This is a topic that comes up often in our neighborhood chats. It’s not surprising that your cat wants to explore. After all, it’s pretty interesting on the other side of the door. Trees to climb and things to stalk and chase. They get to practice their natural hunting skills, mark a new territory, and sharpen their nails.
Most of the time when cats dash out the door or work their way through a screen, they stay pretty close – usually less than five houses away. But once out, they may decide that the sensory overload is too much for them, become scared, and hide. Cats are territorial and their territory is in their house so they seek shelter out of fear. When you go out to look for them, they may even be watching you, but are too afraid to respond to your calls. They may stay hidden in silence for days until their hunger outweighs their fear and then will emege from their hiding place.
If your cat gets outside, it’s important to do a physical search for them immediately, and don’t give up too soon. Look under bushes, sheds, decks, and porches. Ask your neighbors if you can check for your cat on their property. Your neighbor may be willing to keep an eye out to report your cat if spotted, but is not likely to crawl under their deck or shed they way that you would. If you see an open garage, check there too. Put up signs, post on social media (Nextdoor, Pawboost, your FB page}. Include recent photos and your contact information. When it gets dark, shine a flashlight where you are looking. A cat’s eyes will be easily detected in the light.
You can also set up a humane trap in a place where you can check it frequently. You may be able to borrow one from Animal Control or a rescue group. Place some yummy food in the trap to lure your cat inside. If your cat is skittish, it may take days or even weeks to enter the trap. Don’t be discouraged. Professional cat detectives use wildlife cameras. They set out a plate of food and the camera snaps pictures of the animals that come to eat. You can set one up near your home to see if you can spot your cat wandering across the lawn, going under cars or moving around when it feels safe to do so. Most cats are more active at night or in the early morning – times when you are not likely to be paying attention.
Sometimes cats will hang out with feral cat colonies in order to get food. Try to find out if there are any near your home and see if your cat is among them. When you are reunited with your cat, make sure you cat proof any escape areas to prevent your cat from being displaced again. Make those areas unattractive with repellent sprays, aluminum foil or by putting sticky paw on mats that lay by the door.
For your cat’s future safety, be proactive by placing a breakaway collar with your name and number, spay or neuter your cat, and keep your cat up to date on vaccinations. Another tip is to create an enriching environment so your cat is more interested in staying inside. Cat trees, games, food puzzles, and toys are some basic suggestions to keep your cat happier on the inside. Catios are more expensive but provide a safe, enclosed space for your cat to experience being closer to nature. Indoor cats are safer, healthier, and live longer than outdoor cats. An indoor cat can live up to eighteen years or more while the average lifespan for outdoor cats is five years.
It’s a good idea to contact veterinarians, and rescue organizations as they are often contacted by people who find cats in an attempt to reach their owner. Call and visit shelters. The most important ingredient in a successful outcome is your search. Be patient, look often in the same area, and vary the times of your route. Understand that your normally friendly and loving cat will act differently if it is panicked. It still loves you, but it is overcome by the fear of being in an unfamiliar place. Don’t take a wait and see approach. Putting your cat’s dirty litter box out to encourage it to return is passive and not effective. Do take an active approach by continuing to physically search. Your cat’s well-being depends on it.
Sometimes cats escape when a pet owner has recently moved. These cats may be already stressed because nothing is familiar and their owner may be noisily unpacking, moving furniture, and ignoring them. These cats are over threshold to begin with before darting outside and may take longer to find. Don’t give up. I have heard of cats like this being spotted two months after escaping. Until you know for sure that your cat is not alive – do not lose hope. There are cat detectives that will provide consultations and give you advice should you need more assistance. I recommend Kat Albrecht at Missing Animal Response Network. I heard her give a fascinating presentation at a Pet Sitter’s International conference that I attended. She has an awesome success rate.