Help Me Find My Lost Cat
October 19, 2014 12:06 PM   Subscribe

We lost our indoor cat at around 1am this morning from our back yard in our quiet suburban neighborhood. It's getting cold outside, and we are worried about her. What can we do to find her? More details after the jump.

Our cat Hoya is approximately 1 1/2 years old. We adopted Hoya and her bonded sister Saxa from a shelter approximately six months ago. They seem very happy, well adjusted, comfortable. They are strictly indoor cats. Lots of wet food. Lots of attention. Lots of play. Nice cat trees. Running water fountain. The works.

We were cooking late last night and left the door open because it was hot in our kitchen. Both cats pretty often would go outside and explore our deck, but they always returned quickly when it seemed like we were going to close the door. Saxa came running back when it was time to bring everything in for the night, but we couldn't find Hoya on the deck.

We went out looking for her last night for a couple of hours. We brought a flashlight, a clicker, and a bag of dry snacks to shake. No sign of her. More looking earlier this morning before Church, but still no sign of her.

Background on our neighborhood: archetypal suburban cul de sacs. No other cats that we see around the neighborhood -- i.e., no neighbors with outdoor cats running around. There are some rabbits that show up occasionally at night, though. Very close-knit community with lots of kids, and our neighbors will be on the lookout for the cat for what it's worth.

Background on our cat: Hoya is around 10lbs and pretty strong, athletic. She is intrepid and not easily scared under ordinary conditions. (Hence the leaving the deck while her smaller sister stayed behind.) No illnesses. No real issues at all.

I've read all that google has to offer on finding lost cats. Would be great to see what advice the Hive Mind would give, particularly on: how and where to look for a lost (possibly scared) cat in a quiet cul de sac; how to attract the cat back home; and the likelihood that the cat will be just fine, a-okay, notwithstanding the oncoming fall chill, because cats sometimes leave and come back. Thanks in advance.
posted by Slap Factory to Pets & Animals (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Leave a box full of your dirty clothes outside so she can track your scent home if she's disoriented and also to give her a warm place to sleep if she re-appears in the middle of the night while you are sleeping. Also leave food and water.

Keep making rounds and looking for her, calling her name and shaking her treats. Look in street gutters and drains, also crawl spaces, under decks and under cars, any dark enclosed space.

Put flyers in your neighbors' mailboxes with a photo of her.

Call your local shelter and your local vets and tell them that your cat is lost and give them a description and contact info in case anyone brings her in. Also put flyers up in these locations. Is she microchipped? Make sure the contact info the microchip company has is up to date.

Do you have a local weekly or neighborhood paper? Put a notice in there.

My cat went missing for six weeks and I got her back only because she was microchipped and someone found her and took her to a vet. She was very ill, they think because she might have gotten into a toxin or stuck in someone's crawlspace or garage for a while.

Good luck! Cats often will come back within a day or two. She's probably off exploring and hunting and having a grand ol' time.
posted by greta simone at 12:19 PM on October 19, 2014 [7 favorites]

If you use an electric can opener for their wet food, the sound (outside, with an extension cord) might catch her ear. It has been years since my cat had wet food, but the sound of the can opener has him bolting into the kitchen from anywhere in the house at high speed.

If it's not too cold and your other cat is vocal frequently, you might take her outside and see if her vocalizations can guide her sister back.

Good luck.
posted by jingzuo at 12:21 PM on October 19, 2014

Cats like hiding, and they are very good at it. She might well go hide in a shed or garage or outbuilding, and she could get locked in. If she's not back for food quickly, go door knocking asking people to look in their outbuildings.

In the meantime, go open a tin of food loudly outside.

She'll probably come back as soon as she's bored of looking for mice; your house is warm and cosy and your bed is great for wiping her cold muddy paws on.
posted by emilyw at 12:26 PM on October 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

She may be inside someone's garage or shed. Do you know your neighbors well enough to go door to door?
posted by Hermione Granger at 12:29 PM on October 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

When one of mine got out I deployed a can of tuna just out the door. It worked within hours. As always, your cat may vary.
posted by mightshould at 12:32 PM on October 19, 2014

Was she wearing collar? How friendly?

