While experts agree that it is much safer to have your cat be an indoor only cat, some people believe that cats should be allowed to roam outside. But what happens when your cat doesn’t come home?
Cats are very territorial and usually have set routines that include coming back home for meals, cat naps and human interaction. When an indoor/outdoor cat doesn’t come home, it means that something has happened to interfere with their routine.
Not only are cats creatures of habit, many of them have a sort of homing instinct that always leads them back to your door. Most cats do not travel far, although an adventurous indoor/outdoor cat is more likely to roam further afield. If they do find themselves in an unfamiliar territory, a scared cat may not trust their inner compass, get confused and get lost. And if a cat has wandered out of their comfort zone anything can happen to scare them further: barking dogs, wildlife, loud traffic noise, teasing kids – the list is endless.
If you own an indoor/outdoor cat, knowing the five most common ways that they become lost will help you know how and where to search should your cat ever fail to come home.
1. They become sick or injured
While roaming, cats are at risk of being injured by other cats, dogs, predators, and moving vehicles. They can ingest poisons from a variety of sources. Or they may have an undetected medical issue that hits the crisis point while they are out and about; like an infected abscess, urinary tract disorder, kidney failure, etc.
If a cat becomes sick or injured, their instinct is to hide so that they are not vulnerable to predators. They will often crawl into what they think is a safe spot and hunker down, such as under a house, deck, or porch. If they are seriously hurt, they may even die there. That’s why it’s critical to search hiding areas thoroughly when your cat goes missing.
2. They become trapped and can’t come home
As the proverb says, “Curiosity killed the cat.” Cats are inquisitive and intelligent animals and that curiosity can lead them into dangerous situations. They may wander through open doors or windows and crawl inside sheds, basements, parked RV’s, and other structures where doors are open. When the owner secures the doors and windows, the cat is trapped inside.
They also climb or are chased up trees and telephone poles, or even onto the roofs of houses, where they become too afraid to descend. Unless they figure out how to back down a tree or pole or they can jump down, these cats will need to be rescued.
3. They become displaced after being chased
A chased cat will typically not run for miles. Instead, it will look for a place to escape where their first response is to hide in silence. Some cats will come out once their chaser is gone and return home. If they have run into an unfamiliar area, they may not be able to find their way home. In some of these cases, cats are found living in a neighborhood just a block or two from the area where they were lost.
4. They become victims of unintentional transport
Cats that develop the habit of climbing inside open vehicles (construction vehicles, service vehicles, moving vans or convertible cars), into wheel wells or engine compartments, into boxes or other containers are at risk of being transported out of their area.
Curious cats also climb into boxes that are carried and transported out of their territory. These cats can end up being driven across town and, in some cases, clear across the country.
5. They become victims of intentional displacement
In some cases, neighbors, apartment managers, or even ex-lovers will intentionally remove a cat from its territory and releases it into another area. Often, cat-hating neighbors, who are tired of free roaming cats entering their yards, will bait a humane trap to remove the neighborhood cats. Some people will take the cat straight to the animal shelter (one reason why it is imperative that cat owners immediately search their shelter for their missing cat), and others will simply release the cat into another area of town. Many pest control companies that are hired to humanely trap free-roaming “feral” cats inadvertently capture and remove pet cats as well.
If your cat does go missing, it is important to begin your search immediately. Talk to neighbors, delivery personnel, children that play nearby – anyone who may have seen your cat or any unusual activity around the time your cat went missing.
Never give up hope – there are stories of cats being reunited with their humans years after they were lost.
For tips on finding a lost cat read Lost and found San Diego cats