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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!


16 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?

  5. Thanks for your tips. Unfortunately, when cats come and kill the birds I have visiting my bird feeder, I have to get rid of them. The only choice I have is to trap them. Then the real issue of what to do with the trapped cat. I’ve called the local animal shelter, humane society, etc., and it costs money to drop off an animal at those places. I’m not paying $50-100 to drop off someone’s feral/neglected cat. So the cat goes to a new home, way outside of town. The people working at these shelters have told me they see no alternative to that option. I personally couldn’t care less what happens to the cat, and neighbors that have animals that they don’t care for shouldn’t have animals. I’m not going to carry the burden of someone else’s property. Bye, bye, kitty.

    1. Hi, Ash,

      Except you didn’t solve anything. You just probably killed the cat in the most inhumane way possible. Much more humane to take it to the vet to euthanize kindly, if that is the goal. You also didn’t solve your cat problem. More cats just show up and keep showing up and they breed faster, the more you remove them.

      You’ll possibly be trapping and killing someone’s lost pet, someone who ISN’T irresponsible but whose kid left the door open for their indoor-only cat to get outside, where it promptly got lost. Or someone who cruelly abandoned their pet cat outside. It isn’t the cat’s fault.

      IT’s the fault of PEOPLE and all you did is push that responsibility onto some poor person outside town to save that cat or fix that cat, IF it survives.

      Dumping cats is also very illegal, which you can be fined for and charged with animal cruelty for.

      My suggestion is if you don’t want cats is a combination of two forms of actual methods to reduce cat issues: TNR and cat-proofing your yard. If you can find a low-cost or free TNR program in your city, the cats aren’t reproducing anymore. No more cats being born. No more random cats showing up, except maybe one every couple of years. Then the cats slowly die off. Plus the FRIENDLY cats can be immediately adopted out of the neighborhood.

      And you can easily cat-proof your yard to keep cats away from the area by making it unfriendly for them in nice humane ways. I recommend reading my post How to Keep Cats Out of Your Yard.

      Trapping and bringing cats somewhere else is JUST as bad as feeders who don’t fix cats and just as bad as people who don’t fix their pets or abandon those pets outside. It’s cruel and irresponsible. And illegal. And pushes that responsibility on some poor person outside town who either fixes the cat or gets overrun with cats, who kill more birds. Or the cat dies. The cat likely dies, but not before passing on its genes. Which kills more wildlife. Just saying.

      Be a part of the solution if you dislike cats killing birds. Don’t be a part of the problem. Because trapping and relocating cats you don’t like IS a big part of why there are so many feral cats.

      1. I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree. When I remove a cat, it’s gone. It finds a new home. It no longer comes back onto my property. It doesn’t kill the song birds or the doves or the squirrels. The baby birds in their nests no longer suffer and starve to death because that cat wasn’t there to kill its parents. That cat no longer uses my lawn as a toilet. I don’t have to clean up its waste.
        Cats kill other animals and typically torture them in the process. It seems that you prefer cats killing and torturing the natural wildlife to my trapping and removing the unnatural cats. I’m not responsible for other people’s animals, and whatever benefit people get from having cats is not a benefit that I should suffer for or pay for. I don’t ask or expect my neighbors to fill my car with gas, feed my children, water my yard, cut my grass, clean up my garbage, clean up my toilets, or spend time and money taking care of my property. I take care of my own property and they should take care of theirs. I also don’t harm other people’s property. I don’t go onto other people’s property and kill their cats or dogs or birds, I don’t walk across the street and use their lawns as a toilet, I don’t drive my car through their yards.
        Also, a cat that repeatedly comes into your yard killing birds, is not a cat that some kid accidentally let out of the house. That’s nonsense. It’s a cat that is either a wild feral cat, or it’s a cat that an owner thinks should be allowed to freely roam the neighborhood so all the neighbors have to put up with, cleaning up after it, picking up dead birds, cleaning up piles of bird feathers, etc.
        Also, cat proofing a yard is not possible. That’s a joke and quite disingenuous of you to even suggest as some magical solution. You can waste a lot of money trying something that does not work. I’m not spending my money on someone else’s neglected animal.
        And please explain how trapping and removing a cat is like a cat owner who doesn’t fix its cat or who abandons its cat outside. That too is nonsense.
        Someone else caused the problem for me and my neighbors. I fixed the problem.
        If you really want to help cats, you should address the careless, thoughtless, cruel, cat owners. They’re the problem. You shouldn’t be offended by victims who are simply trying to deal with a problem other careless people created. Don’t attack the victims of these thoughtless people, and don’t expect the victims to solve the world’s cat problems. We didn’t cause the problem and we shouldn’t be expected to solve it with our time and money. I will however, solve the problem whenever it enters my yard and starts mindlessly killing everything it can get its paws on. Bye, bye, Kitty.

        1. Ash,

          Actually, I don’t prefer cats killing wildlife. But all YOU do is remove the cat from YOUR specific location and dump the cat off where it’s killing wildlife somewhere else. Somewhere where killing that wildlife isn’t just fun, it’s a matter of absolute survival or they die.

