How I Found My Lost Cat: 10 Steps to Help You Retrieve Your Indoor-Only Kitty
When our indoor-only kitty, Woodsy, escaped (or rather got pushed out a flimsy screen door by her sister), my husband and I exhausted all efforts to get her back.
My heart sank as I watched her sprint into our 15-acre woods, disappearing into the thick underbrush. We searched all night without success. Determined to get our cat back, we formulated a plan and got into action using the following steps. I hope these steps help should you find yourself in the same predicament.
1. Remain calm and call for your cat as you would normally. Your cat is terrified and will sense tension, so do your best to provide it normalcy in a strange environment. Will away your tears and pray constantly. God protects both people and animals (Psalms 36:6). He understands the comfort pets bring us, so cast your anxiety upon Him because He cares. Remind yourself to take deep breaths and walk slowly. Kitty needs you!
2. Thoroughly search indoors and outdoors.
If you didn’t see your cat escape, thoroughly search inside your house. Check your kitty’s usual sleep spots and hangs outs. Cats are notorious for hiding in closets, under beds and couches, in drawers, etc.
When you search outside, prepare to get dirty. Check under decks and sheds, in bushes, up trees, under cars and tool benches in the garage, etc.
Think like your cat. What are its favorite views? Your cat might recognize where it looks most, so search that area routinely. Woodsy often laid on our couch, looking out at our shed. That’s where we found her the first time her sister pushed her out a window.
If you wonder why your kitty doesn't come home, keep in mind the outdoors is a scary and foreign experience for an indoor-only cat. Your kitty doesn't know what its house looks like from the outside, so it needs your help finding its way home.
It’s common to think your cat could be anywhere, but indoor-only cats do not tend to venture far. Usually, they stay within a 3-5 house radius (assuming kitty escaped from home). Whereas dogs run, cats hide. Indoor-only cats run to a safe spot where they hunker down for days. Your cat might refuse to come to you because, in the outdoors, it reverts to survival mode. Cats are so good at hiding you can walk past them a hundred times without knowing.
If a cat does not return within 1-2 days, it will most likely take 10-14 days when it reaches the peak of hunger. Cats usually don’t emerge during the day. They will most likely come out between dusk and dawn (10:30 p.m. or later and 6:30 a.m. or earlier).
Crack your garage door and leave lights on. Create an outdoor shelter to place near the point of exit. Set out food and water (but also be aware this could attract scavengers overnight).
3. Set up trail cameras as soon as possible. This crucial step will provide evidence your cat is nearby. Knowing the whereabouts of your cat helps you track its patterns. Be sure to verify the date and time settings on your cameras and point the cameras in the places you set food and water.
After Woodsy escaped, we set up five trail cams, buying some and borrowing others from family (these do not need to be high-end). We placed them strategically in areas we thought she might explore, placing one at our shed because that’s where she sought shelter the first time she escaped. And that’s where we captured her the first night we set up the cams. This step allowed us to track her and kept our confidence lifted.
Check the photographs on the trail cameras every morning.
Night vision can serve as a beneficial tool too. We obtained a night vision monocular and saw Woodsy the first night we used it. The monocular allowed us to better track her and know, in real-time, from where she emerged, which wasn’t exactly where we thought she was hiding.
4. Make flyers that include your cat’s photograph and your contact information. Post them near your home and talk to your neighbors, especially if you live in town. We live in the country but still informed our neighbors because you just never know. Plus, it encouraged us to know others were on the lookout and praying.
Post to pet sites like Pawboost, which also shares helpful information on its blog, and to local lost and found pet groups on social media.
5. To help guide your cat home, provide them strong, familiar scents. Using our dirty laundry, we made trails from our house to the edge of our woods. Layout clothes that you wouldn’t mind getting damaged. We also set out used litter so she could smell the scent of her brother and sisters. This is a controversial tactic, but we were desperate. We brought the litter in at night as not to attract predators.
6. Stick to your feeding times. Lightly shake a bag of crunchies or walk around wafting a can of wet food, scraping the can with a utensil as you would normally. Some people advise using tuna or sardines to lure your cat back, but I tried this for days, and it didn’t work. Woodsy had never eaten tuna or sardines, so I found it best to use her regular food. Use what you know your cat likes.
