How to Find a Lost Cat

Tips from a pet detective instant e-book & video guide.

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If your cat is missing, avoid the typical myths and advice that will hurt your chances of recovery, such as walking, calling, and putting out food or a litter box!

SO many people follow this lost cat advice that's thrown around by people who have never found a lost cat in their life and do not realize the damage they cause.

Even vets pass along the myths, as they were never trained in recovering lost cats and how they behave when out of their usual environment.

Finding a lost indoor cat requires different methods than an outside cat who went missing and did not come home. 

I will teach you both and triple the odds you WILL find your missing cat!

What are the odds of   finding your lost cat?

Many people ask pet detectives about the odds of their missing cat being found or finding as well as "can cats can find their way back home?"

The answer to both of these is "it depends." 


On the first question about the odds of their cat coming home or finding their missing cat depends on WHAT the owner does, how much they know about lost cat bahavior, how long they search for the missing cat, and whether the cat is inside only or outside access.


The second question depends on the cat's age, personality, and how long they have lived at a place. I can vastly improve the odds for both.


Even cats who were just moved to a new home can be encouraged to come home but again, you have to go at it from the cat's point of view, not the typical human ways!

The American Humane Society estimates over 10 million pets get lost every year. That’s about 50 million dogs and 50 million cats.

Why so many? Let’s look at a study from 2012. The study reported that 15% of the dogs were reunited through the use of an ID tag or microchip but only 2% of cats. T


hat discrepancy can be explained by noting that over 60% of the dogs in the study wore some type of ID tags while only 25% of the cats were reportedly wearing any ID.

Next, consider the estimates from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA): 6.5 million animals end up in shelters every year. A large but unknown number of those were likely feral or homeless animals that were not lost pets. But we do know that at least 710,000 were. That's the number of lost pets that were lucky enough to be reunited with their families. Sadly, there are likely many thousands more lost pets that for various reasons were not reunited with their families. Instead, after a waiting period, they were made available for adoption or euthanized.

The next data point should be eye-opening for cat owners. Of the 710,000 shelter pets eventually reunited with their families, over 87% of those were dogs! Nationwide, of the 3.2 million cats entering shelters, only 90,000 were found by their owners. Using the ASPCA estimates to extrapolate further, that means 19% of the dogs entering shelters were pets who eventually found their way home compared to less than 3% for cats. Is there a logical for such a big difference?

A non-profit organization in Mukilteo, Washington called the Community Cat Coalition wrote an article suggesting several insightful reasons why lost cats that end up at shelters are less likely to be reunited with their families than dogs. They point to a combination of cat behaviors, mistakes owners make when looking, and also, perceptions of the general public. Some key points:

- A lost cat will tend to hide and keep away from humans. It may take weeks or months for a cat to allow a human to approach and help them. Many owners have stopped looking by then.

- Owners believe that if they report missing pets at a shelter, they will be contacted if a pet matching that description is brought in. Most shelters have limited resources and cannot always follow up by contacting every owner to report that a tabby cat has been turned in.

- Many shelters only hold animals for three days before offering them for adoption. You would need to check the shelter every few days, possibly for weeks or even months, to be sure that you didn't miss your cat.

- Cats are much less likely to be wearing ID tags. And tags can help your pet beyond the obvious way; a cat wearing a collar and an ID tag doesn't look like a stray. People are much more likely to assist an animal they recognize as someone's pet.

- According to Home Again, the microchip company, only 25% of cats are microchipped but even worse than that, only 58% of those cats have accurate owner information on file. That means that less than 15% of cats have a microchip that can help them get back home.

Why Lost Cats are Rarely Found at Shelters 

The American Humane Association estimates that over 10 million dogs and cats are lost or stolen each year and that a whopping 1 in 3 pets will be lost at some point in their lives. Nobody knows how many of those end up at shelters, but the ASPCA statistics show that of the 3.4 million cats brought into public shelters each year, 1.4 are euthanized and only about 2% are reunited with their owners. The reunification rates for dogs are much higher at 25 - 30%. How can we use this information to get more cats home?

Why is it so low for cats? 

--When cats are lost in an unfamiliar area, they hunker down and hide in silence. A cat who comes to his name inside the house, will typically not respond outside. This is a survival instinct, they are scared and don’t want to attract predators to their location. Hiding cats don’t get taken to shelters because nobody knows they are there.

--Cats are far less likely to allow a stranger to approach them and take them to safety. It can take days, weeks or even months to coax a lost or stray cat into allowing handling. Some end up needing to be trapped. By the time cats like this end up at a shelter, their owners have often stopped looking.

--Cats are less likely than their canine counterparts to sport a collar with identification. Without visible identification, they are less likely to be identified as a lost cat with a potential owner. 

