How to Find a Missing Cat
Tips and advice to help find a lost cat
It's a desperate time when your cat goes missing. My cat Freddie has gone missing three times, firstly for five days, secondly for 14 days and the last time for ten 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, I learned a lot about how to get a cat back each time he went missing so if your cat is not with you at the moment please take advantage of what I have learned and click through to some other websites with more excellent advice.
Start looking early
Start your search as soon as you realise your cat has gone missing. If your cat has got 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.
Start 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 from where they live. Make sure you check your back garden and those of your neighbors 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.
The first time Freddie went missing was for five days and we searched everywhere, near and far. It wasn't until our neighbor 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 into hiding where he felt safe. He only ventured out when it was dark and he was hungry enough.
If you think your cat is hiding nearby a good tip is to put out some strong smelling fish when it gets dark. Do it at the same time every night. Then try and 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.
Update - 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.
Also talk to your neighbors and ask them if they've seen your cat. Local children are also good to ask as they often notice animals and will often help you with your search.
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.
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 the cat doesn't think like a human. 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.
Think about factors such as : Does your cat wander far? Some cats do wander a lot futher than others and may have simply got lost? Could something have scared him/her? Could they have been feeling sick? Are they a curious cat? Could they have ventured into nextdoor's shed? 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 subsequent times Freddie went missing he had left his territory and one time was found a few streets away and the next time was even futher away. Some cats seem to have a natural instinct to return to their homes but 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, 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. Your cat may be like Freddie and goes wandering. Did your cat go missing at night? Could he have got lost? Or his personality may be totally different which suggests a different scenario.
Please find below a book on how to find your lost cat.
You can also buy a PDF version of a search guide from the same pet detective.
More information on lost cat behaviour
To help you understand how your cat might behave when it is lost, please look at the link below.
- Recovery Tips - lost cat behaviour
This is an excellent article which may help give some insight into what may have happened to your cat. The rest of the website also has some valuable information and advice.
- How Personality Clues Help Find Lost Cats
Here is an article that outlines four typical cat personalities and shows how they give clues to what may have happened to your cat.
Don't give up
As soon as you give up looking for your cat, your cat is more likely 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. 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 was missing for 14 days. He was handed into 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 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 if your cat has wandered and got lost he is more than likely doing a good job of getting by.
Put up posters
Once you have covered the ground nearby your own house and you have had no luck, start putting up posters. Leafleting the houses nearby can also be productive. We posted missing leaflets to about 100 houses near to 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. So people do and will respond to leaflets and posters. It is definitely worth doing.
This link below takes you to a missing pet poster creator which can help you make a poster quickly and easily containing all the information you should include
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 in their own time took him to a cat rescue centre as they had noticed he seemed lost.
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.
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.
Pet Detective - an excellent website
- Excellent information for owners of missing cats
Kat Albrecht is a pet detective and she has helped cat owners find many beloved cats. Check out her Frequently asked questions page for more advice on how to look for your missing cat and to help you feel more positive and hopeful in your search. It
Look when it's dark and quiet.
You could also walk around the neighbourhood looking or calling for your cat.
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. 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. If you do go out at night make sure you take somebody with you, don't put your own safety at risk. 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 its 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. 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.
Baby Monitors and Missing Cats
Since writing this article I have had some more tips on finding lost cats given by readers and people who've lost their cat in the comments box below. One 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:
"A concerned neighbour (who seen my flyer) contacted me and suggested using baby monitors. I had been worried sick that I would miss him if/when he showed up and this was such a simple solution - I loved the idea, so 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."
Thoughts to 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 to 10 days after they have gone missing.
Cats are blessed with incredible instincts to survive and it has been known for cats 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 stray. Many people will respond to posters and are often willing to help so this can only help in your search.
Many cats do come back on their own too. My neighbor's cat just went missing for two weeks. They'd looked everywhere. He just turned up one morning outside their house and was warm and well fed. Must have been somebody close by looking after him. We're not sure why he came back, but he's been hanging around ever since.
More Useful Links
- 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
- Missing Pet Partnership
This website has lots of information on finding lost cats and finding a pet detective in the US. Have a look through the site. There is also a list of links to other useful sites.
- Things you can do when your cat goes missing:
A list of tips and advice to find a missing cat. Some of it has been covered in this article but there are a couple of extra ideas here too.
- 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.
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 well needed emotional and moral support.
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 near them may hear the news too. Making a facebook page is as easy as making a facebook profile page for a person. You can start here.
Some people have set up missing pet pages for the area that they live in. This could be really helpful. If people in the area that you live like the page on facebook, it can get sent to lots of people living in your area. This article gives an idea of how a facebook page for missing pets can help reunite missing cats with their owners
To keep your spirits up, it may help to read some stories about cats coming back home after being missing for a while. Check out some links below.
- Have you ever lost a pet and found it?
Some stories about loosing pets and finding them again.
- Bailey Comes Home after 18 Days
Bailey's owner asks for advice on a forum after Bailey goes missing. The owner comments 18 days later to say that Bailey has come home and tells her story.
- Cat Returned Home After 4 Weeks
After 4 weeks searching for their cat, he is returned 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/advice to hopefully help other people find their missing cats. Thanks so much in advance.
Last updated on September 8, 2014
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