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The Best Bait for Feral Cats (Humane Only!)

The Best Bait for Feral Cats GraphicThere is always some discussion on what bait to use to catch the most cats during Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR).  Even if you’ve been at trapping awhile, it’s always nice to hear what other people think is the best bait for feral cats!

I know I personally love hearing the innovative ways people have encouraged the most cautious cats to enter traps.  We all have that one wily cat that won’t enter a trap no matter what you do!  (I STILL have one that I’m trying to earn his trust regarding food at least!)

No, you don’t need to buy fancy cat bait on the internet!

I’ve put together a list of the best bait for feral cats by scouring the internet, posting a question on Instagram and Facebook, AND from my own experience!

Smelly Food!

This is the most common and well-known way of baiting a TNR trap for cats.

Personally, I always make sure to have traps with DIFFERENT types of food bait.  I learned the hard way during my first TNR experience that some cats do not like fish and will not be interested enough in it to enter the scary-looking trap. But when I switched back to chicken, I caught the elusive cats immediately!  Cats all have different tastes, so be sure to pack at least two very different food baits:  One fish and one non-fish, at least.

So what types of food make good bait?  Anything that smells really good to the cat.  The more fragrant, the better.

Common Cat Bait Foods:

  • Cooked chicken
  • Canned chicken
  • Sardines (in oil) (or Mackrel or Anchovies too!)
  • Tuna (in oil)
  • Pink Salmon
  • Lunchmeat
  • Wet or dry cat food
  • Chicken baby food (no onions)
  • Fresh fish

Fried Chicken Drumstick

Apparently, though, KFC’s original chicken recipe works the best!  As in, tie up an entire drumstick at the back of a trap and it will catch the wiliest cat.  Supposedly, the skin is irresistible to cats. I have had the best luck with chicken bait myself, but this particular trick is definitely worth trying!

Warning: Please consider using really small pieces of fish instead of the whole sardine.  Apparently, a trapper once had a cat choke to death on a sardine after the trap scared the heck out of the kitty!  Super LARGE pieces would work or super small to avoid this problem.

Non-Food Bait

If the way to a cat’s heart is not her stomach, you may want to try:

  • Catnip or catnip oil
  • Silvervine
  • Valerian root

As all cat lovers know, some kitties love their nip.  The ones who don’t respond to catnip may respond to silvervine or valerian root.  There are several types of catnip/silvervine or catnip/valerian root blends online!

Of course, you may have a cat that doesn’t respond to ANY of those, so always use food as well.

Laser Pointers!

You heard me.  If you can get a cat to chase the little red dot, you can lead him straight into the humane cat trap.  I have yet to try this one, but it is on my todo list for the next time I trap!

Really Big Laser Pointer

Trapping Tips!

  • Set a feeding schedule so the cats know when it is time to be fed.
  • Do not feed 24 hours before you trap.
  • If one type of bait doesn’t work, try two or even three!
  • Use fish and nonfish in different traps in different locations!  Variety helps!
  • Leave a trail of fish oil or treats leading up to the bait inside the trap (some trappers start outside the trap, some start the trail just inside the trap)
  • Try covering the bottom of the trap with newspaper, puppy pads, or even dirt!  Be sure to not cover the trigger plate!
  • Don’t use chemicals to clean out the trap as some cats are put off by the smell
  • Camouflage and covering a trap may work to entice more cautious kitties into taking the bait
  • Sometimes the smell of humans on a trap could put a cat off!  Try rubbing the trap itself with catnip or dirt to replace the smell or spray with catnip oil around the trap itself.
  • If your bait isn’t smelly enough, a few seconds in a microwave can help that!

It has been suggested by many TNR groups that you should acclimate your cats to being fed in traps.  I disagree!  So does a study by the American Veterinary Medical Association. It does not improve the success rate and simply increases the time and cost of a TNR project.  But if you want to do it that way, you’re welcome to.

Cat Trapping Don’tsScared Tabby Cat in a Humane Live Trap

Do not use these bait suggestions for any other purpose than to humanely trap them in an approved trap. Or a drop trap in certain situations can be used. Do not try to catch cats in nets, carriers, bags, boxes, or other unsafe methods.

Please remember, this post is to be used for the humane LIVE trapping of feral and community cats for the purpose of Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) or relocation, if necessary.

If feral and community cats are a nuisance or destroying your property, please consider contacting your local feral cat rescue group who can help TNR the cats, which WILL reduce the behaviors that are upsetting you. Or if the problem is bad enough, they can help you protect your property with humane deterrents designed for cats or help you discuss with your neighbors a better location for feeding.  And in extreme situations, they may be able to find a new outdoor home for them, such as a barn or farm.

Do not poison, shoot, or set up dangerous kill traps for cats. Poison is NOT a humane way of getting rid of feral cats! Not only is it cruel to the cat, you put wildlife in danger of being poisoned as well, which can also be illegal. Killing a cat is illegal in all 50 states and only a few states have laws allowing the killing of feral cats at all.  Killing cats is immoral and horribly cruel.

Do not trap cats to dump them elsewhere.  This is a cruel and monstrous practice some people use instead of killing them and it is NOT much better!  They are often scared, lost and try to make their way back to their home territory only to die being eaten by a coyote or by being run over by a car.  Do NOT do this.

