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How to Find a Lost Cat: Whether At Home and Outside

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It’s impossible to describe the feeling when you’ve lost your cat. The entire world screeches to a halt, you stop breathing, and all you can think about is how to find your lost cat baby. Unlike dogs, cats are quiet. This makes them a lot trickier to locate, especially outdoors. Trying to catch the sound of a frightened mew amidst weather, traffic, and other animals can be almost impossible. Meanwhile, your cat’s first instinct is to hunker down and hide. With no obvious clues to go on, what’s the best way to go about finding your lost cat?

Start Close to Home

A lost cat may be inside the house

Crazy as it sounds, a lot of lost cats never leave the house. So while you’re busy searching outside for how to find your lost cat, she may be closer than you think. Cats are notorious for finding impossible places. My cats regularly give me a heart attack. Despite KNOWING they couldn’t possibly be outside (they’re afraid of the doors), my “mommy panic” kicks in every time I can’t find them. They have to be lost! Nope, they’ve:

  • Dug into the box spring
  • Set up camp behind the washer
  • Closed themselves into a kitchen cabinet
  • Climbed behind/under the oven
  • Curled up in the towels (that one took FOREVER to figure out)

So unless you witness your cat escaping, conduct a thorough sweep of the indoors FIRST. Leave nothing unturned. Cats can give master magicians a lesson (I swear they have secret portals). Never assume one sweep is enough, either. While your back is turned, they’ll change hiding places on you. If you can, employ a second set of eyes.

Tracking a Lost Cat Outside

Cats often hide under cats

Lost cats don’t usually venture more than a third of a mile away from home, even outside. This makes finding your lost cat a little bit easier. Most cats try to hide around their porch or garage, where the scents are familiar. They’re now in a world that’s frightening, overwhelming, and potentially hostile, and they want to vanish.

While you’re going to be in panic mode, remain calm (as possible). Change into comfortable clothes, put on comfortable shoes, and get ready to hit the streets. While you’re at it, start thinking like a cat – a scared cat.

Check in, around, under, and on top of every surface you find. This goes double for trees. Cats can go up trees without a problem, but climbing back down is harder. Their claws just aren’t designed for DOWN.

Make sure you ask your neighbors for permission before entering their property. Odds are they’ll want to pitch in with the search. Share photos (face and full body) of your cat. Don’t raise your voice when you call – use a soft, normal volume. If your cat has a favorite treat container, shake it as you walk. Talk with anyone you encounter and show them your photos. Talk to kids, especially. (Little girls always seem to find lost cats!) That’s right; you’re creating a Lost Cat Watch.

“Please Come Home”

When you get back from your neighborhood canvas, get a large cardboard box and cut a cat-sized hole in it. Weigh down the flaps so it won’t blow over, then set it on your porch. Place your shirt and shoes (now saturated with your scent) inside the box. Add your cat’s bed or blanket.

Punch holes in the top of a disposable Tupperware container and fill it with your cat’s smelliest food. Put it and water out on the porch. If you have one, set a baby monitor near the box to listen for your cat’s call. If you have the capability, a camera is also a great idea.

Some people suggest putting used litter boxes out, but this is a big NO. You’ll end up attracting feral cats, which will further frighten your cat away. This is also why you don’t want open bowls of food. You could end up attracting ferals or even wild animals. Scent is the most important component of luring your lost cat.

Recognize that the best time to search for your lost cat is when everything is quiet. Get out your flashlight and repeat your search at 2:00 AM (without knocking on your neighbor’s doors). Your cat is more likely to venture out under cover of darkness. Also, it’ll be easier for you to hear the scared meow.

Little Lost Cat

Right behind active searching, word of mouth is the second greatest tool for finding a lost cat. The more people you engage, the better. With social media, you have more tools at your disposal, and you can employ family and friends to hit the keys while you search.

Hopefully you microchipped your cat. Contact the company the microchip is registered with. Most will send out alerts to the veterinary hospitals and shelters in your immediate area as part of their services. This is why registering – and updating – your information is vital.

As soon as you can, make a flyer to post and distribute. Use brightly colored paper and print “LOST CAT” across the top as large as you can. You want those words visible from passing cars, and you want to post the flyer at eye level. Include the following information:

  • A photo
  • Your cat’s name
  • Your cat’s description, especially identifying marks
  • Where and when you last saw your cat
  • Your phone number and email

Do NOT include your name or address (for security reasons). Also, DON’T include a reward. It’s tempting, but owners have ended up the victims of extortion from people claiming to have found a lost pet.

Change your voicemail to something similar to the following:

“You’ve reached (your name). If you’re calling about my lost cat, (name), please leave a message with the date and place you last saw him, along with your name and phone number. Thank you.

Next, contact EVERYONE:

The Real Trick to Finding Your Cat

The best way to figure out how to find a lost cat? Keep looking. Per Kat Albrecht, author of The Lost Pet Chronicles: Adventures of a Canine Cop Turned Pet Detective and trainer at the Missing Animal Response Network, lost cats WANT to be found.

Don’t give up! Change those posters to read “STILL MISSING.” Keep checking in with everyone in the neighborhood. Ask people to share your posts on social media.

A little over half of all lost cats are FOUND within two months!

Close your eyes, breathe, and start searching. You’ve got this.

Want more cat content? Check out cat friendly flowers and plants to keep your cat safe

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Andria Kennedy

Andria Kennedy

Andria Kennedy worked as a Licensed Veterinary Technician for 10 years, focusing on Emergency/ICU and later Cardiology, as well as volunteering at both the Philadelphia Zoo and Virginia Living Museum for over six years. She's now a freelance writer, but she gravitates toward writing projects with a focus on animals (once an animal-lover, always an animal-lover). She lives in Virginia with her husband, three cats (one "works" as her personal assistant), and a Greyhound who thinks she's a big cat — all of them rescues.

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