Can’t find your cat? You are not alone. It happens to many cat owners. I’ve been there, and it’s not a good feeling when you realize one of your family members is not where she is supposed to be. Here are some tips to help you make the most of your resources and find your pet.
Hiding Or Missing? Examining Lost Cat Behavior
“Don’t assume it’s missing,” says Carla Woodson, an animal control police aid at Westminster Police Department Animal Control in Westminster, California.
Before panicking, let’s figure out if your cat is hiding or actually missing. You know her routines best, so start with her usual hiding and napping places, indoors and out.
Be thorough to make sure she’s not hiding in plain sight. My cats loved hiding in the closet, so I would move things around and check under and behind everything to make sure they were not simply camouflaged in there.
Next, branch out to anywhere she might be able to fit or accidentally get trapped. Places to consider include:
- Under beds, including inside box springs and mattresses
- Behind and under all furniture and appliances
- In trees
- Under and behind plants, especially bushes
- Inside sheds and garages
- Under houses, porches and even vehicles
- In crawl spaces
One Lost Cat Tip: Talk To Everyone
“Definitely talk to your neighbors,” Woodson says. “Often [cats are] locked inside someone else’s house.”
Starting closest to home, talk to neighbors to let them know you’re looking for your cat, show them her picture and ask to check inside their sheds and garages in case your pet slipped in and accidentally was shut inside.
Talk to everyone you see in the neighborhood, including children, joggers, mail and newspaper delivery people, dog walkers — everyone. Let them know about your missing cat, show them her picture and give them a phone number where you can be reached in case they spot or find her.
Time For The Lost Cat Poster And Internet Search
“Put signs up and contact shelters,” says Marilyn Krieger, a cat behavior consultant certified through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and owner of The Cat Coach in the San Francisco Bay Area.
On your signs, write “Lost Cat” in large, clear letters to make it easy for passing vehicles and pedestrians to read your sign and keep an eye out for your cat. Describe your cat’s size, coloring, hair length, distinctive markings, collar and the location where she last was seen.
If you can, include one or two pictures on your sign, choose a close-up of your cat’s face and a clear view of her body to help people recognize her easily.
Make sure to include your phone number so people can call you with sightings and information. For safety, do not include your name or address on the signs, Woodson says.
“And don’t have your cat delivered to your house, but arrange to go pick her up,” she adds.
Some people choose to include a reward for returning a lost pet.
“A reward might be OK, but there are more good Samaritans out there than not, so it’s not necessary to put a reward,” Woodson says. “There are many compassionate people out there who just want to help reunite you with your pet, so a reward is not necessarily going to make it better.”
Great places to put your signs include local bulletin boards at grocery stores, coffee shops, the library, laundromats and the community center, as well as on intersection poles.
If you’ve moved recently, check your old neighborhood and post signs there as well.
You also can use the Internet and social media to your advantage. Post your flyer on your Facebook page and your community’s page, and ask people to share and spread the word.
“There are Facebook pages out there dedicated to finding lost pets,” Woodson says. “Also, some cities have neighborhood pages where people can post lost and found pets. Use social media. There are lots of groups out there dedicated to helping people find their pets.”
She also recommended checking the community lost and found and pets listings on Craigslist.org for your area, and posting your lost cat there.
“Go on Craigslist and put a lost and found ad,” Woodson says. “I check it daily, and we’ve found several and matched up the pet and owner.”
Contact the animal shelters, veterinarians, animal control offices and rescue groups in your area as well. People often bring found animals to these locations, especially if they are not wearing a collar with tags that provide current contact information.
Most of these locations will scan all found animals that are brought to them, but if your cat is not microchipped or your contact information is not current, they cannot contact you. And even if your cat left wearing her collar and tags, these items can get lost or removed before she is found.
Be Persistent And Think Like Your Cat
If you are able to determine how your indoor-only cat got out or the last place your outdoor cat was, you can try to follow her route.
“An indoor-only cat usually will hide because it’s an unknown environment and situation,” Krieger says. “They’re stressed, so the usual behavior is to go into hiding and assess the situation.”
Leave out some familiar items, such as her favorite smelly food, water and some belongings. Krieger recommended searching again at a calm time when there’s not a lot of noise to frighten the cat. A flashlight might be handy if it’s nighttime, or to look in dimly lit areas like under porches.
“Some cats will respond to their favorite people calling them, and you can make a trail of food — a favorite and one that smells strongly,” she says. “It just depends on what motivates the cat and how stressed the cat is.
“Be very careful you don’t corner them; they need to come toward you,” she adds. “If they’re startled, they’ll go back underneath or might run away. Also, don’t chase after them or have noisy barking animals around them. They are scared, so the cat needs to feel safe and secure.”
If possible, visit your local animal shelters every few days, even if they say they don’t have a cat of your description. And remind neighbors every week or so that your cat is still missing, and ask them to continue to keep an eye out for her.
Most importantly, don’t give up. One of our indoor-only cats, Princess, got out of the house through a loose window screen while we were out to dinner one night, and she was gone for a month before our joyful reunion.