There is a lot of misleading information on the internet on how to recover a missing cat and most of it is re-posted material shared by well-meaning people who are just trying to help their fellow cat lovers. Unfortunately, the advice offered is often based upon someone’s hunch about why their missing cat returned home and is rarely underpinned with an in-depth understanding of cat behaviour.
I have been recovering missing and lost cats for nearly 15 years and over the last three years have been using a specially trained search dog (A Cat Detection Dog) to help locate and recover missing cats. We (Molly and Me) have worked together on over 170 investigations, achieving a success rate of four out of every five cats. In 2013 I worked with the BBC Horizon team on one of the largest ever cat tracking projects in the UK during which we monitored and recorded the daily routines of over 50 domestic cats and discovered exactly how far they ranged from their homes, how long they were gone and where they went. The project which lasted eight weeks was supported by The Royal Veterinarian College and one of the world’s leading cat experts Dr John Bradshaw and provided me with invaluable data on domestic cat behaviour.
My knowledge and experience, amassed over many years on recovering missing cats has given me an unrivaled insight into their migratory behaviour, enabling me to write with confidence when addressing the question of how to find a missing cat.
In 2021 I will be publishing a comprehensive E-book on how to find a missing cat but until then here are a few of my top tips on finding a missing cat.
- DO NOT change your cat’s environment cats are extremely sensitive to change which is often why they migrate in the first place so do not put anything outside your home this includes the cat litter. How often do you see your cat hanging around its cat litter at home? Cats are instinctively clean animals and avoid excrement often refusing to use a cat litter unless it is cleaned regularly. In addition, tom cats often leave excrement in open areas as a means of marking territory. Therefore, if you place a cat litter outside you run the risk that another more dominant cat will enter your cat’s territory to explore the source of the scent. They are likely to use the cat litter and will scent the area which will only add to your missing cat’s anxiety. Remember cats are sensitive to change so how do you think they will respond when they return to their garden only to discover their bed, toys, food, and litter tray are sitting outside the back door.
- Try to identify the cause of your cat’s absence before you even start searching. You must first consider the circumstances behind your cat’s disappearance. You know your cat better than anyone so think about any recent changes in your cat’s behaviour? Has your cat started to stay away from the home for longer periods? This could mean your cat is using another location as a temporary home. Are they off their food? This could mean a neighbour is feeding your cat or your they are not getting enough animal protein from the food you are providing. Has your cat been unwell? Cats do not understand (cannot conceptualize) that illness is internal and often wrongly assume it is linked to their home, so they often migrate away from the cause of the illness, taking refuge in a neighbour’s shed or garage until they recover. Did you or a neighbour have a home delivery on the day your cat went missing? If so, get in touch with the delivery company and find out where they went next. Have you seen another cat visiting your garden recently? Cats use bullying to establish hierarchy and will often stare into another cat’s home to intimidate it. The moment your cat goes outside the other more aggressive cat will enter the area and scent mark giving your cat the impression the more dominant cat is lurking in the bushes waiting to attack. (spraying the area with a mix of three parts water one-part white wine vinegar will neutralize the other cat’s scent). Once you have established the likely cause of your cat’s migration then apply the appropriate strategy
- Take a few minutes to work out the best approach for finding your cat. You do not need anything fancy or complex just a focused plan or a list of what you are going to do first and who can help, (which should match the likely causes you identified in (2) above).
- Think about what items will you need to take with you, cat treats, a favorite toy, bottle of water, torch, weatherproof jacket?
- You will need a picture to show neighbours and your phone number to encourage people to call with sightings. Find a good image of your cat on your mobile phone, (usually standing side on to the camera) add your phone number to the image and share the image with everyone you speak to. The more pairs of eyes you have helping to look for your cat the better the chances are that he/she will be seen.
- Who can you ask for help and what exactly do you want then to do for you? Just having someone making telephone calls and social media posts on your behalf will take a lot of weight off your mind. Do not try and do everything yourself, you will quickly become tired and demoralized, you need a friend/s to help.
- Do not walk around your neighbourhood shouting your cat’s name. An anxious cat will not respond to your calls and your raised voice, and the emotion in your voice will only add to your cat’s anxiety. Instead, just chat away to your friend or talk to your cat in a normal voice as if you know where they are hiding. A calm voice will reduce you own and your cat’s anxiety. Cats’ have excellent hearing, and they will hear your voice from their hiding place, to add extra distance to your voice and your scent always search with the wind/breeze at your back.
- Do not work against yourself. If you get uncomfortable, tired, or wet/cold go home take a break, warm up, change clothes and set off again. You stand a much better chance of finding your cat with a clear head.
As mentioned above I will be publishing a comprehensive E-Book on How to Find a Missing Cat within the next couple of months until then feel free to email us at for more advice. Good luck and please let us know how you get on. firstname.lastname@example.org
The Pet Detective UKPD