How to Find a Lost Cat

Four Methods:Searching EffectivelyKnowing Where to SearchEncouraging the Cat's ReturnSpreading the Word

If your cat is missing there are a variety of things you can do to find it. Cats will usually resort to hiding once lost and often won't even respond to their owners' calls. Focus your efforts on a thorough search of all hiding places near your home, spreading the word to as many people as you can, and encouraging the cat to return on its own. These are the best ways to get your kitty back where it belongs.

Method 1
Searching Effectively

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    Start searching immediately. If you conduct an extensive search immediately, there's a good chance you'll find the cat close to the location where it was lost.[1] The more time has passed increases the opportunity for the cat to roam further from home.
    • Stay calm. It is natural to feel upset, but getting into a panic won't help you or your cat. Taking action immediately can mitigate anxiety.
    • If you recently moved, go back to your old place and search. If you moved really far from your original home, ask friends, family, and old neighbors who are still living there to search for you.[2]
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    Carry a flashlight. Even in daylight, bring a flashlight so you can look in dark places, and catch the reflection of your cat's eyes.
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    Call quietly for the cat. Don't assume your cat will respond to your voice as it normally does. A lost cat is usually a terrified cat, and may not want to leave its hiding spot even for you. Call for it in a soft, quiet voice, to avoid scaring the cat further.[3]
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    Stop and listen regularly. A cat that is trapped, hurt or hungry will likely meow. Whether you're searching by yourself or with a group, take a few minutes in every area you search to listen quietly and attentively for the cat's meow.
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    Keep other animals away. Another cat in the area could have chased your cat away, especially if that cat or you have recently moved there.[4] Ask other cat owners to keep their pets inside while you look for yours, and be prepared to increase the scope of your search as you cover the ground closest to home.
    • If you have dogs, their enthusiasm may frighten your cat during the search. However, if your dog enjoys looking for the cat or responds to "Find the cat," it may be useful to bring the dog if you can't find the cat yourself.
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    Bring along a beloved toy. If your cat has a favorite toy on a string or wand, like a stuffed mouse or feather, take it with you while you search and make it very visible, like you want the cat to play with you; this may allay fears and bring the cat out of hiding.
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    Recruit help from friends, neighbors or professional lot cat finders. Warn anyone searching that if they do spot the cat, remain quiet and do not chase! It's best for the owner to approach the cat, especially since the cat it likely to be very frightened.
    • Trade cell phone contact information with everyone involved in the search, and supply each person with a flashlight, even in daylight.
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    Ask for information and help from passers-by. Whenever someone walks by, ask whether he has seen your cat, showing a photograph if you have one.
    • Postal workers, children, and other people who spend a lot of time outside in your neighborhood can be useful resources and scouts.
    • Offering a reward increases motivation, even with relatively small rewards.[5]
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    Search again after nightfall. If you were searching during the day, return and repeat the steps above after it grows dark when it is more quiet. Bring a flashlight, and call softly to your cat. Lost cats are sometimes more willing to leave their hiding places at night, when they can rely on the darkness for safety.
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    Set up motion sensor digital cameras around your home. You may be able to catch a picture of the cat on camera so that you know they are nearby and focus your search.[6]
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    Keep searching. Most cats will hide instead of run when they're lost or in a scary situation. Because of this, some cats may spend several weeks in the area, moving from one hiding place to another by night. It's not unheard-of for a lost cat to be found after a couple months.

