Lost Cats: How to Find Your Missing Feline Friend
Every time I open my front door, my cat, Pierogi, makes a run for it.
Luckily, I live in a high-rise building, so if she manages to squeeze out before I block her with my legs and purse (something I’ve become an expert at), she only makes it to the hallway. She hasn’t figured out how to work the elevator, so I don’t have to worry too much about her getting out and getting lost.
But for millions of other cat owners, that’s not the case.
Some cats, like Pierogi, just want to roam and explore. That’s why nearly one in five cats goes missing each year.
Even though most missing cats do end up getting found, it’s still painful for any pet owner to have their pet go missing. This ultimate guide will help you understand why cats get lost and the steps you can take to prevent it from happening — but also, what you can do if your cat does go missing.
Why Do Cats Go Missing?
While some cats are content to be homebodies, others, like my Pierogi, just want to explore and roam.
Particularly in cats that have dominant or curious personalities, this is just how they are. It’s natural for some cats to want to see what world exists beyond the windows, walls, and doors of your home.
Outdoor cats are also more common than outdoor dogs, so when people see a cat wandering, they’re more likely to leave it alone. This means lost cats are less likely to be rescued by well-meaning strangers.
If your cat (even if he or she is used to going outside) doesn’t come home on its own, there are many possible reasons why.
Even a seasoned outdoor can can wander too far from home and get disoriented. A cat that’s lost, scared, or overwhelmed tends to hide rather than run, which means your cat could just be lost and hunkering down somewhere.
A cat that’s missing could also be hurt. Or it’s possible that your cat hasn’t come home because it was trapped or caught, and is in someone’s home or has been taken to a vet or animal shelter.
No matter the reason for your cat going missing, there’s one thing that’s for sure: The worry and wondering about what happened is unbearable. For cat owners who want to protect their pets, the best thing you can do is try to prevent your cat from going missing in the first place.
How to Keep Your Cat from Getting Lost
Protecting a lost cat starts with preventing your cat from getting lost in the first place. Here’s what you can do.
Keep Your Cat Inside
This is controversial, simply because so many cats naturally want to roam, and their owners want to make them happy by allowing them that freedom. But here are some sobering facts about outdoor cats: The average life expectancy for an indoor cat is 18-20 years. The average life expectancy for an outdoor cat is less than five years.
As much as your cat may love to roam, it’s just a simple fact that the dangers associated with spending a lot of time outdoors, unsupervised, can cut a cat’s life by many years. The safest thing you can do for your beloved pet is keep them indoors, where they can be pampered, spoiled—and safe.
Secure Your Home and Yard
If your indoor cat has a desire to get outdoors, it’s important to secure their environment to reduce the chances that they can make an escape. Keep doors closed. Outfit windows with screens so they don’t become an escape route when they’re left open.
And while it may be tempting to let your cat out into the backyard, keep in mind that because of how high cats can jump, it’s next to impossible to make a backyard escape proof for a feline. You’re safer keeping your cat in a secure enclosure, like a catio, in your yard.
Train Your Cat
If you really want to give your cat outdoor time, train him or her to wear a harness and walk on a leash, and go for walks together. That way, your cat can explore while staying safe.
While cats aren’t known for following obedience commands like dogs do, there are also ways you can “train” your cat to make them less likely to go missing. For example, feed your cat at the same times every day. That way, if your cat does get out, it might come back at meal time. You can also use treats and something like a whistle to train your cat to come to you (for a treat) each time he or she hears the whistle blow. This can be helpful in getting your cat to come home if he or she slips out.
Use Every Pet Location Product You Can
When it comes to ways to increase the odds that you’ll be reunited with a lost pet, you have quite a few options — and you should take advantage of all of them.
Make sure your cat wears a collar with an ID tag that contains your contact information. In case the collar falls off, make sure your cat is microchipped, and that the microchip registry is kept up to date with your current phone number and address. But in addition to these, you need a product that will help you find your lost cat. For that, you need Huan — a bluetooth tracker that allows you to see your pet’s location in real time via a smartphone app. Huan is one of just a small handful of pet trackers that’s small and lightweight enough for cats, and it has a whole lot of other benefits, too (but more on those down below).
Take Regular Photos of Your Cat
And finally, make sure to take photos of your cat on a regular basis. If he or she ever does get lost, having a recent photo to show neighbors and pedestrians might help you find them. And having proof of ownership can help you reunite with your lost cat if another family decided to take them in as a “stray.”
How to Find Lost Cats
Despite all your best efforts, any cat can still get lost. If your cat does go missing, here’s what you can do.
Start Your Search Close to Home
Research shows that most outdoor cats only roam up to half a mile in any direction from their home. That means that even if your cat is lost, the odds are good that he or she didn’t go too far. Carefully canvas the immediate area around your home, looking carefully under plants, cars, and porches; up trees; and anywhere else a scared cat might hide.
Search for Your Lost Cat at Dawn, Dusk, and Nighttime
Cats are crepuscular, which means they tend to be most active during dawn and dusk hours. That makes these ideal times to go looking for your lost pet. But keep in mind that a lost pet is likely to be scared, which means nighttime is also a great time to search — your cat might be more likely to come out while there are fewer cars and people around to make it feel threatened.
Show Photos to Everyone You See
Use the most recent photo you have of your cat, as well as any other photos you have that show his or her markings, size, and anything else that’s distinct or recognizable. As you’re searching for your lost cat, knock on doors and show neighbors all your photos. If you see any pedestrians, stop them and ask, too.
The more you spread the word, the more likely you are to find someone who has seen your cat and can help narrow down where he or she might be.
Post Information Everywhere
In addition to asking people, put up fliers with pictures of your lost cat. Post on social media, especially neighborhood sites like NextDoor. Put ads in local newspapers or newsletters. Spread the word as far and wide as you can, in case someone sees your cat and can point you in the right direction.
Put Out Familiar Scents
The scientific world is split on whether this actually works, but we think it can’t hurt — put scents familiar to your cat outside your house, like his or her food bowl and litter box. This might help a confused and lost kitty figure out which house he or she belongs in.
Use a Humane Trap
You can also put your cat’s food or favorite treats in a humane trap, and put that somewhere away from your home (if someone has seen your cat in another area, that’s a great place to set a trap). Make sure to check the trap regularly, so if any animal gets caught in it, he or she isn’t stuck there too long.
Stay in Touch with Local Animal Shelters and Rescues
As soon as your cat goes missing, file a report with every local animal shelter and rescue you can find. Then, check in with them regularly to see if anyone has brought in a stray cat that matches your cat’s description.