There’s nothing worse than the moment of panic upon discovering your cat is missing. But don’t lose all hope – there are plenty of steps you can take to help lead your cat back home safely.
Depending on whether you have an indoor or outdoor cat, your strategy to leading your cat back home will be a little different.
Keep reading to see which approach is best for you.
If you have a strictly indoor cat that accidentally escapes, take comfort in knowing that they are often never far from home. More often than not, indoor cats that escape are hiding nearby.
However, cats don’t react to unfamiliar environments the way you would think. When cats are scared, they hide.
They also tend to be unresponsive, so don’t expect to call their name and see them running to you. They will often hide until they feel safe enough to leave their hiding place.
A scared indoor cat that has recently escaped probably won’t be walking miles away from home. They will seek refuge nearby and try to go unnoticed.
Looking for Your Missing Indoor Cat
Check under your car or in any other small places you think a cat would feel comfortable hiding. Cats have a tendency to try to hide in small, tight spaces to feel safe.
Unfortunately, some cats mistakenly seek refuge in car engines, especially if it is cold outside. If the vehicle is turned on while the cat is in the engine, the cat will not survive.
To prevent this, take a small bag of mothballs and hang it under the hood of your car. The smell of the chemicals repels cats. Make sure it hangs away from the engine parts to prevent the smell from entering the car’s interior.
Some people choose to drive around and look for their missing cat. While this is definitely worth a shot, it is unlikely that you will find a lost indoor cat simply wandering around in the open.
Make sure you are looking under porches, in bushes, under cars, and any other small and concealed space you think your cat would hide.
The Best Time to Look for Your Missing Indoor Cat
The best time to look for a missing cat is at night when everyone else is asleep. The sound of cars and people only make your cat more fearful.
With that being said, the best time to look for your cat is between 12-4am or whenever you remember your cat being the most active. There is a better chance that they will respond to your voice or be lured out of hiding by the sound of you shaking treats or opening a fresh can of cat food.
It’s normal to be worried when you notice your outdoor cat doesn’t appear for its regularly scheduled meal. However, it is not unusual for an outdoor cat to go on a multi-day excursion.
Before jumping to the worst conclusion, remember that there are a couple realistic reasons your cat has not returned home. For example, there is always the possibility that someone else fed them or they found food elsewhere, making their regularly scheduled mealtime appearance at your home less of a priority.
Remember, cats have no concept of punctuality or human timelines. They exclusively value mealtime.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be concerned and start trying to locate your cat. You know your cat better than anyone else and will be able to judge how long of absence is or isn’t normal.
Leading an outdoor cat home takes a slightly different approach. Unlike indoor cats, outdoor cats are much more familiar with their territory.
As referenced earlier, cats rarely stray far from their territory. Outdoor cats are no exception and tend to stay within the region they are the most familiar with.
Calling Their Name
Cats are very sensitive to your tone of voice. If you sound stressed and anxious, it is unlikely they will come to you. If you call their name as if you were happy to see them, you might get a different response.
Just make sure you’re not contributing to your cat’s stress by calling their name in a way would make them scared or anxious.
Leading Both Indoor & Outdoor Cats Back Home
1. Food bait:
Walk around close to where they escaped and shake their favorite treats or open a can of food. The sound they associate with food could help lead them out of hiding.
2. Toy Bait:
If your cat has a favorite toy that makes sound, perhaps the sound of the toy could lead them out of hiding as well.
3. Treat Trail:
Leave a trail of treats to your doorstep.
4. Leave Out Your Laundry:
This might sound strange, but leaving some of your unwashed laundries in a box by the door could be another solution. Your cat is very familiar with your scent, and it could potentially help them relocate you.
To do this, take a cardboard box, flip it over, and cut a cat-sized hole in it. Then place your laundry underneath it, so your cat has some soft bedding to sleep on.
5. Leave Their Litter Box Outside:
Speaking of scent, cats are very familiar with their own scent. Leave their litter box outside in an attempt to guide them back home.
6. Set an Animal Trap:
Try setting up a Harvard animal trap (obviously one that’s big enough to fit your cat) and use your cat’s favorite food as bait. You might catch a raccoon or possum instead, but these traps are still highly effective.
7. Notify All Your Neighbors of Your Missing Cat
Notify your closest neighbors, but also notify neighbors that live a couple streets down as well.
