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First Steps to Find Your Cat

Depending on their lifestyles, Indoor-Only vs. Indoor-Outdoor, cats will exhibit different behaviors when lost. After reading these tips for all cats, continue below for tips specific to indoor-only vs. indoor-outdoor cats.

First Steps To Find Your Cat:

  • Create a color flyer with your cat's picture, description, your information (example below). This flier was developed by our professional pet tracker friend. Make 100 fliers to start. Put each flier in an upside-down clear plastic sheet protector to keep it dry in the rain. We have intentionally omitted details such as when and where the cat was lost because you don’t want anyone making a judgment call on whether or not that could be your cat.

  • Post your flyers. For indoor cats: Post flyer within a 5 block area. For indoor-outdoor cats: Post flyer approximately 1 mile in each direction (you will need more than 100 fliers for this). Focus on intersections and stop signs. You should staple the flier to telephone poles (one staple in each corner) or if there is a stop sign, use clear packing tape to tape the flier to the metal pole beneath the stop sign.

  • Email the flier to your animal control department and to the MSPCA (lostpet@mspca.org) and the Animal Rescue League (boston-admissions@arlboston.org) Also, give a flier to your postal carrier, Fed Ex, UPS and other delivery persons.

  • Talk to your neighbors and give them a flier. Ask them if you can search their yard. Check under their sheds and in their garages. If they have a deck or porch with stairs check under the bottom stair.

  • Email or send us a message by social media to report your cat as missing and include your flier for us to post on social media. We may be able to provide support and coaching to you if desired.

  • Follow the instructions below depending if your cat is an indoor-only or indoor-outdoor cat. 👇👇👇

Indoor-Only Cats

First, be sure your cat actually has gotten outside the house. Cats are very good at hiding and may not come when called, so unless you know for sure your cat has gotten out, conduct a thorough physical search of your house. This means opening every drawer, turning over every sofa, etc. one room at a time. A cat was once found inside a piano, napping and not responding to calls, while its owner thought it was lost.

You may have reason to believe your cat has gotten out. Maybe there is a broken screen or a window was left open or someone saw the cat get out. If there is reason to believe the cat has gotten out, it is important to know if he snuck out at a time when it was quiet or if he escaped when he was scared by construction work at your house, a thunderstorm, or another “traumatic” event and rocketed out of the house. This can affect how far you need to search.

In general, indoor only cats have very predictable behavior – they get outside, freak out, and hide near the house. As a result, cats in this situation are typically found within a block or two from where they got out. However, they will NOT come to you because they are in self-preservation or “survivor mode” which causes them to hide in fear and silence to protect themselves from predators. They essentially behave like a feral cat.

Your cat’s personality can impact the search. A shy cat is much more likely to hide in silence. A very outgoing cat MAY respond to you. If you want to try calling for your cat, the time to do this is at night when everything is quiet. Stay in ONE PLACE and call for him or sit with someone else and have a conversation so he can hear your voice. DO NOT walk around calling him. By the time he has mustered the courage to answer you, you will be long gone. You may have to sit outside for 30-45 minutes talking to him. You can record your voice on your phone and play it in a loop.

One way to get a lost indoor-only cat home is to GET THEM TO COME TO YOU using food, toys or your voice. If you know which part of your house the cat escaped from, pick a place near that spot where the cat will feel safe approaching. In most cases, the food should be protected on one side by bushes or a wall, and open on either flank so the cat can run if it feels threatened. The food should be in shadow, not under any kind of light. DO NOT put out a litter box, as this can attract tomcats and predators who can track your cat by his scent and chase your cat out of the area. You can put out an article of your clothing (the smellier, the better) so that your cat smells you.

You will set out a “kitty buffet” in the same place at same time each night. Check the food first thing in the morning and make a log of what food was eaten. You can set out new bait in the morning to refresh the smell. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get a hit on the food right away. It can take several days for the cat to build up the courage to look for food and to find the feeding station.

For the kitty buffet, put out lots of stinky “bait”. Take it out of the can and put it in a bowl. Put out a full can of tuna in oil, a full big can of wet cat food, a bowl of dry cat food, and water each night. You should assume that several other cats will eat at your buffet before your cat finds it, so you want to have enough for everyone.

The water is important for two reasons: 1. Your cat will be dehydrated 2. The water will tell you if the one feeding at the buffet is a cat (water will be clean and intact) or a wild animal (water will be gone or filthy). When you get hits on your feeding station, you should put a motion activated, night vision game camera on the feeding station to see who is eating. Charles River Alleycats can loan you a camera. Once the cat is eating at the feeding station, it’s a matter of time before he is home!