          And they often die. But not all of them do.

          If you just want them to be killed, there are much kinder ways of doing that. Trapping and dropping off at a shelter. Trapping and getting them euthanized.

          You’re acting like cats are the evil ones, but they aren’t. They live off instincts. HUMANS caused this mess and YOU are contributing to the destruction of wildlife by doing the very thing you hate the cats for! You CHOOSE to remove a cat and dump them somewhere else, where they just go on killing and breeding, and killing and breeding, and killing and BREEDING. All you did is make it not happen in your yard.

          And the poor person who finds those cats didn’t cause the cat problem. YOU did by removing them and putting them on their propery or near their property. So you’re just as guilty as the idiots who don’t spay and neuter their cats, then dump them outside because they start spraying their house.

          I certainly didn’t cause the problem, but I make a difference. I’ve prevented hundreds of kittens being born. I’ve gotten kittens and friendly cats INTO indoor-only homes so they aren’t killing anything except invading pests to that home. The ones that can’t be adopted? They’re fixed, they’re safe, they hang around the barn killing mice and ignoring the hundreds of birds in the rafters.

          I’ve stopped cats from killing. YOU didn’t. You just moved it somewhere else. I have actually DONE something about the problem I was faced with.

          You just inhumanely dump the problem onto another area so your precious yard doesn’t get pooped in. But what about the birds out in the country? Or does only the birds in your bird feeders matter? Awfully ironic you say it’s people who caused this problem, not you. But you ARE a part of the problem.

          Also, might I mention it’s illegal? You can be charged with animal cruelty, and barred from owning animals for a long time – if for life, depending upon how it’s charged.

          I find it really sad that the cats get the blame when PEOPLE are the cause of this mess. Those cats aren’t at fault. PEOPLE are. People who don’t fix their cats. People who DUMP cats. People like YOU are CAUSING the feral cat problem in this country that is killing the birds.

          So maybe you should rethink your strategy.

          Because I’ve actually reduced an entire population of cats, gotten cats and kittens into homes, preventing bird deaths. You have not. So I would say that YOU don’t care about the damage cats cause, not me. I care a great deal and I prove it by DOING something.

          It’s not MY responsibility. I didn’t cause the feral cat issue. I don’t even come from this area. I saw a problem, decided someone needed to do something, and since no one was doing anything, decided that someone would have to be me. So I called around, tried to figure out what the RIGHT thing to do was, and I DID it.

          You’re just causing more harm to both the cats AND wildlife. You’re not an innocent victim in this. The cats and birds are innocent victims. YOU know better. The cats DO NOT. You just decided it’s not your problem and won’t spend money or effort to help solve the problem you’re so angry about.

          If you can’t be bothered to be a part of the solution, and in fact, cause more harm to the environment, then you have no cause to be angry about the cats and the people who started it. You’re saving your yard and screw everywhere else. But have the nerve to be ANGRY about cats killing? When you aren’t stopping it?

          In fact, I’d be more inclined to not blame you if you did nothing at all but keep them out of your yard with tricks easily accomplished. People don’t have to HELP a situation. But the fact you are making the situation WORSE? That’s pure balls, right there. You have no right to be angry about cats killing or cat’s existing. That poor person who lives near your dumping site is just as pissed about irresponsible people who dump animals to kill HIS wildlife as you are to have them there.

          Just keep the cats out of your yard. It can be accomplished. The fact that you have the gall to relocate cats to the middle of nowhere? You are JUST as bad as those people who dump their unwanted kittens in the woods.

          I don’t expect people to help solve a situation. Not everyone has the means or the ability to help solve the cat population issue. There’s no harm in that. But you DO have the power to not make a situation worse. And you chose wrong.

          And an animal cruelty charge on your record won’t look very good, either.

  6. Wildlife lover

    We live in Australia, we have an estimated 4,000,000 to 6,500,000 Feral cats that eat daily, mainly that same amount of wildlife! Desexing a cat doesn’t stop it killing. We are advised to and willingly dispatch them quickly.

    1. Hi,

      I cannot comment on Australia because Australia has a lot of wildlife that is very vulnerable to feral cats. As do island ecosystems. The only reason feral cats are an issue in the US is the sheer number of them, our wildlife is NOT as vulnerable, they have protection from predators.

      What I can say is that feral cats have been euthanized, shot, poisoned, etc, for HOW long now? Decades? Longer? Do you see the numbers going away?

      What about the fact that ecosystems are very complicated environments. Sometimes, eradicating feral cats on an island will save the birds they’re trying to save. But other times, the rat population exploded so bad after the cats were gone that the RATS decimated the bird population they were trying to save.

      There are a lot of instances where humans ‘mean well’ and screw stuff up. First by letting cats loose to breed. Then deciding to kill them all, which obviously isn’t working. And say it did work. No one has ANY idea if that will actually save the prey species they’re hoping to save, or if it screws up the whole ecosystem again.

