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12 Things You Can Do to Find a Lost Cat

Realizing that you’ve lost a pet is one of the most horrifying experiences imaginable, but it’s even worse when that pet is a cat.

After all, when you go looking for a lost dog, you can call out to them and they will usually come running to you. You might not have such luck with a cat — you have to get lucky.

Below, we’ll outline strategies that make it much more likely that you’ll get lucky in your rescue efforts. Sadly, there are no guarantees, but at least these tips may tip the odds in your favor.

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Immediate Strategies

First, Be Sure the Cat Is Really Lost

Cats love to hide in outrageous places, and they don’t always feel the need to come out just because they know that you’re looking for them.

It’s not uncommon to send out a search party looking for a lost cat, only to see that cat climb out from under the couch after you’ve spent hours tearing the neighborhood apart.

Before you panic, ask yourself if there’s any reason to believe that the cat is truly missing. Was a door left open? Is there a hole in a wall somewhere that would allow them to escape?

If not, look through your house before you print up missing cat flyers. It may save you time and unnecessary stress.

A cat hiding under a couch
Image Credit: Rawpixel.com, Shutterstock

Once You’re Sure That the Cat Is Missing, Don’t Waste Any Time

The longer your cat is gone, the worse your chances of finding them become. So, don’t dawdle; immediately take to the streets with treats and a carrier to see if you can track them down.

Flyers are a good idea, but you shouldn’t spend the time making them yourself. See if you can get a friend or family member to do it while you’re pounding the pavement; however, you should also recruit as many people as possible to help you look.

While you’re out and about, try to think like your cat. Are there any places that you think they’d love to explore? Did anything happen recently in the neighborhood — like new construction or a barking dog moving in next door — that they might want to get away from?

Think about logistics too. What’s the path of least resistance from your house? Where is the most logical place for them to go?

Don’t Be Shy About Asking for Help

Knock on neighbor’s doors, and ask every passerby you encounter if they’ve seen your cat. You never know where a clue could come from, so don’t be shy about talking to people.

It helps if you have a good, recent photo to show people, so carry that with you while you ask around.

If you know your neighbors well or generally live in a safe area, you can be bold about looking around their property as well. Don’t break any laws (or windows), but you can look in bushes, under porches, and wherever else looks promising.

Most people will be understanding once you explain what you’re doing.

Leave the Door Open for Their Return

Put food and water on your porch before you leave. If possible, give your cat a way to get back in the house as well.

The idea is to keep your cat in one place if they return while you’re gone. You don’t want to miss a golden opportunity just because your cat didn’t feel welcomed home.

You may also want to leave a baby monitor or similar device near the door. If it has sufficient range, you may be able to hear your cat if they return while you’re out looking.

Front view of half-open door
Image Credit: Sanatana, Shutterstock

Consider Setting a Trap

If you plan on looking for a long time, think about leaving a trap out near the house. It may sound barbaric, but most traps are completely humane; also, your kitty won’t be in there long.

Leave food and water inside, and put it somewhere safe. The smellier the bait you use, the more likely it is to work (fish works well for this purpose).

Just be forewarned, though: You run the risk of coming home and finding something besides your cat in that trap.

Make Yourself Stinky

Using smelly food as bait is a great idea. However, you can also use your own odor to your advantage.

Grab clothes out of the dirty laundry bin, and put your oldest pair of sneakers on without socks. Then, walk around for as long as you can looking for your cat.

The idea is to work up a sweat. This will then leave a scent trail that your cat can follow to you.

Just know that this strategy only works if the cat wants to come home but is lost; if they’re perfectly happy on their own, they may avoid your smell instead.

Sprinkle Used Kitty Litter Outside

A cat’s sense of smell is extremely strong, and you’d be wise to try to harness that sniffer to your advantage.

As you probably know by now, cat pee is extremely pungent (and their other waste doesn’t smell too good either). If you sprinkle used litter around the house, the cat may smell it and return home.

Although, you run the risk of inviting other animals into your yard, so proceed with caution.

Cleaning cat litter box
Image Credit: Zoran Photographer, Shutterstock

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Long-Term Strategies

If you don’t find your cat the same day that they go missing, your odds of success go way down. That doesn’t mean you should give up, though.

Here are a few long-term strategies you can use to maximize the chances that you’re eventually reunited with your pet.

Print Flyers

Put the best picture of your cat that you can find on a piece of paper, along with your phone number and a brief message. Then, print up a bunch of copies and start putting them up around the neighborhood.

You can offer a reward as an incentive if you can afford it. However, you may be able to find your cat simply by appealing to people’s better angels.

We recommend using colorful cardstock rather than plain white paper. It’s much more likely to catch people’s eye — just be sure the picture is clear and the words are legible.

Put them anywhere that people are likely to see them. You can post them at grocery stores, pet stores, or at the post office (just don’t stuff them into mailboxes). You can also staple them to telephone poles or simply hand them out door to door.

Young couple putting up missing pet banners
Image Credit: StockMediaSeller, Shutterstock

If You’ve Moved Recently, Check Your Old Neighborhood

People rarely consult their cats before they move, and your kitten may have just decided that they liked the old digs better. If you don’t have any luck searching the new neighborhood, go back and give the previous spot a once-over.

You can also post flyers in the old area as well.

Cats have an uncanny sense of direction, and it’s not unheard of for them to travel great distances to find familiar stomping grounds. This one’s a bit of a long shot, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to check.

Hit Up Your Local Animal Shelter

If a stranger finds your cat (and they don’t have any identification on them), chances are that they’ll end up at the pound.

