Tips for Finding Newly-Adopted and Indoor-Only Cats

The Good News: Your Cat is Probably Not “Lost” – Just Hiding!

The Bad News: Cats Are Very Good at Hiding!

What to Expect

If your newly adopted or 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 (or their previous home). Once a cat is thrust into unfamiliar territory, 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, whether your cat recognizes your voice, or whether your cat can smell you!

Critical, Immediate Steps to Take

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

Try to 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.

Next, 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). Look inside drain pipes or storm drains; in heavy brush; inside or under sheds; inside garages; under decks; and inside basement crawl spaces – any place where your cat can hide.

Stay close by – newly adopted or indoor-only cats are often found within a three-house radius of their home.

Remember your cat may not meow back when you call even though your cat is most likely close by. Your cat is most likely hunkered down to the ground and ready to dart away from any perceived threat – even from you! A cat’s instinct is to hide, stay put, and not meow.

NOTE: Your cat may have traveled farther away only if a dog or something else has frightened them; if there are no good hiding places close by; or if after several hours or days, there is no source of food or water close by.

2) Put Food, Water, 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. Also, put your cat’s litter box and any 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 Neighbors

Immediately start talking to your closest neighbors. Let them know your cat is outside and ask them to actively search their own property for your cat. 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 them since this might frighten your cat. It’s best for them to just put food outside (canned cat food or tuna), open up the door to their home (first securing their own pets if they have any), and notify you right away.

4) Post Notices on Networking Sites and Put Signs Up

Post notices on neighborhood online networking sites such as or other neighborhood list serves. 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.

5) Set a Humane Trap

If you’ve been following these tips for a day or two and your cat is still outside, get 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. Traps need to be monitored, preferably 24/7, and covered with a towel (which helps lure the cat inside and signals to the cat once trapped they can’t get out). 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 purchase one from a pet store.

6) Don’t Give Up!

Our last word of advice is – DON’T GIVE UP THE SEARCH TOO SOON! It could take days, or longer, to 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 in finding your cat, especially if your cat is newly adopted from us. We can ask the foster parent, who knows your cat, to assist in your search.