How to trap, train, and find forever homes for stray kittens in Japan.
It seems incredible that people pay the unethical pet-store industry hundreds of thousands of yen for a kitty when there are millions of strays across Japan looking for a home. The system is broken, there are no easy to access public shelters and funding is inconsistent for individuals or groups wanting to catch strays.
If you see strays in your area and befriend them, I hope this post will give you some useful tips if you’d like to trap, neuter, and adopt the kittens. Unfortunately, most stray adult cats are too feral to become pets, but if you can trap the kittens before they are 8 weeks old, it is possible to tame them to become lovely pets that are lovely additions to your family.
The process certainly has its ups and downs as it takes patience for frightened kittens to trust you, but if you keep to routines, speak softly, and don’t give up, stray kittens can transform to become wonderfully loving pets.
- Stage 1: Befriend stray mama and start to offer food to her and her kittens. Once you see the kittens are also eating the food and they trust you a little, it’s a good time to trap.
- Stage 2: Trap: At first, putting food out in the trap for a day without trying to trap (tie it up so it won’t close). If they are okay eating in the cage, push it a bit further back each time. Wait until they are hungry and put smelly fish at the back. Try to trap mama cat first to take to get neutered. If the kittens go in, try to trap as many as possible at the same time (they develop a cage avoidance phobia – they are smart!).
- Stage 3: Neuter Mama + Keep Feeding Unfortunately most adult cats cannot be domesticated as their feral, survival instinct is too strong to trust us enough to settle down. The mama cats I have trapped, neutered, and trapped their kittens hang around every day until their kittens are about 2 months old. I keep feeding mama and inviting her in, but she tries to get kittens to escape with her, so be wary of this. Mama will also break your heart as she calls to the kittens and kittens cry back to her. Mama will hiss and stomp at you while you are feeding and caring or cuddling her kittens. After a few weeks, the heartbreaking crying will stop and after about 2 months, mama will not hang around so much. I still feed the cat mama from last year when she comes once every few days for food.
- Stage 4: Train Kittens The first day, just leave them alone in a safe place with food, water, and a litter box as they are too traumatized to do any training. From day 2, you can start working on feeding wet cat food from a spoon and then from your finger. While feeding try to talk softly to them and pet them a little. You want them to associate food with you to create a positive bond. Set up a daily routine- wake and feed at the same time, clean and play, feed, and put in the cage (or contained area) at nighttime at the same time. Don’t forget, you also need to make sure you get your rest to take care of them and not get too frustrated by the long process. If you keep at it, you should be able to pet them within the first week, cuddles and purring should start in the 2nd week and within a month they should be ready for adoption and comfortable enough with people like a pet.
Last year we had 3 野良猫 (NoraーNeko) stray/feral kittens in our shed, and this year 3 in our garden- here’s how I helped. I never thought I would become the neighborhood cat lady, but when Kiki, last year’s all-black mama cat had her kittens in our shed and I saw how sick they were, I wanted to help.
Stray cat populations are hard to control in Japan for many reasons, but some regions have government funding for trap + neuter/spay + release programs of adult cats which helps. Unfortunately, I was told that the Hiroshima city area does not have any support for individuals 個人 (kojin) who want to trap and fix neighborhood strays. So, for the cats and kittens I know in my neighborhood, I am taking on the task myself.
One of my neighbors actually told me in the past they had a collection to catch and fix the cats around the Peace Pagoda as everyone was horrified to see the crows eating the kittens.
Kiki’s Litter 2019
Last year, I noticed a pretty green-eyed black cat around and gave her some food and water. I called her Kiki from the anime film about Kiki who had a black cat friend. I soon after heard scratching and mewing in the shed and noticed she had 3 tiny kittens with her.
Thanks to advice from Twitter friends, I started befriending cat mama Kiki who was starving and grateful for the cat food and milk (contrary to what you see in the movies, I didn’t yet know that cows milk can make them sick). She became comfortable around me after about a week of regular feedings. As soon as I saw the kittens were eating on their own in addition to breastfeeding, I ordered a cat trap (about 5,000 yen for a simple metal trap) and put it near where they were sleeping and feeding.
Online Information, Guidance and Support
I was inspired by groups such as the Flatbush Cat non-profit in NYC which is feeding colonies of stray cats with the aim to trap, neuter, and release adult cats. They also try to trap the stray kittens and neuter, tame to get them adopted. Japan is certainly not the only place where stray cat populations are out of control. The Kitty Lady is also a talented, humane tracker, trapper, and trainer of cats and kittens worth watching.