Method 2
Knowing Where to Search

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    Search hiding spots. When a cat becomes lost and scared, it will often run to the first hiding place it sees. Search in dense foliage, under porches, in crawlspaces, and in garages and sheds. Start near the place the cat was lost and search outward.
    • Also check under in sewer drains, and inside pipes and vents.
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    Search the area five houses out by day. Many cats will hide and stay silent for a few days until they respond to your calls. Go back over the same ground near your house and have the person the cat will most likely respond to call out for them.
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    Look in high places. Even a declawed cat can still climb, especially when scared. Look up trees, on rooftops, and in high corners. The cat may even have crawled into the join between the roof and the walls, if there is an opening there.
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    Search in warm places. If the weather is cold, your cat may get stuck behind a heating appliance, crawl into a heating vent, or even climb onto the engine of a car from below.
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    Search your neighbors' houses and yards. Knock on the doors of all homes and businesses within a few doors of the location where your cat was last seen. Ask permission to search the areas around their buildings as well, again focusing on hiding places.
    • If there is any way for a cat to get inside those buildings, ask if the owner would be willing to search inside as well. Suggest searching for the cat yourself if they are not willing or able.
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    Think of places the cat could be trapped. Here are a few examples of how cats are sometimes trapped:[7]
    • Construction sites often contain pits, rubble, or equipment that could trap the cat.
    • The neighbors may have locked the cat into a garage without noticing. Phone neighbors who recently left for vacation, or have another reason for not returning their car to the garage.
    • Your cat may have jumped into a car, delivery truck, or moving truck and been driven away. This is more likely if your cat enjoys car rides or exploring cars.
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    Search inside as well. Your cat could be trapped or injured underneath furniture, in a locked room or closet, or in an area you rarely visit such as an attic or basement. It could even just be hiding, especially if there are currently loud, unfamiliar noises in your house or neighborhood.
    • Search recliner chairs, mattresses or mattress boxes, the chimney, dresser drawers, tangled drapes, behind the books in a bookcase, behind access panels, and behind appliances.[8]

Method 3
Encouraging the Cat's Return

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    Call outside for your cat at night. Tempt your cat out of hiding or back home by calling him/her and shaking the normal box of dry food or treats. The sound of opening a can of cat food may get a response, and if the food has a really strong scent, the cat might even respond to the smell. [9]
    • Lost cats are usually too wary to approach sounds, even familiar ones, but this may work in the middle of the night, when it is dark and no one is around.
    • Pause and listen for a response after each call.
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    Leave familiar scents by your door. Your cat's litter box and/or a familiar toy or blanket can help the cat pick up on the scent and hang around longer if it visits in the night. If these materials are not available, try leaving an unwashed shirt, worn next to your skin, outside the door.
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    Leave food out. Strong-smelling food like wet cat food, tuna, or liver can attract your cat – or other cats and wildlife that could scare your cat away. This step is recommended by many pet advice organizations, but ideally you should be prepared to chase off raccoons, foxes, and other cats.
    • Leave half the food in a closed plastic container with a few holes punched in the lid. This will cause animals (hopefully your cat) to smell the food without being able to get at it, and may cause them to hang around your door longer.[10]
    • Leave out some sardines. Ordinary cat food won't work. The sardines will attract your cat.[11]
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    Try to stay home, or have a family member stay home, to keep an eye out for the cat. Cats are highly territorial and are likely to come home from time to time. However, if there's no one home, they may wander off again.
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    Leave a baby monitor outside the back door. Keep the other end of the baby monitor by your bed, loud enough that you'll be woken up if your cat shows up and meows.
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    Set a humane trap. Many animal shelters will rent or lend traps that are easy to use. Feed stores even sell them. Don't forget to put some cat food in the trap, and even sprinkle liberally with treats and catnip.
    • Check the trap daily. If a wild animal is caught in it, contact animal control to remove it.
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    Use catnip as bait. Spray catnip scent or sprinkle catnip around your front door and surrounding area. This option may not be wise if your neighbors own cats.
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    Empty your vacuum cleaner bag outside. This will probably be filled with your cat's fur and scent, which may be appealingly familiar to your cat. Empty it again every ten days or so.[12]

