With care, trapping can be done humanely in winter, and indeed, cats are easier to find in winter, because they can be tracked. In fact, kittens and injured cats may not survive winter conditions, and waiting until spring simply isn't an option. Situations involving human health, for example, a colony that has had cats come down with rabies, cannot be ignored until the weather is better.
Very special care is required if cats are being neutered and returned. Cats must be caged indoors for at least three days for a male, and five days for a female, after neutering before releasing the cat back into the cold. Anesthesia depresses a cat's system, and they will more easily die of hypothermia if simply dumped back into the cold after surgery.
We also feel that EVERY every cat requires and deserves shelter. Cats are not wild animals. They cannot dig dens as most nonclimbing wild animals do. They do not shelter in tree holes, as most climbing wild animals do. They will not share ground dens with other species, as many wild animals do. Cats cannot build their own shelter, therefore it must be provided for them. In our opinion, there is absolutely no exception to this.
If the cat does not have a shed or other building available, a shelter must be built for it. Even when a shed or building is available, a sleeping box should be provided as well. "Humane care" does not just mean keeping animals alive. It means permitting them some level of enjoyment and comfort in life, as well. If a cat is miserably cold for six months out of each year, this is not humane care.
HOW TRAPPING IN WINTER DIFFERS FROM SUMMER TRAPPING.
Look for cat tracks and determine where cats are travelling. Pick the most sheltered spot where you find tracks, and begin to prebait at that spot with dry cat food. If your normal site to feed your cats is out in the open, you will need to slowly move that site to a more sheltered
Monitor tracks to note when the cat is visiting the food.
Wrap the trap in a good quality sheet. The sheet should go all the way around the trap, twice, and all sides, except the trap door, should be covered. This includes the bottom. Make sure there is a bit of a flap of sheet at the trap door end, that will fall down over that end when the trap door is tripped by the cat.
Cut a pieces of plastic (or garbage bag) and lay that under where the trap is going to be set. Don't let large pieces stick out from under the trap. They will flap in the wind and frighten the cat away. In the photo at top you can just barely see the clear plastic garbage bag under the trap.
Bait the wrapped trap with dry cat food in a small bowl behind the pan, and add a few drops of fish oil or cod liver oil. Wet food will simply freeze in cold weather, and will not smell. If you know that the cat visits the spot every day at 4:00 pm, then by all means use wet food and set your trap at 3:00 pm. But if the cat might not show up for hours, use dry food and fish oil.
Set the trap on the plastic, in your sheltered spot out of the wind. You can create a sheltered spot by leaning a piece of plywood against a building, if needed. Make sure the trap is positioned so that wind does not blow into the open trap door. If there is snow, push some up against the sides of the trap a little bit, to keep the cover from flapping in the wind.
Make sure to put your lead-in bait in the trap to encourage the cat to go inside.
When trapped, the sheet will fall down over the door a bit, cutting the wind. The plastic will keep the snow from melting under the cat when it curls up to keep warm, keeping the cat dry. The sheet will cut the wind, providing far more shelter than the cat had while wandering exposed.
Trap boxes are wonderful in winter. Click Here to see a Trapbox
We trap in winter. In fact, sometimes I purposely wait until the first snow to trap, if I am not sure how many cats there may be. We set traps just after dark, and check them at 4 hour intervals if they are far from home. If the cat is protected from the cold and wet and the trap is out of the wind the cat is more protected in the trap than it was when it was outside the trap.
Traps should always be set out of public view; always post signs with your phone number, since your trap tag will be covered by the sheet.
From a distance, traps covered with a white sheet are very hard to see in the snow.
ADVANTAGES TO TRAPPING IN WINTER:
It is less likely that you will catch wildlife, so traps can remain out at night, to catch extremely shy cats that do not frequent the site during the day.
You can monitor numbers by watching tracks.
You can remove all cats and verify they are gone by the lack of tracks, if your aim is the entire removal of a colony. Or if you are spaying/neutering, trap all the cats at once and hold them, caged, until all the cats are caught (no more tracks) and then let them all go at once, once recovered from s/n. This is, of course, only an option if you have enough money to s/n all the cats at one time, and have space to hold them. Much depends on the number of cats you are dealing with. However, if you think you have only one or two cats, winter is an ideal time to trap. If you catch two, but find new tracks the next day, then you now know you have at least three cats instead of just two, and trapping should continue.
The cats are neutered or removed for socialization BEFORE SPRING and breeding season.
If cats are to be returned to the site, they will be wormed, etc. and are more likely to survive the winter.
Questions on winter trapping? Email me and I'll be happy to answer them.
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