A lost cat can be very scary. An indoor cat that gets out of the house can be terrified and hide for days or get lost and not know how to find their home again. For the pet owner, it can be a frantic running around to get flyers up, looking under every car, hedge, and hoping your cat comes home. For indoor/outdoor cats, hopefully the ID collar helps your cat be returned home and hopefully your cat is just exploring the great outdoors and not lost but it’s always a nerve-wracking situation. Not all lost cat incidents are the same and there are different ways to try and find your cat.
There are typically three categories that a lost can fall under: Indoor Only Cat, Indoor/Outdoor Cat, and Outdoor Cat. These three categories can help you think about where your cat may be and what possible behaviors s/he may display when in new, unknown places. An indoor only cat that is lost or escapes is a different situation than an outdoor cat who knows some of the neighborhood and vice versa. Here are some tips to finding your cat depending on the lifestyle your cat lives.
1: Indoor Only Cats: If your cat has escaped and is outside, the chances are very good that your cat is not lost at all. S/He is probably hiding very close by because of the unfamiliarity of the territory. The real question than becomes, “Where are you hiding?” If your indoor cat has escaped chances are shelter has been found like under a deck, under the house, or somewhere where they can hide from the dangers they perceive. Your cat won’t meow because meowing will give away their hiding spot. One method you can use to find your indoor cat is to use a trap. Metal traps with a one way door that closes once the cat enters are available at pet stores. They are humane and you can place some of your cat’s favorite snacks or food in it. Hopefully you’ll wake up in the morning to your cat in the trap and not your neighbor’s cat or a raccoon. Also, post flyers, let your neighbors know your cat is hiding or lost and call your local shelter to report your missing cat in case someone did pick her/him up and bring her/him there.
2: Indoor/Outdoor Cats: It is possible that your cat is not lost if s/he’s been going outside and comes home on a regular basis. S/he may be hiding in fear because even they can become scared or chased out of their usual territory by another cat, raccoon, or other critter. Sometimes your cat might only be a block away but it’s an area s/he’s not familiar with and might be hiding. Even though many cats have a good homing instinct and can find their way back, some cats may be too frightened to use it and others may not possess a strong sense of it. If your cat is lost, post flyers, use the humane trap as mentioned above, and make sure your indoor/outdoor cat has a microchip and that it is registered and updated with your latest phone numbers, address, and other information. Get a break-away collar and put a tag on it so if your cat is found, you will be contacted. You may need to try two or more humane traps and place one near your house, on your deck, and another one in a nearby area like under a hedge. Let your neighbors know that your cat is out and about and ask them to keep an eye open for her/him. Also, call your local shelter in case someone did turn her/him into them.
3: Outdoor Cats: This category is for those cats that are only living outside. They may be your cat or may be a cat that over time has decided to “own you” and comes around, sleeps in your yard, on the deck, or in a small shelter you have provided. It may also be your cat but live only outside for any number of reasons. You are the caretaker and if your cat has not been around for a period of time that seems unusual, it can be disconcerting. Finding an outdoor only cat be a bit tougher. It often means something happened that interrupted its behavior of coming home. Perhaps it found a new home, perhaps it was chased by another animal, or was injured. Lost cat flyers may not always help if your cat was injured and is in hiding. Survival instincts of not meowing, hiding, and not coming when called may kick in and can make it extremely difficult to locate her/him. As stated before, let your neighbors know, try placing a few humane traps out, and make sure your outdoor cat has proper ID. The difference with outdoor only cats is that it’s not a matter of just getting lost, an outdoor only cat isn’t lost outside… it may be in a new part of town, a new yard, or hiding. The question to ask when dealing with an outdoor only lost cat, “What happened to the cat?” and not “Where is the cat?”
With any of these types of cat lifestyles, posting flyers and checking your local shelter are very helpful but you definitely want to talk to your neighbors and ask if you can check their backyards, physically search for your cat, and be aggressive about it. You may find yourself on your belly looking under your neighbor’s wooden deck or looking on the garage rooftops for a scared looking down at you. Don’t give up the search effort too soon, don’t feel helpless, and don’t forget to ask for help.