Method 4
Spreading the Word

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    Distribute fliers in your neighborhood. If your cat is missing for more than a few hours, talk to your neighbors and make fliers to put under door handles. Put your name, phone number, and a photo of your cat on the flier. Describe any distinguishing marks (such as, "triangular white spot on shoulder"), and write the coat color if you're distributing black-and-white fliers. Search for online templates for "lost cat posters" if you're not sure how to make one from scratch.
    • Include relevant information about specific dietary or medical conditions if life threatening.
    • Ask neighbors to kindly check their sheds, garages and basements. Closest neighbors that the cat is reasonably familiar with are good places to check with first.
    • Offering a reward can be good motivation and can get people out looking instead of "keeping an eye out."
    • If you receive a report of a cat sighting that doesn't quite match your cat's description, visit the location anyway to make sure. Descriptions from strangers often don't match the description you would give the cat.
    • Keep info on posters large, easy to read and simple. Include the relevant facts only.
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    Make sure that if your cat is microchipped, the associated contact details are up-to-date so a vet or animal agency can call you. Implanting a microchip is a very common procedure and only needs to be done once in a pet’s life. Microchips are implanted by a veterinary professional under the skin over the shoulder blades of the cat. The microchip is about the size of a grain of rice and carries a unique code that can be read by a scanner when the hand held scanning device is waved over the pet’s body.
    • When the chip is implanted in the pet, the owner provides registration information to the microchip company that will be kept on file until the owner changes that information.
    • The code will be linked to the owner’s information through the microchip’s database. When the scanner reveals the code, the microchip company can then be contacted with the code and the owner’s information will be available. Most veterinarians and animal shelters will check for a microchip for no charge when a stray cat is brought in.
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    Place fliers in effective locations. It's best to post as many fliers as you can within a one mile radius of your home. Beyond that, there are several strategies for using your fliers effectively, and places that may be worth walking a longer distance to cover:[13]
    • Give fliers to veterinary offices, in case someone takes your cat there to treat injuries or begin an adoption process.
    • Post fliers near schools and playgrounds, at children's eye level. Children are often more observant than adults, especially at noticing animals.
    • Dog runs, dog parks, pet supply stores, and pet grooming salons are all visited by pet-friendly people who are more likely to search actively.
    • Post on community message boards at laundromats, churches, missing pet websites, schools, pet stores, libraries, and grocery stores, or any other businesses that allows it in your neighborhood.
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    Post a color picture online. Many finders of pets search for owners online; think about posting a picture of your pet or searching for it on one of numerous pet recovery websites, local community sites, the local Craigslist lost pet section, and anywhere else you can think of. Include up to date contact information on all posts.
    • Lost pet tracking websites include Missing Pet, Pets911, and TabbyTracker. FindToto for US residents costs money to use, but will broadcast a "Pet Amber Alert" to neighbors in your area.
    • Twitter and Facebook can be used to spread the word among your network of friends. Be sure to include a photo or two.
    • If your neighborhood association has an email news digest or web site, post a Lost Cat notice. Remember to include the cat's name, description and temperament.
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    Place a local newspaper notice. Pay a local newspaper to place a lost cat ad, including a description and your phone number. The more local to the area the newspaper is, the better. If no local newspaper serves your area, ask about community newsletters at a community center, a police or sheriff's station, or a local government building.
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    Change your voice mail message. Record a new voice mail message to make sure callers leave all relevant information. For example, say "You've reached (name). If you're calling about my lost cat, (name), please leave a message with the date and place you last saw him, along with your name and phone number. Thank you."[14]
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    Call the local animal welfare agency. Usually if someone comes across a lost cat, they'll report it to the SPCA, Animal Control or your local equivalent. Call your local animal shelter and report your cat has gone missing along with all the relevant details (sex of the cat, color, and your contact information). Visit them every day or two until your cat is found, as sometimes shelters have many cats and have a difficult time matching your description to what they have.
    • Some shelters keep a log of lost pet announcements so that they have records of your information should a similar animal come into their facility. It never hurts to make friends with the front staff at the shelter to make them personally aware of your situation and your pet’s description. Home baked goods break a lot of ice anywhere you ask for help.
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    Find out who your "Open intake" shelter is and check in person every two days. If your cat has been taken to a crowded shelter or local pound, they may only be able to hold cats for a few days before euthanizing the cat. If the staff know you're actively looking, they can be a great ally. Ask them to call you if a cat fitting your cat's description turns up.
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    Notify your local police department. Sometimes, police get calls about found animals, especially in areas without shelters. Officers who spend their day driving around might notice your cat.
    • Do not call the emergency number for your police department! Call the non-emergency 311 number or just talk to your local patrolman instead. While your lost cat is an emergency to you, police need to prioritize incidents involving people.
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    Check "found" sections on Craigslist, newspapers and online classifieds. Check local newspapers and popular online sites daily under the "found" section. Many animal shelters have websites that show pictures of captured, stray animals, so check the website daily or more frequently. Search for "lost pets" + the name of your region to discover additional local websites.
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    Hire a “Cat Detective or a "Lost Cat Finder" who specializes in lost cats.” Pet detectives are available in most states trained in finding lost pets.[15]


