How to Catch a Cat

There are many reasons someone might want to catch a cat: Your own cat slipped out the door. The neighbor’s cat keeps digging in your yard or leaving paw prints on your car. A stray keeps coming around. You see an injured cat lurking around town and you would like to help him.

"Catching" a cat, however, is a bit of a misnomer, as it's more about luring than chasing. Even catching fish involves lures, or bait. No one can swim fast enough to overcome a fish and then grab it. Similarly, a cat can run faster than you can, so why bother?

Each situation commands a different method of capture. But one approach rarely, if ever works: Don't run. It's amazing how many people do exactly that, then wonder why they can't catch the cat! Just remember: Who has the most legs?

If the cat is:

Tame - Get down on the cat's level and try to make eye contact. If she looks at you, lower your eyes a little or look to the side, then blink. Staring at her is construed as intimidating. Speak softly. Try calling her: "Here kitty, kitty." It seems trite, but this works well fairly often. Extend your hand with one or two fingers pointing. Wiggle the tip of your finger. Cats are curious and may actually come over to see what you have. That's your opportunity to gently scoop her up in your arms and carry her back into the house, for example.

If that doesn't work, try a piece of something tempting - a morsel of fish or beef, perhaps - as bait. Remember the fish? Or play into your cat’s prey instincts. Try dragging a stick or a string to engage her in a chase.

Semi-tame - These cats include those that have had limited experience with you or other humans. They may trust you, or they may not. Perhaps this one is the neighbor's cat, and they just feed the poor thing at the back door. This one isn't accustomed to being petted, so isn't going to happily leap into your arms, as a rule. Get some bait right away. However, if he won't take it from you, or very near you, you will have to use the bait to make the cat go into an area that you can control. This could be a garage, a shed, or even onto your back porch. Close the door immediately, but not loudly. You don't want to scare him away again. But if this doesn't work, you may have to use a trap.

Wild - Feral cats are those that have been raised near humans but do not trust us, for various reasons. Wild cats are those that have been raised away from humans and may not know what kind of animal we are. They do not trust us either. The only way to catch one is to trap it.

Trap Pointers:

Placement: So much depends on the cat. Even if your own, laid back, tame kitty gets freaked, you may have to resort to a trap. Place the trap in a location the cat frequents. If kitty is put off by the appearance of the trap, drape a blanket, towel or tarp over it. I recommend a cover in cold weather anyway, no matter what the situation. Setting the trap under a hedge or bush can help camouflage it also.

Setting: Some traps have obvious spring devices. Some do not. In any case, if you're not familiar with trapping, ask someone with experience for advice. The owner of a trap you borrow should show you how to set it.

Bait: In a nutshell, the smellier the better. Don't expect any action if you put ordinary, dry cat food in the trap. Not that this hasn't worked for those desperate souls who are starving, but if you're after a healthy, strong, savvy cat, your bait had better be primo stuff. It could be canned cat food, canned fish, fresh table scraps of meat, or a dish of fish oil. Remember this too: The cat isn't going to be living in there, so don't put down enough food for a week. A bite, a morsel, is sufficient. Just enough to create an enticing odor the kitty can't resist inspecting.

Safety: Never reach into the trap with your hand. Do not try to hold the cat by the nape of the neck. Do not try to transfer the cat out of the trap into a cage or crate while outdoors. Try to execute a transfer in a small, enclosed space, very carefully. Unless the cat is very weak due to injury or starvation or disease, they are very agile, athletic, amazingly strong during stress, and are excellent escape artists. They also are frightened in this situation and are very willing to bite you as hard as they can. Remember their agility: They can "turn themselves inside out" to defend themselves, which you will regard as an attack. My arm has been shredded a few times, so I guess you could say I've learned the hard way how to handle them.

Timeliness: One of the very worst, horrible things a person could do is to trap a cat, then forget him. This can happen if you set a trap and forget to check it often. You might capture one right away, or it could take a few days. You owe it to the cat to get him out of the trap as soon as possible and tend to the purpose of his capture right away.

One last pointer: If your attempt to capture fails, you may never get another opportunity. Cats have great memories for things like this.

Also, now that you have the cat, what was it you wanted to do?

Copyright © 2009 - Dr. RJ Peters 
The Problem Cat