New ideas for finding a lost cat?
September 2, 2015 7:29 PM   Subscribe

My landlord asked me to look after her cat while she's away on a cruise for two weeks, and I somehow lost it, within a small enclosed space, in less than 24 hours.

I rent a large basement apartment in a large residential house. Most of the basement is a continuous open area that functions as my living room + kitchen, but there's a walled off bedroom and bathroom as well. My landlord lives upstairs with her son, and has a white, older, male cat. She left on vacation for two weeks yesterday, and asked me to take care of her cat while she was gone. Before she left, she set out dry cat food, a long-lasting water supply, and a litter box. The landlord tried to introduce me to the cat once while she was still around, but it acted very timid and would not approach (I tried to keep my distance). After she left, it spent the next day at the top of the basement stairs, meowing sadly.

After I got home from work yesterday, I scooped the litter (one dropping) and turned out the lights to watch Netflix. After about 1 hour, it emerged and wandered around the basement a bit. When I was ready to go to bed, I tried to locate the cat to make sure that it wasn't in my bedroom while I slept (so that if it defecated anywhere, it wouldn't be on my bed or clothes), and ended up playing involuntary hide and seek with it for about 15 minutes before it disappeared completely (it hid at the top of the stairs once, and under my bed twice, before it disappeared). There are only two exits to the basement- one door outside (which is the only door I use), and one at the top of the stairs leading to the rest of the house. I was very careful to keep both doors shut, but after another more than 30 minutes of searching for the cat I couldn't find it. At that point, I actually turned off the lights, sat down and turned on Netflix again, thinking that may have helped coax it out the first time. That time, I believe heard the cat moving once, but was never able to see it.

At that point, I left some wet food out for the cat (it also had dry food, water, and a clean litter box) and went to bed. When I woke up this morning, I still was unable to find the cat, but think the wet cat food looked partially eaten, though I can't be positive (no litter droppings). When I got home from work today, there was no sign of the cat at all, and I have searched absolutely everywhere for hours- looking looking inside speakers, moving furniture, and shining flashlights into every crevice I can find. I feel horrible that, despite living in a small, enclosed space with only two exit points that I'm certain were both closed, I somehow managed to lose my landlord's cat in less than 48 hours.

At this point, my best theories are that the cat either was so fearful of me that it hid in some hole I haven't found, trapped itself and is dying or already dead, or that I somehow, despite my best recollections, left some door open and it is either in the rest of the house or outside (I've done cursory searches of both the next floor up and the immediate outdoors, where I've seen the cat hanging out in the past, without success). While searching last night, well after I'd already started to panic, I opened the door to the outside briefly to scan the area (even though that made no sense to me, simply because I'd already searched inside repeatedly)- that was the only time I opened the door after I saw the cat inside while watching Netflix, but I suppose I can't rule out the possibility that the cat somehow silently sneaked past me outside during the 15 seconds I had that door open.

I haven't seen or smelled any more cat droppings, and I assume that the cat would likely have defecated at least once in the last 24 hours.

I've already emailed my landlord (she's on a cruise and can't receive phone calls) about the situation, and my next steps are going to be setting up my phone with a motion detector app, pointed at the cat supplies while I'm at work tomorrow, and I'm considering removing the food simply to encourage the cat to make itself known if it's somehow still hiding from me somewhere, and eating while I'm away.

I feel horrible about this, but have absolutely no idea what I might have done wrong- the animal seems to have disappeared into thin air, violating the laws of physics. So, my question is, what else can I do to locate this animal if it's somehow still in the vicinity of the basement? Put out catnip? Run a vacuum cleaner? And is it plausible that the cat found some absolutely amazing hiding space and has stayed there, silently, for more than 24 hours?
posted by gsteff to Pets & Animals (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Not one hiding spot, likely a series of them. Shy cats are amazing at hiding for multiple days if they are stressed. I would continue to put out fresh food, maybe a catnip toy. I would not run the vacuum or do any loud noises that would scare it. Leave some dry cat food in the upstairs with a cheapie litter pan just in case, and see if there is any missing.
posted by HMSSM at 7:40 PM on September 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You are not the only person who has gone through this. If you read that, you'll see about a hundred people explaining how they lost their cat inside their house. If the cat hasn't eaten much in 24 hours, it's possible that it hasn't needed the litter box yet. I'd assume it would have needed to pee more than poop. I would go back to what you were doing before -- lights out, quiet as possible. I doubt you'll find the cat before it wants to be found. If you have some of its treats or a high value food item, that might help. I know it's hard, but your best bet right now is to stay still and quiet with the food/litter in your eyesight. Kitty will be most likely to come out if it thinks you're not home.
posted by gladly at 7:41 PM on September 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I once had a cat hide for an entire week behind my refrigerator. He decided that leaving his hidey hole to do his business was too much of a risk: the talking meat bag who had ruined his life by making his owner disappear might do horrible things to him or something. It's entirely possible that this kitty is in some similarly improbable spot and is not leaving to use the litter. I would find the stinkiest food I could. A can of tuna should do it. Maybe even microwave the tuna for a few seconds to make it stink even worse. Set it out on a dish and leave. See if any of it gets eaten. Super gross stenchy food might prove irresistible to a cat who is hungry and thirsty despite their reticence to leave wherever it is they secreted themselves.
posted by batbat at 7:42 PM on September 2, 2015 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Check on top of any cabinets, closet shelves, etc. Also, inside of chairs, couches, beside the fridge, in laundry baskets. If you have a webcam with motion sense activation, you could set it up on their food while you are gone.
posted by Short End Of A Wishbone at 7:42 PM on September 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yes, that's not only plausible, it's a thing cats are known to do. Keep leaving out food and making sure it can't get out of the house. It will come out when it gets hungry enough or start making "rescue me" noises if it's really wedged in somewhere.

