Advice For Cat Owners Of Lost Cats

By Anita Kelsey – London’s leading cat behaviour councillor (featured photo by ProtectaPet)

It’s a cat owners worst nightmare when their cat goes missing. Panic sets in and we feel that our little fur babies will just curl up and die without us. Well, the first thing we need to know is that cats are VERY good at surviving and will go into survival mode if lost. They will hunt for food and find a warm place to hunker down in. They may be MORE hungry when they are found and slimmer, ahem, but they will not be starving.

There are different things to consider when our mogs go walkies. Were they street savvy? Did they know the area? Are they male or female, Spayed, Neutered? Are they friendly or very nervous? All of these things matter and can determine how our lost cats will ACT. Sometimes a cat isn’t even lost. It has just gone exploring its territory. This can especially happen when a cat has moved in a new area and is finally let outside (after getting used to his main core territory within the home).

First things first.

Lost cat advice – MY CAT KNOWS THE TERRITORY.

Male or female? Male cats tend to roam much further than females. Females tend to stay in the garden area plus one garden but do not roam much further. Male cats, on the other hand, will roam quite far. Most cats are spayed and neutered nowadays but if your male cat is not then expect him to be roaming far and wide looking for females to impregnate and to fight off other male cats. If your male cat is neutered he will still travel much further than a female. Free roaming cats can sometimes disappear for a few weeks and saunter back in as if nothing has happened, whilst you have been tearing your hair out with worry. So, don’t always assume your cat is lost! It is also VERY common for free roaming cats to have more than one home they visit meaning more than one feeder!! Talk to neighbours if you suspect this.

Lost cat advice – PERSONALITY OF CAT.

If your cat is friendly and chats/rubs legs with any passerby then they may be visiting other peoples homes for food. These types of cats are known in the area and are stroked by every passer by. If they got lost, for whatever reason, they would surely meow outside of a home with a light inside. They know how to get what they want and are not afraid of humans. Someone in the area will be feeding this cat and may even be letting the cat inside. Some people see cats without a collar and automatically assume it’s a stray cat. The cat meows and the person thinks they are crying for help and are lost. If a cat is found without a collar always check the  National Pet Register to see if someone has lost this cat. Also, take the cat to the local vet to see if it has a microchip. If not, then register the cat found online at the national Pet register and in local shop windows etc.

Lost cat advice

Lost cat advice – TIMID CATS.

Timid cats don’t travel too far away from their home range. If they become lost they will hunker down in bushes or a shed. This type of behaviour is a survival mechanism that kicks in straight away. The same goes for a cat who does not know the territory. They will be hiding nearby where they became lost. Cats that go into survival mode become quite because they are frightened. This is why, sometimes, with owners calling out there names, they will still choose to remain silent. They will be able to hunt or scavenge but fear will keep them not roaming too far from a shed, or bin hole or any other quiet area to keep warm and hidden in.

Here’s my interview with Pet Detective Kim Freeman.

Lost cat advice
Life is good when seen from trees

Lost cat advice – DISPLACED CATS WHO DO NOT KNOW THE AREA.

This site is very helpful in highlighting how a cat will start to think when it becomes ‘displaced’ from an area it doesn’t know. It highlights the survival technique allowing cat owners to adapt how they are searching for their cat. Worst case scenarios can be lost from a vets office, home boarding or a cattery.

Lost cat advice – RECENT TRUE STORY

Titus, whilst being boarded in a home not his own, rushed for the front door in a freak accident. This was not in character for when he usually stayed. This happened October 2016. He was missing for 4 days. he didn’t know the area so hunkered down nearby. The cat boarder was out everyday at 5am searching for him. He was finally found this morning in nearby bushes. He kept quiet whilst being called for. Survival technique. He was scared. My thoughts on boarding can be read HERE.

Also read the book LOST CAT. It will give you hope. A true story and the cat was found 😉

Lost cat advice
Titus – found after 4 days

Here’s another success story from a lost kitten case that appeared hopeless. The kitten was found by the vigilant cat loving society. So, never give up. Even this little kitten was resilient ;-). Notice how the kitten was found near to the crash site where it was flung out of the car.

Lost cat advice – WORRIED ABOUT FOXES.

Don’t assume your cat is going to be attacked by foxes! Cat’s are fearsome predators too and a fox knows that too well. Read this article for some peace of mind: CATS AND FOXES

Lost cat advice – EXPENSIVE CAT BREED.

