Tips for Finding a Lost Cat

Search Immediately

An indoor only cat is almost certainly very close at hand. Look in, behind and under any place the cat may be hiding, starting right from the exit point – in dense plantings, under a porch, house crawl space, storm drains. (A cat can crawl through an incredibly small slot when it needs to.) And don’t neglect to look up, even if the cat has been declawed.

When an Indoor/Outdoor Cat Disappears

When an indoor/outdoor cat disappears, this means that something has happened to the cat. This is because cats are territorial and do not just run away from home. They find themselves trapped, they get driven away from their territory, they become ill or injured and creep away to a quiet dark place.

Thoroughly search the surrounding property and go door-to-door asking neighbors for permission to look on their property. Most people will gladly cooperate.

Look around and try to imagine what could have happened to account for the disappearance. Have any neighbors recently moved, gone on vacation, or is their construction?

If you have recently moved close by, check your old neighborhood and talk with people there and post flyers. When a guardian moves their cat to a new home, lets the cat outside, the cat may leave the area to find their way back to their old, established territory.

Search at Dawn and Dusk

Many cats will venture out of hiding at dawn and dust because they feel safer in the dark. Sit quietly in your yard and call your cat softly. Jingle your cat’s favorite toy or shake a box of dry cat food, open a can of food. Softly call the cat while looking.

Remember the cat may not respond – the cat is terrified of everything, including you – but it may give a very faint reply. Use a flashlight to search all the areas you explored earlier.

Put Food and Water Out Every Morning and Evening

The cat may go back into hiding after eating but this will encourage your cat to hide nearby rather than stray farther in search of food.

Use the Power of Scent

Place a few of the cat’s indoor things (litter box, scratching post, bedding, etc.) around the yard. Familiar scents can bring a cat home.

Contact All Area Shelters

While most shelters won’t pick up stray cats, it’s possible that someone found your cat and brought the cat to a shelter (although many shelters won’t take in stray friendly cats). Shelters do, however, take lost cat reports from someone who may have seen your cat outdoors. Keep in mind, it could take weeks or months for someone to see your cat and report your cat to a shelter because someone is not likely to help a cat until it appears lost (skinny, dirty) which can take quite a while.

Contact Local Rescue Organizations

In addition to SPCA NOVA, contact other rescue organizations to find out if they have recently taken in a cat that fits your cat’s descriptions, such as:

Notify Others

Ask the children in your neighborhood to help find the cat — they network well and know the “hiding places” in your neighborhood better than the adults do. Question others, such as dog walkers, joggers, postal carriers and ask them to keep an eye out for your cat


Post a notice on networking sites such as Or other neighborhood list serves. Post “Lost Cat” flyers in your neighborhood, pet supply stores, and veterinary clinics. Post a lost cat entry on the VA Missing Pet Network. Caution: leave out one of your cats identifying characteristics so you can verify the honesty of any person claiming to have found your cat.

Set a Humane Trap

There are many reasons why your cat may be close to home, but too afraid to make himself known. This is especially true of indoor only cats. Setting a humane trap may do the trick.

This trap is a wire cage with a trip mechanism that closes a door when the cat enters the trap to get food. Once shut, the cat cannot get loose. It’s important to monitor these traps regularly (e.g., every¬† hour or so). And cover the trap with a towel – this lures a cat inside and deters the cat from injuring themself once the trap closes since the cat realizes they can’t get out of the trap.

Do not leave them open overnight or throughout the day. A scared cat can injure himself in a trap if left unattended for too long. Traps may be available at animal shelters, some vet offices, as well as pet stores and hardware stores. You may also trap other critters (e.g., another cat, raccoons, opossums etc). Don’t worry. Just open the trap up and let it scurry away.

Other Lost Pet Resources

Consider contacting a company that specializes in finding lost pets.

Don’t Give Up

Many cats are found weeks or months after they disappear. Keep looking in those same old spots, calling and listening. Also, try new spots, and enlarge your search-area. Your cat has to be somewhere, so don’t give up too soon.