Make scent and voice trail

Anecdotal evidence indicates that some cats follow our scent, our voice, or both to find their way home.

One of the strategies you can use to help bring your cat home is making a scent and/or voice trail by ‘walking, talking and sitting’.

We have helped recover several lost cats using this method.

On this page

What you’ll need

  • Head torch or normal torch
  • Stinky food they like eg roast chicken, tinned human-grade fish or their favourite dry food
  • Phone and perhaps someone on standby at home in case you see them
  • Sheet you’ve recently slept on or clothes you’ve recently worn
  • Something with their smell on it if possible eg their bedding (but NOT used litter)
  • If possible, walk in bare feet (to leave more of your scent where you walk)

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Don’t intersect

To ensure your cat can follow you home, and not end up going in circles, make sure your path doesn’t cross over.

Map showing walking in non-intersecting path

Ensure your cat can follow your scent. Don’t let your path cross

You need to walk, talk and sit in non-intersecting lines.

How to do it

Take a torch or wear a head torch.

When it’s very quiet in your neighbourhood and everyone is in bed – at least after 10pm and preferably in the early hours of the morning if you feel safe – very slowly walk, talk and sit in nearby streets, to leave your scent and help them hear your voice.

Start in a five house radius from their escape point and expand outwards.

DON’T scatter their used litter. This may attract other cats into the area.

  1. Walking

    Very, very slowly walk along the road. Think of the pace you were helping your toddler learn to walk for the first time. Or looking for a small lost earring.

If you can, drag an item behind you that has your scent on it eg sheet you slept on last night, jeans you wore that day.

Walk in bare feet if possible. This will leave more of your scent than shoes.

  1. Talking

    If your cat isn’t super scared of people, take someone your cat likes with you and have a general talk about life. It’s important to use your normal talking voice, rather than calling out for them.Why? Firstly, lost cats rarely respond to being called – as you may well know. Secondly, if you call out, the stress in your voice will likely be obvious to them and they may feel on edge. ‘If they’re stressed, something’s wrong. It might not be safe for me to come out. I’ll stay put.’

Your normal talking voice is likely what they associate with happy times and feeling safe.

No-one suitable to go with you or they’re scared of strangers?

Call someone on the phone if it’s not too late, or talk to yourself about the happiest times of your life, conversations you’d like to have with people, what you’d do if you won a million dollars, where you’d like to holiday, your ideal job etc.

Try not to talk about things that may lead to you becoming upset eg how much you love them, how worried you are.

  1. Sitting

    Approximately every two houses, sit on the kerb and continue talking in a normal talking voice for two to five minutes. Do stuff on your phone.If your cat is nearby, this will give them time to recognise that it’s you and perhaps come out of hiding if they feel safe.

Casually look all around with your torch or headtorch, including behind you, while sitting. If your cat comes out, you may see their eyeshine.

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What to do if you see them…

…and you’re standing

  • Lower your head. Don’t look directly at them.
  • Very, very, very slowly sit down, but don’t look at them. Sit so your side is facing them, rather than your front (you don’t look as big side-on as you do front-on)
  • Follow ‘and you’re sitting’ instructions.below

…and you’re sitting

  • Do stuff on your phone. Largely ignore them. Talk to yourself.
  • If they stay where they are, or move towards you, talk casually to them, like you would when you’re at home with them
  • Ignore them until they directly approach you. Act casually, as if this is no big deal (even though we know it is a very big deal that you finally know where your cat is!)
  • If they don’t approach you, try to keep them in the corner of your eye, but don’t move towards them.
  • Act the same way as you would if they approached you at home when you were focusing on something else, but don’t look at them
  • You might casually look towards them, smile, say hi, but you wouldn’t stop doing what you were doing.
  • Let them approach you. Act normally.
  • Try throwing small pieces of food in their direction, say two metres off to one side of them, but not directly towards them. Use underhand – it will look less threatening than overhand.

If they come right up to you

  • Continue largely ignoring them
  • Start talking to them as you would at home, but don’t look directly at them.
  • Hold food out for them, at ground level. You can also hold out one hand at ground level, with one index finger pointing out towards them.
  • Let them sniff your finger, if they want to. (Letting them sniff our index finger is similar to how cats ‘nose kiss’).
  • Avoid putting your hand over their head or body – they will likely feel nervous as they’re out of their own territory and this may seem threatening. Keep it below their chin and head.

Now what?

What you do next will depend on your cat’s personality, their behaviour and how far from home you are. Are they normally happy to be picked up and held? Or will this panic them?

If they seem very relaxed and ‘normal’, you could try putting them on your lap and stroking them.  Then see what they do if you hold onto them while standing up.

If they’re still on edge, you may need to call someone and ask them to bring you a carrier, or trap.

The main thing is that you know where they are.

You can put food down to try to anchor them to this location.

Next day, doorknock with fliers, explain the situation and ask if you can put food and wildlife camera stations in the nearest safe property’s back or front yard.

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If you don’t see them…

That’s quite common. It doesn’t mean they’re not there. Most people we’ve helped who’ve made a scent and voice trail didn’t see their cat. But their cat sure saw, heard or smelt them and came back home!

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Case 1

The cat was miaowing at the front door 20 minutes after her person got home, after being lost for four weeks. That night, the person walked a different and longer route than she had for the previous four weeks.

Case 2

Romi appeared at home after her person had set up wildlife cameras on properties where there had been sightings.

Case 3

Luana walked through the cat flap while a stakeout was being done on a nearby property to trap her, after she’d been seen on a wildlife camera.

Case 4

Pretzel [link] walked back home from where he had been sighted and was trapped in the back yard very soon after.

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Keep records

Keep a record of the streets and houses where you’ve left a scent and voice trail, and the date. We find Excel helpful.

Walk different routes and different distances from home. Try to avoid making intersecting trails on the same night – this could confuse your cat and they could end up walking away from home, not to home.