It’s rare for a cat to be stolen but it can happen. This is why cat’s should be micro-chipped whether they go outdoors or not. This way, anyone who obtains your cat, whether knowingly or not, will be detected when they go to a vets. Also check places like Gumtree Cats and Kittens For Sale on a daily basis. We cannot hide the fact their are some horrible people out there who will steal an expensive breed of pet for their own means. May sure you use Gumtree’s Lost and Missing Pets section to highlight your cat is missing.

Lost cat advice – DECEASED CAT.

If you are unlucky enough to find a deceased cat you must report it to the council or call your local vet. A vet, if the cat is close by, will come and collect the pet to scan it for a microchip. An owner will be worried sick about their cat and will appreciate being told what has happened to it, even if the news is extremely sad. The local council can also be rang to see if anyone reported a deceased cat to be collected.

Lost cat advice – IMPORTANT STEPS FOR CAT OWNERS.

** Many thanks to Catchat for their invaluable advice.

Action Point 1: CHECK around your home & garden:

  • every room in your house / loft / cellar / all cupboards
  • behind curtains / under duvets / behind settees / under beds
  • in and around washing machine / dishwasher / tumble drier / oven / microwave
  • chimneys / dustbin / water butt / compost bin / sheds / garages
  • green houses / outside toilets / vehicles / gardens / hedgerows
  • check under nearby cars, also check engine spaces under car bonnets and in wheel arches
  • if you are having building work done, check under floorboards and in any holes large enough for a cat to get in

Action Point 2 – ASK the Neighbours:

  • Ask your neighbours to check their sheds, garages etc. Visit houses at least 10 doors in both directions, on both sides of your road, and also any houses whose gardens back onto yours. Take a photo with you, and leave them your phone number.
  • Make a note to go back to any neighbours who weren’t in when you called. Just popping a note through the door doesn’t always guarantee they will check!

lost petlog logo

Action Point 3 – PHONE Calls to make:

(The sooner you report your cat missing, the more likely it is they will be found)

  • If your cat is Microchipped, call Petlog: 01296 336 579 so that they can flag your cat as missing, and also to check any ‘found cat’ reports in your area, (lines are open 365 days a year 24/7). Or visit: www.petlog.org.uk – Every vet and rescue centre knows of Petlog and they are nearly always the first port of call when a lost animal is brought in.
  • Call RSPCA helpline, who match up lost & found cats across the UK: 0300 1234 999
  • Inform all local vets practices (not just your own vet), for details of vets in your area go to: www.any-uk-vet.co.uk
  • Inform your local animal rescue organisations: Contact Details for Rescue Centres in Your Area (UK & Ireland).
  • Ring your local council’s Environmental Health Department. This can be a difficult call to make, but they will be able to tell you if a cat matching your description has been found killed on the road. Unfortunately most councils have no facility for checking for microchips, so they will not contact owners.

Action Point 4 – REGISTER your cat’s details as below:

(Whilst registering your cat’s details, at the same time check any ‘cat found’ notices for your area)

Action Point 5 – POSTERS! Make up a “Lost Cat” Poster / Flyer with the following details:

(If you have Pet Insurance check your policy; some cover the cost of advertising or a reward for a lost cat)
  • your poster should include a photograph of your cat (people remember photos better than descriptions)
  • a brief description of your cat, (leave out an important detail, that way if someone contacts you saying they have found your cat, you can check that extra detail with them to know if they are genuine).
  • date and place your cat was last seen
  • contact telephone number
Get plenty of copies made, and distribute as follows:
(NB: if you are under 18, please don’t distribute leaflets alone after dark, take an adult with you or go in the daytime)
  • post them through every door in your immediate area
  • display at: post offices, supermarkets, pet shops, boarding catteries, vets, library, launderette, hairdressers, pubs
  • and at: newsagents, fish & chip shops, corner shops, garages, doctors, dentists, police station, schools
  • and on: notice boards in halls such as scouts, brownies, playgroups, community centre, church halls, bingo halls, youth clubs, social clubs
  • whilst distributing posters, don’t forget to check shop windows for a ‘Cat Found’ notice, just in case!
  • tie or tape leaflets to telegraph poles, lamp posts, phone boxes, bus shelters and post boxes (put these posters inside plastic wallets to protect them from rain). NB Please don’t nail posters to trees – this can cause infection in the tree, and you could also be fined by your local council.
  • email the poster to friends in the area and ask them to forward to others they know
  • also display one on your own front gate, and in your window
  • display in car windows – yours and neighbours’s cars if they are willing
  • give a copy to your postal delivery worker, window cleaner, lollipop-persons, any regular dog-walkers
  • offer a reward if you can – it could be a box of chocolates for example, it doesn’t have to be money

