Monday, November 25, 2013

What I know - Finding a lost cat - Guest Post

My friend Rene (from It's All About the Cats!) recently had one of her kitties escape the house and she had to learn a lot about finding a lost kitty very quickly.  She very generously wanted to do a guest post so all of this information is in one place for anyone else who might find them self in the same situation.

What I know about finding a lost cat

On a November evening, our cat Tucker slipped out of the house. As an older cat, he sleeps often, so I'd assumed he was napping somewhere, but later in the evening I realized he was not in the house! After 11 days of searching, we had a happy ending and I found him. I learned a lot about missing cats in that time and want to share it in case you have this happen to you.

1. Be prepared beforehand. Microchip (or at the very least, have a collar and ID tags) your pet. Upon researching missing pets, I learned part of the population is anti-microchip, but it could be an important tool in reuniting you with your pet.

2. Start searching immediately. We had the unfortunate advantage of letting 90 minutes or more pass before we even knew he was missing.

3. Talk to your neighbors! We knocked on every house on the street, introducing ourselves and handing out our posters. I believe this face-to-face contact saved our Tucker, since a neighbor two houses away was the one who called us upon a cat sighting (which turned out was our Tucker!). We found nearly all of the neighbors to be helpful. In fact, some searched with us and offered to talk to others and pass out flyers. Also ask neighbors if you can check their garages or sheds in case your cat slipped inside.

4. Put up posters. We asked nearby businesses, restaurants, and other places with community boards to hang our posters. The more people who see the flyer, the better.

5. Put a classified in your newspaper. We were able to list both a print and online ad for little money. There are still people who read the classifieds and don't go online.

6. Contact your local shelter(s) and vets' offices. I visited our local shelter daily, and had a friend visit another shelter daily. Don't assume they will call you if your pet is brought in. I wanted to see the stray cats for myself.

7. Search at dawn, dusk, and during the night. Cats in hiding will only come out if it is quiet. I found Tucker just after dusk. Call his/ her name and listen for any response.

8.  Use a powerful flashlight to scan the area. Look for reflections of eyes. Watch for movement in and under porches, shrubs, decks, open garages, etc. We told our neighbors that we would be out searching with flashlights. Many of them allowed us to go into their backyards and search.

9. Keep searching (on foot)! Jim and I searched every single day for 11 days! Gently call your pet's name and/or use familiar phrases while walking. For instance, I have a silly song I made up for Tucker and would sing that, along with other things I'd tell him (are you a good boy?) Also, when searching carry extra flyers and treats with you. I shook a treat bag as I walked.

10. While we have read and heard many stories about cats staying very close to home (within a few houses), this was not the case for Tucker. He was found a number of blocks away, having crossed a busy street.  Take any call or sighting seriously and keep searching. We searched two neighborhoods for a week.

This map shows how far Tucker was found from home. Most cats stay very close to home and hide.

11. There is a "threshold period" of 10-14 days, where may cats are driven to come out of hiding from hunger or thirst.  This was true for our Tucker. We had checked the place where he was found daily for a week before he allowed himself to come out of hiding and be seen.

12. Have a support network. I cried on many shoulders, and it helped keep me going. Don't be afraid to reach out if you need support, help, or just want to cry.

13. Don't listen to negative comments! We heard just about everything when Tucker was missing. Many people don't know what to say in negative situations, especially if they don't have a pet. You know that your pet is important, so ignore anyone who doesn't understand.

14. Post some "lost" listings online, but be wary. Some websites just want to sell you "services" or send you spam instead of finding your pet. Read the fine print carefully.

15. Rent or borrow a live trap. Set it with stinky food (sardines, tuna, etc.) near the point of escape. Be sure to monitor the trap every hour or two. While a live trap didn't help us, we know of a neighbor who trapped her missing cat that way.

16. Put out a sign in your front yard. We had our lost poster both on the front door and in a stake in the front yard, so there was no question of where to return the cat.

17. Talk to people on the street--mail people, construction workers, dog walkers, etc. I passed out many flyers this way. These people are walking around the neighborhood and could sight your cat.

18. Post something on craigslist, both in the pets and lost-and-found area. Also consider Facebook and other social media. Ask friends to share your posts. Wisconsin has a "lost pets" page on Facebook--check to see if your state or community has a similar page.

19. Contact the microchip company and alert them that your pet is missing. This flags your account.

20. Put out used laundry (we used pillowcases) or the contents of a vacuum cleaner bag on your property. Cats' noses are very sensitive and it may help him/her home.

21. It may seem obvious, but if you didn't see your cat escape, search your home thoroughly. Jim and I used flashlights to check every closet, cabinet, drawer, etc. inside.

22. Ask friends or co-workers for help. I asked co-workers who lived in different parts of the city to pass out flyers at their vets' offices, emergency clinics, etc.

