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Understanding Lost Cat Behavior

If your cat goes missing, understanding their potential behaviors can be a huge benefit to helping you find your cat. Knowing the potential behaviors your cat may exhibit and why they may exhibit them can guide you to specific search areas and toward effective strategies for catching a frightened cat that has been missing.

If you don’t immediately find your cat, don’t lose hope. Cats can be excellent at hiding, especially when in unfamiliar territory. You should also make sure to call the vet clinics in your area to determine if anyone has reported a found cat, and visit the shelters. It’s important to visit the shelters in person if possible to look at the cats they have. Sometimes, confusion about specifics of the cat’s appearance or miscommunication between shelter staff can lead to an unintentional false report that they don’t have your cat.

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Outdoor Cats

feral cats resting outdoor
Image Credit: Dimitris Vetsikas, Pixabay

Although outdoor cats can have a large territory range, they will stay centralized in one area. Typically, this area is your home, where they know they have food, shelter, and clean water. If an outdoor-only cat goes missing, then something in its environment has either impacted its ability to come home or its desire to come home. If your cat has become injured, for example, they may not be able to get home, instead finding shelter near the area they were injured. If another animal has made your cat feel unsafe, like a new neighboring cat or dog, then they may not want to attempt to come home for fear of a confrontation with the other animal.

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Indoor Cats

two cats playing with toy at home
Image Credit: Axel Bueckert, Shutterstock

Many indoor cats are curious about the outdoors and may take the opportunity to slip through an open door or window. They will typically quickly look for a hiding place once outdoors, whether it’s underneath a car or behind some bushes. Their instinct tells them to hide quietly, so it’s uncommon for an indoor-only cat to verbally respond when called once they are outside the comfort zone of the home. More often than not, indoor-only cats will take the first hiding place they see and rarely wander too far from the house within the first few minutes or hours.

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How Temperament Impacts Behavior


Cats that are afraid of everything can be tricky to find and catch. Even when confronted with people they are familiar with, it can be difficult to get these cats out of a hiding place, and they will rarely willingly come out of hiding. They may be prone to biting or scratching when handled on the best of days, so make sure to handle these cats with care when you find them.

Due to their fearful nature, they are likely to be in a hiding place as close to their comfortable territory as possible. Thoroughly check the immediate area around your home and property, checking places like sheds, garages, underneath cars, in and behind bushes, and any other spaces a cat could fit. Remember that cats can fit in very small spaces. Generally, these cats are caught most easily with a humane trap.

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


Initially, cautious cats will respond similarly to fearful cats, finding a nearby place to hide and freezing in fear. They may begin to wander, hiding as they go, and the search area will be similar to that of a fearful cat. The good news about these cats is that, barring an inability to return home, they will typically come back to the area they went missing from. They will generally continue to hide, but will meow or come out of hiding once they see or hear their owner.

These cats may be willing to come out of their hiding place within the first couple of days of going missing. Sometimes, though, they will continue to hide until they become desperate for food or water, which can take up to 10 days. A humane trap may be beneficial, but these cats shouldn’t be overly difficult to catch once found.

scottish folded cat on cat cave
Image Credit: NOKOEIDEH, Shutterstock


These cats are relatively indifferent to people, especially strangers. They may show affectionate tendencies toward people they are comfortable with, but are likely to ignore strangers. Their initial response to getting lost will likely be to hide, but they are likely to begin wandering shortly afterwards. Door-to-door search efforts may be beneficial since someone in the area may have seen your cat wandering.

These cats do sometimes come home on their own, too. Sometimes, they will return straight to the door or window they went missing from and begin scratching or meowing to be let back in. Although aloof, they are not generally fearful cats, so they are more likely to approach people for help if they are missing.

cat rubbing face on man's leg
Image Credit: AlenaBalotnik, Shutterstock


Unlike the other three temperaments, curious cats may or may not initially hide when they become lost. Sometimes, they will immediately begin exploring a new area. Door-to-door searches can be very beneficial since these cats are unlikely to hide as they wander. A broad search area may be necessary, and you should still check in all the hiding places you come across, just in case the cat became spooked by something.

While a curious cat may respond to being called, don’t expect it. Their curious nature means they may be overwhelmed by the number of new sights, smells, and sounds they are experiencing, which can lead to a lack of desire or ability to respond.

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In Conclusion

One of the top mistakes people make when their cat goes missing is giving up too quickly. It can be discouraging to not quickly find your cat, but finding a lost cat can be a challenge. They are great at finding unusual hiding places and may not be willing to come out when called or spotted. It can be difficult to catch a scared cat, and even the most confident cat may become very fearful in a new environment.

When searching for your cat, reach out to neighbors for help since they will be able to tell you if they spot your cat moving around their property. Humane traps are a great option if you think your cat is nearby because it can allow you to safely and carefully catch your cat. Make sure to put the humane trap in a safe spot where your cat will feel safe to get into the trap.

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Featured Image Credit: Piqsels

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