Coping emotionally when your cat is missing

Your cat being missing can be incredibly distressing. You may not be able to eat or sleep, you may feel sick, you may have no interest in showering, you may not feel able to go to work.

We don’t have a magic bullet for making this a breeze, but we do have some suggestions, based on our own experiences and those of people we’ve helped.

On this page

Know that this is a very big deal

You’re not over reacting. You’re not going mad. You are going through an incredibly stressful experience, something that others may not understand unless they’ve experienced it.

Some people have told us that their cat being lost was more stressful than their parents dying.

Kat Albrecht, from the Missing Animal Response Network, is a former police detective and the world’s expert in lost pet recovery. She has said, ‘The emotional aspect of what families go through and how they feel marginalized, especially cat owners who’re told “It is just a cat!” is such a big problem.’

It’s not you, it’s the situation you’re in. Your feelings are completely normal.

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It’s the uncertainty that kills you

Anyone who’s experienced a missing child, or other loved one, will tell you that it’s the uncertainty that’s the hardest to cope with. Even your teenager coming home late might lead you to imagine the worst.

It’s the same with your missing cat – ‘I can’t stand the not knowing! Just let me know where you are, dammit!!’

Focus on controlling the things you can control. Perhaps the Serenity Prayer may help:

‘Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.’

What are the things you can change?

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Ignore the doom and gloom

When you tell people your cat is lost, you’ll likely have people tell you that:

  • they’ve probably starved
  • they’ve probably been killed by a fox
  • they’ve probably been hit by a car
  • someone has probably taken them
  • they’re ‘only a cat’
  • you’re spending too much time finding your cat
  • you should move on and get another cat.

We have helped people who have been told all of these things.

In each case, their cat was found, because they continued their search and didn’t listen to the doom and gloom.

We encourage you to adopt this motto during your search: They are there somewhere. Unless I find their body, I won’t give up.

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Don’t play the ‘if only’ game

If only I didn’t open the window. If only I didn’t leave the door open when I brought in the shopping. If only I didn’t carry the carrier by the handle when we went to the vet. If only I locked the cat flap before the fireworks began. If only I brought them inside before the removalists arrived. If only we didn’t go away. If only we did go away.

The ‘if only’s’ are endless. And it’s very common to blame yourself and feel guilty. If someone else led to your cat becoming lost, you might feel very angry with them.

Does this help your lost cat?

Possibly not, especially if you become so grief-stricken and emotionally paralysed that you’re unable to do what needs to be done to find them.

You can’t control the past. You can only control what you do now to find your cat; now when they really need you to function effectively and be determined to find them.

So focus on what’s within your control, now.

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Look after yourself

You likely can’t eat or sleep. You may be shaking, vomiting or have diarrhea.

As with any stressful experience, trying to keep some aspects of your life as normal as possible will help you keep going.

• Try to keep eating, even if it’s only dry toast or soup
• Stay hydrated
• Do lots of deep breathing. The 4-7-8 method is recommended by counsellors and health practitioners
• Have a warm bath
• Before you go to bed each night, write down what you did do that day to find your lost cat. Write down what you’re going to do tomorrow. And the next day. You may like to use our record sheet template to document your work
• Use calming strategies to help you sleep – do 4-7-8 breathing, meditate, burn a candle, use lavender on your pillow, take some natural sleep aids like Valerian or Calms Forte (health food stores or online)
Rescue Remedy – as often as every 15 minutes – can also be a big help (from health food store or supermarket; in supermarkets, it’s usually in the medicinal aisle, bottom shelf, small yellow box).

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Seek support

Reach out to people who care about you and, hopefully your missing cat, for support. Ask if they’ll help you with doorknocking and searching, setting up and monitoring wildlife cameras, erecting big signs etc.

It is emotionally gruelling doing this on your own. Each person you doorknock who says they haven’t seen your cat feels like a door slammed in your face. It’s very easy to feel hopeless and helpless.

Having others do this with you, and support you, can make a big difference, even though you may get the same response from neighbours. It cuts a little less when you have someone with you.

If you don’t have suitable people in your life for support, consider calling crisis lines, such as Lifeline (13 11 14, 24 hours a day) or Griefline. (They help people in all sorts of upsetting situations, not just when suicidal. But, if they tell you your cat is probably dead, or they’re ‘just a cat’, please ignore it).

