What to Do if You Lost Your Cat

Losing your kitty can be scary! Here's what to do to bring them home.

lost cat

Fernando Trabanco Fotografía / Getty Images

It’s all-too-common to see fliers with photos of dogs that have escaped from the backyard or broke free from their collar, along with their owner’s pleas for help in locating their pup. But many cat owners don’t realize that it’s almost just as easy for cats to go missing, from squeezing through a door that was accidentally left open to escaping from an unsecured pet carrier on the way to the vet.

Meanwhile, some cats simply have an adventurous side, and will stop at nothing to claw or chew through a window screen or figure out how to open a door latch on their own, and if you have an indoor/outdoor cat, it’s always possible to “lose” your kitty inside the garage or a backyard shed when the weather changes and they seek out shelter.

If your cat does go missing, here are some steps you should take to bring him or her home.

Get the Word Out

Many cat owners will end up playing the waiting game on an outdoor cat to return home on his own before they start taking steps to find their lost pet, but it's important not to wait too long, especially when you consider all of the dangers that are lurking outdoors, from cars to wild animals. The good news is that most cats don’t like to travel far from home, so if you’ve determined that your cat truly is missing, more than likely they're hiding somewhere without a few hundred feet of the house.

Posting fliers with your cat's name and description and your contact information (and a reward, if applicable) around the neighborhood is always a good bet, but you’ll also want to take advantage of social media sites like Facebook and Instagram to share images and information about your lost cat while recruiting your friends and family to share your posts. There are also Facebook groups dedicated to recovering lost pets in your area.

Also be sure to distribute fliers to (and call) local animal shelters and veterinary offices, as well as posting your cat's photo on their social media sites whenever possible. If there are groups in your area working with local community cat colonies, they may also be able to help you find your cat. Don't be shy when it comes to recruiting your neighbors, as most people will be more than happy to check their trees or underneath their porches for you, and be sure to provide them with instructions on the best way to approach your cat to help prevent them from running away when spotted.

Rely on Their Identification

All dog and cat owners should microchip their pets and ensure that the chips are registered with the most up-to-date contact information, and another important preventive tool is the cat collar. Hopefully, your cat is equipped with both of these methods of identification, particularly since most people won't look twice if they spot a loose cat without a collar because they'll assume it's a stray. You’ll want to be sure to include a description of your cat’s collar in any fliers or social media posts, as well as alert the microchip company immediately that your cat is missing.

Know Where to Look

When your cat doesn’t show up for dinner, the first thing to do is explore every nook and cranny of your home—because it’s all too easy for cats to get trapped somewhere like a closet or a corner of the garage, and they simply can’t find their way out.

If your cat is definitely not in the house, head outside and get down on your hands and knees—and you may also want to pull that ladder out of the garage. Cats have a natural tendency to seek out both high and low hiding places, as well as anywhere that’s small and enclosed—and they like to be able to observe you without you seeing them. Start your search by looking up towards the trees, underneath the porch, or even inside any empty boxes or containers you may have in the backyard.

Lure Your Cat Back Home

Sometimes getting your cat to come back home will require a little bit of sneakiness. One idea is to put your cat’s bowl and food outside to help them follow the smell and, hopefully, find their way back home. You’ll also want to leave a door open whenever possible. There are also cat traps available that can be left out overnight, so if your cat wanders in to enjoy the food you’ve left inside, you’ll be able to retrieve your scared kitty first thing in the morning.

Pro Tip

An expert way of attracting your cat is to place an unwashed piece of your own clothing outside that your cat can track. If you have access to a night-vision camera, that can also be a helpful tool in locating your cat if they’re attempting to get back into the house in the evening hours, as many scared cats will attempt to break into the house when they think you're not looking.

Keep Searching

It’s always a scary experience to lose a four-legged member of your family, but keep in mind that even the most spoiled indoor kitty will likely be able to rely on its natural instincts to survive if it gets trapped in the Great Outdoors. Be sure to remain diligent and persistent in your search for your lost cat, and continue sharing, posting, and searching until he or she is back home.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.