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Kitty Come Home: Why cats go missing and how to help them find their way back home

Learn more about how common it is for domestic cats to go missing, some of the reasons for it, how to prevent them from escaping, and if your cat does go missing – how you can help them get home safely.


Many cat owners wake up one day to find that their pet cat has simply vanished. According to data from Lost Pet Research, about 15% of cat owners in the U.S. reported they have lost their cats. Sixty-six percent of those aforementioned lost cats were between the ages of 1 to 7 years old.

Veterinarians explain that cats are hunting animals. They like to explore their surroundings, and therefore struggle to adapt to new settings. Cats who were raised in a house that they can regularly get out of make daily trips with the same route and usually the same hours. That radius can vary from a few dozen feet, all surrounding the house, to a surprising distance of several miles in the neighborhood.

Why would your pet cat suddenly disappear? These are the main reasons

Cats are inquisitive and extremely brave. So, in many cases of cats disappearing, it doesn’t happen intentionally.

According to data from Lost Pet Research, between 53%-84% of cats who go missing are eventually found. There are known cases where cats disappeared for a few days – or even weeks – and were eventually found. The trouble is that there’s no way of knowing what happened to them during their absence.

Research has found that cats living in an urban environment are more prone to vehicular injuries or falling from high places. They might also find themselves trapped in small spaces (e.g. electrical boxes or small storage units) without the ability to get out by themselves. In rural areas, they may even encounter various predators, such as coyotes or aggressive dogs

Unfortunately, in many cases when a cat doesn’t return home, it’s because something serious happened to them. Any of the dangers we mentioned, from falling to car accidents to other animals, might befall your little ball of fur. That’s precisely the reason why it’s more advisable to keep your cat living indoors – and have cat health insurance, which will at the least provide you with a solution in cases where they may be injured and in need of veterinary care.

What causes cats to disappear and then come back

  • Changes – Cats are very sensitive to shifts in their immediate surroundings, even subtle changes we might not even notice. For instance, the presence of a new and violent cat in the neighborhood where your cat usually hangs out, or construction work that causes loud noise. Heck, even a gross new smell might do it. These things may cause your cat to run away from their familiar space and then struggle to find their way back home.
  • Stormy weather – Cats who are outside during a powerful storm may be frightened by thunder (yes, just like dogs) and rush to find shelter in an unfamiliar area. They might then have trouble finding their way back to you.
  • Moving houses – Cats take time to adapt to a new environment. A door or window left open absentmindedly may give your cat a chance to escape. In these instances, cats are less protected against the dangers they may face outside the home. Since they don’t know the territory outside yet, they may be at a higher risk of injury, and might also not remember how to return to their new home.
  • Illness – When a cat gets sick, it withdraws from the group. In fact, that illness doesn’t need to be terminal for the cat to isolate. There’s an inaccurate assumption that cats only do this when they feel they’re at the end of their life. However, even with mild diseases, cats by nature prefer to be isolated. The problem is that it’s difficult to recognize the signs of illness in cats because they are very good at hiding them.

Did your cat run away? This is how you can help them find their way back

  • Search nearby – When a pet disappears, we tend to panic and rush to search far away. However, with cats, it’s more likely that they’ll be very close to home. As we mentioned above, cats tend to move around in a fixed radius, usually near their home. As soon as they encounter a threat or leave this area for some reason, they’ll often look for a nearby hiding place. So, generally speaking, they’re less likely to start running free (as dogs often do). It’s therefore recommended to patrol the nearby area, looking for all possible hiding places around the house – such as a gas meter box, small storage units, or anywhere under the building. Go out and look for them, shake around a treat – and remember that cats can hide extremely well.
  • Spread the word – Hand out flyers near your home. Ask the neighbors to look in closed spaces in their yards and to keep an eye out, because your cat may have found shelter in their yard. Look for the cat near food sources both near and far (for example, trash cans, restaurants, and especially in places where cat food is regularly distributed). Don’t automatically assume your cat will avoid the company of street cats – your domestic cat may just get along quite well with the street cats in your area. Most cats, especially those who are not of a sensitive breed, can survive even in rough environments.
  • Contact veterinary clinics in your area – It’s a good idea to distribute pictures of your cat around clinics near your home if someone brings them in for medical treatment. Many cities and towns also have animal control that takes care of stray cats, so you should also check with them.

What to do to prevent your cat from running away

  • Keep them at home – This is naturally the safest route, especially if you live in a crowded urban environment or have a particularly gentle cat. If you go this way, it’s very important to create an interesting and rich home environment for the cat since bored cats tend to get sick more often. You can also use a harness or put a leash on them and take them for supervised walks outside. Just remember that many cats may panic if you do this, at least at first, since it’s not natural for them like it is for dogs. That being said, many cats are not willing to give up their daily trip outside regardless, especially in suburbs and rural areas.
  • Use a collar – Some areas have many stray cats without owners. In these areas, people may not notice a new cat on the street. This is exactly why a chip doesn’t always help, because only in a very small number of cases will someone bother to actually scan your cat. So nothing against chipping, but it is recommended to also give the cat an identification collar with a label containing your contact information, or a microchip number so that people who find them know that they’re chipped. If you go this route, you should choose a good collar that won’t fall off easily, but also one with a quick opening mechanism that can be opened if the cat finds themselves in distress (like if they fall off a tree and are caught on a branch by their collar). The downside is that many cats don’t like the feeling of the collar on their neck and may try to get rid of it. Nevertheless, it’s still the most effective way to show the world that your cat has an owner.
  • Be mindful when moving apartments – As mentioned, cats aren’t really into changes. So if you’ve recently moved, make sure not to leave doors or windows open. This is especially true for cats who are used to going outside. It’s also recommended to let the cat adjust to the new home for a period of one to two weeks before letting them out. If necessary, you can even keep the cat in a room without access to a door or a window for the first few days. In general, it’s worth remembering that some cats will be in a very high state of stress before the move and in the first few days following it. That being the case, it’s a good idea to consult your clinic regarding natural or medicinal sedation. Later on, when you start allowing the cat to leave the house, you should do it gradually and with caution.
  • Pay attention to signs of illness – Many times, cats disappear because they’re sick, but we as owners don’t always detect signs of illness on time. Vets recommend paying attention to your cat’s facial features and body language. A shrunken face, a wagging tail, bent ears – these are all signs that something’s bothering them. In addition, when the cat seems more nervous than usual – when they growl more or refuse to let you touch them in certain areas – it’s recommended to bring them in for a check-up. Many people might think, facing these symptoms, that their cat has a behavioral problem. In reality, it isn’t rare for them to be signs of a medical issue (like arthritis, kidney problem, nausea, intestinal obstruction, or urinary obstruction). In general, it’s important to pay attention to changes in behavior – a cat who’s eating less, who enters the litter box more often, who’s showing restlessness, and who stops performing normal behaviors, such as purring and grooming themselves – all of these symptoms can be signs that they’re suffering from an illness.
  • Use a tracking device – Contrary to popular belief, a subcutaneous chip doesn’t actually transmit an animal’s location. A close scan of the microchip can indeed locate the owner of a lost cat, but most cat owners don’t bother to microchip their cats, and most people and clinics aren’t in any rush to scan stray cats. Today, there are other ways to transmit a location, such as a tracking collar with GPS built in that’s activated by a SIM card, or a tracking tag that connects to cell phones. These tracking devices can tell you very interesting things about your cat’s wandering habits even if they don’t wander off…

Diseases are one of the reasons why many domestic cats vanish from their home. Pet insurance may not help you find your cat, but it can cover all the expenses associated with illnesses. One click and you’re covered.


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