Do reach out to rescue groups or animal control for suggestions and solutions to your cat problem, instead.  Be a caring human being and look for solutions that don’t harm them or other animals.

Did I Miss Anything?

There are so many different ways you can entice a cat to enter a trap!  Cooked chicken, fried chicken, sardines and sardine oil, catnip and silvervine, or even just regular old cat food.

If you have a trick I missed, please share it with me by commenting below!

Happy trapping, caretakers!


8 thoughts on “The Best Bait for Feral Cats (Humane Only!)”

  1. Thanks you so much for all the great tips. I was cat sitting my moms cat and was taking him for a walk when something scared him and the harness just snapped right of. He’s a big kitty. He doesn’t know me that well and he didn’t respond to any food I put in the cage. I was at my wits end. Then I read about the catnip. And in he went. I can’t tell you how happy I was. So, your best bait list works for domestic but super scared cats as well. 

    1. Glad it worked for you! Though I will have to say a scared cat might not eat for awhile since they are so scared, but I’m glad catnip worked for you!

  2. Thanks for sharing this article on the best bait for feral cats. I was surprised that chicken is on the list though. I have two cats of my own and i tried shredding chicken for them once and they would not go near it so I assumed cats didn’t like chicken. Doesn’t trapping these kitties traumatize them? I have always wondered this.. 

    1. Hi! Cats really love fried chicken especially, but all you have to do is look in a cat food aisle to see how many are chicken flavored. But some cats don’t eat real food after a lifetime of dry kibble and some cats don’t like chicken. 

      Unfortunately, it does scare the cats. However, cats live in the present very well and will get over it easily. Enough some cats can be trapped more than once! I don’t enjoy doing it, but trapping and getting them fixed improves their lives so much in just a few months, it’s definitely important enough to do. Even if they get scared at first. This is why people don’t take their ferals into the vet often unless they need fixed or are sick or injured. 

      Thank you for visiting!

  3. I found this article very helpful. Pity it was a few years too late. We used to have an open lower vent in our garage that was a storage space. We parked our cars outside. We noticed that a feral cat had made our garage its home. Hence we left food and water for it.

    Little did we know that it got pregnant. Lo and behold we heard kittens mewing and noticed the mama cat was guarding its young. Too late for TNR. Once these kittens got old enough the mama cat escorted them outdoors.Eventually the kittens disappeared. We had no idea if they were caught by cat lovers looking for a kitten. Or they could have been eaten by local coyotes. 

    At that time we should have set up a TNR. But we didn’t. Wouldn’t you believe it we noticed a male cat wandering around. Eventually the female cat got pregnant again. And had a second litter. 

    This time when the kittens were old enough for a walk, the whole family disappeared. 

    We tried to approach the cat and the kittens but no such luck. The mama cat went into attack mode so we left them alone.at least we had an opportunity to enjoy these feral visitors while they were around.

    There was an aftermath. A lot of throwing away of old blankets we had in the garage as these were soiled like crazy. And much cleaning up of cat poop everywhere. Once I cleaned up the garage I closed up the vent so that this would not happen again.



    1. Thank you so much for trying to care for the cat!  Unfortunately, until you learn about Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR), most people are ignorant that there are more ways to help a stray cat than just providing food.  It’s nice to see people caring for strays, even if they weren’t aware of TNR!  Thanks for sharing your story with me!

  4. Hello again Barn Cat Lady,

    How are you? Australia has a huge problem with feral cats. We shot feral cats when I was younger, and you had to be a quick shot in the spotlight to get them. Our purpose was to shoot rabbits but the generally accepted rule was, if you saw a cat in the spotlight, shoot it or kill it somehow. Bush rules. I once accompanied a group shooting kangeroos, I didn’t like it much, and I hate skinning rabbits.

    Maybe I’m a cat I got hungry when I saw KFC.

    So I stepped in the poo when I talked about killing cats.

    I’d be a vegetarian if it was up to me to kill animals for meat. I praise people like you for your efforts. It’s the irresponsible pet owners I am disappointed with. An estranged pet is like an abandoned child and penalties and regulation should be more… I don’t know. Have you any thoughts?

    1. Luckily, Australia’s feral cat problem is a little outside my wheelhouse.  Australia and New Zealand’s animals are some of the most unique animals in the world.  They also evolved completely isolated from certain things, such as cat-like predators, which makes feral cats a huge problem for wildlife down there.  I do understand why they’re killing them off, even if I don’t like it. It also doesn’t exactly work well as you’ve obviously still have feral cats.

      As for the pet owners, I agree.  There are two sides to the feral cat problem, both sides wanting the same thing: less feral cats.  Yet TNR people get attacked and bullied by wildlife conservationists who hate cats, as if we are some weird outdoor cat movement. What they fail to realize is… even IF every single feral cat in the world dropped dead right now?  We’d STILL have feral cats within a few years.  People dump unwanted kittens, unwanted pets, unaltered, off at farms, barns, and the woods.  They don’t spay or neuter their pets, so their pets are breeding and filling up the shelters.  It’s a freaking mess and we should be concentrating on spay and neuter of people’s pets, not HOW we go about reducing the feral cat population.

      Thanks for your story… kind of?

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