Lost Outdoor-Access Cats

When an outdoor-access cat vanishes, the investigative question and mystery to solve is: WHAT HAPPENED TO THE CAT? There are basically eight things that could have happened to your cat.  Here they are 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 neighbor’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 neighbors to enter their yards so that you can look for your cat yourself. DO NOT rely on asking your neighbor 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 – Cats that are chased from their territory either 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. But many of these cats, especially those with skittish temperaments, will be so panicked by the experience that they will instinctively hide in fear and will be too afraid to return home.  Some meowed and let their owners pick them up while others darted and ran from their owners and had to be humanely trapped. Understand the critical importance of conducting an aggressive, physical search for your cat within your cat’s immediate territory (neighbors’ yards) in order to determine if your cat is still within the area. The failure to conduct this type of search is why so many cats are never found by their owners and end up being absorbed into the feral cat population.
  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 neighbor 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 behavior kills cats every day! Hiding in silence is an instinctual, 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 neighbors’ 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 following MPP’s instructions about how to make large, neon posters, you can advertise in your neighborhood 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 neighborhood 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. Coyotes and Great Horned owls are predators that occasionally prey upon cats and small dogs if the opportunity presents itself. If you live in an area where these and other predators (hawks, eagles, cougars, etc.) roam, then this is a factor that you must take into account. One of the major signs that a coyote has killed a cat is the presence of large clumps of fur. Smaller wisps or tufts of fur can be a sign of a cat fight, but several tufts together in a clump which could have been pulled by the mouth of a predator, can be an indication that a missing cat was killed by a predator.  Keep in mind that in the absence of forensic evidence of predation (hair, scat, collars, etc.), you should still keep searching for your pet. Many areas with coyotes do not have a history of predation, therefore it is critical that you continue to search for your pet, as the more likely scenario is one of the above.

THINK CLOSE! Please note that unless your cat was transported (intentionally or unintentionally) out of the area, your missing outdoor-access cat could very likely be somewhere within a 5-house radius of your home. That is because sick, injured, and trapped cats are often found within their territory. The next farthest to travel would be displaced cats that might have been chased several houses or a few blocks from home. On rare occasions (but it does happen) some cats will travel up to a mile (or more) from their territory. The cats that end up the farthest (many miles) from home, and that are the most difficult to recover, are those that were transported (intentionally or unintentionally) out of their territory.