When my cat was "lost" he was at a neighbours house two doors down from us. Perfectly fine and getting pats, point being that he hadn't needed to go very far to get confused enough to be unable to get back home. I have several stories about him like this. She's probably closer than you think. Our cat wouldn't come running, but would cry out when he heard us talking until we retrieved him. Good luck!
posted by jrobin276 at 12:32 PM on October 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I would canvass the neighborhood first, until you've spoken to every neighbor within a block or so radius. If they see her, they won't recognize her since she doesn't usually go out, so it's important to get them thinking "lost" cat rather than "stray" cat if they see her.

Besides smelly food (btw, people-tuna and other canned fish is way smellier than cat-food tuna), her litter box and a smelly article of her favorite human's clothing make good bait.

You can also ask your local municipality's animal control for a humane trap. Put it in a location close to where she was lost, but not in full view of the street or sidewalks or wherever people congregate. Keep it baited with attractive smells. Cover it with a tarp (to keep out the elements and to make it a more attractive hidey-hole). Check it every hour or so, in case you catch a raccoon or possum instead.

I caught a lost cat after FOUR weeks using this method. A pain in the ass to keep checking it, but worth it in the end.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 12:46 PM on October 19, 2014

Nthing knocking on neighbors' doors. Whenever my cat disappeared for more than a few hours and didn't come running to shaking the kitty treats bag, he was inevitably shut in someone else's garage or mud room.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:16 PM on October 19, 2014

Best answer: Apparently heating cat food and tuna makes it even more smelly. Maybe heat some up and put it outside where the wind can catch the smell and blow it about.
posted by Solomon at 1:19 PM on October 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't worry too much about the cold just yet. Maybe in January when it's sub-zero. But even indoor cats have good instincts about finding the warmest place to hole up and natural body poses which will retain warmth through a chilly night. Ferals usually manage to survive even pretty heavy Wisconsin winters in my experience.
posted by dhartung at 1:28 PM on October 19, 2014

A live trap baited with a unwashed sweater worked within hours for a friend of mine whose indoor cat had been missing for days.
posted by thebrokedown at 1:37 PM on October 19, 2014

Nthing checking outbuildings. A friend's stupid mostly indoor cat recently got herself in a neighbor's garage where we could (distantly) hear her mewing, and then, in a moment of true feline wtf, ran and hid when my friend finally got the neighbors to open the garage up so she could get her out.

Cats are weird. Hope yours turns up.
posted by deludingmyself at 1:46 PM on October 19, 2014

I felt very silly doing this, but it worked when my cat had been missing for three weeks:

I stood by my outside door at dawn and dusk, shook a paper bag with some dry cat food in it, and called my cat's name. He wouldn't let me approach him, but he was nearby, and I caught him with a Havahart trap covered with an old blanket (so it would look like a cozy hideaway) and baited with tuna.

(Cats are active when the sun is coming up and when it's going down, so those are good times to catch them.)
posted by virago at 1:55 PM on October 19, 2014 [4 favorites]

This is going to sound extremely goofy, but I'm totally serious. When a friend of mine lost her cat the only thing that brought him back (and after almost a month at that) was pee.

Apparently, the smell of its owners' urine is one of the strongest associations that a cat makes with its home. When my friend lost her cat, she and her boyfriend tried everything to get it back. After three and a half weeks, they were desperate and someone mentioned the urine fact. They collected some of their urine and sprayed it around their apartment building and street (in the dead of night, obviously). The next day they found the cat just hanging out on their street like nothing had ever happened.

Like I said, it sounds super weird, and I've never heard of it from anywhere else, but she swears by it.
posted by Itaxpica at 2:04 PM on October 19, 2014 [10 favorites]

I've twice found a lost cat: once just be walking slowly along the alley calling his name. The other time was so weird: after she'd been missing for a month, I posted a note to Craigslust for my city/pets section, with only a description and an imploring prayer for help. The next morning when I let the dogs out, in she walked, tail held high. Go figure - I think someone had stolen her (there had been a rumor if a cat thief), and was shamed into bringing her back under cover of night. Anyway, here's hoping.
posted by mmiddle at 2:57 PM on October 19, 2014