Action Point 6 – AT HOME do the following:

  • leave your cat’s favourite toy or piece of his (unwashed) bedding in your garden, somewhere sheltered from rain
  • also leave out an unwashed item of your clothing, which will have your smell on it, again in a sheltered place
  • also put outside the contents of your hoover bag and/or any used litter from your cat’s tray
  • All the above will smell familiar to your cat, and may help to keep him in the area, or even guide him home
  • go out into your garden and around the immediate vicinity of your home late at night or in the early hours when things are quieter; call for your cat and then stand still, taking time to listen for a reply. If your cat is shut in nearby, this is when you are most likely to hear him.

Action Point 7 – SEARCH your area:

  • It can be more productive to search for a cat at night when it is quieter, but if you are under 18 years of age please don’t go looking for your cat alone after dark, always take an adult with you.
  • take some dry food, and a cat carrier with you, or if your cat hates carriers take a pillow case!
  • walk around your local area, paying particular attention to any garages, lock-ups, skips and empty properties
  • make a note of any empty houses for sale or rent, and contact the estate agent / letting agent. They may have shown someone round and shut the cat in, or a previous owner/tenant may have left a cat flap set to in-only.
  • call for your pet by name (you may feel daft at first, but this often works) and take time to listen for a reply
  • shaking a box of his favourite biscuits, or squeezing a favourite squeaky toy may help
  • stop regularly, and listen – give your cat a chance to answer your call
  • remember to stay in one area long enough for your pet to reach you if he is in the vicinity
  • INFRARED LIGHT – to see in bushes at night

Action Point 8 – OTHER Suggestions:

  • place a ‘Lost Cat’ advert in local newspapers, and also check the same for any ‘Found Cat’ adverts
  • contact local radio stations (they will often broadcast lost & found appeals)
  • post your cat’s details on lost & found registers and websites.
  • post your cat’s details on the ‘Lost and Found’ section of the Cat Chat Feline Forum
  • check the ‘Found a Pet’ galleries for cats found near you on Animal Search UK (searchable by area)
  • contact the local fire brigade to ask if they have been called out recently to rescue any cats from trees etc.
  • if your cat has been missing for a week or more, ask local rescue groups for the locations / contacts for any known local feral cat colonies. If your cat has wandered further afield they may latch onto a colony for security, food and company. Anyone managing a feral colony will notice a newcomer!
  • Gumtree has a missing and found pet section which is free.
  • if you feel particularly spiritually connected to your cat, you may like to try some visualization techniques, employed by some animal communicators. This is still a little understood area, and will not appeal to everyone, however if you think this is something you would like to try, print off the following PDF written by a practising communicator » Lost cat visualization PDF

Indoor Cat Lost – Suggestions:

We strongly recommend that even indoor cats are microchipped. If your indoor cat goes missing, a different approach may be needed to find them, as they will not be as streetwise as a cat who has previously had access to the outdoors. There is some good advice to help you find a lost indoor cat on the Indoor Paws Website.

!! Warning !! The “I’ve Found Your Cat!” phone call:

Take Sensible Precautions: If someone calls saying they have found your cat, please do not go to see the cat on your own, particularly if you are under 18 years of age. Take an adult friend with you – and a cat carrier of course!Beware of Hoaxes and Scams: Be on your guard if you are asked to part with money for the return of your cat. Even if you are happy to offer a reward, NEVER hand over money until the cat is safely in your hands. (One scam reported to us even involved the request to arrange a money transfer – don’t be caught out!)

Finally… don’t give up hope!

lost and found catsDon’t give up hope! Cats can disappear for several days and sometimes weeks particularly in good weather, and turn up unharmed. We know of many cases where cats have been lost for weeks, and even months (and in very rare cases years!), but were eventually reunited with their humans. Cats are extremely resourceful, and will find food, water and shelter in the most unlikely places.
People will often feed a ‘stray’ cat for some time before it occurs to them that he may just be ‘lost’. Microchipped cats are often reunited with their owners when finally the ‘stray’ is handed into a shelter or has to see a vet.Sadly, still far too many cats found as ‘strays’ are not microchipped. Microchips are tiny, but they make a big difference to whether a lost cat finds it’s way home or not.