Supply Essentials for Trap + Neuter Adult Cats
- Humane Trap for Small Animals available on Amazon / Rakuten / some home centers / some areas of Japan will lend you a trap and come and collect and neuter the animal (check with your local city office)
- Can of smelly fish or wet can of cat-food to put at the back of the cage on a cardboard ‘plate’
- Old Towel to cover the cage once the cat is caught while transporting to the vet for neutering
- Bottle to prop up door of the trap (tied with string) to a hiding place. I used an old Jiffy Peanut Butter PET bottle, try to find a bottle that can open the trap as high as possible and keep in an area you’ve fed the cats before. The first time, put the food near the entrance to get them used to eating there, and further in each time. When they are eating at the back of trap is best (safest) time to trap without hurting them.
Supply Essentials for Trap + Taming Kittens
It’s not cheap to trap, train, and adopt (or find homes for) stray cats and kittens in Japan. As our area doesn’t have assistance programs, we spent about 100,000 yen on pet supplies and vet treatments (neutering included) for mama cat and kittens over the first year.
Some areas in Japan which offer trap units you can borrow, funded or subsidized neutering programs and support for adopting strays will certainly make it easier for anyone who wants to help and have fewer cat population problems in their area.
How to Set the Trap
As suggested in many youtube video tutorials about How to Trap Stray Cats, I put particularly smelly catfood fish in the very end of the trap and put a peanut butter bottle (attached to a string) under the trap door and watched from a hidden spot in the house. There is a trap lever in the middle of the trap, but I took advice of humane trappers who advised against using that automatic trap for a human-watched manual version instead for greater success and to make sure no cats were hurt when trapped.
Hungry mama went right in, pulled the string and the trap was shut, she was trapped. I quickly put a towel over the top and the kittens scattered under the house as mama squealed and fought to get out. It was completely heartwrenching and I apologized to Kiki-chan many times as I took her to the vet to get neutered.
The vet was nice to give me a discount on the procedure since it wasn’t our pet, but still, 15,000 for females and 10,000 for males is expensive. When we decided to adopt the kittens as pets, the discount disappeared and it cost 20,000 for the female and 15,000 for the male kitten to get neutered at 6 weeks.
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It’s not a cheap or easy project, but feels like the right thing to do as a single cat can contribute over 400,000 cats in her lifetime as her kittens can start having litters of their own in 6 weeks!
I went home and Kiki would be kept at the vet’s overnight. I didn’t have the trap anymore, but it was really stormy weather and I was able to sneak up on the kittens during the night and collect them one-by-one. The first two, Lani and Garrett, I was able to catch the first night had swollen, infected eyes, and were wheezing with a respiratory infection. They were so small, only about a month old. I was able to rinse them with mild dishwashing soap and water, dry them, and keep them in a cardboard and tape secluded section of a room.
The next day, the vet checked them and told them we would have to force-feed them wet, soft cat food to help them. We were also instructed to give them eye-drops 3 times a day. My two kids were great helpers as we would catch them, wrap them like burritos, wipe their eyes, and cuddle them daily. They started to fall asleep during the process despite always resisting and hissing at the beginning.
Mama Kiki came by daily to call for them and try to break them out on a daily basis. I would feed her and tried to also get her to stay inside with them, but she had too strong feral instincts to relax if doors were closed and the kittens would escape if the doors were open and mama went out (of course). This lesson was learned the hard way.
Chris’ Litter 2020
Chris is a pretty Siamese stray that I befriended about a year ago when she came to our door looking starved, she always hung out with a black cat we call Jessica. My plan was to gain their trust, trap, and neuter but unfortunately didn’t manage to trap her until she was desperately hungry while breastfeeding her kittens. She is exceptionally smart and has a strong cage aversion.
Once she started hanging around with her 3 kittens (also during the rainstorms), she had Jessica with her who also looked out for them and helped them avoid capture. So this time, even while mama Chris was being neutered at the vet, I was unable to catch the kittens because Jessica was on the lookout for them. Once Chris came back spooked of me and the cage, she moved the litter and I thought I’d lost my chance to get the kittens.
