If your cat has gone missing, the first thing you’ll need is a plan of action.
When people go missing, rescue teams aren’t sent out to wander aimlessly and hope they strike it lucky. They form a search plan based on known details and a profile of the lost person’s behaviour. Finding a lost cat is no different, so before starting your search, read the following info and build a profile of your cat to determine what its behaviour is likely to be.
Your search strategy will depend largely on whether your cat is an indoor-only cat, or has access to the outdoors some or all of the time.
If your cat is an indoor-only cat
When an indoor-only cat escapes into the unfamiliar outside world, they generally do one thing. They hide in silence. They will not meow, even if they know your voice, and they won’t call for help if they’re injured – so your search is purely visual.
Cats are territorial creatures and your cat’s territory was the inside of your house. The moment they find themselves in unfamiliar territory, they get frightened and their immediate response is to seek shelter.
So, your cat is likely to have found shelter near the escape point, such as under a porch, inside a shed, under a house or in a bush. They’re just as likely to head upwards, onto roofs or into the branches of nearby trees. Be sure to check these areas too.
Search at night using a torch to catch their reflective eyes. Most indoor-only cats are found within a few metres of thier escape point, but many have been hiding for days.
What if you’re searching for an outdoor cat?
When an outdoor cat disappears, it generally means that something has happened to disrupt their usual journey home. They may have been chased from their territory by another cat or a roaming dog. They may have been picked up by a well-meaning local who thinks your cat is lost. Or, they may have got themselves trapped or injured.
Don’t just wait for your cat to find their way back using their ‘homing instinct’. Not all cats have that ability, and even those that do can easily become disorientated, or may be too frightened to use it.
Take time to track down your cat as soon as they go missing. The longer you wait, the harder it can be to find them.
Your cat rescue checklist
- Grab a torch – It’s likely your cat will be hiding in or under something, so having a torch to catch their reflective eyes will help you find them in the deepest, darkest corners.
- Search the yard thoroughly – Look under houses, behind and in sheds, in bushes and in/behind any stacks of wood or other items.
- Search high and low – Cats often bolt upwards into trees or onto roofs, so remember to check the high areas around your home too.
- Check your neighbours’ yards – Think about which direction your cat may have headed and thoroughly check all possible hiding places in all your neighbours’ yards.
- Enlist some canine assistance – Dogs can sniff-out things you can’t, so if you have a dog who knows your cat, get them involved in the search by taking them for a walk around the house and areas close-by.
Still no cat? Here’s your ‘day one’ plan of action.
- Talk to your local pounds and vets – Contact the animal pounds and vets in your area, letting them know that your cat is lost. Give them a clear description of your cat and your contact details. Ask them to keep an eye out and contact you immediately if they hear anything. (Keep calling back every day, there is no onus on pounds to call you if your cat is brought in.)
- Get a cat trap – Cats in hiding will often come out at dusk, when they feel safer or are flushed out by other cats. Ring your local council and ask if they have any cat traps available, ideally the same day your cat goes missing. Set and load the trap in your backyard and leave it for a few days to see if your cat comes looking for food.
- Leave your backdoor ajar – Your cat might bolt back to safety, so leave your back door open for a couple of days, just in case.
- Get on Gumtree and Facebook – They have ‘Lost and Found’ pages that are regularly searched and updated.
What you should do on day two
- Do a letterbox drop – Create a full-colour flyer featuring a clear photo of your cat and your contact details. Drop a copy in all your neighbours’ letterboxes, covering a significant area around your property.
- Create a ‘LOST CAT’ poster – Adapt your full-colour flyer into a poster, featuring a clear photo of your cat and your contact details. Distribute your posters in person to local pounds, vets, shops and in public areas around your neighbourhood.
- Place an ad in your local newspaper – Your local paper will have a pet section you can advertise in. Be sure to include details of where the cat was lost and, if your budget allows, add a clear colour photo.
- Expand your search – Cats can travel a long way when they’re spooked. They could be several blocks away, or could even have been picked up by a well-meaning person and taken to a pound or vet in neighbouring suburbs, so broaden the field with your calling and poster distribution.
A prevention plan that’ll keep your cat safe
The best way to ensure you don’t lose your cat is to take some simple measures to prevent it from happening.
- Create a cat run – If you live in a busy area consider creating an indoor or secure outdoor cat run (see www.catmax.com.au) to keep them amused.
- Get a collar and tag – If your cat will wear a collar, this is the easiest way to ensure your neighbours will return your cat to you. People will know your cat has an owner who’s looking out for it and can use the contact details on the tag rather than call the local council or vet.
- Get them microchipped – This is the best way to ensure you and your cat will be reunited if they get lost and lose their collar and tag. If they’re taken to a pound or vet, they can be identified immediately as your cat.
- Get them desexed – Desexing can help reduce the behaviours that can lead to cats becoming displaced, such as fighting and straying. Generally, a desexed cat has a smaller territory, keeping them closer to your home.