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[NHSPCA Newsletter][NHSPCA Newsletter]

How to Search for a Lost Cat

By Lynn Lane

This article is intended to provide the cat owner with a comprehensive method to find a lost cat. Because even the most diligent search has little chance for success, and the best solution is prevention, this article is written in two parts: 1) How to prevent losing your cat in the first place; and 2) How to proceed with a thorough search.

To prevent the traumatic ordeal of losing your pet, the most foolproof plan is to keep your cat indoors at all times. Cats do not have a physical need to be outdoors and most are content to live indoors, providing they get plenty of exercise, play time and attention. Another way to give your cat outdoor time is to walk him or her on a leash with a harness — of course, they should never be tied out or left unattended. Most cats readily adapt to being walked.

The average age for survival of outdoor cats is estimated at 3 to 7 years. Compare that to the average life of an indoor cat, which can be 15 to 20 years. By reducing the risks in your cat's daily life, you can help prevent their loss or untimely death.

If you have a cat who "insists" on spending time outdoors, there are some steps you can take to prevent them from roaming. First and most importantly, spay or neuter all of your pets. Neutered animals are far less likely to wander since they are without the usual powerful hormonal urges. They are also not as likely to fight over territory — and therefore are not exposing themselves to injuries and to the infections and viruses which develop from injuries. If your cat has been declawed (not a practice we encourage), it should never be allowed outdoors. It can no longer protect itself from predators, nor can it run up a tree to escape.

Develop a routine for your cat that brings him indoors at night before predators come out. Since cats are creatures of habit, this shouldn't be too difficult. Some suggestions follow. Do not feed your cat a large meal before he goes out. A hungry cat is more likely to stay close to home and his food source. Make it a point to offer your cat something irresistible late in the day, like canned food or treats. He will look forward to this and be home on time for it like clockwork! At this point your cat can be shut in for the night. Since most predators are out after dark, keeping him in at night can improve your cat's chances of survival.

Make an effort to be aware of potential hazards in your area: wildlife, like fishers (of the weasel family), raccoons and coyotes, if you're in the "country"; vehicles; feral cats; and the neighbor's dog, if you're in town, are just a few.

If you care about recovering your lost cat, remember that every cat who spends time outdoors should wear identification. There are many ways to do this. You may have to experiment a little to find what works best for you. Micro chipping is one option (a small computer chip placed just under the skin between the shoulders). However, if the finder doesn't take your cat to an animal shelter or veterinarian's office equipped with the proper scanner, you may be out of luck. Ear tagging is another option. This involves a small, quarter inch, pierced earring fitted at the base of the cat's ear. (This service is provided at the NHSPCA for $10.) By far the most effective identification is one which the finder can see, like a highly visible collar with a tag. Many cat owners hesitate to put collars on their cats because they believe the collar to be dangerous. While some types of collars could pose a risk, the risk of losing your pet and his becoming injured while lost are far greater. There are some types of collars that stretch or break away if your cat gets caught on something. Again, you may have to experiment to find one that works for you and your cat. In a pinch, you can write your name with a permanent marker on a flea collar, which can be tougher to slip out of.

In the event your cat comes up missing, following these steps may greatly improve your chances of finding your cat:

First. Start your search right away. We find that so many people wait days and even weeks. By this time, your pet may have been assumed abandoned, and could already have a new home. There are no laws mandating how long an animal shelter must hold your stray cat. At the NHSPCA, strays are held for three days. If at the end of three days the cat is unclaimed and there is no matching lost report, the cat will be health-checked and placed for adoption. A cat could conceivably be lost and adopted in the same week.

Second. Search on foot throughout your area. Concentrate your efforts close to home. Most cats will rarely stray more than a half mile from home. Walk or drive slowly through the neighborhood several times a day. Early morning and evening are the best times to search. Talk to letter carriers, meter readers, delivery people and neighbors. Look for anyone who may be feeding cats outdoors, yours may be hanging around looking for food. Check your neighbor's garage or potting sheds. Look for hiding places in basements, under garages and porches. Is your cat up a tree or even inside a neighbor's house?

Many people are quick to assume a wandering cat is a lost cat and they will bring it indoors. Your cat may be spooked and laying low until he feels safe enough to come out of hiding.

Third. Make up flyers and canvas your area or town. Put one in every mailbox, in store windows, on utility poles and local bulletin boards. Your flyers should have a picture and detailed description of the cat, along with information on how to contact you 24 hours a day. Hand these flyers out at least once a week for six weeks or longer.

Fourth. Contact your local animal control officer or police department as well as those from surrounding towns. Call and mail flyers to all the animal shelters and veterinarians in a 60 mile radius. Run an ad in all the area papers, some may even run the ad for free for a few days.

Fifth. Leave items with a familiar scent outside your home. A litter box, your old sweater or the cat's own bedding may help attract your lost and disoriented cat.

Last. Don't give up. Don't stop looking. Cats have been known to be found weeks, months and even years later by diligent pet owners who refused to give up. Your cat may be scared and may not recognize you, so be prepared with gloves, food and a cat carrier. Soon you'll both be back to your old, familiar routine, but with a new found sense of safety and prevention.


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