Or make an appointment with a cat-friendly counsellor.

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Focus on what you can control and what you’re doing to find them

Rather than playing the ‘if only’ game, focus on the things you can control.

Focus on what you need to do to find them. Use the lost cat pages here to plan the search methods you’ll use.

Keep a record of what you’ve done, using our template record sheet (link).

See every single thing you do as bringing you one step closer to bringing them home. That particular thing may not have brought them home – at this stage. But it could be a crucial step in their recovery. You just don’t know it yet.

One step at a time. Until you find them.

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Do positive affirmations

Affirmations can program your mind into believing something that isn’t, yet, true. Ever heard the expression ‘fake it until you make it? They’re a bit like that.

They can reduce stress and cancel out negative thought patterns, like ‘I’m never going to find him!’

Use the affirmations below to empower and calm yourself and affirm the outcome you want – your cat being home with you.

Say these before you go to bed, when you wake up, when you’re driving, on public transport etc.

Cats have incredible survival instincts.
They are very resilient.
My cat is safe.
They are well.
They are protected.
They are strong.
They have food, water and shelter.
Many people have found their lost cat. I will too.
I am strong.
I am capable.
I am calm.
I am focused.
I can handle anything that comes my way.
I am looking after myself.
I am using proven techniques for finding them.
The universe is protecting them.
The universe is bringing them back to me, safe and well.
Everything I do is bringing me one step closer to finding them.
I am supported in finding them.
Everyone I talk to is helping me to find them.
I am growing stronger every day.
They are found.
They are now back home.
We have been reunited.

We are overjoyed.

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Visualise them being back with you, safe and well

Research has found that seeing the outcome you want can make it more achievable. Professional athletes use visualisation extensively to help them achieve their goals. There are neurological reasons why it works.

Use visualisation to calm yourself and see the outcome you want: your cat being back with you, safe, happy and well.

This isn’t easy to do by reading the text (we intend to develop a recording), but use the visualisation below to see the outcome you want. Perhaps record yourself reading these out on your phone, slowly so you have time to visualise each scenario, and listen to them throughout the day and when you go to sleep. .

Imagine your home surrounded by a beautiful golden light. It acts like a bright beacon, guiding them home from wherever they are.

See your cat protected by an orb of electric blue light.

Take a deep, slow breath.

Feel the love you feel for them filling your heart.

Imagine a fine, silver thread extending from your love-filled heart to their love-filled heart, linking the two of you together.

Smile and think happily about everything you love about them:

  • how you met them
  • why you wanted them to live with you
  • the day you brought them home
  • the things they do that touch your heart
  • the funny things they’ve done
  • the cheeky things they’ve done
  • them eating their favourite food
  • them playing with their favourite toys
  • them sleeping in their favourite place
  • their miaow
  • their purr
  • their fur
  • their paw pads
  • their whiskers
  • their tail
  • the photos and videos you’ve taken of them
  • the companionship and unconditional love they bring to your life
  • how deeply you love them.

Hear them purring with contentment when they feel the love you have for them filling their heart.

See them relax when they know you are going to find them.

See yourself finding them.

Feel the absolute joy and relief in your heart when you find them.

Say out loud what you will say to them when you find them.

See yourself holding them.

See yourself stroking their fur, looking into their beautiful face, smelling their beautiful fur.

Hear them purring in happiness and contentment – they’re so happy to be back home with you.

See them walking around your home, happy and relaxed.

See them eating their favourite food.

See them grooming themself afterwards, washing their face first, then the backs of their ears with one paw, then the other. See them groom themselves all over, in their favourite spot, safe at home.

Feel the pure, exploding joy in your heart that they are back with you. Breathe in the happiness and relief.

Breathe in the pride for the work you put into finding them, that you never gave up, that you ignored the nay sayers. Be proud that you were determined to find them – and you did.

You found them. They are safe. They are well. The worry is over.

Take in the deep breaths of relief that they are home.

See yourself sleeping soundly, free of worry about them, with them safely back with you.

Feel the love you feel for them exploding from you heart.

Express gratitude that they are back, to continue their life with you.

Express gratitude that you share your life with them.

Express gratitude that the search is over.

You did it. You found your cat. Congratulate yourself. And celebrate.

Do this visualisation at least once a day, especially when you first wake up or before you go to bed.

