What to Do If You Lose Your Cat · The Wildest

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Do You Have a Lost Cat? Here Are the 8 Steps to Take Right Now

Follow these expert tips so your bestie can come home ASAP.

by Mia Mercado
April 22, 2024
Sad woman looking for her lost cat, hanging posters with missing pet photo.
SynthEx / Shutterstock

Losing a pet is an unfortunately common nightmare scenario for many pet parents. The Animal Humane Society estimates that one in three pets will go missing in their lifetime, with one study finding that 15 percent of cat owners report losing their cat at least once in the past five years. 

If your cat has gone missing, first and foremost, try not to panic. That’s easier said than done, but when it comes to finding a lost cat, you can rest assured that you won’t be starting from scratch. “We’re really not reinventing the wheel,” says Cam Rosenauer, lost pets and admissions manager at Great Plains SPCA. “But we have pretty good success when we advise with these steps.” Here are eight tips for finding a lost cat, according to an expert.

Stay calm.

Rosenauer advises against jumping to worst-case-scenario conclusions (ie., your pet was stolen). “This can be disparaging for an owner frantically searching and causes them to lose hope when this scenario is exceptionally rare,” Rosenauer says.

Act quickly.

Time is of the essence when finding a lost cat. A 2018 study on methods to locate a missing cat reported a 33 percent chance of a lost cat being found within a week and a 56 percent chance of being found within two months. Rosenauer says one of the biggest mistakes people make when they lose their cat is simply doing nothing.

“We get pets admitted all the time that the owner didn’t know was missing,” says Rosenauer, adding that, even among pet parents who know their pet is missing, it isn’t uncommon for them to overlook notifying local shelters. In other words, pretty much any step you take to locate your missing cat will be a helpful one.

Do a thorough search of the immediate area.

Rosenauer recommends checking under cars, in bushes, and other nearby areas, noting “cats generally stay very close to home.” Of the lost cats included in the aforementioned 2018 study, 75 percent were found within a third-mile radius of where they initially went missing.

Spread the word.

Start with your neighbors and neighborhood Facebook groups. “Normally, when we have someone who has lost their pet, we advise them first and foremost to post in our local Facebook group(s) that are very active,” Rosenauer adds. You can typically find local lost pet Facebook groups by searching “lost cats” or “lost pets” alongside the name of your neighborhood, city, or county.

Next, Rosenauer advises posting lost pets on NextDoor and the Ring Neighbors app. “We also encourage flyers to be posted in close proximity to where your cat was last seen,” he adds, recommending sites like Canva, which has lost pet poster templates, to create signs with your pet’s photo and your phone number.

Staple posters to telephone poles, display them on your car windows, and hand them out to local shelters and businesses, especially pet supply stores, vets, and groomers. Don’t forget to utilize online databases like Petco Love Lost, where you can upload flyers of your lost cat. Be mindful that it is a federal offense to put flyers in mailboxes.

Leave food out.

Rosenauer recommends leaving cat food around the outside of your home (for example, on your porch). If you have a garage, Rosenauer says to leave the garage door open about a foot with the cat’s food inside. He says leaving food out is especially effective for finding lost cats as they “will stay nearby if there is food present.”

Alert the authorities.

Contact your local animal control, police departments, and animal shelters. “Most animal control agencies keep records of missing pets and investigate that database prior to taking them to a shelter or rescue,” Rosenauer says.

Ask your local shelters if they loan out traps for missing cats. Rosenauer says the Great Plains SPCA will lend traps and provide instructions on how to use the trap, what bait to use, and how to get your cat out of the trap. “Traps are best for when you can verify, say via security cameras or personal sightings, that the cat is nearby,” Rosenauer clarifies.

Make sure your cat’s microchip information is up-to-date.

“Another mistake people make is not updating their microchip information,” Rosenauer says. “We do run into instances where the only information on the chip is for the implant facility and hope they have owner information in their records.” He also recommends updating the microchip information yearly, or if your phone or address changes.

Preventative tip: spay/neuter your cat.

“The number one way to keep your pet at home is to spay and neuter,” Rosenauer says, emphasizing the growing issue of shelter overpopulation. “Spaying and neutering will decrease a pet’s urge to roam,” he continues. “It also has a ton of medical benefits such as reducing the risk of cancer and elongating life.” 


Mia Mercado with her small white dog

Mia Mercado

Mia Mercado is a writer whose work has appeared in The New Yorker, New York Times, and The Cut. She’s also the author of two essay collections, She’s Nice Though and Weird But Normal. Mia has a dog named Ava who is an adorable little freak just like her mother.

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