I wanted to catch them soon as I knew there was a short window to capture the kittens before 8 weeks to have an easier chance to domesticate them without too much trouble.
I saw my chance with the trap as the litter hadn’t been fed for a couple of days and I put a little bit of food down and Chris let them eat it. Luckily, I was able to catch the two twin white kittens together, but the third black kitten stayed out of the cage.
Tik and Tok (I really can’t tell them apart) were caught in really good health at about 5-6 weeks old. I tried to take them out of the cage once we caught them and give a quick wash as I had done the previous year, but the feral instincts were much stronger, I didn’t have gloves and didn’t have a good grip on the back of its neck and it clamped down hard on my fingers. It was a very painful rookie mistake- a lesson learned not to assume the situation will be the same with each batch of rescued kittens. In 2019, the kittens never attacked me like that but were smaller and sicker when caught.
We bought a cage at the DIY center near us for just under 10,000 to keep them in since we knew a cardboard section of a room wouldn’t work this time. From the trap, they went easily into the cage, but once mama started calling for them outside, one was able to squeeze through the bars and escape. Luckily with gloves and a towel, I was able to capture it and get it back in the cage and put tape all around the escape zones.
I fed them through the cage (soft, wet cat food) with a spoon and then with my finger. After day 3 I was able to safely get them into a pet carrier and take them to the vet.
Kitten Check at the Vet
Tik was okay at the vet, but Tok (the saltier of the two) hissed and fought and escaped in the room and they had to rush out to change to gloves and use a net to catch him. I was sad to see Tok was still so wild and had such strong feral instincts, but relieved to see it wasn’t just me as a novice that had trouble controlling him. One-week later, both Tik and Tok were easier to control as they had a check-up and their first round of shots. The shots are for a range of things like Cat Cancer and other common cat diseases and cost 4,000 yen each kitten. The doctor gave them a flea, tick and worm medicine (good for the first month) in the first visit which cost 1,500 yen each kitten.
During the vet visit, the vet weighs them to determine age, checks their temperature (up the butt), cuts their nails (thank you- this is hard to do), listens to their heart, and checks their eyes.
On the 2nd vet visit, Tik and Tok both had gained weight so he said they are okay to be adopted to different homes if families are found for them. At six-weeks, they should be neutered to help stop the stray cat population problem from increasing.
Inside or Out
The vet asks for the kittens to be kept exclusively indoors to avoid contact with strays who may have Cat AIDS and other diseases that luckily these kittens don’t have yet. I got collars for them to make sure people know they are pets (or pets in training) if they escaped. I kept our first adoptees inside and on a leash on the terrace until they were fixed at 6 weeks. Once they were neutered, I did let them out to play in our garden and they sometimes travel around homes nearby, but glad to see that they seem to stay close to home.
They seem overly bored and restless if I keep them inside all day, so if the weather is good, and they have been neutered, I do let them out for at least an hour a day. But every new owner will have to make this call for themselves as every situation is different. If I lived on a busy street, I would keep them inside.
Cats are Social Creatures
I think we made the right call keeping the two siblings together as from the time they were captured they cuddled, groomed, slept, ate, and played together. I did have to get them neutered as quickly as possible, though since we had male and female siblings and they would start making kittens as soon as 6-weeks!
In this 2020 litter, I notice Tik and Tok (both males) are also a great support for each other and I am hoping to get them adopted together if possible so they can continue their new forever home lives together.
Cats are also very territorial and cliquey, so although Lani (the female from 2019) seemed to be keen to hang out and help nurture them at first, she has started to hiss and swipe at them and stays away from where they are. The male from 2019, Garrett, has disliked the new kittens from the start and hisses and swipes at them in a defensive way. I immediately put the older cats out of the playpen and keep them away when they do that, but if we end up adopting Tik and Tok ourselves, I will have to work harder on conflict negotiation between them.
There is not always friction though as I was very pleased to hear that the 3rd of the stray kittens rescued in 2019, Fluffy, who was adopted by DaveInOsaka (who graciously came to fetch him by Shinkansen), was accepted immediately by their older cat and they have become good companions.
Animal Rescue in Japan Resources
Some of the best advice came from my tweeps on twitter who are cat owners in Japan and abroad who have rescued and trained ferals themselves. Every situation is different, but a lot of their advice and support was very helpful. If you are looking to adopt a tamed, neutered dog or cat, please support one of the excellent organizations below.