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When Kitty Disappears

Lost Cat: Action Plan | Pet FBI

Information provided by staff of Best Friends Animal Sanctuary,  Kanab, Utah


Three weeks ago, my inside cat got out.  One of the other cats opened the screen door and a group of them got out.  One came back that night. The other early the next day. The one that is still missing was on my deck the next morning, and I opened the door for him to come in.  He was very frightened. I went out to get him and he took off. I found him in a neighbors yard and that is the last time I have seen him. There are a lot of woods behind my house. I have been calling him and putting food out for him everyday. We have contacted both local shelters and have signs up in the neighborhood. What else can I do?


You have an excellent chance of getting this kitty back home! I know that it does not feel that way, since three weeks have elapsed, but it is TRUE! Your cat is really not "lost" at all - it is displaced into unfamiliar territory. The instinctive response for cats displaced into unfamiliar territory is for them to HIDE and be SILENT. So just because you do not see or hear this kitty does not mean that he is still not near by. It likely feels like you are looking for a "needle in a haystack" but the reality is that it is more probable that your cat is currently hunkered down within a ½ block radius of your home and is simply not visible. When you utilize the baited humane trap system (which is a service that we now call "TAR" for "trap-and-reunite") then you are increasing the odds that you will recover your cat. And just because three weeks have elapsed does not change the fact that your cat is still out there and likely to still be hiding within a ½ block radius of your home. We've had people humanely trap their displaced cats six months after they escaped (the cat was living under a neighbor's house four doors down)! Your cat would only be inclined to travel if was chased by something (which caused it to run and hide further out of the area) or it had a bold, gregarious and fearless temperament - and that is NOT what you have described to me. So start trapping close to home and then expand outwards.

You mentioned that you are putting food out for him - unless you are putting that food into a humane trap, you are only facilitating his displacement. In other words, your tactic should be to REMOVE all food that is outdoors and replace it with food that is inside a humane trap. Otherwise, you are only feeding your cat and given the choice between eating food that is on a plate or entering a humane trap to reach some food, the cat will opt for the plate!

Initially, your strategy should be to rent (or purchase) at least two humane traps - setting and placing one in your own yard and one in that neighbor's yard where you last saw your kitty. Set the trap in obvious areas where a cat might be hiding - near the entrance under a house, deck, or near heavy brush. Cats don't runaway like dogs do. They slink (or bolt if startled) and they look for the first place to dive into or under that offers concealment and protection. They will typically remain in that same spot as long as they feel safe. As they huddle there, they deposit their scent - they urinate, defecate, and THAT new area becomes their new territory. Eventually, they will slink out to get food and water, usually during the quiet hours in the middle of the night. So if you set a humane trap and you are not successful then it only means that you have not placed the trap within the immediate area of where the cat can smell the food. You should then move the trap into the next yard or to the next potential hiding place. You can either sit and monitor the trap during the evening hours (lawn chair, mug of coffee, binoculars, cell phone, flashlight, blanket) or you can set it over night and use a baby monitor. The baby monitor will allow you to clearly hear when the trap has been triggered and you have captured something.

If you have a cat that you are certain will not go into a humane trap, then you might need to switch to a Drop Trap - a system where you place odiferous cat food underneath a giant net held together with PVC pipe that is propped up with a short stick with a long string tied to it. You would sit and monitor the trap and if your cat came out of hiding and went under the netting, you would pull the string and the trap would drop and trap your cat. This really only works if you have seen your cat and know the general hiding area but your cat just will not go into the humane trap. Alley Cat Allies has great instructions on how to build a drop trap if you need to go that route.

Traps are available from or from most hardware stores (sold as wild animal traps). The best web site to answer trapping questions for indoor-only cats that have escaped outdoors is The creator of this site is Pauline Phung. Her kitty Sage escaped out a window and was displaced, just like your cat. I instructed her to start setting humane traps and to keep a trap set in her own backyard. She successfully trapped Sage twenty seven days after her escape, in the trap she had set in her own backyard! Pauline has since encouraged (through a discussion board) thousands of cat owners who are in your same situation.  Good luck and DO NOT GIVE UP HOPE!

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