  • Once you find your cat, let people know and take the time to remove fliers from the area. Thank anyone who helped find your cat.
  • If you offered a reward, make sure that you pay up if someone was instrumental in finding your beloved pet. If you found someone else's prized possession or pet, there was a money reward, and you never got paid, what would you think?
  • After finding your cat, put a safety collar with identifying information on the cat, and microchip it if possible. Cover open pipes, vents, and crawlspaces with screens.
  • If your cat was not spayed or neutered, arrange to have the procedure done right away after you find it. Intact animals are more likely to escape to mate with another cat. If your intact female cat escaped, she may now be pregnant. Take her to your veterinarian ASAP to seek their medical advice.
  • Understand your cat’s temperament. Some kitties are quite social and may have invited themselves into another home. Without identification, the new home does not have immediate access to your information. If you have a cat who is very cautious and fearful, they may be more likely to be hiding and quiet for days.[16] Keep looking, think like your cat and use all of your resources. Some cats may still be found weeks and months after being lost.
  • An alternative option for knowing when your cat comes up to your home is a portable wireless motion sensor and receiver pair (also known as a "driveway alarm"). Set the sensor set cat height, facing a food bowl or familiar item you put outside. Place the receiver in your bedroom, so it will wake you up if motion is detected.
  • Most cats who runaway come back on their own.
  • If you get your cat back alive keep him or her locked in the house for a few days until your cat adjusts to being back home. Once you let your cat run lose again leave out a can of canned cat food so that he or she won't runaway again. Your cat will learn to associate food with being home.
  • DO not do anything that will attract other cats or wildlife such as food out or litter or bedding. The Lost Cat Finder cautions that this can make matters worse.
  • If you have another cat, try putting that cat outside IN A SECURE CARRIER near your door. The calls and cries may attract your cat.


  • Do not publicize your home address on the flyer or online postings. Always respond to "found cat" contact by meeting in a public place with a friend accompanying you.
  • If you (or a family member or roommate) are moving, be careful that the cat does not get packed into a box. Keep the cat in a separate room from the one that you are packing. On moving day, make sure the cat is in its carrier (or otherwise safely confined) before all the doors are open and people are in and out carrying boxes and furniture. You want to avoid losing the cat in all the activity.
  • Take precautions to keep your cat inside and safe when construction, thunderstorms, celebrations, fireworks, parades and garage sales take place. The extra noises and traffic and chaos are likely to frighten a cat. Consider boarding your cat, if necessary, to keep it safe.
  • If you chose to request the services of a pet detective, make sure they are certified and can send you examples of "walk up finds" and referrals from actually people who's cat the found in person.
  • It is possible your cat had a fatal encounter on a road nearby. Contact your local road maintenance crew through the Department of Transportation, Animal Control, or local government.[17] Ask whether they've discovered any bodies that match your cat's description.
  • There's a small chance your cat was killed by an animal such as a dog or an owl. Check the woods for signs of your cat's fur and a scuffle.
  • Beware of scams from people who claim to have your cat and ask you to wire money. Withhold a small identifying characteristic from the flyer and online posts, so you can identify real and fake "hostage" contact.[18]

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