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Finding Your Lost Cat

We have lost cats before and we know how awful it is. We've put together this guide to help you find your lost cat. We wish you the best of luck.

First Steps to Finding Your Cat

  • Create a flyer with your cat's picture (as large as possible) and your name and number.  Do not include where the cat went missing from or the date he was lost – you don’t want people deciding whether or not a cat could be yours based on this info.  Write on the flier “snap a picture and text it to me”.

  • Send the flier to your local animal control and animal shelters to report the cat as missing

  • Post your flyers on telephone poles. This is critical – over 90% of cats are recovered as a result of calls because of a flier.

    • Indoor Cats: Post flyer within a 3-4 block area.

    • Indoor-Outdoor Cats: Post flyer approximately 1 mile diameter.  

  • Email the flier to nearby vets and shelters to post on their Facebook page

  • Consider what was going on when your cat went missing.  Was there construction?  A thunder storm?  Anything outside of the usual routing?

  • Ask your neighbors if you can search their garages/sheds

Next Steps

The next steps in the process to find your cat differ significantly for indoor-only cats versus indoor-outdoor cats

Lost indoor only cats have very predictable behavior – they get outside, freak out, and hide the first place they see.  They are almost always found within a block of where they get out.  Cats who are displaced (lost at a vet etc) behave like lost indoor-only cats.

  • First make sure there is no way your cat could still be inside stuck somewhere.  We have found cats that got inside a wall when there was construction going on and were accidentally closed up inside it.

  • Once you have established that your cat must be outside, you must get him/her to come to you using food.  You will most likely NOT find your cat by looking outside because they are hiding in fear and silence to protect themselves from predators. They essentially behave like a feral cat.

  • The way to get them home is to set out a “kitty buffet” in the same place and same time each night (don’t bother putting food out in the day – the cat will wait until the wee hours to come out and look for food – and sometimes it will take them five or more days to build up the courage to come out to do that). For the kitty buffet, put out lots of stinky stuff – tuna, wet cat food, dry cat food and water.  Put the kitty buffet in a place your cat will feel safe approaching – down on the ground, in the dark, with protection on one side and escape routes.  The cat will want to skulk along natural cover to access the food.  Do NOT put out a litter box – this can attract tomcats or predators which could chase your cat out of the territory.

  • You can set up a motion activated game camera to catch your cat eating at the kitty buffet.  This will confirm that it is your cat that is eating the food and will tell you what time he/she is coming.  

  • Once they are used to eating in the same place and same time each night, you will remove the kitty buffet and bait a humane trap and trap your cat. You can borrow the trap from us or local animal shelter. Be patient. Several weeks outside is not long at all in the life of a lost cat and one displaced cat.  We can lend you a humane trap.

  • Be patient and persistent.  Put the kitty buffet out at the same time at night in the same place.  Sometimes it takes a lost cat a week or more to get the courage to come out and look for food.  Finding your lost indoor cat is a bit of a process, but these rules work – we have over a 95% success rate in finding lost indoor-only cats using this approach.  Do NOT let anyone tell you a predator likely got your cat – in 35 cases over the last few years, not one cat was taken by a predator.  They prefer easier prey, like bunnies, which don’t have claws and teeth.

Indoor-only Cats

Indoor-Only Cats

When an indoor-outdoor cat goes missing it is because he/she has been chased outside of his territory and doesn’t know how to get home or there has been “human intervention” – for example, a human has accidentally closed your cat in a garage or a well-meaning person has picked up your cat thinking s/he is a stray.


  • In this situation, fliers will be your key tool. Flier a mile in each direction.

  • Post on facebook and other social media sites

  • Ask your neighbors if you can search their garages/sheds (you want to do this yourself – no one will search as thoroughly as you will)

  • Track the calls you get on sightings. Get the person’s name, phone number, day and time they saw the cat, the location, and what the cat was doing.  Keep a log, as you may have to contact the caller again.

  • When you have a credible sighting, begin putting out the kitty buffet and follow the instructions under Lost Indoor-Only cat.

  • Consider hiring a tracking dog.  They are trained to scent by air and on the ground – all you need is a “scent article” – a bed or blanket or something with your cat’s scent on it.  Seal your scent article in a plastic ziplock or garbage bag in case you decide to hire a tracking dog at a later point.


For more information on lost cat behavior, recovery, and tracking dogs, we suggest and  For a reasonably priced ($50) phone consult package providing help until your cat is home, go to the facebook page for Pure Gold Pet Trackers (our favorite dog tracker). 

Indoor-Outoor Cats

Indoor-Outdoor Cats

This guide was reproduced with kind permission from Kit Lilly and Charles River Alleycats.

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