You should check every day for the first few days; you can also leave a picture and your contact information with the staff so they know to call you if your little buddy shows up.

If you don’t have any success after the first week, you can switch to checking every few days or once a week.

Don’t Overlook Children

When you’re canvassing the neighborhood with your flyers, resist the temptation to ignore any kids you come across. Ask them if they’ve seen your cat — little ones are often the best at finding lost pets.

Now, keep in mind that this is a popular tactic for kidnappers too, so don’t be creepy about it. Just ask if they’ve seen the cat and go on about your business; don’t ask them to follow you anywhere or help you look for it, or you could be the one who ends up in the pound.

Spend Your Spare Time Outside

Whenever you have a free moment, go outside. You can work in the garden, wash your windows, or just sit out and enjoy nature.

While you’re doing that, though, call your kitty. Shake a bag of treats while you’re at it too.

This is another long-shot strategy, but it’s incredibly easy to do, and you want to make sure you cover all your bases.

father and son sitting on tree house stairs
Image Credit: Olesia Bilkei, Shutterstock

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How to Find a Lost Cat at Night

Many of the suggestions above rely on using your vision to locate your lost kitty. However, if they’ve disappeared late at night, you may not be able to find them with just your eyes.

The good thing about looking late at night is that it’s probably quiet outside. You’re more likely to hear your cat if they’re rustling around in the bushes somewhere.

Try to make yourself as stinky as possible — old clothes and shoes, a bag full of fish in your hand — and walk around the neighborhood.

You can call out to your cat if you know that they’re likely to respond to their name; the key is to stay calm, even if you’re breaking apart inside. If your cat doesn’t come when called, you may be better off keeping quiet.

You can also appeal to their ears. If they have a jingly toy that they particularly like, take it with you and rattle it a bit. You may just coax them into coming out to play. Shaking a jar of treats often works as well.

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Prevention Is Worth a Pound of Cure

Finding a lost cat is difficult, so you’re better off preventing them from getting out in the first place. Here are a few things you could do; if your kitty does escape someday, these strategies exponentially increase your odds of finding them.

Put a Collar On Them

Many people don’t put collars on indoor cats; after all, they’re not going anywhere.

However, that can backfire spectacularly if they make their way outside. If someone finds your pet and they’re not wearing a collar, there will be no way to contact you.

However, collars can easily get lost or ripped off, especially while your cat is traipsing through the wilderness. Even if you make your cat wear a collar, you should do the next item on this list as well.

orange and white tabby cat with collar_Sydneymills_shutterstock
Credit: Sydneymills, Shutterstock

Get Them Microchipped

Microchipping is fairly cheap and easy to do; all it takes is a single vet visit.

It’s also one of the best ways to ensure that you’re reunited with a lost pet. If someone finds your cat and takes it to a vet or the animal shelter, the first thing they’ll do is scan the cat to see if they’re chipped.

If so, your information will pop right up, and you’ll be minutes away from getting your best friend back.

Secure Your House

Cats are accomplished escape artists, so don’t leave them any openings to practice their craft.

Make sure your windows have secure screens and that there aren’t any holes in the walls or floors your cat might wriggle through.

You can use this time to check your insulation too; if you’ve been experiencing higher-than-normal utility bills, it may be a sign you have drafts — and that could mean there’s a place for your cat to get out somewhere.

You may want to install a “catio” around the front and rear doors as well. These are fenced-in patio areas; many people use them to allow their cats to experience the outdoors safely, but they can also serve as a last defense against an escaping animal.

Train Your Cat Not to Leave

Don’t give your cat any attention, affection, or food near the door; instead, teach them to follow you to another spot if they want love. This keeps them from fixating on the door when you’re coming and going.

You should also teach your cat to come when called. This is surprisingly easy; just call them while shaking a bag of treats, then reward them when they come. If you can teach them this, it will prove invaluable during a search.

Also, make your house as engaging and inviting for your cat as possible. If they don’t have enough toys and diversions, they’ll go outside to find some. You want to have everything they need right there in your house.

calico cat standing up on hind legs
Image Credit: Andriy Blokhin, Shutterstock

Train Your Guests, Too

The most likely time for your cat to escape is when you have visitors. They might not know that your cat likes to dart for the door, they might not know you have a cat, or they might just be the kind of dolts that leave doors open.

Regardless, make sure they know how important it is to make sure the door is safely locked. Put a note at the door if you have to.

If the guests are only coming over for a short visit, you may want to lock the cat in another room while they’re visiting. This eliminates the possibility of escape, while also providing your cat with an excuse not to mingle with strangers.

Make Sure You Have Up-to-Date Photos

This item’s the most fun one on this list.

The last thing you want if your cat gets lost is to discover that you don’t have any good pictures of them. So, make sure you have plenty of clear, identifiable photos of your cat on your cell phone so you can give strangers a clear idea of what they’re looking for.

Every few weeks or so set up a kitty photo session. Make sure you have a clear face photo, as well as one that shows any identifying marks or features.

If your cat has something unique about them, like a missing leg or an interesting color pattern, you want to make sure your photos reflect that.

Don’t Give Up

It can be tempting to abandon all hope, especially if you’ve been searching for a long time without any luck. However, it’s important that you never give up.

There are plenty of stories about lost cats showing up days, weeks, or even years after they escaped. Granted, those stories are the exception rather than the rule, but they do exist.

That doesn’t mean you have to spend every waking moment looking. It simply means that you should keep hope alive in your heart, and make sure that your cat has a way to get back home safely if they want to.


Featured Image: StockMediaSeller, Shutterstock