After a couple of months of taking my cat Mia outdoors, I visited a friend's couple in New Jersey. They have a beautiful backyard and I let Mia outside without a leash and unsupervised.
At some point, I realized it had been too long since I didn't see Mia and I did a quick tour around the yard to try to find her. She wasn't anywhere. My heart started rushing and cold sweat started to appear behind my neck and on my forehead.
This is what I learned:
When you lose a cat you have 12 hours to find them, after 12 hours the chances of finding your cat reduce drastically. Most cats that disappear are either inside the home or in the yard and just chose to not be seen or heard.
Searching them in their favorite hiding spots and trying to discover new ones is the very first step you should take. Using their favorite treats and calling their name it's the second natural step. It sounds dumb if you have just lost your cat but before printing pictures of your cat and bothering the neighbor, look thoroughly inside your home and your yard. Traps, Posters, Social Media, and Detectives should only come after.
I often travel with my cat Mia and I once went back to the hotel and could not find her in her room... She had escaped! Luckily, my cat was wearing an AirTag and I could find her!
Let's go in detail through the steps you should follow if you lose/lost your cat:
Why Do Cats Escape?
About 48% of cat owners (according to a survey done to our YouTube subscribers) have lost their cat at least once. Luckily, about 64.5% got reunited with the cat. In a study done by Huang, L, and their colleagues, 61% of lost cats were found within one year, with 34% recovered alive by the owner within 7 days. Few cats were found alive after 90 days.
Cats escape for a variety of reasons and understanding the reasons will help us both find them and prevent them from escaping.
Cats will escape for one of these 5 things:
- To hunt/eat
- To reproduce
- To defend their territory
- To survive an attack
Cats are curious by nature but that curiosity is trying to fulfill one of the above. Cats that have satisfied (well fed and well played), are neutered or spayed, have no roaming cats around the house, and feel safe inside the home, are very unlikely to go to door dash.
But it's hard to keep a cat 100% happy and when we do, chances are they will try to fulfill their needs on their own.
IF YOU FOUND A LOST CAT, talk to your local shelters and veterinarians, their owners will likely contact them as well!
Start Searching Your Home
The first step is to start searching your home from top to bottom. Look in all the places your cat usually likes to hide or spend time in.
Once you've done that, search all those places where you could've trapped your cat. Oftentimes, we close a cabinet or a room, and we could've left our cat locked inside. Once, one of Mia's Instagram friends told me how almost locks her cat inside the washing machine.
Let me quickly give you a checklist of some places to search for your cat inside your home:
- Places where your cat usually hangs out
- Inside rooms that are now locked
- On top of furniture
- Under furniture (under sofas, nooks, or crannies your cat can squeeze into)
- Inside the washing machine (particularly dangerous because there's no air inside a locked washing machine)
- Got a balcony or terrace? Check there too! more on this in the next step.
Your cat has likely treats they go crazy for. Try getting those treats as you normally would and call your cat to come.
Search the Yard
Most cats have a big drive toward the outdoors. If you could not find your cat indoors, and you have a balcony or a yard, most likely your cat is outside.
Before panicking and starting to think about all how your cat could've left the space, you should comb the yard as you did indoors.
- Start by looking in places where they usually hang out
- Then look for high spots that would give your cat a vantage spot
- Also check in holes and hiding spots that would make your cat feel safe
If none of that worked and your cat is anywhere to be found within your yard, try once more the "favorite treats" trick.
Search the Neighborhood
If you didn't get lucky looking indoors or in your yard, it might be a good time to start expanding your search outside your home. Your cat may have wandered into someone else's yard and is now hiding there.
There are a few things you can do if you believe your cat escaped:
Search for Your Cat on Your Own
Most cats won't go far. Try looking for spots where your cat would be comfortable watching for birds or little rodents while being safe.
If you call your cat, use your normal tone of voice. If they feel you are sad, frustrated, or anxious, they will most likely stay where they are. Cats are drawn to the comforting sound of their owners, so speak to them as when you are talking to them when they are home.
Hanging posters feels very movie-like but it's a great way to keep neighbors informed.
The most useful formula for a poster to find a lost cat is:
- Call the reader's attention: Some words to do so are: "HELP", "REWARD", "LOST CAT" or "ATTENTION"
- Add an image: An image of your cat is the most important piece of the poster. It will help them identify your cat if there were to cross paths with them.
- A brief description: People will hardly read it, so it should only be added if it serves one of these 2 purposes:
- Gives important information about the cat's behavior, name, or any distinctive attribute that could help identify them.
- Encourage them to take action (with a reward, or appealing to their emotions).
- A contact number: There's nothing worse than hanging out a poster and not providing people a way to contact you
Where should you hang those posters? Easy, in places where people are going to see them. Look for crossroads, elevators, and entry doors to the neighboring buildings.
Talk to Your Neighbors
If you live in an apartment building, notify everyone working in the building as they spend more time around the place than you do.
A study from not long ago, in 2017, found that the majority of missing cats are retrieved less than a third of a mile from where they escaped. There's even better news for you if your cat is an indoor cat, because cats that usually don't wander outside, are typically found less than three houses away.
