Tips for Finding Lost Indoor-Outdoor Cats

What to Expect

When an indoor-outdoor cat does not return home, this means something has happened to the cat. Cats are territorial and do not just run away from home. They find themselves trapped, they get driven away from their usual territory by another animal or thunderstorm and can’t find their way home, or they become ill or injured and creep away to hide in a quiet dark place. Below are steps you may wish to take in searching for your cat.

What you don’t need to do – Some people suggest putting food and water, or a litter box or bedding outside. Or setting a humane trap. These things are critical if your cat is an indoor-only cat. This is because indoor-only cats who are outside by mistake are not in their usual territory (inside your home). They are scared and likely hiding close by. But if your cat is indoor-outdoor, they know the territory around your home. They don’t need to be lured home with food or their scent. Something is preventing your cat from returning home.

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

Immediate Steps to Take

1) Search Around Your Home Then Move Outward

Think like a cat – specifically like your cat. If you know your cat’s usual territory outdoors, that is the area you search first. Then expand outward.

Look around and think about what could have happened. Have any neighbors recently moved, gone on vacation, or is their home under construction? Do your neighbors have sheds in their backyards? Could your cat have been mistakenly trapped inside a garage or shed? Could your cat be injured and can’t make it home?

Search for places your cat could be trapped in or hiding (in case of injury). Bring a flashlight (even during the day because cat’s eyes reflect light) and check everywhere. Look inside drain pipes or storm drains, heavy brush, garages, basement crawl spaces; and under sheds and decks.

2) Talk to Your Neighbors

Let them know your cat has not returned home. Give them a description of your cat and ask if they have seen your cat recently and, if so, when? Ask them to actively search their property in case your cat is injured and can’t return home.

3) Post Notices Online and in Your Neighborhood

Post notices on online sites that reach people in your neighborhood, such as: (neighborhood networking site by zip code). – if you don’t have this device, ask a neighbor with one to post for you. Also ask neighbors who have Ring cameras to check their images to see if your cat triggered their camera recently. (lost and found pet website).

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

Additional Steps to Take

4) Report Your Cat to Local Shelters Nearby

File a “lost cat” report with your county shelter and a neighboring shelter if you live close to a shelter in another county. Many shelters enable you to file a report 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 may have been injured and brought to 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.

5) Contact Local Animal Rescue Organizations

Email local animal rescue organizations with information about your cat – description and photo, when and where your cat was last seen – to see if they may have taken your cat into their care. And check postings of cats on their websites.

Remember, it may take time for anyone to realize your cat needs help, unless your cat is clearly injured, and for the cat to be taken in by a rescue organization. Most people won’t necessarily be concerned if they see a new cat outdoors unless the cat appears to be in distress – meowing incessantly or is sick or injured. Note that some rescue organizations don’t take in stray cats.

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

6) Don’t Give Up!

DON’T STOP TOO SOON! It could take days, weeks, or longer to learn what has happened to your cat. 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 your cat.

7) Once You Find Your Cat

If you haven’t already done this, get your cat microchipped. If your cat will tolerate wearing a collar, put a break-away collar on your cat with a tag that identifies their home.

Also, please consider transitioning your cat to be indoors-only. Most cats will be happy indoors-only if they have a stimulating indoor environment that meets their needs. That means having toys to play with, cat trees to climb, window perches to look outside etc. Consider adopting another cat if your cat likes other cats and doesn’t already have a feline buddy at home. Train your cat to walk on a leash so they can get some time outdoors. And give your cat plenty of attention and interactive playtime with you.