If you get calls from your fliers, you will need to determine if the sighting is credible. Ask the caller to describe the cat and ask identifying questions such as whether the cat was wearing a collar and any distinctive markings. Get the name and phone number of the caller, the location the cat was seen, the day and time the cat was seen, and what the cat was doing at the time of the sighting. Ask the caller if they can provide a photo of the cat they sighted. You will need to keep a log of calls you receive noting the above information. If the call could be credible, you will set out a second kitty buffet where the cat was seen and follow what you did on the first feeding station.

Once the cat is used to eating in the same place and same time each night, you can first try to get the cat to come to you. At the time the cat is coming to eat, sit quietly about 15 feet from the feeding spot and call to the cat. DO NOT WALK AROUND AND DO NOT APPROACH THE CAT. Let the cat come to you. We have seen a cat be 10 feet from his owner, with the owner calling to him, and the cat turned and ran in the other direction. They are on high alert and will not behave like their normal selves. If your cat comes near to you but does not acknowledge that he recognizes you by touching you with his head or paws, DO NOT REACH OUT AND GRAB HIM!! He will put you in the hospital! He must come all of the way in to you before you can pick him up. The safest way to transport him is in a pillowcase, it is easier to put him in there than into a carrier when frightened. If you have no luck with this approach, you will need to humanely trap your cat.

PLEASE NOTE: we do NOT put out a trap until the cat is in a pattern of eating at one location at a certain time. If a trap is put out before this pattern is established, it can spook the cat and foil your efforts.

To trap your cat, pick a night that it is not raining. Instead of putting out a kitty buffet, you will bait a humane trap. The trap should be a TruCatch, NOT a Hav-a-Heart. If you catch a raccoon or a skunk in a Hav-a Heart, it is difficult to release. With a TruCatch, you never need to be close to the animal to release it. You can borrow the trap from Charles River Alleycats or local animal shelter. Put three or so tiny morsels of food in a trail leading into the trap. The main food goes all the way at the back of the trap.

The trap should be set on level ground and should not be visible to the general public. You do not want a cat in a trap to be stolen by someone ill-intentioned. NEVER leave the trap out open and baited in the rain. Lock the trap open the trap anytime you can not be nearby to monitor.

Be patient. Sometimes the search is over in a night or two, and sometimes it takes weeks. But if you follow these instructions, we are confident you can get your cat back. We follow this method for people we have helped, and have recovered over 90% of lost indoor cats we have helped with.

Several weeks outside is not long at all in the life of a lost cat. Cat are resilient and are survivors.

Indoor-Outdoor Cats


If you have a lost your cat that has been outside before,
they were most likely either: 1) chased out of the area and do not know how to get home or 2) there is “human intervention”, meaning that the cat was accidentally trapped inside a garage or shed, or a good-Samaritan picked up the cat thinking it was a stray. In the winter cats have also been known to climb into the engine compartment of a recently parked vehicle to get warm and then are surprised when the driver comes back and drives away. Cats will jump out of the vehicle at the first opportunity which could be blocks or even miles from where they went missing.

In this situation, fliers are your key tool. Flier at least a mile out in each direction from where your cat was lost to start, focusing on intersections.

When you get calls from your fliers, you will need to determine if they are credible. Ask the caller to describe the cat and ask identifying questions such as whether the cat was wearing a collar and any distinctive markings. Get the name and phone number of the caller, the location the cat was seen, the day and time the cat was seen, and what the cat was doing at the time of the sighting. Ask the caller if they can provide a photo of the cat they sighted. You will need to keep a log of calls you receive noting the above information. If the call could be credible, you will set out a second kitty buffet where the cat was seen and follow what you did on the first feeding station.

If you are having no luck, we would consider hiring a tracking dog. Some dogs are trained to scent by air and on the ground and can track weeks after an animal goes missing. In order to use a tracker, you need is a “scent article” – a bed or blanket or something with your cat’s scent on it. The scent article should have only your cat’s scent on it (no other companion pets’ scent). We recommend getting a scent article and sealing it in a plastic bag as soon as your cat gets out in case you decide at a later point to use a tracking dog.

Our pet tracker friend, Sam Connelly, is available for phone consultations to coach you through finding your lost cat. Her phone package is a flat rate of $50. If you are going to spend money on your search, this will give you the best bang for your buck. Don’t bother with Pawboost and other online flyering services. In certain cases, Sam and her tracking dog may be available for a physical search. If you want to check out her website, it is www.puregoldpettrackers.net and her facebook page is @puregoldpettrackers.

For more information on lost cat behavior, recovery and tracking dogs we suggest lostpetresearch.com and missingpetpartnership.org. The big orange button below is also a network of found pets by participating shelters and rescues!

Here is a recommended example for your lost cat flyer, please note the large font and bright colors!