If you live in a neighborhood with houses, ring a few doors as well and get the word out. If there's a gardener or someone taking care of the surrounding properties, it's also a good idea to have them by your side.
Use the Help of Technology to Find Your Cat
While you and your neighbors are working on keeping your eyes open in case your cat comes by, if your cat escaped because they are in heat or they are out and about defending their territory, a good way to find them is by using tools that work 24/7.
The 3 tools that work best are:
Some shelters will happily borrow you a cat trap, but worst case scenario, you can rent one.
There are services like one that PAWS offer that allow you to rent a cat trap for a small fee of $10/day or $50/week. If you were to buy the cat trap, you can find them on Amazon for about $50, which might end up being cheaper.
Put some food inside the trap and wait for your cat to get inside during the night or during the hours that you are not around.
IMPORTANT NOTE! Unneutered Female Cats will escape getting pregnant and if that's your case you must be careful. Cats' pregnancy lasts only 63 to 65 days and if your cat was out for more than 2 months when you find them back, they might be taking care of her kittens and capturing your queen then would kill her whole litter.
Place a GPS and let her go, or follow her to see if there are kittens hidden somewhere before you take your cat back home.
Camera Traps to See if Your Cat is Around
Will also work for you 24/7. In this case, the camera won't catch your cat for you but at least it will let you know that your cat is around.
This option is slightly cheaper than the cat trap, which you can get for less than $40 on Amazon.
Ultimately, once you verify your cat is around, you will still need to go find and recover them, which might come back to the option of the cat trap.
Baby Cameras to Hear Your Cat
Most cats come back on their own during the first 24 hours after escaping. A way to hear them when they are back at the door is by using a Baby Camera. One of those amplifies sounds, so you hear them if they are meowing or scratching at your door.
The alternative is to leave the door open, but that's maybe not a good solution depending on where you live.
Find a Cat Using Social Media / Reddit / Craigslist
The Internet is such a powerful tool. There are people connected across the globe, but also at a micro-scale, you can reach your neighbors and surrounding business owners to alert them of your lost cat.
Try contacting your favorite local influencers, they might be happy to spread the word and help you out.
Report to Shelters and Local Vets
Another good step is to report your lost cat to local shelters and vets. They may have seen or heard of a cat matching your description and can help you get in touch with the person who found them.
Also, your cat is most likely microchipped (more on this later in this article). If your cat is microchipped, if someone finds them and takes them to the vet, the vet will be able to identify you as the rightful owner.
Hire a Pet Detective
There are companies whose job is to find lost pets. Some claim to have a success rate of 80% which seems astonishing to me!
One company that has very good reviews (never tried to work with them) is https://www.lostmykitty.com/ but I'm sure there are others.
How to Prevent Losing a Cat
A microchip is a tiny device implanted under your cat's skin. The microchip contains information about your cat, including your contact information. A shelter or vet can scan the microchip and contact you if your cat gets lost.
Keep a Collar on Your Cat
If you have an indoor cat that likes wandering outdoors or an outdoor cat, it's almost as important as the microchip to have your cat wearing a breakaway collar.
Microchips can only be read by veterinarians and people with access to special microchip readers, but everybody has a phone.
Add in your cat's tag:
- Your Address
- Your Phone Number
Neuter Your Cat
A neutered cat is less likely to roam than an unneutered cat. This is because their sex drive is very strong in both male and female cats and when they are in heat, they will go above and beyond to find a partner.
In the case of females, when they are pregnant, they might try to escape again to find a spot they find adequate for giving birth and raising the kittens.
Keeps Doors and Screens on Windows Closed
Cats can escape through open doors and windows, even some that you believe are too high for your cat to jump from.
Keep doors and windows closed, or use screens to keep your cat inside.
Inform People Who Visit
Visitors to your home may not know that you have a cat. Sometimes, if they know you have a cat, they might not know that your cat is fond of the outdoors and might try to leave the house if they get the chance.
Be sure to inform visitors, especially children, about your cat. Let them know that the door should not be left open and that they need to watch their steps when coming in or out of the house as the cat might use the opportunity to sneak out.
Stop Your Cat from Doordashing
If your cat is prone to dashing out the door, there are some things you can do to stop it:
- Teach your cat to sit and stay every time you open the door
- Reward your cat for staying inside the house even when the door is open
- Never let your cat out without asking them to sit and stay first. Create a routine for waiting for your release command
- Never let your cat out without a harness
Walk Your Cat on a Leash
You can walk your cat on a leash! Walking your cat on a leash is a great way to exercise and spend time together.
It's a good way to let your cat explore the outdoors in a controlled way, preventing them from escaping. There's not much you need to walk your cat on a leash. A good cat harness, a leash, and a few days of training.
Chances are you are reading this because you lost your cat. If that's the case, keep it up! Follow these steps and I wish you the best of luck.
Albert & Mia
Huang, L.; Coradini, M.; Rand, J.; Morton, J.; Albrecht, K.; Wasson, B.; Robertson, D. Search Methods Used to Locate Missing Cats and Locations Where Missing Cats Are Found. Animals 2018, 8, 5. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani8010005