The Secret to Catching a Skittish Cat

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If you need to catch a cat—like an outdoor cat who's afraid, a housecat who's been separated from their owner, or a stray or feral cat that needs medical attention—follow these tips so you can capture Kitty safely.

Wondering what to do if you've found an outdoor cat? If you suspect the kitty has been separated from his owner, or if she's a stray that needs medical attention, it's critical you find a safe way to catch her and get her the help she needs. But luring and catching a cat—especially one who's afraid of humans or feral—can be tricky. We teamed up with the ASPCA to share some tips on what to do if you've discovered a cat who's less than thrilled about getting in a crate or being picked up.


You’ve Discovered a Stray Cat…Now What?

The first step is to identify what she may need. Maybe you're her owner, but she won't come to you because she's scared. If your cat is not familiar with the outdoors, all of the new stimulants can make her confused or nervous. In other cases, there could be a stray or feral cat in the area that requires medical attention, such as spaying or neutering before she's released back into the community. But because you need to be cautious with any unknown felines that could have contagious diseases, this method won't require you to pick up or handle the cat in any way.

How to Bring The Cat Out of Hiding

In the area you've seen the cat, choose a location that's secluded—somewhere quiet and with few distractions. Samantha Nigbur, ASPCA Behavioral Sciences Team Counselor, says that you'll probably need to lure them out into the open using food. It will probably take several days prior to actually catching the cat, but Nigbur says you can try to win the cat over by feeding her consistently in your presence.

"Feed the cat at the same time every day so she learns to come at this time," Nigbur says. Leave the same dish of food in the same exact spot every day, and as the kitty becomes more trusting she should start to visit the area more often. As you put the food out at the same time every day, the cat will notice and begin to come around when she's expecting a snack. Dry cat food certainly works to get their attention, but wet food might be even more enticing. Try out baby food, catnip, sardines, anchovies, or cooked chicken. The smellier the treats, the quicker she'll learn.

How to Catch the Cat

For this part, you'll need a cat carrier or kennel of some kind (try these before resorting to a trap). Once kitty is hooked on the daily food, try leaving the carrier near the feeding station. Over time, begin to move the food closer and closer to the carrier and observe to make sure the cat is still comfortable. Start to move the bowl a few inches every meal, until it's settled all the way inside the kennel. Once the cat's full body enters the carrier, shut the door and cover it with a towel to keep her calm. Bring the cat to a safe location until you're able to see a vet.

"If luring the cat into a carrier is unsuccessful, you can work with a local TNRM (Trap-Neuter-Return-Monitor) program or your local shelter to access a trap and get training on how to set it up," Nigbur says. "Since cats can become injured or medically compromised if kept in a trap inappropriately, it's important to follow TNRM recommendations on trapping."

Once you've got kitty safe and sound in the crate, bring her to the vet immediately. They'll be able to check for a microchip to find the owner, if the cat has one. If not, they will administer any medical care, spay or neuter the cat if needed, and release it back outdoors post-recovery.

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