10 Helpful Tips for How to Find a Lost or Missing Cat
It's a desperate time when your cat goes missing. My cat Freddie has gone missing 3 times—first for 5 days, then for 14 days and the last time for 10 days. He is normally a cat that will come back home every one to two hours and never wanders far, so I was extremely worried each time he went missing. However, those experiences taught me a lot about how to get a cat back.
If your cat is missing at the moment, please take advantage of what I have learned and try my tips to get him back.
10 Tips to Help Find a Lost Cat
- Start Looking Early
- Start Looking Close By
- Talk to Your Neighbours
- Think Like Your Cat
- Put Up Posters
- Look When It's Dark and Quiet
- Set Up a Baby Monitor
- Use Facebook and Other Social Media
- Think Positively
- Don't Give Up
1. Start Looking Early
Start your search as soon as you realise your cat has gone missing. If your cat has gotten lost, the quicker you get started, the less time he has to wander. However, if you haven't done this, don't despair—there's plenty more you can learn and do that will help you get your cat returned to you. Keep reading for more advice.
2. Start Looking Close By
Cats are territorial, and many will rarely leave their territory unless something has scared them. Therefore most cats that go missing are found within a five-house radius of where they live. Make sure you check your back garden and those of your neighbours thoroughly. Is there anywhere your cat could be trapped or hiding? As you know, cats can be curious and get trapped in all kinds of places they venture into.
Your Cat May Be "Lost" Close to Home
The first time Freddie went missing, he was gone for five days. We searched everywhere, near and far, but it wasn't until our neighbour told us he had seen Freddie in our garden on day four that we concentrated our search nearby.
We put out some salmon for him in the garden at 11pm at night on day five and spent about an hour calling for him. When we went back inside our house, he creeped out to eat the fish about five minutes later. I couldn't believe it. He had been hiding just by our house.
When we took him to our vet, he noticed Freddie had a bite mark on his leg and said he had probably been in a fight with another cat. My theory is the fight scared him so much he went into survival mode and hid where he felt safe. He only ventured out when it was dark and he was hungry enough.
You Can Try Luring Your Cat Home
If you think your cat is hiding nearby, you can try putting out some strong-smelling fish when it gets dark. Do it at the same time every night, then try to keep watch from a distance to see if your cat will venture out to eat it. When he is hungry enough, he will venture out when he feels safe, which is normally under the cover of night.
Note: Since writing this article, I've read advice not to put out strong-smelling fish at night in case it attracts predators and other big cats and therefore scares your cat from coming back. This is definitely something to bear in mind. It did work in Freddie's case though. We put it in an area where it was light enough to see who or what was eating it and watched the food. We only left it out for a short amount of time before he was back.
3. Talk to Your Neighbours
Talk to your neighbours and ask them if they've seen your cat. Since most lost cats stay within a close radius of their home, your neighbours may have seen him recently and be able to help with your search.
4. Think Like Your Cat
Each cat is different, and the scenario that has happened to them may depend on several factors such as their personality, whether they are an indoor or outdoor cat or whether something has scared them.
Is Your Cat an Indoor Cat?
For example, research has shown that indoor cats that have escaped are very likely to be hiding near your house. They have panicked and gone into survival mode, so are probably hiding within a three house radius. They are too scared to move and will probably not respond to your calls. They are hiding in silence so as not to attract any predators, they are following their survival instinct.
In fact, when any cat is hurt or scared, they are very likely to go into hiding and not respond to your calls. You have to remember that cats don't think like humans. Even though they may recognise your voice, they may not respond to it because their ancestor instincts tell them its safer to remain quiet so as not to attract any attention.
There are lots of other factors that may influence what has happened to your cat.
Reasons Your Cat May Be Missing
- Does your cat have a habit of wandering? Some cats wander a lot further than others and may simply get lost from time to time.
- Could something have scared him/her?
- Could they have been feeling sick?
- Are they a curious cat?
- Could they have ventured into next door's shed and gotten trapped?
- Would they have jumped into a car/van?
- Have you recently moved? Could they have gone back to your old property?