If there's a Craigslist for your area, I'd definitely post on it - even if you're at the periphery. Last winter, I took in a cat that showed up at my back door. We ultimately found the owners via Craigslist and were amazed to find that this super-sweet, dopey, declawed homebody of a cat had traveled three miles across urban Denver to get to us. Talking to neighbors and putting up flyers are prudent measures, but Craigslist will cast a wider net.
posted by McBearclaw at 2:58 PM on October 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

My cats have occasionally gotten confused when they've gotten outside, not sure which balcony to come up on. They will then hide if they hear strange noises, so I've been most successful at luring them out by walking, calling them/shaking food, waiting 30 seconds, walking ahead a bit, etc, in the middle of the night.

I've heard the pee trick, but that you're supposed to put out THEIR pee (eg their stinky litter).
posted by jeather at 2:59 PM on October 19, 2014

Best answer: Nobody has said this yet, so I'll say it -- most likely your cat is totally fine and likely to come home soon! I've known two to three cats that seem to have once had people-homes (perhaps even having been completely indoor cats) until they were completely abandoned to fend for themselves. They did fine. Your cat has not been abandoned and mostly likely is having a grand adventure. She probably has found a nice soft pile of leaves to curl up in and is too deeply sleeping to hear you calling for her.

But maybe she's gotten in a bit over her head and could use a little help extricating herself. I'd check your roof, or any other roof she might've been able to get up on. I'd walk around listening for "mew! mew!" And I'd ask neighbors to make sure she didn't get locked in a garage, shed, or backyard. You can also check under cars, bushes, and in crawlspaces, but if she's there then she can bring herself home. Also, you can probably focus your search close to home. In my neighborhood, cats don't seem to travel more than four houses away, though it could be different for you, as we do have a lot of cats who enforce turf lines.
posted by slidell at 3:08 PM on October 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Like Itaxpica, I know someone who successfully used the human urine trick to find their lost cat. So, while it might seem sort of weird and gross, it can actually work. This website has a chunk of text describing it:
posted by instead of three wishes at 3:55 PM on October 19, 2014

If it makes you feel any better, the vast majority of indoor-only cats remain within 500 feet of their home when they get out. She has probably got disoriented and went to ground, is hiding and freaked out somewhere, and may not respond to calls. Try to check in any possible hiding place--under decks, in neighbors' garages, in bushes, all of that. You may also want to set out a humane trap (like the Haveahart traps) with some really stinky wet food in there like Friskies or Fancy Feast. Local, small-scale cat rescue groups may be able to lend you one if you have groups in your area that do trap-neuter-return with local strays.

Unless you live in a place with a lot of coyotes the biggest worry right now will be contracting fleas and worms. The longer she's gone the more likely she'll be dehydrated and hungry. I wouldn't count on an indoor-only cat to be able to find her way home, but please do not freak out too much.
posted by Anonymous at 6:00 PM on October 19, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone for the helpful suggestions. We went to dinner this afternoon, but I heated a can of tuna fish on the deck by the door before we left. It was Pacific wahoo packed in oil, so I spilled some of the oil up the stairs to the deck for good measure. When we returned from the dinner at around 9:00pm tonight, the cat was on the deck meowing in a way that we had not heard before. She was hiding in a corner of the deck behind my XL Big Green Egg, and she seemed very apprehensive. But as soon as I opened the back door, she came running in. Safe and sound.

Glad to have Hoya back, and very grateful to everyone for the attention and the suggestions (and the encouragement). You never realize how morbid the children's song The Cat Came Back can be until your cat is missing, by the way. Also grateful that she came back soon enough that we did not need to start considering the urine option, not that I am questioning the science of it all. Thanks again.
posted by Slap Factory at 7:12 PM on October 19, 2014 [44 favorites]

So happy for you! Hoya is a cutie!
posted by superfille at 8:53 PM on October 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Aww she has mittens! So cute. Glad she is home now. ❤️
posted by Hermione Granger at 10:01 PM on October 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hooray, I'm glad she returned.

(My cats have that crinkly tunnel too, they love it!)
posted by Anonymous at 4:07 PM on October 20, 2014

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