“He’s home!” – When your cat comes home:

After you’ve made a big fuss of him/her and given them their favourite dinner, please inform any authorities who have been asked to look for them, and retrieve the posters you distributed round town!

FOUND A CAT? – Here’s what to do…

If the cat will let you approach him, make up a paper collar with a note on saying: “If this is your cat please call this number…”, so that you can ascertain whether the cat is definitely lost or a stray. Place it round the cat’s neck and secure the two ends with a small piece of seloptape (don’t put selotape right round the whole thing as that can be dangerous if the cat gets caught up anywhere). If no-one calls in 24 – 36 hours you can be fairly sure it is lost or stray, then proceed as follows…

  • lost cat home made shelter
  • If the cat is hungry, please feed it, and provide clean water, (not cows milk, as many cats and kittens are lactose intolerant)
  • If you cannot take it into your home, please make sure there is somewhere dry and waterproof outside for shelter. This can be as simple as a cardboard box covered with a bin liner or clingfilm, and weighted down against the wind, or tucked under a bush for stability. Ideal bedding to put inside is a thick layer of straw, which acts as a heat-conserving ‘nest’. Alternatively, a jumper or towel will do, but this should be changed regularly as these retain moisture and can encourage mould or mildew.
  • Contact your local animal rescue groups, to ask if they have been reported as lost – contact details on our shelter listings here: Cat Rescue Organisations – UK and Ireland
  • Give the cat’s description to all your local vets in case the owner contacts them. If possible, take the cat to a vets practice who will check for a microchip – find details of all vets practices in your area go to: www.any-uk-vet.co.uk
  • Phone Petlog on 01296 336 579 Or visit: www.petlog.org.uk to check the ‘lost cat’ records for your area.
  • Phone the RSPCA helpline on 0300 1234 999 to register your cat’s details on their lost & found cats database.
  • Check the ‘Lost a Pet’ galleries for cats lost near you on Animal Search UK (searchable by area)
  • Check Regional and National Lost & Found websites for ‘cat lost’ notices, (below): Lost Pets Registers
  • Check the lost & found notices in your local paper
  • Post details on our forum under ‘Lost & Found’: the Cat Chat Forum
  • Make up an A4 size ‘Cat Found’ notice with a description, which can be displayed in local newsagents, shops etc. Do not give a complete description of the cat, so that if someone contacts you saying the cat is theirs, you can check those extra details to be certain they are the genuine owners, and not just someone after a ‘free cat’ (be aware that cats are often obtained under false pretences by unscrupulous individuals for use as ‘bait’ in illegal dog fights). A template ‘Found Cat’ poster can be obtained from the Cats Protection helpline: 03000 12 12 12.
  • If the owner cannot be traced, and you are not able to adopt the cat yourself, contact your local rescue centre, so that they can arrange to take the cat in for rehoming. If you intend to keep the cat, take him to a vet for a health check, and to arrange for him to be neutered and microchipped.

Check National and Regional Lost & Found resources for corresponding ‘cat lost’ notices, as below:

* Advice from http://www.catchat.org/ which is a site full of amazing information for cat owners.

If I can be of any further assistance please do drop me a line at info@catbehaviourist.com

GOOD LUCK!!!

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Anita Kelsey holds a first class honours degree in Feline Behaviour and Psychology (work based BA Hons) and runs a vet referral service dedicated strictly to the diagnosis and treatment of behaviour problems in cats. She is also a qualified cat groomer and specialises in grooming aggressive or phobic cats. Anita writes for Your Cat Magazine and is on their experts panel answering readers questions on cat grooming. She also advises on feline behaviour for the CFBA (Canine and Feline Behaviour) magazine as well as being a full member. Anita is based in Notting Hill, London but consults all over the UK as well as international requests. She lives with her husband, a music producer, and two Norwegian Forest cats, Kiki and Zaza.
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24 thoughts on “Advice For Cat Owners Of Lost Cats

  1. Real Huge Post for the Cat Owners.
    BTW, your pic with your two cats are simply awesome.
    You are Right, Cats can survive anywhere. And they darling Meows tend to catch anyone’s attention.

  2. This is the best post I’ve read anywhere in a long time. I love that it doesn’t just include information – but also resources as well. Every cat person should keep a copy of this post just in case the worst happens and one needs a bit of guidance in the overflow of emotions.

  3. This post is seriously amazing. Well done. This is so helpful. Love the various situations and what to do as well as all the resources and links. Great tips!

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