Lost Cat Tips
Having a lost cat is a position no pet owner wants to be in. It is the scariest part of pet parenting. We are here to walk you through the process of finding your lost cat step-by-step.
Pet owners are oftentimes shocked by the personality change exhibited by their lost cat. They expect their cat to respond to their calls or come to them if they are near. Cats are hypervigilant in new situations. This is a great survival skill, but this edge often causes them to run from the same people they love and trust in their home environment. This is why it is important to consider your cat’s personality before going out to search.
Searching vs. Trapping
Sometimes, an aggressive search is the wrong tactic. There are two dangers to doing a physical search for a lost cat who is shy or skittish in new situations:
- He/she may make themself even more invisible and stay hidden longer
- He/she may be spooked out of the yard, making recovery more difficult because you are now dealing with a larger search area and the cat is less likely to re-enter the house on their own. It is more challenging to set and monitor traps on other people’s property.
For cats like this, a humane trap may be a much safer way to recover the cat than a search.
How Can I Predict My Cat’s Reaction?
A good gauge of your cat’s predicted “lost cat personality” is how he/she reacts to strangers, the vet, and/or going to a new house.
When strangers come to visit, does your cat walk around with its tail up or does it dive under the bed until they leave?
When your cat is at the veterinarian’s office, does it march out of the carrier to check things out or does it stay tucked inside, refusing to come out?
If your cat is confident and doesn’t fear new people or situations, a thorough search and leaving your door open may be all that is necessary to get him/her back inside.
If your cat is a shy one, search with extreme caution and consider setting a trap before you disturb their hiding spot. You want your kitty to feel safe and to stay put.
Eliminate Indoor Hiding Places
If your cat is shy, please scroll down to the section entitled Searching for Shy Cats.
In most cases, your cat has found the best hiding spot in your house. Start your search by eliminating the indoor hiding places within the house:
- Look under and behind furniture
- Look in cupboards, cabinets, and closets
- Search inside boxes and bags
Cats are masters of hiding. They love small, tight spaces.
Tip: Shake your cat food container. Your cat may come running to the sound of a snack.
Search Outside Your House
Once all indoor hiding possibilities have been eliminated, search methodically around the outside of your house.
- Look up, under, and behind everything
- Talk softly (not a whisper) and pause periodically to listen for a return meow
- Slap the hood of your car and listen to it
- Shake your food container outside (cats are usually highly food-motivated)
Don't Put Your Cat's Litterbox Outside
Contrary to belief, you should NOT put your cat’s litterbox outside. To learn more, read this article.
Once you have exhausted your search inside and outside your house, make sure your cat’s microchip information is correct and up to date if they are chipped. Call your local animal shelters to report your cat as lost.
Tip: Don’t restrict yourself to only calling the closest shelter. Cats can find themselves in all kinds of predicaments and wind up miles away from where they started.
If your neighbors commute, find out where to and call shelters in that area.
Use the Internet
The next step is to take to the internet. It has made the world incredibly small.
- Find local pet groups on Facebook, Nextdoor, Ring, Craiglist and any other neighborhood apps you can think of – be sure to include photos on all postings
- Post where and when your cat was last seen
- Ask people to check their cameras for sightings
- Ask your local shelters how to check their databases of stray cats brought to them
Tip: Do not limit yourself to the closest groups. Cast a wide net, as cats can get into cars and hitch rides far away.
Talk to Your Neighbors
If you haven’t met your neighbors yet, now is a good time. Ask them to look in any place that could have been open when your cat went missing: sheds, garages, RVs, cars, and anything that has a way in. Ask permission to take a look around yourself.
- Post flyers on mailboxes across a minimum one-mile radius
- Ask your neighbors to take a flyer
- See if local stores have a board to post missing cats
- Check with veterinarians to see if your cat was injured; people will take cats to local vets for treatment and/or to be scanned for a microchip
- Answer your phone; now is not the time to screen calls
- Borrow a trap from your local shelter or rescue; they will walk you through the steps for trapping your cat
Searching for Shy Cats
If you do an outdoor search for a shy/skittish indoor-only cat, exercise caution to prevent her from bolting. These tips are designed to help you find her and determine where to place the trap.
- Search quietly, don’t move items, and try not to make a lot of noise
- If you talk, use a quiet conversational tone; use words your cat associates with food and attention
- Avoid having strangers assist at this stage, as this could cause them to hide longer or bolt if they are not a confident or outgoing cat
- Bring treats
- Carry a pillowcase to contain the cat if you are able to safely reach them; don’t try to catch your cat unless they are relaxed
- Use a camera with a flash and take photos of dark areas; look for eye-shine in the photos
- Consider purchasing a game camera
- Search from dusk to dawn if possible
- Put a piece of owner’s clothing and/or cat’s bedding out near the home and leave an access point open if possible, like a garage door or window
- Shine a flashlight in trees, under decks, and into shrubs to catch eye-shine (remember not to intrude)
- If you accidentally flush your cat out of his/her hiding place, don’t follow them and instead watch where they go; this is where you’ll set the trap
Last but not least don’t give up hope! The number one reason lost cats aren’t found is that their people stop looking. It may take weeks or months but it is important to keep following lost cat advice and be diligent about it indefinitely.
Here are some helpful guides to help you better understand your lost pet.
- Lost Cat Behavior
- Lost Cat Finder
- Paw Boost: Find Your Lost Pet – Paw Boost offers a free flyer generator to save time
- How to Better Help Your Community Find Lost Pets [Humane Network – Podcast]