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What to Do if Your Cat Gets Lost

You see it all the time — posters with photos of adorable dogs that likely escaped from their own backyards or took off running after a squirrel at the park, along with their owner’s desperate pleas for help in locating their beloved pups. But what many cat parents don’t realize is that it’s almost just as easy for our feline friends to go missing.

How Do Cats Get Lost?

“The most common reason for an indoor cat to get lost is that someone left the door open, and your kitty decided to go explore that big room outside … and accidentally got trapped out there,” explains Lorien Clemens, vice president of marketing and business development for PetHub, Inc., which created Lost Pet Prevention Month back in July 2014. “And then you have your ‘Houdini’ kitties that are always looking for opportunities to get out … if you have one of those cats, you need to constantly check your windows, screens and doors to ensure they are secure and your cat can’t scratch or chew through them, or figure out how to open the latches themselves.”

Michael San Filippo, spokesperson for the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), notes that it’s also common for cats to escape from their pet carriers if they’re not properly secured when traveling outside of the home, and that indoor/outdoor cats have also been known to get stuck in buildings like garages when the weather changes and they’re seeking shelter.

If your cat seems to have gone missing, here’s what to do.

Get the Word Out … Immediately

According to Dr. Lori Bierbrier, medical director of community medicine for the ASPCA, many cat owners actually end up waiting for up to three days before they start taking the necessary steps to find their lost pet. In a 2012 study conducted by the organization, 59 percent of cat owners said their cats returned home on their own while 30 percent said they found their cat by searching their neighborhood. “It really depends on your cat’s personality, but as a general rule, most cats don’t really want to travel that far — it was an accident they got out, it’s quite scary for them, and that’s why most cats are found within a few hundred feet of home in a state of terror,” Lorien says.

In today’s Internet era, fliers around the neighborhood are still a good first step, but you’ll definitely want to take to social media sites like Facebook to share images of your lost pet and recruit friends and family members to share your posts. Another important step is to call all of your local animal shelters and veterinary offices every day, and be sure to provide plenty of recent photos of your cat. Dr. Bierbrier advises that if there are groups working with local community cat colonies, they may also be able to help you locate your cat.

Know Where to Look

If your cat didn’t show up for dinner at his usual time and you suspect he might be lost, the first thing to do is explore every nook and cranny of the house to make sure your cat isn’t trapped somewhere and simply can’t get out. “You'd be amazed by how many cats get ‘lost’ inside a closet or a dark corner of the garage,” Lorien says.

When searching outdoors, be prepared to get down on your hands and knees — and you may want to have a ladder handy — because of cats’ natural tendency to seek out both high and low hiding places, as well as anywhere that’s small and enclosed to help them feel safe. “I can almost guarantee that you won’t find your cat at eye level … so the first thing you need to do is look up toward the trees or check under bushes or your neighbor’s porch, and seek out any kind of enclosed space, like those boxes you were getting ready to break down for recycling,” Lorien says. “Cats want to observe without being seen, so think of places they could hide where they can see you but you can’t see them.”

Lure Your Cat Back Home

Dr. Bierbrier also advises pet owners to immediately put your cat’s bowl and food outside in the hopes that your kitty smells it and find their way back home — and ideally you’ll want to leave a door open whenever possible. “If your cat is very nervous, it may be helpful to put out a cat trap with food in it overnight. If your cat goes in it, the gate will close automatically, even if you are not there,” she adds.

Another lure to use is an unwashed piece of your own clothing to help your cat track your scent and find their way home. If you have access to a night-vision camera, it can be a helpful tool in spotting your cat if he’s attempting to get back into the house in the evening hours. “Your cat is going to be scared and is likely trying to get back in — just possibly not when you’re around — so sometimes a little sneakiness and some sort of lure or trap is the easiest way to do it,” Lorien says.

Use Their Identification

The one thing that all dog and cat parents should do is microchip their pets —

and always ensure those chips are registered with the most up-to-date contact information. According to Michael, a 2009 study of more than 7,700 stray animals at animal shelters showed that cats without microchips were reunited with their owners only 1.8 percent of the time, whereas microchipped cats went back home 38.5 percent of the time. Most of the microchipped animals that weren't returned were due to incorrect owner information — or no owner information — in the microchip registry database.

Another important preventive tool is the cat collar and id tag. “For your cat’s safety, it has to be a breakaway collar because of how cats like to explore their world, and you’ll want it to be a bright color or as highly visible as possible,” Lorien says. “Then you know that anyone who does spot your cat when they’re lost out in the world will immediately know that it’s a pet and not a feral cat … and will be much more likely to help get that kitty back home.”

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