It’s every cat human’s nightmare. What do you do when your indoor cat suddenly slips through the front door and wanders off? Or how do you deal with it when your domesticated outdoor cat disappears for days? These missing cat scenarios may cause stress for loving owners, but as a responsible cat parent, it’s better to equip yourself with the right information and tools so you can be ready if and when your cat goes missing.
Before we jump right in, remember that you can prevent a lost cat incident by microchipping your pet. Microchipping is an affordable, permanent way of identifying your cat and increases the chances of you finding her if she gets lost. Though it is not a GPS device that provides your cat’s real-time location, the Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) device provides an identification number when it is scanned by an animal shelter or veterinarian. The identification number is linked to a database, which reveals your information. Make sure your information is always updated, and contact the registry when you change your home address, mobile phone, or email address.
Aside from microchipping, placing a collar with an identification tag around your cat’s neck (especially if she likes going outside with a harness!) will instantly inform strangers how to get in touch with you when they encounter your cat. It also prevents animal shelters and rescues from thinking that your cat is a stray. Depending on the size of your cat’s ID tag, include your pet’s name, your phone number, your complete address, a note that says “I’m microchipped,” and/or your cat’s special medical needs.
So now that you’ve taken preemptive measures to ensure your cat’s safety, what do you do when your cat goes missing?
1 Do a thorough search of your home.
For cat owners who don’t witness their cat’s mysterious disappearance, there may be hope for you yet! Not all cats are truly missing… nor do they want to be found. Get down on your knees and pretend you’re a cat as you do a systematic sweep in every nook and cranny of your home. Look high up or down low, and even check cabinets or under the bed. You’ll be surprised to discover that your cat can tear the lining of a chair or bed and hide within the springs. Before expanding your area of search, look for your cat around your porch, garage, and yard. Arm yourself with a flashlight (to light dark corners and tall tree branches) and the smelliest cat treats you can find.
2 Follow your cat’s trail.
Owners lucky enough to witness their cat’s escape can go after their pet, with the caveat that they follow the cat without running after her or shouting her name. If your cat isn’t used to being outside, the sights, sounds, and smells might overwhelm her. Shouting her name or running after her will only add to her fear. If your cat turns to look at you as she escapes, drop into a kneeling position, stretch your hand out, and avoid looking her in the eyes. Call out her name using your most calm and even tone.
3 Lure her out with delicious food.
Some cats can hide in nearby areas just beyond your reach! To compel her to come out of her hiding spot, use the oldest trick in the book: her favourite food. Set out her food bowl filled with yummy cat food and fresh water just outside your door, and find a hiding spot as you wait for her to come back. A whiff of her delicious meal will make her run home in no time. If you own a baby monitor, keeping one outside next to the bowls may help you detect your cat’s meows when she makes an appearance.
4 Set up a trap or temporary home.
Build a trap right beside the food and water you leave outside your home. Buy or borrow a trap from local TNR rescues to assist in capturing your cat. Though there is no guarantee you’ll find your cat in the cage the following morning (you may end up with another animal instead), it will ease your mind to know that she could be there when you wake up.
If you’re not keen on using a trap, a makeshift cardboard box placed near your cat’s food and water will work just as well. Cut a cat-sized hole in one of the walls, flip the box over, and put soft bedding inside it. This cosy nook just might tempt your cat to return to her home.
5 Leave your scent.
Help your cat find her way back to you! Wear an old shirt and a pair of sneakers (leave out the socks) then take a walk around the neighbourhood. Don’t be afraid to get all sweaty, so the odour permeates the air and hopefully reaches your cat’s sensitive nose. If your cat doesn’t make an appearance, leave these articles right outside your house. Hang the shirt outside where the wind blows, and place your sneakers on your front porch.
6 Inform everyone that your cat is missing.
Design a poster or flyer that includes coloured photos of your cat (one showing her face; another showing her entire body), when and where she was last seen, your mobile number and email address, and reward details to whoever finds her. Print and post these “lost cat” announcements in public spaces at eye level. Take note of where you posted them, and check back on their conditions every 3 days. You can also post digital copies in your social media accounts and share them with various community groups.
7 Ask around.
Bring an up to date photo of your cat, and do some good old-fashioned sleuthing. Stroll through your neighbourhood and ask pedestrians if they saw a cat loitering around (don’t forget to show her photo!). Knock on your neighbours’ doors and ask if they can allow you to check their garage, shed, backyard, and porch.
File a missing cat report with your vet as well as other animal shelters or rescue groups in your vicinity. They can also post your missing cat fliers in their establishments. If you have money to spare, you can also place a lost cat ad in your local paper or local radio station.
Posting on community groups such as Facebook and Reddit is a great way to ensure everyone in your neighbourhood can help look for your cat as well. Leave a contact number and mention the suburb where your cat went missing, along with any other details that come to mind.
8 Look for her in the wee hours of the morning.
Armed with a flashlight, step outside wearing your old shirt and comfortable footwear at about 2 in the morning. Bring a box of tasty and smelly cat kibble, and gently shake it as you call out your cat’s name. You can also try taking a few cans of cat food, and popping them open as you walk round. The sounds you make will travel faster since it’s oh-so quiet around that time.
9 Check out your old neighbourhood.
For paw parents who have recently moved to a new place, consider extending your missing cat search to your old postcode. Some cats have been known to go back to their previous dwelling place because they haven’t considered the new area their home. If you’ve newly moved in, it’s best to keep your cat inside for the first 2 to 3 weeks.
There have been tales of missing cats returning home after being gone for days or even months, so do not lose hope and continue following these steps when your cat goes missing. Have faith that your lost cat will come back to you soon.
Keep your eyes and ears peeled for hints about where your cat could be, and remember that oftentimes, you do not need to look far. A study conducted in 2017 reveals that missing-but-found indoor cats traveled about 39 meters/128 feet away (median distance) from their homes. Meanwhile, the median distance for outdoor cats was measured at 300 meters/984 feet.
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