Tips for Finding Lost Indoor-Only Cats

The Good News: Your Cat is Not “Lost” – Just Hiding. The Bad News: Cats Are Very Good at Hiding!

What to Expect

If your indoor-only cat has escaped outside – your cat is probably not lost at all. Your cat is hiding, and most likely hiding close by.

Depending on the terrain, your cat is probably closer than you think. That’s because cats are territorial and your cat’s territory is inside your home. Once a cat is thrust into unfamiliar territory outside, most cats seek an immediate hiding spot because the cat is afraid. A cat that is afraid (or injured) looks for the first good hiding place (under a deck, house, or porch; in heavy brush, etc).

Also, chances are your cat will not respond to your voice and will not meow. Your cat’s instinct is to be quiet so they won’t be discovered by a predator. This has nothing to do with whether your cat loves you, cat recognizes your voice, or can smell you!

Note: If your cat is a lost indoor-outdoor cat, see our “Tips for Finding Lost Indoor-Outdoor Cats.”

Immediate Steps to Take

1) Search From the Point of Escape Then Move Outward – Staying Close By

Think like a cat – specifically like your cat. Start with the point of escape, if you know how your cat got outside, then move outward. If you didn’t see your cat get outside, start from the logical exit points.

Look around for the closest hiding places. Bring a flashlight (even during the day because cat’s eyes reflect light) and check everywhere (multiple times – overtime cats can move from one hiding spot to another). Look inside drain pipes or storm drains, heavy brush, garages, basement crawl spaces; and under sheds and decks. Any place where your cat can hide.

Stay close by – indoor-only cats are often found on their own property or within a three-house radius of their home. Your cat may have traveled farther away only if a dog or something else frightened them away; if there are no good hiding places close by; or if after several hours or days, there is no food or water close by.

2) Put Food, Litter Box, and Bedding Outside

Put food and water outside near the point of escape or close to a good hiding spot nearby. Use strong smelling canned cat food that your cat can smell from a distance so your cat knows where to go for food. Note: don’t leave food out 24/7 – especially all night long unless you are monitoring the food – you don’t want to attract other animals – cats, raccoons, foxes etc.

Also, put your cat’s litter box and bedding that has your cat’s scent on it outside to attract your cat back to your home. Cat’s have an amazing sense of smell!

3) Talk to Your Neighbors

Let them know your cat got outside. Ask them if you can search their property or ask them to actively search for you. Tell them what your cat looks like, that your cat will most likely be hiding, and what to do if they see your cat.

If they see your cat, ask them to not approach your cat since this might frighten your cat away. It’s best to just put food outside (canned cat food or tuna), open up the door to their home (securing their own pets if they have any), and notify you right away.

4) Post Notices Online and in Your Neighborhood

Online sites such as the following are good places to post information about your lost cat: (neighborhood networking site organized by zip codes).

Facebook (if your neighborhood has its own page). – If you don’t have a Ring camera, ask a neighbor with one to post a message to others with Ring cameras in your neighborhood. Also, ask neighbors who have Ring cameras to check their images to see if your cat triggered their camera. (lost and found pet website).

Also, put signs up in your neighborhood with large print saying “LOST CAT.” Include a photo, date lost, and phone number where you can be reached 24/7.

Additional Steps to Take

5) Renew Your Search at Dawn and Dusk

Cats are naturally more active and more likely to come out of hiding at dawn and dusk. A scared cat is likely to be hiding during the day – when there is more activity going on outside. And if its summer, cats will seek shade during the day when its hotter.

6)  Leave a Door or Window “Cracked” Open

If you can safely do this, leave a door or window open a little bit – enough for a cat to sneak back inside. Dawn and dusk are the best times to do this. Of course, use common sense and do this when you can monitor whether a stranger has entered your property.

7) Report Your Cat to Local Shelters Nearby

File a lost cat report with nearby shelters – not only the shelter for the county you live in, but also nearby shelters which may be in a different county but actually closer to your home. Many shelters enable you to do this online.

Check back periodically by phone to see if any “found cat” reports that meet your cat’s description have been filed by someone. And ask if a cat meeting your cat’s description could have been brought to the shelter and taken in by the shelter. Note that many shelters don’t take in what appears to be a stray cat unless the cat is injured. Check with local shelters to find out what their policies are relating to cats they take into their care.

8) Set a Humane Trap

If you’ve been following these tips for a day or two and your cat is still outside, consider setting a humane trap. These wire cages have a trip mechanism inside that is triggered when the cat enters the trap in search of the food you have left inside. Once triggered, the door shuts the cat inside the trap. Set the trap in a logical hiding place near your home, or if your cat is spotted at a neighbor’s home put the trap there.

The best time to set a trap is dawn and dusk and into the evening. Scared cats will likely stay hunkered down and hiding during the day and come out mornings and evenings to look for food.

Use smelly canned cat food, such as fish, or tuna. Put a thin sheet of newspaper covering the whole bottom of the trap to protect their paws from the wires and to hide the raised plate inside the trap. Cover the trap with a towel except the front. Cats tend to go inside enclosed things where they feel they can hide. And once the trap is closed, your cat will likely thrash around a bit trying to get out. If the trap is covered, your cat will more quickly realize they can’t get out and calm down sooner.

Especially important – traps need to be monitored carefully. Set the trap at dawn and dusk and throughout the evening when you can actively monitor it (such as every 30 minutes). If you go to bed with your cat still outside, close the trap and reset early in the morning. Even the most frightened cat will eventually come out for food.

You may be able to borrow a trap from a shelter or rescue organization or neighbor, or purchase one from a pet store.

9) Contact Local Animal Rescue Organizations

If a considerable period of time has passed, such as a week or longer, and there are no sightings of your cat, email local animal rescue organizations with information about your cat – description and photo, when and where lost etc – to see if they may have taken your cat into their care. And check postings of cats on their websites.  Note that some rescue organizations don’t take in stray cats.

In addition to SPCA NOVA, here are a few local animal rescue organizations you may wish to contact:

10) Don’t Give Up!

DON’T STOP TOO SOON! It could take days, weeks, or longer to find your cat and get your cat back inside. Don’t give up if your cat fails to show up after a day or so. And, don’t just wait for your cat to come back. You need to actively search for and lure your cat back home.

Keep looking in those same old hiding spots – depending on how much time has passed, your cat may be moving from one hiding spot to another. Also, try new spots and enlarge your search area step-by-step, house-by-house.

NOTE: Please contact SPCA NOVA immediately for advice or assistance, if your cat is newly adopted from us. We can ask the foster parent, who knows your cat, to assist in your search.