It’s a horrible, panic-inducing situation: Your cat has gone missing. What can you do to get your beloved companion safely back home?

First, don’t give up. Persistence is key, and you may need a combination of search strategies. A systematic approach based on typical lost cat behavior, as well as your cat’s personality and habits, will maximize your chances for success.

Neighborhood search

Start with a thorough physical search of your immediate area, focusing on your home and property and working out from there. A 2017 study revealed that most missing cats are found less than a third of a mile from where they escaped. Indoor cats who get outdoors are typically found less than three houses away.

Ask friends and neighbors to help with the search, and check under decks and porches, in garages and sheds, and other places where a cat could hide or get trapped. Keep in mind that a cat who is unused to being outside, or a cat lost in an unfamiliar area, will likely be scared and won’t respond to your calls. It can take a few days before they relax enough to emerge from their hiding spot.

Spread the word

Knock on doors and hang large, colorful “lost cat” posters in your area. Alert dogwalkers, mail carriers, joggers and anyone else who regularly visits your neighborhood, as well as anyone nearby who feeds outdoor cats. Use local social media sites and missing pet registries to help get the word out.

When people know your cat is missing, they’ll want to help. Otherwise, they may assume the cat who showed up in their yard is abandoned and needs a home.

Bring in technology

Just because no one has seen your cat doesn’t mean they’re not close by. A scared cat will often hide during the day and only venture out late at night when the neighborhood is quiet (and most people are sleeping).

Start placing food and water in a safe spot in the area where you suspect your cat is hiding (a large plastic storage container turned on its side can protect the food from rain). Use a motion-activated camera to see if your cat is eating the food. Once you know your cat is visiting the feeding station and what time they typically show up, set a humane trap to capture them. Most animal control agencies and many rescue groups will have a trap you can borrow. (Be sure to monitor the trap and quickly release any wildlife or other animal you unintentionally capture.)

If you suspect your cat is trapped or hiding under a building, use an amplified listening device or plumber’s camera to check hard-to-reach places.

Alert authorities

Submit lost reports to your local animal shelters and animal control agency, and ask if there are other local animal welfare organizations that may have your pet. Depending on where you live, the shelter may only be able to hold a lost cat for as little as 72 hours before placing them for adoption, so don’t delay.

If your cat has a microchip, alert the microchip company so that your cat can be flagged as lost.

Visit your local shelters as often as you can to check if your cat is there, keeping in mind that it can take weeks before a lost cat lands at a shelter.

Top 10 tips

Sign up to receive our exclusive e-book full of important information about caring for your pet, including training techniques and answers to frequently asked questions.

tablet showing pet tips ebook

Advanced search strategies

Mission Reunite and the Missing Animal Response Network provide advanced search tips, online trainings and information on hiring a lost-pet recovery expert. LostCatFinder.com’s How to Find Your Lost Cat video search guide and e-booklet is another good resource.

ONLINE SEARCH TIPS

Most communities have Facebook groups for sharing information about lost and found pets. Search for groups in your area and post a notice of your missing cat. Share the post on your personal Facebook, Instagram or other social media accounts. Fellow animal lovers will likely want to help in your search.

Petco Love Lost is a national database that uses facial recognition technology to search thousands of found pet listings from users and shelters across the country. Simply upload a photo of your cat to start the search.

You can also try:

If you have a homeowner’s or neighborhood association, ask them to help spread the word with an online posting or email notice.

Beware of scams

If a stranger claims to have found your cat, ask them to describe your pet and send you a photo. Be wary of anyone who asks for money before they’ll return your cat.

Prevention

A cat (even an indoor-only one) has a better chance of being returned to you if they always wear a collar and an ID tag with your name, address and telephone number. (Some experts recommend a tag that says “call my owner” and notes whether it’s OK for your cat to be outside.) To further ensure that your cat makes their way home should they ever become lost, ask your veterinarian or local animal shelter to microchip them. Just be sure to keep your contact information up to date with the online microchip registry site, such as the Michelson Found Animals Registry.