- Is your cat neutered? Cats which aren't neutered will often wander a lot further in search of a mate.
Answers to these and other questions could help give clues about what may have happened to your cat and help you with your search.
The second time Freddie went missing, he was found a few streets away, but the next time he was further away. Some cats seem to have a natural instinct to return to their homes—I don't think Freddie was one of them. He just got hopelessly lost.
We have learned that Freddie only goes missing if he is let out after dark. I think this is because it is darker and quieter and he feels safer exploring at this time. We have a cat flap, and both times he went missing, he went out at about 11pm at night and never came back. Now, we close the cat flap when it gets dark and he is no longer let out a night. He hasn't been missing since. He never wanders far in the day.
Did your cat go missing at night? Could he have gotten lost? Or his personality may be totally different, which suggests a different scenario. In any case, trying to get into your cat's mindset may give you a clue as to where he's lost or hiding.
5. Put Up Posters
If you have covered the ground near your own house and had no luck, start putting up posters. Leafleting the houses nearby can also be productive. We posted missing leaflets to about 100 houses near where we live when Freddie was missing. When Freddie came back, a lot of people noticed him and phoned us to let us know they had seen him. People will respond to leaflets and posters, so it is definitely worth doing.
This missing-pet poster creator can help you make a poster quickly and easily, containing all the information you should include.
6. Look When It's Dark and Quiet
If your cat is lost or hiding, it may be waiting until it's dark to come out and search for food. It is, therefore, best to try and wait until late at night when the roads are quiet to look for your cat. At this time, your cat is more likely to hear your calls and to respond. Remember to stop from time to time and listen for your cat.
Note: If you do go out at night, make sure you take somebody with you—don't put your own safety at risk.
Try Calling Your Cat
Our cat has gone wandering on a couple of occasions and we have walked the streets calling his name when he hasn't come back as expected. We found him and got a response. Our cat doesn't have much sense of direction, and I have no doubt that if we hadn't gone out on these occasions, called his name and found him, we would have lost him again. You do feel a bit of an idiot calling out for a cat, but it's definitely worth it, especially if you find them.
Having said this, calling for your cat may not work if your cat has gone into hiding and is scared. Even if they hear their name, if they're scared for any reason, they won't come out as they don't want to attract any attention from predators. Freddie didn't respond to our calls the first time he was missing even though he was nearby, as I think he was too scared.
Here is more information on lost-cat behaviour to help you better understand how cats respond to being lost and why they might remain in hiding in spite of your best efforts to lure them out and make them feel safe.
Take a Flashlight
If your cat is hiding and you go out and look for him after dark, take a flashlight. You can then use it to look in bushes, under cars and other places where he or she may be hiding. This is useful if your cat is not responding to your voice.
7. Set Up a Baby Monitor
Since writing this article, I have received more tips on finding lost cats from readers and people who've lost their cats. One interesting tip which helped an owner get their cat back was using a baby monitor. They put a baby monitor outside (next to some food they had also put there) so if their cat came back in the night, they would be able to hear him. In the words of Wesley, who put forward this tip:
I set a monitor out on the porch with a bowl of his food and a bowl of tuna and sure enough within a couple of days I heard a faint mewing when he came back in the middle of the night. (3am) He was smelly, hungry and had lost a bit of weight, but he's home now and is really, really happy.
8. Use Facebook and Other Social Media
In this day and age, you may only be a few clicks away from finding your feline friend. While posting on Facebook and other social media isn't a guarantee you'll find your cat, it will quickly broaden the network of people who are looking.
Post About Your Cat
If you're on Facebook and are in contact with friends and family who live very close to you, consider posting on Facebook to see if anybody has seen your cat. You may even get offers of help to look for your cat, spread the word, put up posters, etc. At the very least, you should get some much-needed emotional and moral support.
Set Up a Facebook Page for Your Missing Cat
Another thing you can do is set up a Facebook page for your missing cat. This can contain detailed information including photos, more information about their personality, the noises they make and their habits. You could advertise the page on your missing cat posters so people can comment on your page and add any information they may have. They can also like your page and put a link to it in their status so friends and family who live nearby may hear the news too. Making this kind of Facebook page is as easy as making a Facebook profile page for a person.
