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No pet parent ever wants to lose track of their furry friend, but there may come a time when you find yourself saying, "I can't find my cat. Help, my cat ran away!" Unfortunately, cats can and do disappear from time to time. The good news is that most runaway cats safely find their way back home.
My Cat Ran Away: 6 Tips for Finding Your Cat
If your kitty goes missing, here are several effective tips to help you find your missing feline:
1. Check Your House Thoroughly
Already checked their favorite hiding spots? Don't stop there! "Lost" cats are often found in places such as kids' playhouses, baskets with lids and even drop ceilings. Unlike dogs, cats don't often respond to their own names, but you can call for them in a soft, gentle voice. Cats can sleep up to 20 hours a day, and if they've found a good spot, it's not unusual for them to take marathon naps. It's also not uncommon for a cat to get trapped in a closet or room with the door shut, including garages and under cars — so, don't rule out the house too quickly.
2. Search Your Neighborhood
Many cats, including those that spend time outdoors, don't stray too far from home. The same is true for indoor cats whose living space is more limited. In a study published in the journal Animals, researchers found that most cats who go outside don't travel more than 500 meters (approximately 1,640 feet) away from home. Start local by combing the perimeter of your home, checking any outdoor shrubs, trees and outbuildings. Walk around and chat with neighbors about your cat and ask if you can text them details, including a photo that clearly shows your cat's face, body and markings. Ask permission to check their garages, yards, sheds and other outdoor buildings.
3. Broaden Your Search
Once you've covered your own neighborhood, branch out to adjoining communities. Posters and fliers are still a worthwhile investment. Be sure to include a recent photo, your contact information and a simple phrase like "Lost cat" or "Please help, my cat ran away" to catch people's attention. Cats who are used to going in and out of the home on their own may get curious and roam beyond their usual territory, but don't worry: Chances are pretty good that other people spotted your kitty making the rounds and will notify you. Because many lost pets end up at shelters and veterinarians' offices, go in person to as many places as possible, including the local animal control office, so that you can give them fliers and specific details about your cat.
4. Take Advantage of the Social Media
More than ever, pet parents rely on the internet to help locate their missing cats. Post on your own social media sites and share the information in social media community groups — and, again, be sure to include recent photos. Online sites allow you to include more information, so think of any quirks your cat may have or if there's a special word or phrase they'll respond to. Some pet parents may offer a cash reward for locating their lost cat, but when posting in public forums, be mindful of advertising this reward as it could attract potential scammers. If you do offer a cash reward, consider including this information without specifying the exact amount. Or, don't advertise the reward, but then give one to whoever finds your cat. They may have spent some money to feed and house your kitty, and they'd appreciate the gesture.
5. Use Personal Belongings
Cats have a strong sense of smell — 14 times better than humans, as PAWS Chicago notes — which is why it's a great idea to put items on your porch or in your yard that will attract your kitty, such as your unwashed clothes or their favorite blanket. It's tempting to set out food for your lost cat, but this can attract a lot of unwanted critters that may, in fact, scare your cat away. The RSPCA Australia suggests putting your cat's food inside but next to an open window or door and "wait patiently" — a key part of the process.
6. Invest in a Security Camera
If you have the means, install an outdoor camera of your own so you can see if your cat is strolling around the yard, looking for a way back into the house. Pet and wildlife surveillance cameras are available for purchase, but a standard home security camera works well, too. Another option is to use a baby monitor system, many of which come with a video display. Place the base by your front or back door, and keep a monitor next to you at all times. Do your neighbors have security cameras? You can ask them to check the footage and keep you posted.
Lost Cat Prevention
When it comes to preventing your feline friend from leaving home, consider getting your cat spayed or neutered. Doing so greatly reduces their desire to wander away because they'll no longer have the instinct to seek out a mate. Another way to help your lost cat find their way home is to get them microchipped and fitted with a collar and ID tag that includes your contact information. This is important for indoor-only cats, too, because they can sneak out just the same.
In general, keeping your cat indoors full-time greatly reduces your cat's chances of getting lost. As Pet Health Network explains, keeping your kitty indoors also protects them from dangers like racing traffic, viral infections, parasites, poisonous plants and other animals. Worried your cat will get bored inside all day? Give them enrichment activities and games, like food puzzles, play towers and even cat TV. Leave curtains and blinds open whenever possible so that your kitty can see the great outdoors from a safe distance.
Don't Give Up Too Soon
It may seem futile after a while, but don't stop looking for your cat. Tell everyone you see, "I still can't find my cat. My cat ran away!" to remind them that your search is still active. Up to 56% of lost cats are found within a couple of months, reports the study from Animals, and often both indoor and outdoor cats are found close to home. Keep in mind that cats love to hide in small, dark places, especially cats that don't feel well, so look everywhere and bring a flashlight. If you're mainly searching for your cat during daylight hours, try searching at dusk and dawn when cats are most active.
Above all, stay positive and keep on looking! It's a stressful time if your feline friend is missing, but take comfort in knowing that most cats are happily reunited with their pet parents.
Christine Brovelli-O'Brien, Ph.D., is an award-winning writer, researcher and long-time cat mom. She's a professional member of the Cat Writers' Association (CWA) and writes about pets, lifestyle and education. Find and follow Christine on Instagram and Twitter @brovelliobrien.