Thanks to natural curiosity and unavoidable human error, it’s an unfortunately common occurrence for indoor cats to get outside. Your opportunistic feline might notice a door held open for a second too long or take interest in a window that’s been left cracked.
My indoor cat once got out because he decided to climb the screen door, and his weight tore the screen and deposited him clumsily on the other side.
Regardless of how your indoor cat gets outside, acting fast is the key to getting them back. Whether your indoor cat is currently missing or you want to be prepared for the worst, you need to know the following tips.
What to Do if Your Indoor Cat Gets Out
Here are the first steps you should take if your indoor cat gets outside.
1. Look Around Nearby
Most indoor-only cats aren’t used to outdoor sounds, smells, and sights. That sensory overload is more likely to shock and frighten than it is to entice and encourage. As a result, most indoor cats freeze or get spooked once they realize they actually made it outside. Cats are skittish animals most interested in protecting themselves, so they aren’t likely to saunter off into the unknown…at least not right away.
If you know your indoor cat has only been outside for a few minutes, there’s a good chance they are still nearby.
Search the area while paying particular attention to potential hiding spots. Look behind bushes, under the porch, in your garage, and along the side of the house. It’s also important to stay calm while you search. Your cat is already on edge, and your frantic shouts could scare them into running farther away.
2. Spread the Word
If you don’t find your cat quickly around the house, the next step is to spread the word. Cats are fast and aren’t restricted by arbitrary boundaries like property lines or even fences. You want all of your neighbors to know that your cat got out and is missing.
You also want your neighbors to know what your cat looks like. You can text them one of the hundreds of cat pictures you have on your phone, or print out flyers and hand them personally to each neighbor. You can also post the flyers near heavily trafficked areas like communal mailboxes.
While you’re hanging flyers, don’t forget that it’s the twenty-first century and most of your neighbors are on social media. Join local Facebook pages for lost pets and post to every local group that doesn’t have a rule against it. You can also join the site called Nextdoor to reach even more neighbors.
Besides your neighbors, you also want the local shelters to know that your cat is missing and you want them back. It’s common for people to find stray cats and drop them off with animal control. And because shelters are busy and typically underfunded, it’s easy for cats to get lost in the shelter system.
Call local shelters to ask about recent intakes and also to make them aware that you’re looking for a specific lost cat. Most shelters will make a note of your message, but you can’t rely on them to reference your plea with every cat that comes in.
It’s important to check with animal shelters every day your cat is missing, and visit in person to see the recent intakes yourself. Most shelters have a 48-hour hold before an animal is put up for adoption. But if you miss that window, your lost and found cat could be adopted out before you even realize they were at the shelter.
3. Place Familiar Scents Outside
Cats are decent navigators, but if your indoor cat has never been out, it will be easy for her to get lost. Felines have their own tricks to find their way, and they’ll rely heavily on their sense of smell. If your cat can smell you, she can find her way back home.
Help your cat’s sense of smell by bringing familiar scents outside. Lay out the clothes you recently wore or the blanket you usually cuddle with on your porch or nearby the place where your cat first got outside. You can also bring out their litter box to take advantage of those strong and familiar scents. Be aware, however, that the contents of said litter box might attract other outside critters.
If your cat is nearby and catches a whiff of those comforting smells, she’ll follow her nose back into your arms.
4. Keep Looking at the Right Times
Cats are crepuscular creatures, which means they’re most active at dusk and dawn. Out on their own, your cat is most likely to hide and sleep during the day. If they’re confident or hungry enough to go out in the open, it will likely be in the early morning and evening. This is when you should be out calmly calling their name.
How far your cat roams will depend on several factors including food and water availability, their sex, and their confidence level. A cat that hasn’t been neutered will travel incredible distances in search of a mate. A hungry cat might also keep walking until they find an area with a good food source.
Studies suggest that cats are capable of traveling up to a half mile every day. That doesn’t mean, however, that your cat gets a half mile farther away with each passing day. Even feral cats typically stay within the boundaries of a perceived territory of no more than a few miles. Your lost inside cat won’t have their own outdoor territory, but most cats need a good reason to keep moving away from their home base.
Of course, there are stories of extreme cases where cats are found hundreds of miles away from home. There’s even Sugar, a cat who apparently walked 1,500 miles to be reunited with his family. These instances are rare, however, and it’s more likely that your lost kitty is somewhere in your neighborhood. You just have to keep looking.
5. Consider a Humane Trap
When an inside cat gets outside, they might elude your search efforts regardless of how much they love and miss you. They could be lost, scared, or too overwhelmed to find their own way back to your front door. In these cases, a humane trap like those used for TNR (trap neuter release) could be a valuable tool.
If you don’t want to buy a trap, reach out to local shelters to see if they have them available to borrow or rent. Once you have a trap, use your cat’s favorite food or treat and something that smells like you to lure them inside.
This strategy usually works best when there have been recent sightings of your cat, so you have a general idea of where to place the trap. Be aware, however, that your cat won’t be the only animal attracted to that cat food. You might catch a different stray cat or a wild animal like a raccoon or possum.
The fact that cats are quick, skittish, and skillfully elusive can make finding them difficult. It also doesn’t help that because of the high population of feral cats in some communities, many people ignore strays and assume they’re part of a colony.
That doesn’t mean, however, that you should give up if your inside cat gets outside. Many house cats return home all on their own. Others approach humans looking for help.
Being cautious with open doors, giving your cat an ID tag to wear, and making sure their microchip is registered will help keep them safe at home in the future. But in the meantime, try out the above tips to bring your feline friend back into your arms.