With all the time that cats spend tucked away snoozing, you may not realize right away that your cat has gone missing. If you’ve checked their favourite spots, shaken the treat bag, searched all the nooks and crannies of your home and they are still nowhere to be found, it’s time to kickstart your lost pet search.
Why do cats go missing?
There’s a reason cats and curiosity go hand in hand – cats are notoriously inquisitive by nature. Your cat may have slipped out the open door driven by their instincts to hunt or defend their territory if a new neighbourhood cat has been coming around. If your cat is not spayed or neutered, they may try to leave your house in search of a potential mate, especially in the spring and summer months.
If you have an outdoor cat, they could be any number of places. Sometimes well-meaning Good Samaritans take cats in, not knowing that they have a loving home. Your cat may have decided to explore an open garage or shed and got trapped when the homeowner shut the door. Sadly, it’s also possible that cats fall prey to wildlife or get injured in a traffic accident. Before jumping to the worst-case scenario, it’s important to do a thorough, physical search.
Why do cats hide?
While we often think of cats as mighty hunters, cats are both predators and prey. In a new, unfamiliar setting, they may feel exposed and nervous, and their instincts will lead them to hide. Sometimes a sick cat may attempt to leave your house to seek a quiet, secluded space to hide if they are feeling unwell and vulnerable. They will usually not venture far, but if your cat is sick and unable to find food or water, time is of the essence.
When searching for your lost cat, you need to check every nook and cranny – some common cat hiding spots include tucked under decks, porches, sheds, bushes, cars – any tiny hidey-hole you think they may be able to wriggle into. Even if you feel like you’ve looked a hundred times, do a thorough indoor and outdoor search multiple times, it’s very possible that they are hiding nearby out of sight.
Can cats come home on their own?
How far a lost cat travels and how likely they are to return home on their own depends on a lot of factors, like their temperament, age, circumstances of getting lost, whether they are an indoor cat or outdoor cat, and the environment. However, most cats are found close to home. In fact, one survey of 1,210 lost cats found that 75% were found within just 500 meters of their escape point!
Outdoor cats may be more likely to return home on their own, as they are familiar with the sights and sounds of the neighbourhood and know their way around, and have a stronger “homing” instinct. A cat that has spent most of their time indoors may be more likely to hide, however, they are likely hiding very close to home. As a pet parent, you know your cat the best - consider your cat’s behaviour and personality to help guide you in your search.
What should I do if I lost my cat? How do I find a lost cat?
Mysterious and low-key by nature, a missing cat can be more difficult to find than a missing dog. When searching, consider these species-specific tips.
- Search (and re-search) the house and the immediate area. Cats are masters of hide-and-seek, so make sure your pet isn’t hiding inside the home. Stressed or sick cats may be especially likely to hide
- Look at night. A scared cat may hide during the day, then come out at night when the neighbourhood is quiet
- Bring a flashlight. Cats like to hide in small, dark places, so bring a powerful flashlight
- Enlist the neighbours. Knock on your neighbour's doors and ask them to check their garages, sheds, and crawl spaces. If your cat wandered in, they could have become locked inside
- Place your cat’s litter box or other familiar smelling items like their bed or blanket, or their favourite toy outside to help attract them back home
- Don’t leave cat food outside to lure them back home, as this can attract wildlife and other animals which may deter your cat from returning
- Don’t assume your cat will come home on their own. You need to actively search for them
How to make a good lost pet poster?
Unlike a lost dog that immediately looks out of place, neighbours may think that your lost cat is just another outdoor cat. A lost cat poster can help clear up any confusion and alert the community to keep an eye out for your missing feline. A good lost pet poster should include:
- A clear, recent identifying colour photo of your cat
- A large bold heading, declaring your cat as lost
- Your contact information, including your phone number or email address
- A short description of your pet, your cat’s name, their last known location, and any relevant behavioural or medical information
Where do I put up my lost pet poster?
Place the posters around your community on telephone poles, bus shelters, notice boards, and community mailboxes. As cats typically stay close to home, concentrate your posters around your home or their last known location. If you live in a bilingual area, consider creating a second version of your poster so that you can reach more people. Many animal care facilities like vet clinics, animal shelters, animal control, or even pet stores will also accept a copy of your poster to hang on their notice board.
Social media can help your cat get in front of more people. Consider visiting:
- Facebook - post on your local lost and found pet group or neighbourhood groups
- Instagram and Twitter - if posting information about your lost pet on Instagram or Twitter, be sure to use location hashtags to reach people in your community
- Consider posting your cat’s information on local buy and sell apps that allow you to target by neighbourhood.
How to use cameras to help find a lost cat?
If you have a doorbell camera like a Ring or a Nest, for example, review the footage regularly to see if you can spot your cat. Don’t have a doorbell camera? Consider a wildlife trail camera or even a baby monitor to try to catch a glimpse of your feline friend. You can also ask your neighbours to check their footage for any sightings.
What if I’ve recently moved?
Moving is a particularly risky time for pets, as the hustle and bustle of activity can cause extra stress. With movers coming in and out and doors being left open, it’s easy for your cat to slip out.
If you’ve recently moved, your cat’s homing instinct may lead them to your old home. Ask the new residents to keep an eye out for your cat and consider posting your lost pet posters in the area. Return to the area to search at night, checking out any possible hiding places.
One of the most important factors in your lost cat search is persistence – get out and actively look for your cat, day and night. Don’t give up hope – there have been incredible stories of cats making their way home after weeks, months, or even years of being lost.