Losing a pet is more common than people realize. Around 15% of pet parents will lose their cat within the first five years after adopting their pet. It happens in the blink of an eye, despite your best intentions.
As part of an emergency plan, it is important to know the steps to take to find your lost pet—time is crucial when it comes to your chances of finding your cat after they go missing.
How Do You Find a Lost Cat?
If your cat has gone missing, follow these helpful tips.
Step 1: Search Your House
Most missing cats escape from their home to roam the great outdoors. However, you may think that they got out when they are actually hiding in the house. So, the first step is critical—checking under beds, behind closed doors, and in closets, cabinets, attics, and basements—anywhere a cat could possibly hide.
Step 2: Check the Neighborhood
Once you know your pet isn’t in your house, immediately start walking around your neighborhood. Talk to neighbors and leave your contact information in case they spot your pet. While you’re walking the neighborhood, call your cat’s name and shake their favorite treat or food bag loudly.
Many cats are food motivated and may come running when they hear the treat bag shaking! Most cats are found within 500 meters of their house or spot where they first escaped, so a thorough search of the immediate area is one of the best initial steps towards finding your pet.
Step 3: Use Social Media
If your neighborhood search is unsuccessful, turn to social media. Many websites and apps are extremely valuable in quickly spreading the word and reuniting lost pets with their owners. Nextdoor is an app that links you to your nearby neighbors in a social network where you can share information and post notices. Facebook and Instagram also have groups dedicated to lost pets.
Share clear, recent photos and any other information, such as health status (does your pet require daily medications?), behavior (is your cat flighty or friendly?), and what to do if someone sees your pet. Post to local rescue organizations, shelters, veterinary hospitals, and your own personal social media account.
Step 4: Make Some Calls
While the internet and apps are game changers for finding lost pets, it is still vital to utilize “old school” techniques. Call your local shelters, veterinarian offices, humane societies, police stations, and animal control to alert them.
Step 5: Put Up Posters
Blanket your area with posters—bright, neon-colored signs with black, bold, easy-to-read fonts and a clear photo of your cat. Consider posting a reward for your pet’s safe return. Place your posters and fliers in high-traffic areas to have as many people see them as possible.
Step 6: Update Your Cat’s Microchip Info
If your pet has a microchip, update your contact information with the provider. Many microchip companies even have resources for lost pets, including helping in the outreach to local vets and shelters.
Step 7: Set Up a Humane Trap
Purchase, rent, or borrow a humane trap to place near your home or around your cat’s last known whereabouts. One such trap, called the Have-A-Heart trap, allows you to set food and water as “bait.” Once an animal moves into the trap, it will humanely shut without causing harm. This method could result in trapping wildlife, too, so use caution!
Step 8: Put Your Cat’s Things Outside
Consider placing your cat’s litter box, favorite toys, bed, etc., outside to entice them to return.
Step 9: Try a Wildlife or Security Camera
Cats are notoriously good at hiding. Using a wildlife or security camera can be helpful in determining if your cat is still in the area, and to establish the best location for finding them or setting up a trap.
Step 10: Hire a Pet Detective
When all else fails, consider hiring a pet detective—it’s not just for the movies! There are many agencies that will help find your missing cat. They may even use a search and rescue dog to help track the scent.
Don’t give up hope! Keep calling shelters and vet hospitals. Update often on social media, or change your posters to a different color to gain more attention. Let people know you are still looking for your cat and aren’t giving up.
What Are the Chances of Finding a Lost Cat?
Unfortunately, not all lost cats make it home, but a little over 60% are reunited with their pet parents. From a 2018 study, a third of lost cats find their way home in the first week. This number grows to 50-60% after around 2-3 months of going missing.1
As time goes on, the chances for successful recovery decreases, but don’t give up! Some pets have been reunited with their pet parents years later.
What to Do If You Find Your Cat
Depending on your pet’s condition and how long they were missing, most vets recommend taking them for a physical exam at a minimum.
Together with your vet, examine your cat for fleas, ticks, cuts, bites, wounds, and anything else unusual. Your veterinarian will check their body weight and condition and may recommend bloodwork to assess hydration and other organ function.
You may need to contact authorities like the fire department or animal control for help if your pet is stuck in a tree, on a roof, or in other unreachable locations. Wildlife removal services may also be able to help, even with a cat that is trapped. With a trapped yet reachable pet, you may try to use Vaseline or similar lubricant (using caution around the eyes and mouth) to help work them out of their stuck predicament.
Keep your pet calm by covering their eyes, speaking quietly, or petting them. Protect yourself from misguided fear biting or scratching. Use thick gloves, muzzles, and blankets if needed to protect yourself, or call authorities to be safe.
How to Keep Your Cat From Going Missing Again
So, what can pet parents do to prevent this from happening? Having an emergency plan in place is a great starting point.
If your cat does not have a microchip, talk to your vet about this simple yet possibly life-saving device. Microchips are inexpensive and easy to insert at a regular exam in most cats.
Register your microchip with the company, so your information is on file if your cat ever goes missing. Be aware of the situations that could cause your cat to run away. Loud noises like fireworks, thunderstorms, or loud parties can cause anxiety and panic in animals.
If you anticipate these events, secure your cat in a safe, quiet place until the threat is over. Finally, consider getting them a collar with an ID tag with your contact info. There are even multiple pet tracking devices that your pet can wear on their collar, which allow you to always monitor their location.
Hopefully, you’ll never find yourself in this situation, but if you do, remember not to panic. Act fast for the best chance to be reunited with your pet. Enlist help from friends, neighbors, and family. While not all pets make it back home, the quicker you spring into action and the broader your search network, the more likely you’ll have your furry friend back in your arms again.
- Huang L, Coradini M, Rand J, et al. Search Methods Used to Locate Missing Cats and Locations Where Missing Cats Are Found. Animals. 2018;8(1):5. doi:10.3390/ani8010005
Featured image: iStock.com/Nils Jacobi
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