Losing a cat is a serious and scary situation for any pet parent, and it can happen to the best of us. Maybe the cat ran out when you let the dog out or when a family member or a friend was leaving. Or maybe a worker accidentally left a window or back door open.
How Cats Get Lost
“The most common way for an indoor-only cat to get lost is for the cat to ‘door dash’ when someone is coming in or out of the house or when a door is left open,” says Lisa Cason, president of the Feline Foundation of Greater Washington Inc. in Reston, Virginia.
If you have indoor-outdoor cat, it’s possible they ventured farther than their regular stomping grounds and can’t find their way back home.
“The cat can chase after prey farther than its regular territory or get chased by a predator from its usual territory,” says Melissa Murphy, volunteer at the King Street Cats in Alexandria, Virginia.
They also can enter a storage unit, a basement or a garage and then find themselves locked in, she says.
Whatever the reason, it’s important to stay calm and focus on the task at hand: bringing your cat home safely.
Steps to Find a Lost Cat
When you realize your cat is missing, your natural reaction is to race wildly from room to room, possibly shouting, blaming, feeling helpless and fearful.
“Stop and take a breath,” says Maureen Sosa, director of pet support at the Humane Rescue Alliance in Washington, D.C. “That panic will keep you from thinking straight and taking the steps you need to follow to find your lost cat.”
1. Look Everywhere In and Around Your House
It’s entirely possible your cat is hiding somewhere in the house. First, “check every inch of your home, totally,” Sosa stresses. “Start in smaller spaces, because cats can get into spots you may not think of as hiding places. She may be in the back corner of a cabinet or behind something. Look everywhere.”
Cason agrees, suggesting cat parents check outside the home as well.
“Walk your property and see if you spot her,” she says.
She recommends checking:
- Under decks
- In sheds
- Under cars
- In bushes
“If you spot your cat, see if she will come to you,” Cason says. “But remember that even super-loving, inside cats [may] not come to you when they are outside, [because] they are terrified of their new surroundings.”
2. Alert Your Neighbors
Let neighbors know about your lost cat—show them a picture if possible—and ask them to look around their property or to let you look, Carson says. Be sure to ask about garage or shed doors that may have been opened and now are closed.
Leave them with your contact information and a flier (more on that below) in case they spot your cat later, she adds.
3. Lure Your Cat Back Home
If a search has not resulted in finding your missing feline friend, Carson suggests placing food and water outside near your door. If your cat didn’t make it too far, they might come home quickly this way.
“Some people put the litter box outside as well,” she adds, explaining that a cat’s highly tuned sense of smell might draw them toward that familiar box, and home.
She also recommends borrowing a trap from a rescue group and setting it out baited with your cat’s food.
4. Create a Flier
Putting together a flier is incredibly helpful when trying to get your lost cat home, and there are plenty of examples online for inspiration, Murphy says. Bring your fliers to local vets, put them around your neighborhood, post them in your online groups and apps, and contact local rescue groups to ask them to put it on their social media accounts.
Sosa emphasizes that your flier should include your phone number, a description of your pet and where they last were seen and two clear photos of your cat—a facial shot and a full body shot to show any distinctive markings.
“Someone may have seen a cat but not realize it is your cat without a complete picture,” Sosa explains.
5. Check Lost Pet Groups on Social Media
Scan the lost pet groups on Facebook that are connected to your area, Carson suggests.
Sosa agrees, adding that “there are a lot of lost pet pages that you can post on. It gets the word out far and wide, and you can easily find one close to your community.”
She suggests doing an initial Facebook search for Lost/Found Pets, and then zeroing in on those dedicated to your county or city. Some groups are affiliated with local shelters, and some are the pages of rescue groups, Sosa explains.
“You can create a post that features your flier, additional photos or videos, and any helpful details,” she says. “And you can ask your own friends and contacts to share that post as well.”
If someone has found your cat, you might see her on one of these local lost pet pages, Sosa says. However, “because cats tend to stay near where they got out, posting far and wide is usually not necessary,” she adds.
6. Visit Local Animal Shelters
“Call, visit and re-visit shelters,” Sosa says. “Yes, you checked last week, and your cat wasn’t there. But she could be there today. And don’t limit yourself to one shelter. Someone may have picked the cat up and taken it to the shelter closer to their home.”
Sosa says that cat parents shouldn’t feel like they are bothering shelter personnel with repeat calls or visits.
“We want to do whatever it takes to reunite animals with their people,” she says. “Just stay on top of it, call or come in, and say ‘Hi, I was here about my cat,’ and they’ll be glad to help.”
7. Keep Looking
All the experts remind cat parents to remain hopeful and determined.
“Never give up,” Murphy says. “My own indoor cat chewed his way through a screen, squeezing through a small window to escape while I was on vacation. He was gone for three weeks, but a neighbor called late one night and said he’d spotted him under his car.”
How to Prevent Losing Your Cat Again
Avoiding the experience of a lost cat takes vigilance and planning. Cason, Murphy and Sosa all stress the need to microchip your cat, even if your cat stays indoors.
“Microchipping is huge,” Cason says. “Even if someone doesn’t have a chip reader, most people know to go to a vet and ask that the cat be scanned for a chip. All shelters scan strays for a chip.”
Murphy and Sosa remind cat parents that it’s extremely important to keep your cat’s chip information up to date.
“If you’ve moved, added a different phone number [or] made any change, that should be recorded with the chip company,” Sosa says.
To help prevent your cat from running away and getting lost, take steps to secure your home.
“Guard all doors always,” Cason says. “Don’t leave them open to let people in or out. If a door must be held open, for moving furniture [for example], secure your cat [with food, water and a litter box] in a separate room behind a closed door.”
She cautions that windows should only be opened “from the top down, not the bottom up, because a cat can wriggle out even if the window is open just a few inches.”
Aim to be present if repair work is being done in your home. If that isn’t possible, board your cat or taking them to the feline-safe home of a trusted friend or relative for the duration of the repair work, Sosa suggests.
If you have an indoor-outdoor cat, consider transitioning them to indoor-only. Like shelters and rescue groups everywhere, the Feline Foundation of Greater Washington, King Street Cats and Humane Rescue Alliance require adopted cats to be spayed/neutered and to remain strictly, permanently, indoor-only kitties. You can still provide outdoor enrichment with a special enclosed cat patio, or catio, or by taking your cat for walks outside.
Sosa says If your cat wears a collar in addition to her microchip, use the breakaway kind, like the GoTags personalized cat collar, for maximum safety, Sosa says. And have your name and number imprinted on it “because tags can easily be removed,” she adds.
Keeping your cat indoors, with precautions in place for her security and your peace of mind, will enhance her enjoyment of the good life and increase your joy in having your furry friend where she belongs, safe in your home and heart.