What to Do If Your Cat is Missing

Just hours after I placed Turbo, a senior shelter cat, into his foster home I got a frantic call to say he was missing. His foster mom couldn’t find him anywhere in her apartment and was afraid he had sneaked out when she opened the door to get her mail. After a thorough search of the apartment, we were relieved to find Turbo tucked under towels at the back of the linen closet.

Not all missing cat stories have such happy endings. According to an article in the HSUS’ All Animals magazine, of the 6 to 8 million dogs and cats who end up in U.S. shelters, fewer than 2 percent of cats—and 15 to 30 percent of dogs—are reunited with their owners.

What to Do If Your Cat is Missing

Conduct a thorough search of your home and property.

Search every inch of your house and property. That includes looking in closets, drawers, air ducts, behind appliances, under beds, in the hollow under reclining chairs, behind books in a bookcase as well as in sheds, garages, under decks and anywhere else your cat could hide around the property.

Also consider that because cats have a tendency to explore new places, like the back of pick-up trucks or underneath cars they sometimes are accidentally taken away from home.

Kim Freeman from LostCatFinder.com, a certified pet detective who specializes in searching for missing cats, recalls one case when an indoor orange tabby escaped the house. During that search the pet detective’s tracking cat Henry led her to look underneath the client’s vehicle where she discovered three orange cat hairs stuck to the guardrail. That completely changed the focus of the search.

What to Do if Your Cat Goes Missing

Kim Freeman, tracking cat Henry at work.

“We now knew it was likely that the client’s cat had been hiding under the car when she drove to the gym that morning,” Freeman said.

Within hours of posting lost cat fliers along the route to the gym, someone called to say they had seen an orange cat sitting in the middle of the road about three miles from the client’s home. Freeman found the cat under a toolkit in someone’s garage in the area where he had been spotted.

Search the neighborhood, and knock on doors.

Once you’ve completed the search on your own property it’s time to look further afield.

Pet detectives say that because indoor cats who bolt are likely to hide out close to home, and its best to focus your initial search within a five to seven-house radius of your home. Ask neighbors if you can check their yards, garages and sheds and spaces under their homes and outbuildings.

Freeman said while it’s human instinct for people to walk around the neighborhood calling their cats and shaking a treat bag, it’s not always the best approach.

“Cats may come for treats in the house, but they act differently when outside, especially cats who have never been outside before,” Freeman said.

If you do use this method, Freeman suggests only doing it on your own property. If you walk around the neighborhood calling and shaking a treat bag you may inadvertently be pulling your cat away from home, she said.

What to Do If Your Cat is Missing - A bright poster offering a reward can be a big help.

Experts recommend using a fluorescent poster board, and writing “Reward” in huge letters at the top and “Lost Cat” at the bottom.

Spread the word.

Staff at Pet FBI, a nonprofit online missing pet database, recommend taking along a photo of your pet to show neighbors and people who know the area including letter carriers, meter readers, school bus drivers, joggers, neighborhood children.

Experts in the All Animals article recommend using a fluorescent poster board, and writing “Reward” in huge letters at the top and “Lost Cat” at the bottom. Put a high-quality photo of your cat in the middle between two or three words of description. Freeman said the best photos are of cats standing up with the tail clearly visible. Place the posters in highly-trafficked areas, and drop them off at local shelters and veterinary clinics.

Freeman recommends calling or faxing shelters, rather than spending time visiting each one, early on in the search process.

“It’s very rare, unless you have a neighbor who hates your cat, that your cat will be at a shelter even within a week of being missing,” Freeman said. “Very few cats allow themselves to be picked up.”

Also consider placing ads in newspapers and announcements on radio stations. Check online at sites such as the Center for Lost Pets. Freeman encourages her clients to post a photo and details about the missing cat on Craig’s List and on Nextdoor.com, the private social network for local neighborhoods. She recommends refreshing Craig’s List postings weekly until the cat is found.

What to Do if Your Cat Goes Missing

Lure your cat to a humane trap.

If your cat is too scared to come out of hiding, the All Animals article recommends setting “baited traps with voice-activated baby monitors (to alert you when an animal is caught).” Be patient, because it can take a few days for cats to build up enough courage or become hungry enough to come out of hiding.

It’s important for owners to steer clear of bad advice and myths when it comes to finding lost cats. According to Freeman, one of the worst and most dangerous myths is that putting out a litterbox will lure your cat home. The litterbox, she said, will attract strange cats and dogs to your property as well as wildlife.

“If you live in an area where there are coyotes you are playing with fire putting a litterbox outside,” Freeman said. “Kitties don’t bury their poop out of courtesy, they are covering the scent to protect themselves from predators.”

Get professional help.

If you can afford to hire a pet detective, experts at the HSUS suggest doing that as soon as possible, as scent trails weaken over time. When hiring a detective, check to see if they are certified, ask for references and steer clear of anyone who guarantees success. The Missing Animal Response Network lists certified pet detectives by state.

Too often people lose heart when their cat has been missing for a few weeks, believing they will never see their pet again. It’s important, say experts at the ASPCA, to never give up on your search. Remember that many lost pets have found their way back.

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Photo credits: Thinkstock


Kathy K
Kathy Kyesterday


Margie F
Margie FOURIE10 days ago

Here we are advised to keep out cats in the house, which doesnt seem like a good life for the cats. They are taken for dogfighting.

Chad Anderson
Chad Anderson19 days ago

Thank you.

Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara19 days ago

the cat will try to return

Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara19 days ago

don't give up hope

Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara19 days ago

the boys wander further than the girls as they have to protect a larger territory.

Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara19 days ago


Carole R
Carole R20 days ago

My cats stay inside. I would break my heart if they were ever lost.

Leo C
Leo C20 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

Kathy G
Kathy G21 days ago

Thank you