If you haven’t found your lost cat from searching – either your own property, or neighbours’ in a five to seven house radius, all is not lost. There are other things you can do and equipment you can use to help you. You can even get other animals to help.
On this page
- Use your house as a trap
- Set up a kitty buffet
- Use a humane cat trap
- Use a wildlife camera
- Use a fish sauce trail
- Make technology work for you
- Get animals to help you
- Put up some ‘big signs’
- Put magnet signs on your car
- Try ‘simply sitting’
- Talk in a normal voice in your neighbourhood
- Still no luck?
Use your house as a trap
If your cat isn’t too timid, it’s possible that they may re-enter your home of their own accord, when it’s quiet and they think no-one is around. This may be unlikely for a scaredy cat, but what have you got to lose?
Start putting stinky food (tinned human-grade salmon, tuna, sardines or roast chicken are good) out at the same time and location. Cats in the Bag has more info about this.
Be warned: It will likely attract all cats in the neighbourhood!
It’s a bird. No, it’s a rat. No, it’s a cat!
To determine if it’s a cat eating the food, or another animal, spread flour around the food. You can tell from the footprints if it’s a cat, rat, possum or bird visiting the buffet.
Once you know that it’s a cat, you can start monitoring the area – stay in your car and see who comes, use a wildlife camera, or set a humane cat trap.
If food is being eaten from the Kitty Buffet, and you know from the flour imprints that it’s a cat, you can set a humane cat trap to see if it’s your cat.
We strongly encourage you to monitor the trap, rather than setting it and checking it in the morning. Cats are very stressed when trapped. If you catch another cat and your cat sees them stressed, it will make them harder to catch. It’s much kinder to stay within eyesight or earshot of the trap, so you can see or hear when a cat goes on.
Monitor from your car who’s coming.
If you trap someone else’s cat, let them go. Never leave a trap in a public place where it could be tampered with or stolen, then used to harm cats.
The Missing Animal Response Network has a useful video on using a trap to find Cleo.
There’s also a good video on using a magnet cat and spreading the food smell further.
Their YouTube channel has other videos that may help you.
Use a wildlife camera
A wildlife aka trail aka motion-detecting camera could well be your most important ally – and best investment – in finding your lost cat.
Even if you haven’t seen your cat, they may very well be on your or a neighbour’s property. We’d encourage you to beg, buy, borrow or hire one, as they have led to many cats’ recoveries.
Features to look for in a camera
These features are best for lost cats:
- battery operated
- photo or video option (we find video most useful, as you can see where they approached from, what they did, where they went to)
- no visible glow when filming – this may frighten your cat
- SD card
- LCD screen (ideal, but not necessary)
- linking to your phone (ideal, but we haven’t found one that does this yet).
An LCD screen means you can view footage in situ. If yours doesn’t have one, you’ll need either an SD card reader (stationery stores, approx $40), SLR camera or computer with SD slot to view the footage.
If it links to your phone, you’ll be alerted when your – or another cat – is at the camera. If you find a model that does this, please let us know!
Models people have used for their lost cats
The models below have been successfully used to find lost cats.
Time is of the essence for finding your cat. The longer they are lost, the further from your home they could move. So buying a camera from a bricks and mortar store will be quicker than buying online.
If you buy online, we recommend paying extra for express shipping.
Anaconda – 16MP. $180 at Feb 2021
Anaconda – 32MP. $280 at Feb 2021
We do NOT recommend the Swann 1080P camera from Bunnings. It consistently over exposes both photos and video. If this is the only camera you can find, try covering the top LED bank with black insulation tape.
You should be able to find a decent camera online for about $40. If you buy two or more (highly recommended to find your cat as quickly as possible), you will likely receive a discount.
We use a Scoutguard ZeroGlow 8M camera, but it is quite expensive.
Hiring a camera
www.faunatech.com.au hires out sets of five wildlife cameras. Hiring five will drastically reduce your search time, as you can be monitoring five properties at once.
If you live in Melbourne, Australia, you may be able to lend ours. A refundable deposit is required. Download wildlife camera instructions.
How to use your wildlife camera
1. Set it up in a quiet part of the property, ideally so that your cat can get to it without being in the open too much (eg they can walk under bushes or near a fence line to reach it).
2. Aim it at immovable objects where possible eg fence, wall. If plants are in its range, even small weeds, they will trigger it and wear down your batteries.
3. Test the coverage area by walking in front of it. When happy with what it’s filming, after dark, place several meals’ worth of stinky food (eg tinned human grade tuna or salmon, warm roast chicken) about 1-2m from the camera. You need to use several meals in case other cats come before yours does.
4. Make a trail of small pieces (approx 2mm diameter) of food to the ‘buffet’ from other parts of the property, including on top of fences and on tree trunks, so the wind will carry the smell. The trails will increase the chances of your cat finding the buffet.
Make sure the trails don’t intersect – your cat may get confused and start following a trail away from the buffet, instead of towards it.
5. Check the camera in the morning. Unless your cat is likely to be out during the day, it’s probably best to turn it off and conserve your batteries for night time use when they’re more likely to be coming out.
6. Keep filming each night on each property for two to three nights before moving it to another one.
Lead them with a fish sauce trail
Using fish sauce (from supermarket or Asian grocery store) for part of the trail can be helpful, especially if you need to make a long trail of several metres.
Buy a lot and keep the receipts – you could go through one 250mL bottle of sauce each night, depending on the size of your property and how many trails you are making.