23. We did not use this tip, but someone suggested using Google voice to create a special phone number that is easy to remember (like FIND-KITTY) and redirect it to your phone number.

We found this page especially helpful in explaining lost cat behavior:

We want your lost pet to be reunited with you! This is a photo my husband took right after I got Tucker home 

What to do when your cat comes home:

1. Check over your cat for injuries/lameness/etc. If you see a serious injury, please go immediately to a vet's office! Tucker, though thin, was whole and uninjured, so we scheduled an appointment for two days later.

2. If you have other pets, separate them for a few days. Your cat will smell "different" to the other cats and you may need to re-introduce them. Plus, your cat has been traumatized and needs quiet time.

3. Feed your cat small, frequent meals for the first few days. She/he may not have had much food and you don't want to upset the digestive system by feeding a large meal. We also feel it is important to NOT feed dry food. Your cat will need the moisture of a wet diet.

4. See your vet within a few days. We had blood work taken and a thorough physical examination.  We also brought in a stool sample to check for parasites.

5. Keep your cat quiet for several days. Tucker slept a lot the first few days home. We made sure he had access to warm places for resting.

6.Your cat's personality may be different for a while until he/she adjusts to being back home. Let him/her lead the way and do not force anything on him/her. Tucker was especially needy and stuck close to our sides, and we let him do so. He needed the reassurance and frankly, we did too.

7. Don't forget to remove your posters, online postings, call the microchip company, etc. to let them know your pet has been found.


  1. Me and my humans are so glad that Tucker was found !
    This is very good tips and information how you shall act if your cat is missing !

  2. Thanks for sharing this important information. We are SO happy that your story had a happy ending and that Tucker is home without suffering any ill effects. ♥

  3. Excellent post. And I truly hope I never, ever need the info, and that you never do again, either. We can't possibly say how thankful we were that Tucker was found and relatively unscathed. A truly wonderful "ending" to this "adventure."

  4. We are so glad to have a fairy tale ending for Tucker and these are all very good and useful tips for helping to locate a lost pet. Great post!

  5. We were so happy to hear that Tucker was found, and what a great "lessons learned" post. This kind of information is important to have if it's ever needed, since it's hard to think calmly through the worry. Thanks for compiling it into one place!

  6. Thank you for agreeing to share this information. We hope no one ever needs it, but it's here if you ever do.

  7. Anonymous11:47 AM

    Thank you for all that great information! Our humans didn't know some of those tips. We'll make sure they do now! Welcome home, Tucker! Purrs...

  8. Stunning post! Quite thorough!
    Oh, and by the way, we love Tucker and are so glad he is home!

  9. What great advice! Thanks for sharing all the great tips with us, although we hope we never have to use them. Have a great Thanksgiving too. Tucker's family have something special to celebrate.

  10. As more and more people choose to have "indoor only" cats, I've found myself wondering if it would be good to encourage cat owners to take their cats outside on leashes to at least familiarize them with the environment around the home. Cats are intelligent and territorial creatures, and they can learn quite rapidly where they live, and become more familiar with sounds and smells that would otherwise freak them out if they suddenly found themselves outside. That seems to be the major problem with cats that slip out - they have no clue what it's like outside, or where they are, and they may not "stay close to home" because they really aren't certain where home is.

  11. Good stuff and we hope we never need to use it!

  12. This is an awesome post! Thanks for having Rene guest here.

  13. Terrific post. Lots of good information. So glad Tucker is safely home!

  14. Glad to hear Tucker is home safe and sound. Thanks for sharing your information.


  15. we are so glad Tucker made it home safe. this is a great post.

    we were very lucky when Tommy got out - he was only gone about 18 hours, but it was enough to scare mom. but we are chipped and the poster we put on our front door.

  16. we could only imagine how terrible those 11 days were when tucker was missing. but we're happy that this has a happy ending.

    thanks for sharing this helpful post.

    Emma and Buster

  17. What wonderful tips and a great ending. Thanks so much for sharing them and your story.

  18. We are all so relieved that Tucker was found. That was excellent info!

  19. This is a really informative post, thank you so much. Yikes, that must have been so, so hard for Rene and family...we are so happy that they found Tucker and that he was alright and that the story has a happy ending...thank goodness.

  20. Oh my stars - the map showing how far Tucker had gone..! My heart is still in my mouth! Awwww Tucker!!!!!!

    Great too to have a "what do to" after kitty is found! Take care

  21. Excellent tips and what a happy ending on finding sweet Tucker!

  22. I think I would add: Never give up the search!

  23. We loved this post when we first saw it and I'm so very glad you shared it here too. I don't know Rene and Tucker very well - in fact, we just found them through you when tucker was found! But reading through her heartache - wow. And I learned a few things in her post here today too. Thanks!

  24. you were very fortunate! Great tips! I only lost one kitty years ago....sad and I was more careful after that. Now our cat is an inside only cat. Much better. She only goes out on a leash and is chipped.


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