Lost Indoor-Only Cats (i.e. Cats Who’ve Escaped Outdoors)

If your cat has escaped and is lost outside or into unfamiliar territory there is good news — your cat is probably not lost at all! That is because it is likely that your cat is hiding and, depending upon the terrain, he/she is probably closer than you think! The investigative question and mystery to solve when an indoor-only cat escapes outdoors is: WHERE IS THE CAT HIDING? If your indoor-only cat has escaped outdoors or has escaped into an unfamiliar area (escaped from vet’s office, escaped due to car accident, escaped while camping, escaped from kennel, etc.) then see the steps below in order to find your cat.

Lost Outdoor-Access Cats

If you’ve lost a cat that is allowed outdoors part-time or for brief periods of time and he/she has vanished, then it is possible that he/she is not missing but is hiding in fear. That’s because even outdoor-access cats can become displaced. Here’s how it works. A cat can become “displaced” into unfamiliar territory when he/she is chased off (beaten up by another cat, chased by a dog, etc.) and he/she ends up in a yard or area that is total foreign to him/her. There are many cases where cats that were “lost” were actually only five houses away or a block away, hiding inside a neighbour’s yard in fear because they were disoriented and unable (or unwilling because of fear) to return home.

When an outdoor-access cat vanishes, there are basically eight things that could have happened to your cat. Here are the eight Probability Categories, in order from most likely to least likely, of what could have happened to your cat:

1.       YOUR CAT IS TRAPPED – Your cat could be up a tree, on a roof, under a house, inside a neighbour’s basement or shed. This means that your cat would likely be within its normal territory, usually a 5-house radius of your home. It is imperative that you obtain permission from your neighbours to enter their yards so that you can look for your cat yourself. DO NOT rely on asking your neighbour to “look” for your cat. Their idea of looking will be to call if they see your cat sitting on their patio!

2.       YOUR CAT IS DISPLACED INTO AN UNFAMILIAR AREA – either Cats that are chased from their territory, by dogs, people, or other cats who beat them up and cats that are panicked by fireworks will often become “displaced” into unfamiliar territory. Many of these cats, once their adrenaline levels have subsided, will work their way back home, often showing up the next day or a few days later. However, many of these cats, especially those with skittish temperaments, will be so panicked by the experience that they will hide in fear and will be too afraid to return home. Many cases occur, where a cat was “lost” but was actually just three houses away, crouching and hiding in fear inside a neighbour’s yard!

3.       YOUR CAT WAS UNINTENTIONALLY TRANSPORTED OUT OF THE AREA – Cases of unintentional transport include your cat climbing into a moving van or service vehicle and being transported to another city or even across the country. Cases of unintentional transport typically occur with cats that have a curious temperament and are more likely to climb into cars. They also are more likely to occur in mild weather when car windows are left down or service vehicle doors and moving vans are left standing open.

4.       YOUR CAT WAS INTENTIONALLY TRANSPORTED OUT OF THE AREA – Cats can be transported out of their territory either intentionally or unintentionally. Cases of intentional removal include a cat-hating neighbour who captures your cat and either takes it to a distant shelter or dumps it in a field far from your home. Intentional removal also includes cases where someone steals your cat, although theft of cats is actually a rather rare occurrence.

5.       YOUR CAT IS INJURED, SICK, OR IS DECEASED – Injured or sick (or displaced, panicked) cats will hide in silence. We call this “The Silence Factor” and this behaviour KILLS CATS EVERY DAY! Hiding in silence is a protective mechanism that cats use to protect themselves from predators. What this means is that before you print up lost cat posters or drive down to your shelter to look for your lost cat, SEARCH under and in every conceivable hiding place on your own property and on your neighbours’ property! It is quite possible that your cat is injured and in need of medical attention and you will need to use a flashlight and crawl under your house in order to save his or her life!

6.       YOUR CAT WAS RESCUED – By “rescue” we mean someone found your cat and assumed it was an abandoned stray and they took it into their house. This happens frequently, especially with cats that are not microchipped or that do not wear a collar and ID tag. By employing Missing Pet Partnership’s instructions about how to make large, neon posters, you can advertise in your neighbourhood that your cat is missing and create the possibility that a kind-hearted “rescuer” will call you to return your cat.

7.       YOUR CAT WAS STOLEN – Thankfully, this is just not very likely. While some purebred and exotic cats are stolen, the incidents where someone knowingly steals a cat are quite rare. Cats that are exotic breeds are at risk. Also, cats who willingly approach strangers and cats involved in the middle of a neighbourhood or relationship dispute are at risk of being removed on purpose.

8.       YOUR CAT WAS KILLED BY A PREDATOR – This is sad to think about, but it does happen. Dogs and other predators occasionally prey upon cats, if you live in an area with known predators do not let your cat roam free, only allow them outside when you are able to manage them. Using cat fencing or “catios” will allow your cat to experience the outdoors without putting them at risk of being preyed upon.  


Adapted from: http://www.missingpetpartnership.org/recovery-tips/probability-categories/