If you need to make a very long trail (eg lead your cat from an alley back to your property), put the fish sauce in a spray bottle (supermarket) or 5L garden pressure sprayer (hardware store, $10-15) and spray a narrow stream.
It’s generally best to not leave food out during the day – Magpies and Indian Mynahs will likely eat it. Ants will also likely swarm all over it.
No longer need your wildlife camera?
We help rescue groups and individuals to find lost cats. We would be very grateful for your donated camera so we can lend the out.
Please contact us if you have a camera you’d like to donate, to help other lost cats and people.
Make other technology work for you
Use Googlemaps, or a similar website, to map out your search radius and look for likely hiding spots.
Smart phones are great for filming in small places that you can’t easily access – the phone will pick up their eyeshine. Watch Kendra’s footage from under her deck. Notice Fleur’s eyeshine? Once it was known where Fleur was, recovering her was relatively easy.
Borrow a selfie stick and use it to film even more inaccessible areas. You could even make your own. Andrea made one by fixing her phone to a small hinged speaker, which she attached to a long wooden ruler.
If you can’t stay near the trap to hear when the door closes, borrow a baby monitor.
We have had a motion-detecting alarm built. It consists of an audible alarm unit connected to an earpiece, with approximately 7m of cable. It’s ideal if:
- you’re using a drop trap to catch your cat and need to be alerted when someone is under the trap
- you need to know if there’s a cat in an inaccessible area.
Get animals to help you
If your scaredy cat has a good cat friend in your home, especially one who’s talkative, take them out in a carrier with you when you’re searching or trapping. You can use them as a ‘magnet cat’ by putting their carrier at the end of a trap – check out from 4:25 on this video for how to do it.
This will hopefully not apply to you, but if your missing cat isn’t desexed, you could use an undesexed cat of the opposite sex as a magnet cat.
Cats will be able to smell your missing cat and will be drawn to investigate. Take them outside, perhaps on a harness and lead (you will need to teach them to be comforable with this) and see where they go.
If they loiter around a particular area, looking intently, your cat may be there.
Many dogs can smell a cat and may become more alert.
Many birds have special alarm calls when they see a cat. If your cat is confident and likely to be exploring during the day, keep an ear out for alarm calls. The birds could lead you directly to them.
In Australia, here are some common ‘warning, warning, warning – cat, cat, cat!’ birds.
Listen to their alarm calls
Click on the link, find ‘alarm call’ from an Australian recorder, then hit play.
Noisy Miner These cheeky birds pretty much swear at cats until they move on. Listen.
Australian Magpie Listen.
Grey Butcherbird Listen.
Willie Wagtail Listen.
We’ve taken a year off our cat’s life by playing them.
Use ‘big signs’
- you receive sightings of your cat from neighbours, or
- they’re a confident cat, or
- you’re running out of steam
you could try using ‘big signs’. These are more effective for confident cats who are likely to approach people, and for dogs, than for timid cats. However, it’s worth a try.
Put large magnet signs on your car
If you live in a busy area, consider having some custom-made magnetic signs made up and place them on your car. As for the big signs, include just a photo, street and your contact details.
Try ‘simply sitting’
Instead of searching, just sit and chill. Your cat may come to you when you seem less frantic. Cats in the Bag has info on how to ‘simply sit‘.
Talk in a normal voice in your neighbourhood
One cat came home when they heard their people having a conversation, in a normal voice, in the front yard. They hadn’t previously responded to their family’s (increasingly desperate!) calls. No doubt, they were much more familiar with with the sounds of casual conversation than frightened calls. And, no doubt, they were grounded when they came back.
Still no luck?
Even though you haven’t seen them, and they haven’t been seen on a wildlife camera, or been trapped, they could very well still be out there, somewhere.
We understand how despairing you may now be feeling, after all that you’ve done. For their sake, you could:
- do another round of doorknocking and searching. If two weeks has passed, your cat may have gone beyond the starvation period and be out and about (as much as a timid cat goes out and about) and easier to find
- expand your search area further. Although we searched for Sheridan, we didn’t search quite as far as she had travelled
- put ‘big signs’ up further afield
- seek help from a reputable animal communicator
- keep visiting pounds and shelters every few days. In Australia, by law, facilities are required to hold animals for eight days before deciding on their next step. However, there are many very sad instances where this wasn’t done
- ask neighbours if anyone has recently moved in, out or gone away – your cat may have accidentally ended up hitching a ride, or could be locked in a garage or shed. If they have reached the starvation limit, and used to call when they were with you, there’s a chance that they may now make a sound
Coupe takes an unplanned road trip
Timid cat Coupe slipped out the front door at about 6am one cold and dark winter’s morning, when one of his sleepy humans was heading off to work. His other human searched for him, but didn’t find him.
Seven months later, his person received a call – Coupe had been found, a massive 80km away! How on earth did he get there?
We have a theory. Coupe lived in a new estate, where a lot of houses were under construction. Finding himself out of his warm home and in unfamiliar territory, in the icy cold, we think he may have crawled into the warm and snuggly engine bay of a just-arrived contractor’s vehicle, then ended up taking a frightening car ride to far, far away.
A good samaritan steps in
A kind man who lived in Coupe’s unplanned new territory noticed him hanging around and was determined to help him. It took a while, but he was eventually able to trap him and have him scanned for a microchip.
Coupe is now safe and back with his delighted family.