Owner actions that reduce shelter recovery

--Not microchipping
Home Again Microchips reports that Less than 25% of cats are microchipped. Of those microchipped cats, only 58% have been registered in a microchip database with owner contact information. 

--Checking the shelter just a few times
Owners often check the local shelters right after their cat goes missing, but rarely do they continue checking for the weeks or months needed. Lost cat behaviors make it more likely for the cat to end up at a shelter long after it went missing.

--Checking the wrong shelter
Cats can end up at a shelter that is different from the one checked by their owner. In our area, we have a town that straddles two counties, and cats picked up there can end up in any of 3 different shelters -- all in different towns. Owners need to check and post their cat as missing at all local shelters.

--Unrealistic assumptions
If the shelters have been notified, owners assume that the shelter will notify them if a similar cat comes in. That may happen if the cat is unique looking or if the cat is brought in soon after the report, but few shelters are going to call every time a black cat or tabby or tuxedo comes in. There are simply too many. 

--Giving up
Grief avoidance leads some owners to just give up and go on with their life. Psychologically, it is easier for owners to conclude that their cat is dead, but it doesn’t help the cat when they show up the shelter months later and nobody is looking for them. 

Finder actions that reduce shelter recovery

Free-roaming cats are all around us, so a new cat in the neighborhood may not be identified as lost. For some, stray cats are just part of the landscape and their presence isn’t noticed unless the population gets too high or they become a nuisance. 

--Stray cat mentality
Finders fail to notify all local shelters when they see an unfamiliar cat because they assume it is unowned. About a third of the owned cats in the United States were obtained as strays, and in many cases, the finders made no effort to notify shelters or scan for a chip. 

--Rehoming too fast
Finders assume that an owner will be found in a day or two if the cat has a home. When this doesn’t happen, the cat may be given away or posted for adoption on Craigslist or other social media sites. The reality is that it can often take weeks or even months to find a cat’s owner. 

--Shelter phobia
People who find cats often state that they are afraid that the cat will be killed if they take it to a shelter. While this is true in many areas, most shelters allow finders to post animals online on the shelter site or maintain a “found cat” book or poster board in the shelter. Posting the cat as found and then fostering the cat greatly increases the chance of it being reunited with his owner.

Shelter actions that reduce shelter recovery

--Limited resources = limited holding time
Most shelters will hold strays for 3 days or more, but after that, the cat is put up for adoption. Given the limited space, most shelters lack the resources to hold them longer. 

--Shelter staff training
Shelters workers may lack the time or technical skill to post found cats online. There is no central registry for lost cats or found cats, so it is difficult to train staff to use the ever-changing social media, neighborhood groups, or classified sites that are popular in a certain area.

--Cat assessment in stressful environments

Most shelters are not equipped to assess or hold scared or feral cats. Shelters are often noisy and stressful places for cats. Since lost cats often take on feral behaviors in order to survive, they may be misidentified as feral and either killed or inappropriately placed as barn cats. 

What can we do to improve these odds? 

-- For many people, the shelter is the only place they will think to look. But rarely has the cat allowed someone to pick it up, much less get it in a carrier AND taken to a shelter, especially during a quarantine when most animal rescue shelters are closed to the public.



-- In metropolitan areas, it can be difficult to determine which shelter takes animals from which area. Take time to educate yourself on the jurisdiction of all local shelters. Then make this information accessible to all. Post it online and share it among all your local rescue and lost and found pet groups. People won't find their cat if they go to the wrong shelter. 

--Many cat lovers want to help, but don’t have the first-hand expertise or knowledge to know what to do or how to go about the physical work of searching for a cat. Seek volunteers to check shelter listings online and pair them with lost and found pet listings online.

You can get an instant delivery "How to Find a Lost Cat" video booklet at this link.


the "How to Find a Lost Cat" booklet and video are not the same.


Watch the


and read the


to get your

lost cat found!

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Thanks for letting me guide you. Best wishes in your search!


Watch at least the first and last 16 minutes of the video. 


Take notes! This info will save you days of typical mistakes & heartbreaking setbacks.

If you'd like a custom "Case Analysis" on your lost cat, skim these materials first, then email to check on availability for a personal consult.


The link for my "Lost Cat Case" Custom Coaching is here.

Personal note: it is illegal to share, loan or paraphrase my copyright protected materials. Finding lost cats is a labor of love, but also my only income. If you hear of someone else trying to find a lost cat, send them to



Thank you, and best wishes in your search!


Kim Freeman

Lost Cat Finder

note: a paperback book and Kindle version of "How to Find a Lost Cat" is also available (but without the lost cat tips video) on Amazon at this link: