Ultimate Guide: What to Do When You Can’t Find Your Cat

Ultimate Guide: What to Do When You Can’t Find Your Cat

There’s nothing quite as scary as realizing that your cat is missing. 

Maybe you were gone (at work or at school), and came home to an empty home—and you’re not sure where your furry roommate has gone. 

Or maybe the door accidentally got left open—and now, you can’t find your kitty anywhere—and you’re freaking out because you don’t want anything to happen. 

  • Will you ever be able to find your cat?
  • What if they got outside?
  • What if they get hit by a car?
  • What if they’re injured?
  • Is there any hope?

Listen. The good news is that some lost cats end up either finding their way home again, turning up after a fast cat nap, or getting found/returned after a search. 

But the bad news is that many lost cats never end up getting reunited with their owners. 

In light of this, there are actually a few steps that you can take to increase the odds of bringing your precious kitty home safely sooner rather than later. 

We’ve scoured the research, and are here to give you the 411 on exactly what to do. 

Here’s a step-by-step game plan to help you find your lost kitty and bring it home fast

Why Do Cats Wander Off Or Get Lost?

Cats are curious by nature. 

They’re also territorial and tend to like to explore and roam within the confines of their territory. 

Sometimes, cats find things during their ‘adventures’ that pique their curiosity—and sometimes, this curiosity makes them more likely to travel outside of their normal (safer) meandering territory—placing them at an increased risk for danger. 

And sometimes, dangers or curiosities also crop up within the kitty’s natural territory anyway—thus prompting your cat to behave in a manner that isn’t normal for them on a typical day or escapade. 

In such cases, cats might:

  • Wander beyond the boundaries of their normal territory because they saw or smelled something interesting
  • Climb a tree, building, or some other structure and get ‘stuck’
  • Find another house with food outside and take up a temporary (or permanent) residence there
  • Encounter other humans who may offer them food, pets, attention, etc. 
  • Get injured and find themselves unable to make their way home
  • Get stuck or trapped without the ability to free themselves
  • Get picked up by animal control or another family
  • Encounter a predator or another animal that poses a threat to them, and either get chased away by this animal, injured by it, or even killed

How Likely Are You To Find Your Missing Cat?

About 15% of cat owners end up losing their cats at some point. 

Statistics tell us that about one-third of missing cats are reunited with their owners within a week. About 50% of cats who go missing end up being found alive by day 30, and about 61% of missing cats end up being found by day 61. If a cat isn’t found by day 61, the odds that they’ll be found begin to level off and don’t change much out to a year. 

In other words—the most likely time to find your cat is before day 61, and you’re also more likely to succeed if you engage a search-based strategy before day 7.

Speaking of searching—the data is pretty clear. You’re going to be most likely to find your kitty by quickly mobilizing to engage in a search. 

But where should you search? And how should this search be conducted?

These are actually really important questions. 

So we’ve put together a strategy (incorporating known lost kitty wandering habits) that’ll help to give you your very best odds of locating your cat safely and as fast as possible. 

What To Do When You Can’t Find Your Cat - 6 Steps To Take Right Away

Step 1: Call It By Name (With The Offer Of Food/Treats)

Upon realizing that your kitty has gone missing, the very first step should be to start calling it by name and offering food or treats. 

Shake the bag and call it as you normally would during feeding time, in an attempt to get your kitty to come out of hiding for a bite to eat. 

If this fails to do the trick, move on to step 2.

Step 2: Check The House

Make sure to check all the little nooks, crannies, and cubby holes in your house. Cats love to sleep in boxes, baskets, piles of clothes, under (or even inside) furniture, and in cupboards. They sometimes even hide on shelves, under beds, in appliances, behind curtains, etc.

Pretty much any area large enough to fit your fist into is an area large enough for a cat to nap in.

Perform a thorough search of your home, taking it one room at a time. If possible, enlist the help of family members, friends, or roommates to aid you in this search. 

If this search yields no results, move on to step 3.   

Step 3: Figure Out If Your Cat Could Have Gotten Outdoors

Try to figure out if there’s any possible way that your cat could have escaped. 

According to statistics, most cats escape into the outdoors either through an open door or a garage door. 

Some cats will ‘sneak’ or ‘dart’ outside inconspicuously when you open the door to come or go. 

If it’s at all possible that your cat could have gotten outside, it may be time to widen your search and move it outdoors. 

Thankfully, according to cat experts (and a trusty bit of scientific data), we know that cats are territorial creatures who tend not to wander too far. 

For indoor cats who go missing outdoors, the average distance that they’re willing to travel is usually about 2 house lengths away. 

For outdoor cats who are used to roaming outdoors, this distance increases up to about 17 houses. 

In any case, here’s how to begin your outdoor search.

Step 4: Begin An Outdoor Search

One of the best and most reliable methods for locating a missing cat outdoors is to move as quickly as possible to begin a very aggressive and proactive search of your nearby yard, neighborhood, and community.  

Your cat may be more active at night, especially during hotter weather. Thus, if darkness has already arrived by the time you realize that your cat is missing, it’s still a good idea to go ahead and conduct an outdoor search (at least to the best extent possible). 

Here are some steps for how to conduct your outdoor search. 

1. Call Your Pet (Once Again, With The Offer Of Food/Treats)

Shake the treat bag or do whatever you generally do when feeding your cat and/or offering treats. 

Also, call their name loudly—all while walking around your house and yard. 

2. Spend Some Time Searching Your Yard

For nighttime searches, use a flashlight—as your cat's eyes will reflect the light and make them easier to spot. 

Make sure to search everywhere—under cars, under your porch, up in the trees, under the bushes, on the roof, etc.

Cats love to squeeze into small spaces, so make sure that you search everywhere. 

If your cat escaped outdoors, odds are very high that your cat is located somewhere in or near your yard. 

3. Expand Your Search To The Local Neighborhood

If your search of the yard doesn’t yield any results, move your search outward—starting with the streets, yards, and/or spaces immediately adjacent to your own.

Pro tip: Searching for your cat on foot is statistically more likely to yield positive results than searching by driving around the neighborhood in your car. So it’s usually best to start nearby on foot, and to either enlist the help of someone else to drive around, or to continue the search by driving only if you need to cover more ground that’s too far away from your home. 

4. Spend Some Time Listening For ‘Meows’

As you walk and call your cat, make sure to pause for brief intervals to listen for a reply. 

If your cat is injured, stuck, or scared, it may opt to ‘meow’ for you instead of coming out of hiding. 

5. Leave Some Food And A Scent Trail Outside

Tuna works really well for this—along with a toy, a blanket, or an article of clothing that has your scent on it. 

In some cases, you can even leave a window or a door cracked open to allow your cat to return. 

You can also leave a baby monitor or security camera outside and use these to keep an ear and an eye out for your returning cat in the event that it tries to return when you’re not home. 

Obviously, you’ll risk inviting other cats (or possibly even pests) into your yard by leaving out food. 

But this could also entice your cat to return. 

6. Ask Around

If you didn’t locate your cat in your own yard, you’ll likely need to go knocking on your neighbor's doors to investigate further. You can also ask delivery drivers, city workers, and other people who tend to frequent the immediate area. 

Sometimes, cats develop a ‘second home’ with neighbors, especially if they get free meals out of the deal. 

You may also need to ask neighbors if you can look around their houses and in their yards. 

Neighbors often won’t mind this—and it’ll bring you more peace of mind to know that you performed a thorough search and made sure that your cat wasn’t injured, trapped, or hiding somewhere. 

7. Check Local Vet Offices And Animal Shelters

You should also file a missing animal report with your local shelters. You should also make sure to constantly check their websites and social media, and even visit them in person. 

Make sure to check all shelters within a 60-mile radius. 

If your cat was picked up by animal control or found by a stranger, odds are good that it was taken to a shelter—so you don’t want to neglect this possibility. 

You should also continue to check in with the shelters on a daily basis. You can call them if they’re further away, but you should visit the closer shelters on a daily basis—just to make sure that you don’t miss your kitty if it happens to have been picked up or brought in by someone. 

8. Set Up A Humane Trap

If a search of the immediate area has yielded zero results, and if you have things that you need to do (like work or school) that’ll keep you from continuing the search in the meantime, you may want to set up a humane trap with some kitty food in it to ‘trap’ your pet if it returns. 

This could backfire and catch a different cat or a rodent—but it could also keep you from running into the problem of ‘missing’ your cat if it happens to come home when you’re not there.  

9. Consider Hiring A Pet Detective

This may sound zany—but it’s actually a real thing! 

Pet detectives are basically professional investigators who know exactly how to increase your odds of finding a lost pet. 

Sometimes, hiring a local pet detective can save you a lot of time and energy. Plus, it always feels good to know that you’ve enlisted the help of a professional to help you maximize your odds for successfully finding your lost beloved companion. 

Step 5: Prepare For A Long-Term Search

If your kitty continues to stay missing for more than a couple of days, it’ll be important to incorporate a few additional steps into your search strategy. 

Here’s what you should do: 

1. Put Up Flyers

Make sure that your flyers are big, boldly colored, and easy to read. They should contain a brief description of your cat and a photo, along with a name, an address of where the cat lives, and a phone number where you can be reached. 

You can also print out smaller flyers to hand out to neighbors and to hang in local shops, stores, etc. 

2. Share Your Search On Social Media

Most local communities have at least a few ‘lost and found’ social media pages where local pet owners can list their pets as missing. 

It’s a long shot. But sometimes, these pages yield positive results—and they can definitely help you to get the word out about your missing pet. 

3. If Your Cat Is Microchipped, Call The Microchip Company To Report It Missing

You also want to make sure that your microchip contact information is up to date so that if your cat does get picked up by an animal shelter, they’ll know to call you and have your correct information at hand to do so. 

Step 6: Don’t Give Up Hope

At first, you might feel really hopeful and scared about finding your kitty. But if the search goes on, and as minutes turn into hours (or even worse, hours turn into days), then you may start to feel hopeless. 

But it’s really important to stay positive. 

Some cats aren’t found for several weeks—and in some cases, it takes up to 2 months or more for lost cat owners to be reunited with their pets. 

But the closer you follow this strategy, and the more time and effort you put into searching for your kitty, calling shelters, hanging up flyers, etc. the more likely you’re going to be to find it and bring it home safe and sound. 

Consider Investing In A Bluetooth Or GPS Tracking Device

When it comes to finding a lost cat, an ounce of prevention is definitely worth a pound of cure. 

In other words—taking steps to keep it from happening is really the best way to deal with it. 

Microchips can help to reunite you with your cat in the sense that they contain identification information (which can be read by vets and lost pet shelters) that can lead to you being contacted for pickup. 

But if you actually want to protect your pet from getting lost, the best thing to do is to invest in a Bluetooth or GPS tracking device. 

In fact, here at Kitty Kompass, we’ve developed some pretty amazing (and fashionable) collars that allow you to use a Tile Sticker or an Apple Airtag to track your kitty in the event that it goes missing. 

This is by far the best way to protect your cat from the danger of getting lost, and is most definitely the best and fastest way to find a runaway cat. 


Now you have a solid action plan that you can use to search for (and hopefully find) your lost or missing kitty. 

It hurts to lose your best furry friend—and it’s scary to think that you might never see them again. 

But this plan will give you the best possible odds of finding them. So make sure to follow each step, and don’t give up. 

You’ve got this. 

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