How to Find a Lost Cat: Search Tips from an Expert

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Start your search at home before you start making signs and knocking on neighbors’ doors.

If you need to know how to find a lost cat, you're at the right place. This is a difficult time, but there are things you can do to find your missing feline. First off: Don’t panic. There’s a good chance your cat is somewhere near your home and could reappear soon. It might just take some searching.

We spoke with an expert to learn the best ways to find a lost cat. Here are some suggestions that can help you locate your missing kitty.

How to Find a Lost Cat Indoors

Before searching outside, make absolutely sure your lost cat isn’t still in the house, advises Kat Albrecht, the founder of the Missing Animal Response Network (MARN). Once, a family contacted her, convinced a bobcat had killed their missing cat. After a few days, the family adopted a new kitten. The homecoming of the mewing kitten triggered a noise from the house’s chimney—where the first cat was stuck.

If your cat typically hides and doesn’t come out until long after houseguests have departed, she might be hiding or stuck somewhere when you think she’s “lost.” She’ll be panicked and afraid, so she’ll stay silent to avoid danger. That’s why owners have to look hard.

  • Check all of your cat's favorite spots
  • Search high shelves and closets throughout the house
  • Look in small, cozy nooks where your cat may be hiding, such as laundry baskets and drawers.
  • Check the attic, basement, and behind closed doors in your home in case kitty got stuck somewhere

How to Find a Lost Cat Outside

Once you’ve thoroughly explored inside, start searching around the outside of your home. If you have an indoor cat, they will likely be somewhere near your house, Albrecht says. “They will almost always be hiding.”

For instance, the Texas Pet Detectives Association found a missing cat hiding in a half-finished patio made of cinderblocks close to home. Rescuers eventually had to remove some of the cinderblocks to retrieve the feline.

  • Check under decks, porches, and other smaller places where a cat could hide.
  • Search in garages and sheds, including under cars and equipment.
  • Look up at trees and the tops of tall structures since cats often climb high to feel safe.
  • Search late at night when outdoor activity quiets down and you have a better chance of hearing your cat.
  • Look at your or your neighbor’s surveillance camera footage—doorbell cameras to the rescue!
  • Deploy wilderness cameras in case your cat ventures out from hiding.
  • Consider putting food outside your home to attract your cat.

If they can find their way, some cats might eventually return home because they pass a “threshold” and need their human—likely for food or water—but that’s not always the case, Albrecht says.

Your cat’s past behavior might give you an idea of what they're doing when they're lost, she says. If they like to socialize when company visits your house, they may have simply wandered down to a nearby house and found a way inside.

So, the next step is to talk to your neighbors. But, Albrecht says, don’t just ask whether they’ve seen the cat—ask to search around their house like you did at your home. It might mean getting a bit dirty on your hands and knees, and you'll need to use flashlights to peer into dark places. It’s up to you, not your neighbor.

“They're just not going to care that much to do that, so you need to do that,” Albrecht says.

How Far Do Lost Cats Go?

2017 study on missing cats measured how far away from home 477 cats were found. The median distance was about 50 meters from home. For indoor cats, the median distance was 39 meters—128 feet—away.

Cats with access to the outdoors—ones who might roam around the neighborhood freely—were often found farther away. Their median distance was measured at 300 meters, more than three football fields away, according to the study.

If you know your indoor-outdoor cat’s territory, search that area before expanding out. Don't delay, but try to stay positive and be patient. The same study showed that 59% of cats were found alive after a physical search. Most were found within a week of searching, but the percentage decreased as the time missing went up.

How to Get the Word Out About a Lost Cat

As you conduct searches, spread the word to neighbors and local businesses. There are a few ways to do this beyond word of mouth.

Social Media

It’s good to get the word out about your lost cat, but a post on Facebook or Instagram might not do much if you aren’t connected to the people who live near you. Albrecht suggests posing on Nextdoor, where your neighbors are more likely to see the information.

You might also check to see if there’s another social media-based lost pet organization or an online group for missing pets in your area that can help spread the word. Craigslist is a good place to post, too, along with checking the site for posts about found cats in your area.

Posters and Fliers

Fliers are good, but you’ll want to hand them directly to neighbors. Just stapling them to a telephone pole isn’t as effective. Include a good-quality photo of your cat, basic identifying details, and contact information.

For signs, go big. Go neon. On her website, Albrecht tells pet owners to make signs giant and fluorescent, with a large photo of their cat or dog. Place the signs at major intersections near where the pet was lost so drivers don’t miss it. Keep the message brief so drivers can read it as they move past. MARN has a great sign-making guide with advice for getting your poster noticed. Also, place a large sign outside your home for passersby to see.

Beware of Scams

Sadly, some criminals use fliers, classified ads, and online posts to take advantage of people. If you're contacted by someone who says they found your cat, ask for a photo or details about your cat that are not on the posting. Do not meet them alone—bring a trusted person along and arrange to meet in a visible location during the day (a public place is best).

Who Else to Contact

Call local animal shelters and animal control to see if anyone has found your feline. If your cat was wearing a collar and ID tags—or even better yet, microchipped—and ends up being turned into a shelter, you have an excellent chance of being reunited.

You should also report your cat missing to the microchip registration company. If a shelter or veterinary employee scans your cat's chip, they'll typically look up the microchip registration and contact the company for more information. Plus, these companies will often provide you with resources to help with the search.

If your cat had no ID and wasn’t chipped, calling shelters or even scouring them in person may increase your odds of success.

cat hiding under sofa

How to Lure Out a Lost Cat

Locating a missing cat is tough, but luring them back into the house might be another challenge. Your cat might want to stay in their hiding spot.

Albrecht says owners trying to lure out their cat should use food. You can even place food just inside the door and then close it once your cat heads back inside. You might also consider leaving food and water outside the home in case the cat comes back at night.

A humane trap might be needed when your cat is hiding somewhere more secluded. You can dribble food to the trap with a larger helping within the trap as the primary bait. Cover the trigger plate with a blanket or towel.

Lost Cat Myths

Albrecht says cat owners should avoid three misconceptions if their cat goes missing:

  1. Putting a cat’s litter box outside will coax it back home. The idea is the cat will smell it and come home. Not really, Albrecht says. The cat might come back if the litter box is out, but it’s likely they came back because they need food or water. The litter box just happens to be there.
  2. Cats will leave their homes when they’re close to dying. That doesn’t happen much either, she says. Unfortunately, sometimes cats will pass away hidden from plain sight, so you might have the unfortunate task of finding them hidden on your property, but that doesn’t mean they hid to die alone.
  3. Assuming that a coyote or other predator killed the cat. There are usually clues, like clumps of fur, when this happens. But some owners just assume that’s what’s happened when their cat goes missing. If owners assume their cats were killed and stop looking, the cats can eventually be taken into a shelter. There, if they don't have any identification, they could possibly be euthanized if no one adopts them, Albrecht says.

Whatever the reason she's disappeared may be, don’t give up on your lost cat. Some cats can go missing for days—or even months—before finding their way back home. If you need expert help, you can always contact a pet detective to aid your search.

“It’s human nature to want an answer,” Albrecht says. “We all want to solve the mystery.”

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