What to do when your lost cat returns home
It’s the worst cat-owner’s nightmare: your beloved cat sneaks out of the house one night and doesn’t come back. You call her, you walk around the neighborhood banging a tin of her favorite food with a fork, you put up missing cat flyers, you beg your neighbors to keep an eye out for her. Finally, after you’ve almost given up hope, she’s back! Perhaps she’s a little the worse for her adventure, perhaps she’s a little skinnier than before, but your furry friend is home. Now comes the difficult part: helping her recover and making sure she doesn’t elude you again.
What to do when your lost cat returns home? Offer your cat’s favorite food, in moderation, and make sure she has access to plenty of water. Check your cat for injuries, illnesses and infestations of pests such as fleas or ticks. Keep your cat indoors to avoid any further excursions.
You’ve landed on this page because you have questions about your lost cat. Perhaps your pet is still missing or perhaps you’ve already been reunited. Either way, you probably have a lot of concerns.
- Maybe you’re wondering how to find a lost outdoor cat?
- What are the odds of finding a lost cat?
Fortunately, we have the answers you’re searching for. Keep reading to learn how to get your lost cat back, how to care for your lost cat once the cat comes home, and how to ensure that your cat doesn’t go missing in future.
What to do when your lost cat returns home…
Your cat has finally returned from her unplanned adventure. You’re probably overjoyed to see her and want to spoil her rotten. That’s fine — but don’t go overboard just yet.
Let your cat have water and a modest amount of food. She may be extremely hungry if she hasn’t been fed during her wanderings but you need to get her to start slowly. She may be tempted to wolf down large amounts of food, which could make her sick. Feed her a small portion of her usual cat food (ideally a high-protein grain-free brand of wet food). If you normally give her treats, now is a good time to break out the Dreamies or give her a pinch of catnip. Just don’t overdo it until she’s had a chance to recover a little.
Next, you need to check your cat over for injuries. Wear gloves while you do this. You don’t know what she’s been up to and cats are remarkably adept at hiding their aches and pains. Gently run your hands over her limbs to check for swellings or hot spots, particularly around the joints. Examine her eyes, ears and nose for blood or mucus. Make sure there’s no obvious blood in her fur.
Cats are highly likely to pick up parasites if they’ve been roaming outside so inspect your pet for fleas, ticks and mites. Administer an anti-flea treatment if you see fleas, insect bites or specks of blood in your cat’s fur. Remove any ticks with tweezers, taking care not to leave their heads embedded in the skin. I would want to give my cat a quick bath if she’d been roaming outside. This will help get rid of any parasites or other nasties in your cat’s fur, as well as ensuring that she doesn’t carry dirt or disease into your home.
If your cat has been absent for more than a couple of days or seems the worse for her adventure, a trip to the vet for a check-up is indicated. Your cat could have a hidden injury, or may have picked up an infection you can’t diagnose. Veterinary attention is particularly necessary if you have an un-spayed queen cat who may have been in heat when she ran away. You can sometimes tell if your cat has mated due to swelling and blood around the hindquarters; don’t count on this, though. Your vet can give your cat a reliable pregnancy test. Incidentally, this is just one reason why you should spay and neuter as soon as your kittens are old enough: pregnancy is a real risk for any of your girls until you have them desexed.
Your cat is probably very shaken up after her adventure and may need some time to convalesce. I would recommend keeping her in a quiet part of the home for a day or two so she can get her bearings before allowing her to reintegrate into space.
Crucially, you need to keep your cat indoors from now on. If you didn’t have an indoor kitty before, you do now.
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Lost cat behavior
Cats run away for different reasons and this will affect lost cat behavior. A cat that has absconded in search of new horizons will probably behave differently. They may have a particular goal in mind. Some cats get lured away from their original homes by households who allow free-feeding. If you’ve recently moved home, your cat may be trying to get back to her old dwelling; if it’s nearby, she will probably succeed and may simply set up home with the new occupants. It’s worth going round to check — preferably with a cat carrier.
A cat who is genuinely lost, having become disoriented after wandering away, will probably seek shelter somewhere. If there are unattended outbuildings or sheds nearby, try checking these as your cat may have hidden there. Cats may also hide in gardens or under vehicles so check there too. Cats who get lost in this way are often frightened and confused. They may behave anxiously and even aggressively even when you’re trying to help them, due to trauma experienced while they were on the run.
This may persist even after you get your cat home. Depending on how long she was away and what happened, your cat may undergo personality changes as a result of her adventure. These may be temporary or they may last for a long time. It’s important to be patient and never punish your cat for angry outbursts — she’s frightened and distressed, not cruel or “bad”. Instead, de-escalate the situation by giving your cat space. She’ll come around in her own time.
If there was something specific that triggered the vanishing act, it’s important that you address the issue. Making sure your cat feels safe in her home is an important antidote to future attacks of itchy feet.
How to find a lost outdoor cat
When it comes to runaway kitties, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I am personally opposed to letting cats roam outdoors due to the many risks. If you do let your cat out, she needs to be properly chipped and equipped with a collar that has your name and contact details on. If your cat does go missing, you can check with local vets and shelters to see if they’ve found her or they can contact you.
Finding a lost outdoor cat can be tricky. Check all around your property first. If you have outbuildings or sheds, open them up and look inside. Check-in and under any vehicles. If your house has a crawlspace underneath, check there too. Do the same in a widening radius around your property.
If this fails to turn up your cat, get her bedding and a favorite toy and place them out on the porch or in some other sheltered but accessible space near your house. don’t leave the bedding somewhere it will get wet — you’re aiming to create a familiar, comfortable nest where your cat will want to stay, one which is imbued with her own smell and pheromones. Set her litter-box outside too. Cats are highly territorial and use waste to mark their territory; the smell will make it easier for her to get back where she belongs.
If your missing cat is skittish and tends to be shy of people, you may struggle to retrieve her if she decides to run off. In this sort of situation, I would recommend asking your vet for a humane trap. This is a type of cage trap that holds kitties securely and safely without causing them any pain. You can bait it with her bedding, toys and preferred type of treat.
Odds of finding a lost cat
There are various factors influencing the odds of finding your cat. One of them, sadly, is the level of safety in your area. If you live near busy streets or in a location with many predators, this can impact the odds of your cat’s safe return. Even considering this, the odds of finding your missing pet are reasonably good if you take the steps suggested above. Cats often don’t go far — your cat may only be a couple of blocks away and simply got a little turned around, or became trapped somewhere and couldn’t escape.
A very common scenario is for a cat to sneak into a garage or a shed during the day because the door was left open, only to be trapped when the owner shuts the door without spotting the cat. When the owner finally opens the building again, the cat runs home.
Another remarkably common situation is that the cat is found roaming the area and is picked up by a well-meaning neighbor. This person may take the cat in and care for her while they try to track you down; alternatively, the would-be rescuer may drop your cat off at the vet or a shelter. This is why it’s so very important to have your pet chipped: with your details at hand, a shelter can easily get in touch and reunite you with your pet.
Ideally, you should keep your cat indoors once she comes home. If you create a fun, enriching and cat-friendly environment indoors, your cat won’t be so eager to run around outside.
Article by Barbara Read
Barbara Read is the heart and soul behind CatBeep.com. From her early love for cats to her current trio of feline companions, Barbara's experiences shape her site's tales and tips. While not a vet, her work with shelters offers a unique perspective on cat care and adoption.