It will hold out longer than you think, though. Being out of your mind worried it's dead is also normal for the person being hidden from.

Mine squeezed into a ~3-inch square hole between the dishwasher kick plate and cabinets and hid under the dishwasher - and it was ME! Just an unfamiliar new house. Cats can get in surprisingly small places when they're scared.
posted by ctmf at 7:42 PM on September 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Cat is scared and stressed. But totally fine! And definitely hiding out. Make sure you keep food and water out, don't move the litter box. Cats are impossibly, frighteningly good at disappearing into the ether when they want.
When I brought home a kitten, I kept her in my bedroom, a room that had a bed, desk, dresser, and a bookcase. No closet, and the room was no more than 13x13. I lost her for over 24 hours, and I called my best friend in tears saying that I'd definitely lost her forever because I had searched that 13x13 room for hours. And I woke up in the middle of the night to find her tentatively exploring my bed.
Cat has everything cat needs. You might even be friends by the end of two weeks.
posted by missmary6 at 7:49 PM on September 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: I found the cat. He was in an amazing hiding spot underneath underneath a bathtub, but it's a space that I'd already checked, which means that yes, it must have had a series of hiding spaces. Although I'm tempted to keep him shut up in there for the next two weeks, I'll just breathe a sigh of relief and leave everything where it is. I suppose if he's still in there three days from now, I might try to force him out, but for now, everything is fine.
posted by gsteff at 7:52 PM on September 2, 2015 [49 favorites]

Best answer: Keep the food out. The cat is almost overwhelmingly likely to be in the house, just scared and hiding really well.
posted by Miko at 7:53 PM on September 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine had a cat that managed to keep hiding in a small apartment for about a year, friend kept food, water, and litterbox up. Cat's fur became very unkempt but it was fine otherwise. Just keep putting out the stuff a cat needs and don't worry about the hiding.

Cat and you will both be unhappy if you try to force the cat out. This is how you get a cat stuck to your back. You don't want a cat stuck to your back. It is not fun. For you or the cat.
posted by yohko at 8:15 PM on September 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

If you want to take an extra step you could purchase a Feliway plug-in which may help the cat feel calmer during this stressful period.
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:55 PM on September 2, 2015 [5 favorites]

Oh, I'm glad she turned up! I know how stressful it is - and common, as you can see from all the comments. Just carry on as usual, keep fresh food and water out, and do not make a big deal if you catch her skulking around.

Pretend she's not even there and she might surprise you with a little visit at some point if her curiosity gets the better of her. Or she may continue to hide. In any case, you know she's home, and safe, and just doing her disappearing kitty thing.
posted by Klaxon Aoooogah at 9:05 PM on September 2, 2015

Cats find you interesting (and relatable, I guess), when you eat things. So you could try eating there regularly.
posted by Omnomnom at 12:18 AM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

If he has no diet restrictions, try putting out some tuna, or stinky cat treats. Chicken is also good. Sit in the room with him and talk in very, very gentle baby talk for a while. Maybe singing a little song or two. Cats really liked to be talked to. If you make eye contact, blink your eyes slowly and then look away. That's a thing with cats, it's very friendly.

Cats don't all like the same things, but I've never met a cat who wasn't a glutton for ice cream. You could try holding out a spoon with some vanilla ice cream on it, and if he tastes it he will probably be totally hooked and you will become that wonderful hu-mon with the magic spoon-food.

Also try using a piece of yarn as a lure, to coax him to play. Just wiggle it around on the ground, not too fast, near where he is. It's not unlikely he will reach out to swat the yarn. Even a scared cat will sometimes want to play, if given a chance.

Poor little dude. Glad to hear he hadn't gotten out.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:11 AM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm glad you found the cat! Don't hide the food. Just leave all the food out (refill as needed) for the entire 2 weeks. The cat might come out during that time, but it also might not, both are normal. When your landlord comes back they can try to coax the cat out if necessary.
posted by jeather at 4:33 AM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Cats are pretty amazing in their ability to hide and make humans think they never leave the hiding spot. I adopted two cats several years ago and they hid for a good solid week and no matter how quietly I would sit within view of the hiding spot, they *never* came out. Then I installed a motion sensing camera in the room and it turns out they came out of the hiding spot very frequently; just not when there was anyone in the room or *any* human-type noise in the house.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 5:57 AM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

So glad you've found the cat! One of my cats is terrified of strangers and hides in the rafters in our basement whenever a stranger comes in our house. When he was a kitten, he could get into the drop ceiling down there and I lived in fear of him getting himself stuck somewhere we wouldn't be able to get him out of. I often imagined having to jackhammer the foundation to get to him.

Leave out the food, the cat will come out when you're sleeping or when you leave. He may cautiously come out to investigate you after a few days of observation. Expect to have him stare at you then hie back to his hiding spot if you move towards him. Eventually he may allow you the privilege of playing or cuddling with him.
posted by RichardHenryYarbo at 7:32 AM on September 3, 2015

What I meant by the cat might not come out is that the cat might not come out when you are around. I guarantee that cat will come out to eat and drink. There's no reason to try to force the cat to reappear when it will just hide again as soon as it can.
posted by jeather at 8:04 AM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

I so so so recommend Feliway! It's a synthetic cat phermone that comes in a plug-in diffuser. I found that it took cat anxiety levels down by about 50%, enough that they were willing to come out of hiding and see that it was not all that bad. They were even willing to settle down for some scritches.
Feliway is not cheap (maybe more expensive than you think it's worth for the remainder of this time, but you can store the excess for the next cat-sitting adventure), and I do know some people haven't found it effective. However, it made a YOOOGE difference for us and I am a believer forever.
posted by aabbbiee at 9:33 AM on September 3, 2015

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