8. Talk to People that are Typically Outside:
Joggers, children, and the mailman spend more time outside than the average person. If you come in contact with someone who spends a lot of time outside in your neighborhood, ask them if they’ve seen your cat.
Be sure to provide them with a picture of your cat and your contact information in the event they find him/her.
9. If You Have One, Use a Neighborhood App
Some neighborhoods use neighborhood apps to communicate with one another. If you’re a member of one of these apps, be sure to post on your app about your missing cat.
10. Facebook Groups:
There are several local Facebook groups devoted to helping people be reunited with lost animals. Join these groups for lost & found pets in your region and make these communities aware of your missing cat.
Fliers have always been a great way to draw people’s attention to your lost cat. Print fliers in color with your cat’s image and your contact information.
12. Check Animal Shelters:
Each day, your cat is missing, go to all of the animal shelters, pounds, and animal welfare units in your location. It is urgent that you are aware of which facilities euthanize unclaimed animals and check those more frequently.
Leave a flier or color copy of your cat’s picture with them and tell them to contact you if your cat turns up at their facility.
If possible, place the flier or picture somewhere it can be seen by everyone. The people that work at these facilities often see many animals each day, so it is best to have your cat’s picture somewhere noticeable so they can be reminded of its appearance.
Have You Recently Moved?
If you’ve recently moved homes and your cat escapes, there is a good chance you’ll find them lingering around your old home.
Cats are very territorial and enjoy routine. This makes them especially anxious when a change as big as moving homes occurs. They will want to go back to the place that is most familiar to them.
If you do not see your cat in the neighborhood it once lived, notify neighbors by giving them a picture of your cat and your contact information. Print out fliers and display them throughout the neighborhood.
If you were part of a neighborhood app in your old neighborhood, be sure to post about your missing cat on there as well.
To prevent your cat from getting lost after a move, keep your cat indoors for a minimum of two weeks before letting them explore outdoors. Spend some extra time with them and use pheromone diffusers such as Feliway in your new home to reduce your cat’s stress and anxiety.
Click here to learn more about how to help your cat transition into a new home.
Indoor cats: It is important that regardless of where you live, you familiarize your cat with its environment. As silly as it may sound, put your cat on a leash and harness and take them exploring around the property. This way, your cat will develop a good understanding of his/her surroundings and know where home is.
Outdoor cats: While you may think that letting your cat outdoors will make them happy, outdoor cats are more prone to getting lost, abducted, or injured. The best way to prevent this is to keep your cat indoors and let them outside for a supervised outdoor time.
Consider investing in a catio or a cat tent so your cat can get some fresh air and enjoy the outdoors from the safety of an enclosure.
If you’d still prefer to have an outdoor cat, make sure they are up to date on their vaccinations. This is important for both indoor and outdoor cats, but outdoor cats have a higher risk of acquiring diseases.
Both indoor & Outdoor:
Instead of having your cat’s name engraved on the ID tag, have the words “INDOOR CAT” engraved instead.
You need to specify that your cat belongs indoors; otherwise, people will have no way of knowing your cat doesn’t belong outside and simply assume they have encountered an outdoor cat.
Microchipping: In addition to having your cat wear an ID tag and collar, microchip your cat to add an extra layer of security. A microchip is a permanent method of electronic identification. The chip is placed underneath your cat’s skin by a veterinarian, and a unique ID number is assigned to the chip.
If the chip is scanned, your cat can be identified, and your contact information becomes available. If your cat is found and taken to an animal facility (most vets and shelters), they will be able to contact you and tell you your cat has been found!
Remember to stay persistent and hopeful. Don’t give up looking for your cat and be sure to recruit friends and family to help you with your search.
Try a variety of different techniques to lead your cat back home and be consistent! For example, if your cat doesn’t come home after just a couple days of leaving food out for them, don’t give up – keep it up.
Keeping checking with shelters and animal welfare units for updates. Continue communicating with people in your neighborhood and checking online in local pet groups.
Remember, cats are resilient and resourceful creatures. Don’t jump to worst-case scenarios and stay hopeful that your kitty is out there and waiting to be reunited with you!
Shadi Delshad is the CEO & founder of National Kitty, a blog devoted to enriching the lives of cat owners and cat lovers.