Cage-Trapping Wildlife


If you cannot resolve a conflict with an animal by other means – such as removing the attractant, installing a barrier, or using a scare tactic – the last option is to trap it. Trapping is rarely a permanent solution if other animals of the same species are in the area, and food and/or shelter remain available. It is appropriate to trap an animal in or around a home or property when there is an emergency situation, when you must remove a problem animal, or when trapping is the only practical solution.

A cage trap (live trap) effectively captures mammals for removal

Figure 1: A cage trap (live trap) effectively captures mammals for removal. Drawing by: Jenifer Rees

Modern traps fall into two main categories: killer-type traps and live traps. Killer-type traps are designed to kill the captured animal quickly, much like a common snap trap used with house mice. Live-holding traps include cage traps, foothold traps and snares. Homeowners most often use cage traps when they have conflicts with wildlife in their yards, gardens and houses. In addition, cage traps are the only type permitted in certain situations in urban or suburban settings, as they will not injure people, pets or other non-targeted animals. Cage traps come in a variety of designs, in sizes that range from those that capture mice to those that capture large dogs.

The homeowner who is dealing with a human/wildlife conflict often uses a cage trap, also referred to as a live trap. The common cage trap used to capture mammals works when an animal steps on the treadle, or pan, located inside the trap. When the treadle is tripped, it causes the closing of a door, or doors, at the end(s) of the trap. (Fig. 1)

You can purchase cage traps at hardware stores, farm supply centers and over the Internet; search for "live traps" or "cage traps". Some rental business and wildlife damage control companies rent them. Before using a trap, make sure it is clean, as you need to prevent the spread of potentially dangerous organisms. A dirty trap should be washed, disinfected with a bleach solution (one part bleach to nine parts of water; then let the trap soak for 20 minutes), and thoroughly rinsed. To protect yourself, always wear gloves when handling the trap.

Before You Cage Trap

Ask yourself two questions before you trap an animal:

When Not to Trap

Never trap an adult animal that is caring for dependent offspring. Look and listen for young, even outside the animal's known birthing season. If you see or hear young or suspect that they may be present, refer to Step 5 in "Evicting Animals from Buildings".

When you have trapped an adult animal, stand the trap on end so you can see the animal's underside. If there are enlarged teats that are relatively free of hair, you have a nursing female. Release her so she can tend to her young.

Permanently separating the nursing female from her young would likely cause the offspring to starve to death. Orphaned wildlife must be cared for by licensed wildlife rehabilitators. Do not attempt to care for the animals yourself. Not only could you further harm the animals, it is illegal for you to do so. Contact your local wildlife office for a current list of wildlife rehabilitators.

If you plan on releasing an animal, do not trap it during the winter or poor weather. An animal expends extra energy when trapped and it may not also be able to cope with inclement conditions. Even if you release it, it may die soon after.

In emergency situations, when a family needs to be removed, refer to Step 5 in "Evicting Animals from Buildings".

What to Do with the Trapped Animal

Before trapping an animal, you need to know what you are going to do with it. There are several options:

Most of these techniques require training. In addition, several are not available to the do-it-yourselfer.

While shooting an animal may sound extreme, in many cases it is the best available method because of its quickness, and it may cause the least amount of stress and pain to the animal. The operator and firearm must be capable of producing a quick death.

Depending on the species and size of the animal, a .22 caliber rifle or revolver, or a high-velocity pellet gun should be used. A pellet gun fired to the head is capable of quickly killing squirrels, rabbits, and similar-size mammals.

Note: In order to properly test an animal for rabies, the animal must not be shot in the head; instead, aim for the lung area directly behind the front shoulder.

State laws and local town ordinances regarding the discharge of firearms must be followed. See Step 4 below for information on how to handle the dead animal.

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Hiring a Trapping Agent

If an animal needs to be trapped and you are uncomfortable or have no interest in doing the work yourself, contact an animal damage control agent. Experienced trappers know the behavior of each species and the methods required to trap it. They also recognize when an animal has a disease and when a female is nursing. Often the solution to a conflict will involve setting several cage traps to make sure that the entire family or at least as many animals as possible at one time are captured.

Note: IF&W employees do not provide trapping services, but they can provide names of individuals and companies that do: found here.

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How to Cage Trap

If you are knowledgeable about wildlife, have identified the species to be trapped, and feel you can handle the situation in a humane and legal way, follow the steps below. See Table 1, following, for specific recommendations regarding each species.