Dear Ms Kitty,

We had some remodeling done and the noise must have scared my cat Willow enough to run outside. I’ve called and called but she hasn’t come back and it’s been three days! What should I do?

Lost in Lone Tree

Dear Lost,

Summer can be a scary time for our cats, with remodeling and strange visitors and of course, July 4th fireworks.

The biggest thing to remember if your cat gets lost is don’t give up! In the first two weeks, Willow will probably be fairly close to home. As they say about lost pets,

Dogs roam but cats hide.

Only a very small percentage of cats are confident enough to show up back at your door. Most lost cats get so scared they lose the ability to find home on their own.

They have a form of Feline PTSD: some traumatic event has created fear so intense they can’t behave normally. This can make them hypervigilant to all new sounds and smells, so they respond to that by freezing.

They will also go silent and probably will NOT come when you call. Cats instinctively know they could become prey for predators if they show their location.

A recent study showed that most indoor cats who were found had been in hiding within 2 houses of their home! This is especially true if Willow is injured. Even indoor/outdoor cats will probably find a place to hide within a block of their own home.

For years we were taught to put out things that smell like home to the cat, like clothing, food and even litterboxes.


Placing food or litter boxes outside may lure in predators who might kill your cat.

A terrified lost cat will probably go into survival mode and tuck into the first small, dark place she finds. She will probably be too scared to come to the sound of your voice. She will stay there until she gets so hungry she must risk coming out to eat.

Kimberley Freeman, a professional tracker who finds lost cats with her own search cat for her company, reports that this can take 10-14 days. Unfortunately, that’s about the time that most guardians are giving up.

She splits cats up into 4 different personalities. All but the first one will probably have to be humanely trapped:

  • Curious Cat: confident and the first to emerge from hiding, possibly sooner than 10-14 days.
  • Cautious Cat: wary of people but may be occasionally sighted
  • Careful Cat: nervous and will only emerge at night
  • Xenophobic Cat: scared of strangers and rarely seen

Fact is, most cats are naturally suspicious of strangers. They can see well only about 20 feet in front of them and will probably not be able to recognize their people when frozen and terrified.

If anyone tells you that Willow has already been eaten by a predator or has “gone off to die,” ignore them. These are myths about lost cats that are not only false but can damage your plan to get her back.

Here are 6 things to do to locate your cat:

  • Do a thorough physical search. Remember, she is probably within two houses of home. Don’t rely on your neighbors to get down to cat level and look everywhere; you need to do it yourself. If you can fit your fist in the space, your cat could be there. Rule out all small spaces in your block.
  • Look for her right after dusk, checking for reflective cat eyes with a flashlight. Remember to check in trees too.
  • Put Willow on social media. Neighborhood groups on NextDoor or Facebook can be especially useful. Be specific about where your cat went missing. Ask people to watch their door cameras too.
  • Buy a trail camera and put it up to watch for yourself, especially for movement at night.

Once Willow is spotted, you will know where to set the humane trap. Again, she may be too scared to be hungry for weeks, so don’t give up too soon.

Most municipal shelters have humane traps for rent or deposit, as does Happy Cats Haven. Your chances of getting her back by trapping her once she is spotted are very good. If you haven’t spotted her within two weeks, you might try setting the trap in your yard, but set up that trail cam and watch carefully for predators.

Freeman has also reported that the adventure cat trend has dramatically increased her lost cat cases. If you want to go outside with your cat, please tap here for some safety tips so she doesn’t get lost again.

Tap here for all our other Ask Ms Kitty articles!

Sara Ferguson is the Director of Happy Cats Haven. Ask Ms Kitty supports cat behavior consulting offered here!

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