Last week, I shared my Snot story over on my How to Find a Lost Dog post. Snot was my first cat as an adult, and she hated the puppy. She slipped out one night, and I didn’t know she was gone until morning. The story illustrates two things about cats, that they can escape without notice, unlike dogs, and that finding them proves difficult as they don’t trust the way dogs do.
Today I’m going to talk about the lost cat. I’m going to provide my best advice to recover your cat, and hope that even if your cat has been gone for weeks, you may still recover her.
Lost Cat: The First Hours
If you noticed your cat leaving, awesome. You have a good chance of recovering your cat quickly. Note the direction, but do not chase. Cats do not look to humans for support in the way that dogs do, and even a trusted human could chase her farther away.
In a few minutes, set about that direction, walking slowly and calling softly. Bring treats or a can of cat food (or tuna.) If your cat has tired and stopped to rest, she may calm down while resting and come out as you approach, or call you as she walks by. If she is still in a panic, she may not call out and may bolt further.
If your cat left in a calm manner, approaching in a calm manner may get him to come out to greet you in his new “territory.” If you do recover your lost cat, hold her firmly and scruff her if necessary. If you lose her again it will be more difficult to catch her a second time.
If you do find your cat, sit nearby and gently talk to her. She may come out. If she kneads her paws or chirps at you, it’s reasonably likely that she will come out if she isn’t spooked again.
The First Day
As with dogs, a piece of smelly clothing may bring them out. Place a dirty t-shirt or pillowcase near the last place you saw her, and check it in the morning. She may be snoozing on your clothes when you return.
Rent or purchase a few live traps and place them near the last place you saw her, with a favorite food. Because cats do not trust people as easily as dogs, live traps may work well. Check live traps repeatedly, and have a plan to release any wildlife that you catch.
Only people who live in her household should actively search for her. She is likely in an unfamiliar place, scared, and will become more scared by strangers tramping past her hideout. Give her a good chance to return home on her own before sending out the troops.
Prepare a flyer with a good, clear picture, and multiple phone numbers. Have any helpful friends or family pass these out to neighbors, local businesses, and law enforcement. Contact local shelters, vets, and humane societies. If your cat is a purebred, also describe the appearance. Most people do not know what an Exotic is, but they do know “very fluffy cat with a flat face.”
Go to bed calmly, and place a live trap on the porch with cheap, smelly cat food. If she returns in the night, you want her contained in the morning. Odds are, if no one pushes her farther from home, she will return overnight.
The Second Day
If she hasn’t returned overnight, now’s the time to get the neighbors and friends out. Try to search a perimeter that will push her toward your house rather than away from it, if possible. If she panics and knows how to get home, she may return.
Contact shelters, vets, humane societies, and groomers for a large radius. If she approaches someone, they may take her farther away than she already is. For example, I might take a lost cat to a shelter that I know has a low kill rate, even if it’s farther away, because if the owner doesn’t find the pet, at least the pet has a chance at a new family.
Place flyers at grocery and pet stores if possible. If she does approach another person who decides to keep her, they’ll need food and litter.
Post on Facebook groups for lost and found pets, as well as any local garage sale groups that allow posting of lost pets. The more people that know you are looking for her, the more likely someone is to notice the new stray cat in the back yard.
The First Week
Continue to set live traps and your clothing anywhere she is sighted, and check those locations daily. Remember to alert people that they are not to approach her, but to sit calmly and invite her over. If she’s been a beloved pet, she will want to trust people that seem trustworthy.
Contact vets, groomers, and shelters for a wide radius–at least double the distance from your home to the nearest city. If possible, drop off flyers and let them know if she has a microchip.
The Following Months
Do not despair. Many people, myself included, have found a lost cat after months or years. I found a cat that had been lost at just six months old, after three years, in a shelter. (The shelter placed him in a new home–I wasn’t able to take him at the time.) I know a family that found their dog after several months, because a groomer had a flyer.
Continue to hand out flyers for a large radius every month. If your cat was purebred or uniquely marked, continue to hand out flyers to police officers, firemen, and EMT’s. They visit many homes and cover the entire area thoroughly, and may identify a specific pet. Keep up with the vets, groomers, and shelters as well. It was obvious that my cat had found a new home after he left ours, so a vet may have been able to identify him.
Thanks to modern technology, you can purchase a Whistle. The Whistle works as a pet GPS location device. It attaches to the collar, and syncs with your cell phone to tell you exactly where your cat is at any time. This device is awesome if you have a chronic escape artist.
Have you lost a cat?
What did you do in the early days to recover your pet, and how did it turn out?