7. If you’re home during the day, step outside periodically and call for your kitty. If you’re away from home, try not to feel bad that you aren’t searching. Remember, kitty likely won’t come out during the day anyway.
Because Woodsy is my most vocal furbaby, we have regular conversations. So I called for her often and heard her faintly meowing from who knows where deep within our woods. Calling for her kept hope alive for both of us. As much as you want to know your kitty is nearby, it also wants to know you’re close too.
8. You may need to live trap your cat. Live traps are humane and will not hurt your cat. Once you track your cat using the trail cams, you will know where to place the traps.
Woodsy wasn’t going to show up at our doorstep because she wanted to avoid the three feral cats that visited our porch regularly. Plus, it’s wide open from our wood line to our front porch. Without cover, she hesitated to dash fully exposed. The only way we would get her back was to trap her.
We set up five live traps in the areas where we saw her on the trail cams. We bought one trap and borrowed the rest. People are willing to loan traps, so ask around. We baited the traps with Woody’s wet food. Within the trap, we created a trail of small drops of wet food from the entry of the trap to the back of the trap, where we placed a paper plate cut to the circumference of a ¼
-cup measuring cup (small size to deter raccoons from reaching in and stealing). On the plate, we placed ½-1 teaspoon of Woodsy’s food.
Bait your traps just before dusk, and check the traps every morning.
Our trail cams revealed which traps were of interest to Woodsy. Although she was curious, she wouldn’t enter the traps, so be patient if your kitty does the same thing. Do not move the trap, and keep trying.
Brace yourself because other friends end up in the traps. We caught six raccoons and a possum, all of which we humanely and lawfully released. Remember, these friends are scared too. Use caution when releasing them, and release them as soon as possible. If needed, call your department of natural resources for help.
Tips for deterring raccoons: Coonies are smart. Once they found food, they returned, which kept Woodsy away. We distracted the raccoons by creating a trail of corn and fruit, which ended with a prize of marshmallows and eggs. It took a few days, but this did the trick, and Woodsy re-emerged.
9. Expect People Issues. Because when you’re fighting through a trial, the devil will try to distract you away from the prize.
Family members and friends might offer to help you look, but this could drive the cat deeper into hiding, especially if the kitty isn’t familiar with them. Encourage them to remain on the lookout and recruit immediate family or others who interact with the cat daily to search.
Our experience reassured us many kind people cared about what we were going through. Unfortunately, we encountered some inconsiderate people too.
Well-meaning people or jerks might say some crazy things to you during this. Guard your heart, and do not let others depress you. You are on a mission, and you cannot allow naysayers to stand in your way. Use their insensitivity to fuel you. Never give up on what matters to you. Seek it relentlessly. If you want your kitty back badly enough and you have God on your side, obstacles will move.
Beware of scams. Creepy people prey on the vulnerable. Anyone who says they found your pet needs to send you a photograph, and if they request money before returning your pet, they are most likely a heartless scammer.
10. Be patient, keep the faith, and keep trying. Many people don’t find their cats because they believe predators have killed their pet, so they give up too soon and stop searching. But this is rarely the case! Remember, cats tend to hide, and it could take months to find kitty. It took 16 days of diligent work for us to catch Woodsy.
The last night I looked for Woodsy thick fog enveloped our land. When I could no longer see through my night vision monocular, I said a prayer of surrender, headed to bed, and slept better than I had since she’d been gone.
The next morning, I awoke to my husband celebrating. We caught our girl! It was like God sent fog to force her to rely on her sense of smell to enter the trap. Praise the Lord for this joyous day!
We placed Woodsy in a room by herself to give her and her siblings time to reacclimate. She survived four storms, multiple fireworks displays, and days of kids riding a muffler-less four-wheeler on our road. The poor girl was spent. She slept for days, and it took weeks for her appetite to regulate, but otherwise, she checked out healthy.
We never want to go through that again, but we know what to do if we should. It's heartbreaking to see others lose kitties. So if you find yourself in a similar situation, I pray these steps lead you to a reunion with your kitty asap!