How to Humanely Trap Animals for Rescue or TNVR

Black-and-white feral cat hiding under bushes, who will be humanely trapped for TNVR and then returned to his outdoor cat colony

There are two reasons why you might want to learn how to use humane traps for animals:

  • To rescue animals in danger: If you are rescuing animals, you should be aware that they will require at least basic medical care and might need more extensive treatment. They might have diseases, injuries, or major behavior challenges.
  • For trap-neuter-vaccinate-return (TNVR): If you get involved in a TNVR program for community cats, you’ll need to know how to successfully trap the cats to transport them to a veterinarian for spay/neuter surgery and vaccinations.

Before becoming involved in humanely trapping animals, consider what you’ll be getting into: You will be the guardian (either temporarily or permanently) of an animal who might not have the social skills for living in our human world. Once trapped, an unsocialized animal will most likely be terrified and might thrash about in the trap trying to escape. 

If your plan is to have the animal live with people as a pet, you should know that some animals need a great deal of time and attention before adoption can take place. Of course, some strays might eventually become wonderful family pets — which is possibly what they once were. However, keep in mind that animals who have never been socialized to humans might remain feral and might never become adoptable.

If you intend to trap a community cat (also referred to as stray or feral cats), consider what is in the best interest of the animal. These cats might have people in the community who are taking care of them and would miss them if they were gone. In most cases, if community cats appear to be healthy and are not in imminent danger, we recommend providing TNVR and returning them to their outdoor homes.

Humane animal trap safety

“Safety first” should be your mantra when it comes to humane animal traps. Bites and scratches can lead to infection, so be careful and be prepared. While they might look harmless, even young animals can inflict serious bites. Learn first aid for yourself and others, including emergency aid for injured animals prior to transport to a veterinarian.

Also, read up on zoonoses (diseases that can be passed from animals to people) and seek medical attention if you become ill. Zoonoses include internal parasites, such as roundworms and hookworms, and external parasites, such as fleas and ticks (which can carry Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever). Other diseases transmissible to humans include ringworm (a fungal disease) and rabies and encephalitis (viral diseases). More information about zoonotic diseases can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website (search for “zoonoses”).

You should also learn about diseases and conditions that are transmissible to other animals, including parvovirus, canine distemper, feline panleukopenia, feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), feline leukemia (FeLV), rabies, hantavirus, canine transmissible venereal tumors (CTVT), heartworm, and mange. The American Veterinary Medical Association has excellent information about several of these conditions on their website:

Enlisting help

Don’t try to do it all yourself; get other people involved. For one thing, traps are heavy once an animal is inside, so you might need help carrying the traps. Also, to socialize animals who are lacking social skills, you’ll want to have people and other animals around to model healthy behavior. 

Placing animals who have medical or behavior challenges, training your foster volunteers and adopters, helping the rescued animals long term — all these tasks are a lot more manageable if you have a team of people working together toward a common goal.

You might want to contact local wildlife management and animal services personnel, too, as they can be helpful if you have any questions or concerns. They might also be working on the same goal or know of other people involved.

Getting started

Here’s a list of items you’ll need for humane trapping:

  • Humane animal traps sized for the animals you are going to trap
  • Towels to cover the trap if you’ll be trapping cats
  • Blankets for covering larger traps
  • Newspaper or other absorbent material to line the inside of the trap
  • Work gloves for protection
  • Exam gloves to wear anytime surfaces might be contaminated
  • First-aid kit
  • Antibacterial hand sanitizer
  • Disinfectant, bactericide, and virucide cleaner to use on all surfaces and as a foot bath (read the labels carefully to find out how to use them)
  • Washable liner, such as a plastic tarp, to put in your vehicle under the trap

Traps can be purchased online; Tomahawk Live Trap at is a good source. Other tools that can be helpful include throw nets, animal catchpoles, and fence panels and gates to create a small, free-standing pen. Gates can also be used as squeeze boxes and shields if necessary. For the safety of yourself and the animals, learn how to use all tools properly.

Setting the trap

Before setting the trap, make sure it works. Here are the steps for testing
the trap:

  1. Set up the trap on a level surface.
  2. Place newspaper inside the trap for comfortable footing once the animal is inside.
  3. Hold the door open.
  4. Set your bait (wet food) behind the trip plate. Put the food directly on the newspaper lining instead of in a can or on a plate. (The reason for this is that some animals will walk in, pick up the can or plate, and walk out without springing the trap. Also, cans and plates can get in the way of the trapping mechanisms.) 
  5. While holding the door open, set the door with the trip pin/rod.
  6. Apply pressure to the trip plate to spring the door.
  7. You can adjust the pressure needed by changing your pin/rod setting on the door.

Before going out to set a trap, go through your checklist of necessary items and make sure you have everything. It’s also a good idea to carry a cellphone, along with a list of phone numbers you might need.

If you are unsuccessful at trapping an animal within 48 hours, try putting a trail of kibble outside the trap, leading to the open door. But don’t put out too much food. If too much food or high-value food is given outside the trap, trapping will be a challenge. Leaving water outside the trap also might help lure the animal in.

Once you have the animal in the trap, keep in mind that the experience is probably very frightening for the animal. Wear your protective gloves in case the animal tries to bite through the trap. Covering the trap before lifting it might help prevent the animal from thrashing about in a panic, trying to escape.

Do not open the door unless you are releasing an unwanted animal. Carry the trap to a secure place (ideally to your veterinarian’s office) before opening the trap.

For more on cat TNVR

If you’re trapping community cats for the purpose of sterilizing them, vaccinating them, and then returning them to their neighborhoods, you’ll need a lot more information. Below are some additional Best Friends Animal Society resources. Alley Cat Allies ( also contains a wealth of resources.