      There are a lot of examples of humans trying to correct invasive species and screwing it up.

      And yes, fixed cats still kill. But fixed cats CANNOT reproduce, so they are not adding to any more feral cats. Fixed cat colonies slowly disappear over time, without causing a rat/mouse explosion or new cats to suddenly move into the area. As long as there is a dedicated cat caretaker to take care of any dumped cats that people dump on them.

      The problem isn’t the cats.

      It’s the people.

      Say ALL the cats were killed in Australia right now. How do you stop people from not fixing their cats and dumping those cats out in the wilderness? It’s illegal, but they do it all the time. THEY caused this mess.

      Focusing on spaying neutering pets, taking kittens and friendly cats INDOORS, and fixing any feral cats left in the colony prevents a LOT of environmental damage. TNR isn’t about being pro-outdoor cats. It’s about STOPPING feral cats. TNR also enables kittens to immediately come inside from outside, preventing any wildlife deaths from dying by those kitten’s fangs or their descendants. Friendly cats get brought inside. Preventing them from harming more wildlife. Fixing the rest? Helps them to not grow in numbers and slowly die out.

      And killing isn’t working. It’s been done for ages. Look where we are with the number of feral cats. And people who go out volunteering, taking in feral kittens to tame and fixing feral adults, end up getting attacked. When they do more good for the environment than anyone else. They’ve saved numerous birds just taking kittens off the streets and fixing the rest.

      My colony hasn’t had kittens in 3 years. This entire property hasn’t had kittens in 2 years. All kittens born the past 4 years have been adopted into homes. No new feral cats have shown up in years. Do you know what DOES show up? Friendly pet cats get dumped here that I have to take inside and find homes for after fixing them. Unaccompanied kittens at 6-8 weeks old show up, scared out of their minds, in a box in front of the barn. Six or SEVEN times a year. Feral cats aren’t the problem. It’s PEOPLE that are the problem.

      Maybe instead of judging TNR people and people working to reduce feral cats, you should judge pet owners for dumping them all the time. Advocate for people to spay their dang pet cats to prevent cats from being dumped. Because even if every cat outdoors dies right this second, it’s a temporary fix until the CAUSE of the issue is dealt with.

      TNR focuses on pet spay/neuter, feral spay/neuter, kitten fostering & adoption, and friendly cat fostering & adoption. Because we don’t want ferals any more than you do.

  7. Thanks for specifically saying it’s the skin on the KFC they like — I had bought some and carefully plucked some meat off the pieces for the bait and it didn’t work. I’m trying to trap the last known male in my little corner and he is so random in coming to my feeding station. I got his brother with beef-flavored wet food but this guy just sniffed the trap and ran. I will try a whole KFC leg as well as catnip (which he loved when I put out some as treats for them several weeks ago).

    Thank you also for standing up for the ferals. All cats are domestic cats. The feral ones are the ones who, whether in their immediate past or in their ancestors’ past, have had humans let them down. I have saved 3 dumped kitties — one a mom who did phenomenal at being abandoned and then raising her 5 kittens successfully (they have been tamed too!). Imagine how great a world it’d be if everyone got their pets spayed and neutered. How many wouldn’t be dumped because of their behavioral issues. How many wouldn’t get sick or injured or diseased or suffer because people did the bare minimal responsibility.
    As for trapping and killing, trapping and dumping elsewhere.. As Dr. Phil would say: “how’s that working for you?” What has been actually proven to work, regardless of it not as “fast” as one wants, is TNR. It stabilizes population (before it begins to decline naturally), the cats are territorial and usually keep newcomers away, and it keeps pets and wildlife healthier by reducing the threat of diseases and minimizing the spread of disease. Feral cats have short lifespans compared to indoor tamed kitties.

    I had a lady tell me she “saved” her cat from going to the pound. She wants help in getting him fixed. I still may tell her that if he WOULD have been taken to the shelter they would have fixed and vaccinated him and she could have adopted him all good to go for less than it will cost her now.

    1. Hi! Thank you!

      And I’d had some fried chicken work well with most cats, whatever kind it is with or without skin. They loved cooked chicken of all kinds. But for those leery, wise cats we can’t trap, that’s the trick with KFC whole chicken leg I learned from an experienced trapper, including the skin, of course! And like you said, some do great with just wet food in the trap!

      It would be a great world indeed if everyone spayed and neutered their pets. Because TNR only helps stem the tide if PETS are continually breeding and being dumped outside too. It IS getting better over time, but yeah, it’s nonstop work for those of us who care about the homeless kitties living on their own!

      And OMG! I cannot tell you how much it grinds my gears when people want to adopt a “free” puppy or kitten but complain about adoption fees and crap. Like you realize free puppies and kittens actually cost MORE money than just adopting already fixed, vaccinated, microchipped animals?! And so they “save a stray” and never get them fixed. They’d have been better off at the shelter or animal control anyway, especially if they go back to adopt the stray. ?‍♀️?‍♀️?‍♀️

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