Join a Missing-Pet Group
Some people have even set up missing pet pages for the area that they live in, which is another good resource. This can be really helpful, as these pages are essentially a big network of people who know what it's like to lose a pet and want to help others recover theirs. For an idea of how social media can help reunite missing cats with their owners, check out "Find your lost pet with Facebook."
9. Think Positively
Don't torture yourself with all the horrible scenarios that could have happened to your cat. Remember—most people are generally nice and will not harm your cat. Cases of cats being stolen or displaced by other humans are rare. On the occasions that Freddie went missing for 10 and 14 days, two different people put Freddie in a cat carrier and took him to a cat rescue centre, as they had noticed he seemed lost.
Your Cat May Have Been Taken In by Another Family
Some people do feed cats they think may be stray or lost, and if this happens, your cat will probably hang around where he/she is getting fed instead of trying to get home. Families and children do adopt cats they think are stray. Although this may not be a favoured outcome for you, this kind of scenario is just as likely (probably more likely) as all the horrible things you imagine happening to your cat.
Of course, bad things do happen and it is possible your cat may have died or been taken, but it is most likely they are lost, hiding or trapped, so think as positively as possible, keep looking and try not to give up hope.
10. Don't Give Up
The sooner you give up looking for your cat, the likelier your cat is to stay lost. Cats are driven by strong survival instincts and can survive a long time without access to food and water.
Cat owners often give up looking for their cats due to what is known as grief avoidance. They can't bear to think that their cat is out there hungry and on their own, so they conclude that he is dead and try to move on. Try not to think like this.
Cats Are Survivors
Remember—your cat doesn't think like a human; they aren't thinking "I miss home" and having emotional feelings. It is likely that they are just trying to survive and are probably doing a good job of it.
The second time Freddie disappeared, he was missing for 14 days. He was eventually handed in to a cat shelter, and when he came back home it was obvious that nobody had fed him. He just ate and ate. I'm sure he managed to find titbits to keep him going, but the point is that he got by.
Cats have been known to be returned to their owners after weeks, months and years, so don't give up looking. And remember that if your cat has wandered and gotten lost, he is more than likely doing a good job of getting by.
Thoughts to Help Keep Your Spirits Up
- Cats who are in nearby surrounding territory will often come out of hiding and back home when they are hungry and thirsty enough and when they feel safer. This quite often happens 5–10 days after they have gone missing.
- Cats are blessed with incredible instincts to survive and have been known to return months, even years after they first went missing.
- Most people are generally nice, and there is quite often somebody who will look out for a cat who they think is a stray. Many people will also respond to posters and are often willing to help you in your search.
- Many cats do come back on their own too. My neighbour's cat just went missing for two weeks. They'd looked everywhere, with no luck. Then he just turned up one morning outside their house and was warm and well fed. Somebody close by must have been looking after him.
To keep your spirits up, it may help to read some stories about cats coming back home after being missing for a while.
More Useful Links
- Missing Animal Response Network (Lost Pet Recovery Training by Kat Albrecht)
Kat Albrecht is a pet detective who has helped cat owners find many beloved cats. Check out her FAQs page for more advice on how to look for your missing cat. This will help you feel more positive and hopeful in your search.
- Animal Search UK
If you live in the UK this is an excellent site which offers plenty of helpful free advice including videos offering help and guidance to reunite owners with their missing pets or stolen pets. They will also organise poster campaigns for a charge (wh
- The Missing Kitty Handbook
Another good article about how to find a missing cat. It has some similar advice to this article with a couple of extra tips including using familiar sounds to get your cat to come home.
- Pets on the Net
Lots of success stories about missing cats coming home.
Please add any tips or advice for finding a lost cat below. I really appreciate any feedback and will update my article to include any good websites, tips and advice to hopefully help other people find their missing cats. Thanks so much in advance.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
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© 2008 Louise0711