I’ve found my lost timid cat. How do I get them home?

Once you've found your lost cat, be very slow and careful to prevent them running off

First of all, congratulations!! Finding a lost cat can be, by far, the hardest part. Once you know where they are, the rest is usually relatively easy.

Now, you need to stop them from fleeing. This means being extremely slow and careful in everything you do. You may need to use a humane trap.

If you run towards them, or move suddenly, they may well take fright and run off.

When we saw Sheridan while searching, we thought we were walking quite slowly towards her. But our movement was enough for her to run off and hide in an inaccessible gap. It was eight long months before we saw her again.

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Here are tips on getting them to safety. Your method will vary depending on where they are and their personality.

Don’t chase them

You’ll no doubt be overwhelmed with relief to see them – they’re here, they’re safe, they’re alive! But you need to keep a really clear head, to avoid them fleeing.

So don’t chase them – they could well escape and you may drive them further afield. perhaps losing sight of where exactly they went.

Send calming signals to them

Remember that your cat is very frightened, being out of their home turf. All their senses are telling them ‘danger, danger, danger’. Even though you might be able to stroll up to them in your home, if you do that now, they’ll probably run.

So send them ‘I come in peace’ signals with your body language.

  • Give them lots of cat kisses with your eyes
  • Yawn – it’s hard to be aggressive when you’re yawning
  • Lick your lips (cats lick their noses; you probably can’t reach yours)
  • Look down or away from them
  • Turn your body side on, so you present a small cross section to them and look smaller
  • Very, very, very slowly, without looking directly at them, lower yourself to the ground and sit or lie side-on to them so you look as small as possible.

At this stage, you’re just trying to lower their anxiety and avoid them running off. Even if you can’t recover them immediately, you’re a step closer to bringing them back to safety.

Block them in

If you can, stop them from leaving where they are.

If they’re under a house, block all exit points – stuff sheets, towels etc in gaps between weatherboards. Place wood or bricks against any gaps that are too big for sheets/towels.

If they’re in a shed, close the door and block all escape points.

Ideally, prevent them from seeing any light through gaps – if they can see light, they may make a beeline straight for it.
Then work out a plan for getting them out of that secured place, straight into a trap or secure container of some sort. Read how Topaz was recovered by lifting up floorboards in her foster home.

Lure them with food

This is very unlikely to work if they’re a scaredy cat – it may not even work with confident cats – but you could try luring them to you with food.

Bring out some smelly food and slowly place it as far from you as you can reach. Avoid throwing it at them – the movement of your arm may frighten them.

If they will come to you, very slowly keep putting small amounts of food towards them.

When they’re nearly with you, hold food on your hand. If they’ll eat from it, start stroking their face with your index finger of that hand while they’re eating. Stroke their chest (what cat doesn’t love a chest scratch?) If they’ll allow that, very slowly start stroking them with your other hand, below chin level.

Gently stroke their neck, and start lifting up their scruff, then releasing. Keep doing this while they’re eating.

If you have somewhere secure to place them – carrier, trap, your car, a secure room, a pillow case – get ready to scruff them. Before doing this, centre yourself, take a number of deep breaths and visualise them safely back with you. Then tell yourself, and your cat, that no matter how much they scratch you or bite you, you will not let go of them.

Once you’re centred, hold onto their scruff very firmly and get them into that confined space.

Even while holding them by their scruff, they may struggle. Be prepared to be scratched and bitten. Remind yourself, and them, that you will not let go no matter how hard they bite you. If you’ve had a really severe bite, you can get it checked out by a doctor after you’ve got them to safety (cats always come first, remember?).

If they don’t come to you, that’s fine. Try other things.

Leave food out

If they won’t come (most likely), leave food and water for them where they are at the same time and place each day. In the early hours of the morning is best, as few people will be around. This will hopefully keep them in the area, rather than moving again in search of food.You can them humanely trap them.

Trap them humanely

Borrow a box trap and humanely trap them

If you can’t trap them using a normal box trap, perhaps as they’ve recently been trapped and are wary of it, borrow a drop trap.

If you live in Melbourne, Australia, you may be able to borrow ours. You could even build your own. Alley Cat Allies also has some designs

NB: We saw one ‘drop trap design’ which was an upturned clothes basket. We wouldn’t recommend this. Cats have herculean strength when frightened and will almost certainly flip it and run off.

Stuck in an inaccessible area?

If they’re still outwitting you, try contacting a professional animal rescue service, or asking your fire brigade or SES. Some CFA brigades are happy to retrieve animals from inaccessible places as part of their community service.

In Melbourne, Australia, Nigel’s Animal Rescue may be able to assist. They have experience getting cats out of all sorts of places, including up trees.

Cat up a tree?

They start climbing, and they keep going higher and higher and higher. Then, they don’t know how to get down. What to do?

Some tree lopping companies will rescue cats from trees. If there’s none in your area, call local loppers – you may come across an animal lover who wants something a little bit different in their day. Your local fire brigade or SES may also help – this seems to vary depending on the brigade.

Take care when feeding them to avoid ‘refeeding syndrome’

Depending on how long your cat has been missing, and whether they had regular food or not, food may need to be reintroduced gradually.

If they eat too much too quickly, there is a risk that they could develop refeeding syndrome.

Refeeding syndrome occurs when food is introduced too quickly after a period of malnourishment. Changes in electrolyte levels can cause serious complications, including seizures, heart failure, comas and, in some cases, death. Read simple explanation. Read more technical explanation.

You may like to call your vet to discuss how to safely increase their food intake, or take your cat to them for a checkup.

Let neighbours know they’re safe

Once your kitty is back home, and you’ve had a chance to calm your nerves, let neighbours know that you’ve found them.

You may have created quite a buzz and sense of community from all your doorknocking and people will be pleased to know Kitty is now safe.

It will also help spread knowledge about how to find lost cats and avoid someone else going through the heartbreak of not finding their friend.


Once they’re home, give them extra love and treats. They may be quite unsettled, as they have very likely been quite frightened while they were missing,

Once you have secured them, be super careful to make sure they can’t get out of your home while they settle back in, by securing windows, doors and other escape points. They will probably be on edge, capable of doing things they normally wouldn’t.

For extra peace of mind,  you might like to invest in a GPS tracking device for their collar. An increasing range of devices are becoming available. We would recommend checking genuine reviews of them before buying one.

And, now, have some champagne for you and treats for them.

Help others whose cats are missing

You personally know the stress and heartbreak that goes hand in hand with losing a cat, especially if it was some time before you found your cat.

Please help others who are going through this difficult process, by sharing information about lost cat behaviour and how to find missing cats. Refer them to this website and also to the Powerpoint presentation on finding lost cats.

Donate equipment

If you bought equipment to recover your lost cat, like wildlife cameras, and no longer need them, we would be grateful if you chose to donate it to us.

We regularly lend lost cat recovery equipment to people, so that more lost cats come home sooner.