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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
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
you lost your cat or kitten?
you found a cat or kitten?
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