Find lost cat who’s out of my home – a step-by-step guide

A timid lost cat will hide if they get out of your home. You will need to search for them, at night, looking for their eyeshine.

If you have lost your cat, we have good news and bad news.

The good news

Cats rarely travel far from their home. Chances are that they’re hiding close by, possibly on your own property.

Here, you will find detailed information on how to find them. It is based on up-to-date research on missing cat behaviour.

The bad news

You will need to put your life on hold and physically search for them, for days, weeks or months. They are very unlikely to come home on their own or be found at a shelter or pound.

Lost cat 101

Below are basic tips on finding your lost cat, with links to more detailed info. These tips are based on research into lost cat behaviour and many years’ of experiencing finding lost cats, including very timid ex-strays.

COULD THEY BE INSIDE?
Did you see your cat get out? If not, could they still be inside? Cats love small spaces. Many a ‘lost’ cat was actually found inside their own home – behind the microwave, behind the fridge, inside a speaker, in the lining under the bed or sofa etc. Check inside your home first.

LOST CATS STAY CLOSE TO HOME
If they’re definitely not inside, most cats are found in a 3-7 house radius of their escape point, for urban areas. For rural areas, they will usually stay close to human structures – houses, sheds, outbuildings.

The distance can depend on:

  • their confidence in strange surroundings
  • the circumstances of them going missing
  • whether they’re an inside-only or inside-outside cat etc.

❗️ACT IMMEDIATELY❗️
Start your physical search for them immediately. Whilst some cats do come home of their own accord, due to a homing instinct, many don’t. The sooner you start searching, the sooner you’ll find them.

🏚SEARCH YOUR OWN PROPERTY FIRST
Timid inside-only cats often hide in the first place they find – under your or a neighbour’s house, under a deck, in a shed, in a crawl space, in shrubs, up a tree etc. Where to look and how to do it.

🪟HELP THEM GET BACK INSIDE
Make it easier for them to get back inside when they feel safe – leave a window or door open. Make a fish sauce and dry food trail towards it, after dark (birds will eat the dry food if you put it out during the day). Also make fish sauce trails along the nature strip or footpath, from neighbours’ properties, to yours. Make sure trails don’t intersect, to avoid them getting confused and heading in wrong direction.

🚫NO LITTER TRAY
Lost cat experts advise not placing their litter tray out. It may draw other cats into their territory and prevent them from coming home.

🌏MAP OUT YOUR SEARCH AREA
Map out your initial 3-7 house radius search area using google maps. Start with houses closest to yours, then work in an outwards radius.

📷🔦🔎Make an A5 flier, then doorknock and ask neighbours if:

  • they have CCTV. If so, ask if you can put food in its range after dark each night and have them check if your cat appears
  • you can place one or more wildlife cameras in their back (preferable) or front yard
  • if you’re not using wildlife cameras, if you can search their back and front yards after dark, with a good torch, looking for their eyeshine.

 

🔦 🗣DOORKNOCK, DON’T LETTERBOX
Doorknocking gives you lots of Intel – who has dogs (your cat is less likely to be there), cats (lost cats are drawn to houses with other cats), who’s away, which house is vacant (great for lost cats) etc. Letterboxing gives you none of this.

Only people who really care about cats will contact you from a letterboxed flier.

Doorknocking also helps neighbours realise how serious you are about finding your cat. We have found that people are often more cooperative when they see the efforts that are being made.

Doorknock during daylight if possible – people may be wary of opening their door after dark. Late afternoon is good – more people tend to be at home. Doorknocking tips.

📷 WILDLIFE/TRAIL CAMERAS
Buying, borrowing or renting one or more motion-detecting wildlife/trail cameras may be your best investment. Home CCTV cameras are also good. They’ll see your cat when people don’t.

🥩THE STARVATION FACTOR
Cats often hide – even from the person they love the most – for 7-10 days before they’re willing to ‘break cover’ to look for food. So if you don’t find them initially, don’t give up! Banjo the Bengal seems to have stayed in hiding for 30 days before he broke cover.

SOURCE A CAT TRAP NOW
Once you know where they are, you may need a cat trap to recover them, especially if they’re timid. Source one in advance. Ask local cat rescue groups. (Councils and shelters may have a waiting list). If you’re in Melbourne, Australia, contact us. Many rescue groups and individuals we know have cat traps and may be willing to lend one to you. A refundable deposit will be required.

🌑SEARCH AT NIGHT
If you don’t use a wildlife camera, when doorknocking neighbours, ask to search their property, including their back yard, after dark with a good torch, looking for their eyeshine.

People are very unlikely to do it for you. If they do, they’re very unlikely to do it as thoroughly as it needs to be to find a frightened lost cat, who’s trying to be invisible. You need to do hands and knees, csi-type searches, as if you’re looking for a lost wedding ring.

📃FLIERS TO HALVE YOUR COSTS
These template A5 fliers for doorknocking will halve your printing costs. They are perfectly large enough for doorknocking purposes. Print in colour laserjet, at your local library, hardware store, computer store or Officeworks.

