Our first tip is to make sure that isn’t the case with the stray you’ve noticed. We suggest looking at the kitten and their surroundings. An animal that is clean, plump and in a safe place is probably being fed by their mother and may not need your intervention straight away.

Our second tip is to listen to the kitten. An animal in distress makes a different sound than one that is simply waiting for their mother to return. Some experts have theorized that purring is a disguised cry 4 that females can detect. However, while purring is one thing, a loud scream is another matter. Kittens that are hungry because they have been abandoned will usually cry continuously.

Our third tip cautions you to wear gloves when handling the cage, assuming you’re successful. Covering it with a blanket or tarp may also calm the kitten when transporting it to a rescue center or vet. Always err on the side of caution when dealing with feral kittens.

1. Reach Out to Your Neighbors

Before you do anything, we suggest you reach out to your neighbors to see if anyone knows anything about the stray. Your efforts might be for naught if the kitten already has a home. You can contact the local shelters and vet clinics to report the animal. Some websites or newspapers may publish free ads describing found pets. This simple step will avoid unduly stressing the cat.

an elderly woman talking with a young man
Image Credit: RealPeopleStudio, Shutterstock

2. Observe the Kitten’s Movements and Habits

Cats follow routines and visit the same places they’ve found to be safe. Watch the stray and determine their habits. That will make trap placement easier by learning where the kitten is most likely to visit any given day.

3. Select a Large Trap Meant for Capturing Cats

Make sure to get a trap large enough to hold a cat and one meant for capturing these animals safely. The last thing you want is to hurt the kitten when you’re trying to help it. Manufacturers typically provide this information to make your choice straightforward.

4. Cover Up the Trap With Natural Materials

A stainless-steel cage is going to stand out like nobody’s business. Cats are wary of new things in their environment. You can go a long way in overcoming this hesitancy by making the trap look as natural as possible. Cover it with a cloth or burlap and natural material, like leaves and sticks. It will also make the trap smell more like the great outdoors.

kittens in cage in a shelter
Image Credit: Okssi, Shutterstock

5. Set Out the Unset Trap for a Few Days

Success isn’t simply a matter of setting out a trap and hoping an unsuspecting stray kitten will wander inside it. It’s far better to leave the unset trap outside and undisturbed for a few days. The cat’s natural curiosity will lure them to explore it. It will also make them less wary of this new thing in their territory.

6. Choose an Enticing Bait

A stray kitten is likely hungry, too. An enticing and preferably smelly bait will lure the most finicky cat to check out the goods. Canned cat food is an excellent choice that may get the animal inside the trap by breaking down its natural defenses. After all, felines are highly food motivated.

7. Cover the Trigger Mechanism

You’ll likely have one decent attempt at trapping the stray kitten. Make the most of it by covering the trigger mechanism to force the animal to set off the trap. You can use sticks or other materials to ensure the cat must step on it and close the door to escape. The manufacturer will likely include tips about bait placement to ensure success. Location is everything.

orange tabby kitten in the cage
Image Credit: Melissa Sue, Shutterstock

8. Put Out a Food Trail Leading to the Trap

Sometimes, younger animals need a nudge to lead them in the right direction. A food trail can accomplish this goal with the promise of a reward at the end. Perhaps that’s one of the most humane things about trapping a stray kitten—they get fed. You might also consider putting out a small water bowl to ensure all their needs are met.

9. Be Patient

It’s essential to be patient when trying to trap a stray kitten. The animal has probably been through an ordeal already. Their caution is a lifesaver, even if it applies to the rescue you have in mind. Remember that the cat may be doing the same thing you did when you set out on this venture—waiting and observing. We also suggest checking the trap daily for other critters that might not have been as wary.

10. Change Locations, Then Rinse and Repeat

If all else fails, you can try moving the location of the trap and repeating the task using the same precautions. Sometimes, it’s a matter of being at the right place at the right time. You might even experiment with different baits to find one that is truly irresistible. After all, felines have discriminating tastes.

Additional Info

Final Thoughts

Catching a stray kitten is a humane act to save an animal that might otherwise not survive the trials of life outdoors. A cat is instinctively cautious, which can make this task challenging. However, it’s worth the effort if it will spare the kitty from pain and discomfort. Nevertheless, patience is the secret sauce for success. Once you have captured the kitten, take them to a rescue shelter or vet for a checkover.

Featured Image Credit: wini021, Pixabay

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