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Take a break to re-charge, if you need to

If you don’t find your cat after a few days, you may be running on empty and unsure how much longer you can keep going.

If you need to, there’s nothing wrong with taking a break or reducing your search workload for a while, so that you can recharge your energy and determination. This is much, much better – for you and your cat – than ending your search altogether.

Catch up with friends. Treat yourself to a massage or Reiki session. Go out to dinner. Have a sleep in. Go for a walk in nature.

Do whatever you need to refresh yourself and restore your energy levels and resolve.

Tell your cat that you’re just taking a break to gather strength and that you’re still determined to find them. Ask them to stay safe and well.

Get back into your search when you feel stronger and more resilient.

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Tips from a psychiatrist

A psychiatrist who we helped was surprised at how distressed she was about her cat being missing. She said that the hardest part was imagining what he was going through.

‘I imagined that he was freezing cold somewhere, crying for his brother and very scared,’ she said.

She was also the only person in the household doing the searching.

Her advice

This is what she recommended for others whose cat is missing:

  • Take comfort by reading about the evidence-based methods and statistics of lost cat recovery
  • Read about success stories to maintain hope. Some of our lost cat recoveries. Some of the Missing Animal Response Network’s recoveries.
  • Take care of yourself. If you don’t look after your own wellbeing, you’ll lose heart and hope and stop looking. Make sure you’re eating. Try to get sleep.
  • Think of what you can control and what you can’t. Don’t play the ‘what if’ game. ‘I looked at what was in my control and what wasn’t. I could control the early morning walks and the big signs. I couldn’t control that we went on holiday. I tried not to blame myself. This gave me more of a sense of control.’
  • Recruit friends and family for support; don’t do it all on your own, unless you have no choice.

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Tips from a two-time lost cat survivor

Jenny’s inside-only cat, Topaz aka Dora the Explorer, has got out twice. In both cases, she was actually under the house, but it took 12 days before she’d come back inside after her second adventure.

Jenny recommends much of what we’ve stated above:

  • As hard as it can be try to eat well and get adequate rest. Carry on your household routines as much as you can.
  • Take no notice of negative comments
  • Learn about lost cat behaviour and take heart that most will emerge from their hiding place after a number of days/weeks
  • Seek the support of understanding friends and well informed experts
  • Make use of wildlife (link) and inspection cameras [we used the Bullant inspection camera to locate Topaz under the house]. Getting visual confirmation that Topaz was nearby made such a difference
  • Stay pro active. Follow the advice of experts in how to do a search. Every strategy you use will increase the likelihood of getting your cat home
  • Try not to dwell on the possibility that your cat is stuck, injured or in distress. I tried to visualise Topaz being safely cocooned in her underground posy
  • Remember that cats are incredibly resilient.
  • Talk to your cat. In my situation, I knew Topaz was very close by (under the bathroom floor) and I tried to keep the connection with her going with sound – my conversational voice, radio, TV etc. Have faith that your cat can hear you and is reassured by your voice
  • Read about lost cats who were recovered. Some of our lost cat recoveries. Some of the Missing Animal Response Network’s recoveries.

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Tips from a long-term searcher

As at August 2021, Julianne has been searching for her lost cat Willow since 31 December 2019. Willow got out through a cat flap on New Year’s Eve, when fireworks erupted. Julianne was away at the time. She has three main pieces of advice.

Doorknock, don’t letterbox

‘Doorknocking, not letterboxing, is crucial,’ she said. ‘Generally, only one member of a household looks at the mail, so you need to get them invested enough to have a conversation or put the flier on the fridge.’

Use big signs

‘There’s also no doubt that the big signs are effective, too. Men tend to call in response to them, while women tend to call if they’ve received a flier or read an article in the paper.’

Observe the local cats

Julianne has noticed that local cats often behave differently when she’s received a sighting.

‘Whenever I was following up about a sighting, I noticed cats sitting under cars or in driveways, around dusk, close to the address of the sighting,’ she said.

‘They seem to do this when a new cat arrives in the resident cat’s territory. These same cats were nowhere to be seen once the sighting location had changed’. (Willow seems to be on the move a lot, rather than staying in one location).

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Stay strong

Look after yourself. Stay strong. Know that you can find your cat.

They really need you to be determined to keep going until you find them, even though it’s hard.

‘Believe you can and you’re halfway there.’ Theodore Roosevelt

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