🏘 ‘PLEASE CHECK YOUR GARAGE & SHED’
It is natural that we seek others’ help when our cat is missing. Unfortunately, few people will search their garage or shed based on a Facebook post by a stranger or a flier left in their letterbox. Everyone leads very busy lives. If they are kind enough to have a look, it’s unlikely to be as thorough as is needed to find a frightened cat who’s avoiding being seen.

You need to do the searching – hands and knees, CSI-type searches, as if looking for a lost wedding ring.

👣LATE NIGHT WALKS
If your cat is confident, going out late at night and walking, talking and sitting may help – some will break cover if they hear your normal talking voice, or smell you.

🚗ERECT BIG COREFLUTE SIGNS & REACH EVERYONE
Erecting big, bright 600x900mm coreflute signs on major thoroughfares within the ‘catchment area’ where your cat is likely hiding will ensure everyone in the area knows about your lost cat.

Most commonly, people with a lost cat put A4 or A3 fliers up on lamp posts etc. These are only readable by pedestrians who are passing close by. You won’t reach cyclists, drivers or public transport users with them.

💰**DON’T** OFFER REWARD
Lost pet experts recommend that you do not offer a reward. People may chase your cat and drive them further away, potentially into traffic or another unsafe situation, for the reward. It may also lead to stressful hoax calls. Your cat is more likely to be found through connecting with people’s altruism.

😢COPING EMOTIONALLY
Your cat being lost is a very stressful situation – never under estimate this or listen to people who say ‘they’re just a cat’.

If you’re finding it hard to keep going due to the stress and emotional overwhelm, here are some things you can do to stay grounded and look after yourself so you can continue the search until you find them.

Pace yourself if this means you can keep the search going.

🙏🏼NEED HOPE & INSPIRATION?
Read inspirational stories of how other lost cats were found, using a wide range of strategies mentioned here, including:

  • doorknocking and searching
  • wildlife cameras
  • neighbour’s CCTV
  • humane cat traps
  • filming in small spaces with mobile phones
  • big coreflute signs
  • making human scent and voice trails
  • using a house as a trap.

❤️DON’T GIVE UP❤️
We hope your cat is back home very soon. Please don’t give up. Cats have good survival instincts. You just need to find where they’re hiding.

Make sure you look after yourself so you can maintain the search.  Your cat really needs you to keep going.

Now for more details

Now that you’ve completed Lost Cat 101, check out other pages on this site for everything you need (other than manpower and equipment) to implement your search for your cat, using evidence-based methods.

Steps you’ll go through to find your cat

These are the usual steps you’ll go through:

  1. Search inside your home thoroughly. Cats are expert hiders (especially if a vet visit is coming – how do they always know?!)
  2. Learn about what lost cats do
  3. Search your own property, checking every single nook and cranny
  4. Make sure your contact details are up to date on their microchip record and report them as ‘lost’ to their microchip company
  5. If you don’t find them on your own property, prepare yourself to cope emotionally. A lost cat can be a very stressful, lonely and gruelling, experience.
  6. Prepare your search plan and information you’ll need to show neighbours when doorknocking
  7. Doorknock neighbours and ask permission to search their properties
  8. Use wildlife / trail cameras to passively monitor properties
  9. Do CSI-type searches of neighbours’ properties
  10. When you find them, safely bring them back home.
  11. If you don’t find them, ramp things up to the next level
  12. Keep going until you find them
  13. Don’t give up.

‘Lost your cat? two page flier

Check out this excellent ‘Lost your cat?’ flier from G2Z for a two page summary of how to find your lost cat. Then come back here for more detailed guidance and resource material.

I’ve found them – now what?

Now you need to keep your wits about you, stay calm and work out a plan to get them safely home. They won’t behave like they do at home – they’re out of their territory and are frightened. Be extra careful not to frighten them and drive them away.

Finding confident cats

Finding confident cats is easier than finding scaredy cats, as they are less likely to be comatose with fear for as long. If your cat is confident and likely to approach people, in addition to the methods on this page (not instead of), you could try:

  • listing them on various Lost Animal Facebook groups. Just be aware that cats aren’t commonly found this way and this shouldn’t substitute for active searching.
  • tagging your car and creating a mobile billboard
  • using your house as a trap
  • using big signs.

Websites

The Missing Animal Response Network and Cats in the Bag websites have excellent information on:
  • How frightened cats behave
  • How to search
  • How to make effective fliers for doorknocking
  • How to make effective signs for streets
  • How to trap

The Lost Pet Research and Recovery website has other useful information.

Check out the Missing Animal Response Network’s YouTube channel for some excellent videos that demonstrate information on this website.

Missing Cat Assistance support group

Losing an animal can be an incredibly stressful, and lonely, experience. Maintaining the motivation and determination to continue searching can be difficult, especially if people close to you are suggesting that your cat won’t be alive or (gasp!) that they’re ‘just a cat’.

The Missing Cat Assistance online support group is available, to discuss strategies for finding your missing cat and to provide moral support. People there understand the heartbreak and stress that goes with searching for a missing cat. Some members have found their cats after lengthy periods of searching, going to considerable lengths, including travelling interstate.