Some of the people who wrote to me or asked for help on my rescue's Facebook page were looking for their missing outdoor cats. But most were searching for strictly indoor cats who managed to get out.
How do we keep our cats from getting lost? I've been asking myself that question all winter. Of course, the obvious answer is to keep them in. But that doesn't work for all cats, including mine. And even strictly indoor cats manage to get out.
So here are some thoughts on ways of keeping our cats from getting lost and improving their chances of finding their way home if they do.
- First, and most important, microchip your cats, even your ferals. If your cat finds his way to an animal control agency, that chip will be his ticket home. Most vets and rescues also scan "stray" cats to see if they're chipped.
- Your cats really need collars and ID tags (not rabies tags), even if they live strictly indoors. A collar implies "ownership," and people are less likely to take a cat in if they know he has a family. I prefer embroidered collars because the cat's name and my phone number are easier to read.
- Take a good photo of your cat. You'll need it for fliers if he does get lost. The Missing Pet Partnership also suggests wiping your cat's body with a sterile gauze pad and putting the pad in a plastic bag to store his scent. If your cat gets lost and you use a dog tracking service, the dog will need the cat's scent to find him.
- When transporting your cat, make sure the door of his carrier is closed securely (you should hear it snap) and the sides are also secure. It's a good idea to hold the handle in one hand and rest the carrier on your other arm in case it does come apart. Much as he may hate it, your cat should be in his carrier in the car. If he's not secured and you're involved in an accident or forget and open a window, you may never see him again. Invest in a good carrier, even if you're offered a cardboard one for free. A cat can easily claw his way out of a cardboard carrier or force his head through the top.
- Ear tip your cats who live outdoors, even if they're not feral. An ear tip lets people know the cat has a caretaker and an outdoor home, and that should discourage them from trying to bring him in or taking him to a shelter.
- Educate your neighbors about why your cats are outside. That, too, can keep them from being "rescued.". Here are some reasons people seem to understand.
- "The cats are feral (wild) and cannot live indoors in close proximity to humans. Would you force a squirrel or raccoon to live inside? Feral cats are just as wild."
- "The cat will not stay in and escapes at every opportunity. Keeping him in is just not possible."
- "Someone in our family is allergic to cats, but we wanted to save a shelter cat's life. The only way to do that was to adopt a 'garage cat' who enjoys being outside."
- "The cat refuses to use a litter box and was destroying our home. Our choices were letting him go out or taking him to a shelter where he'd be killed."
- "The cat can be very aggressive and has attacked visitors and family members. He's safer and happier when he's outside, where he can stay far from people he doesn't know or like."
- Try to keep your indoor/outdoor cats in during heavy rainstorms and when there's a lot of snow on the ground. A downpour can be confusing to cats. Heavy rain can make it difficult to hear familiar sounds and see and smell all the signposts they're created for themselves. Snow, too, can disguise their familiar scents and hide their signposts. If you can manage to get your outdoor cats inside and keep them in until the rain stops or most of the snow melts, they'll be safer.
- Find a way to get your strictly indoor cat outside once in a while so he can get the lay of the land and become accustomed to the sights, sounds and smells of outdoors. Then he won't be terrified and confused if he does get out. If you don't want to take him out on a harness and leash, put him in a carrier and walk him around the yard, or get him a kitty stroller.
- If your strictly indoor cat is always bolting for the door, give serious thought to making him an indoor/outdoor cat, taking him out on a harness and leash or building an outdoor enclosure for him. Indoor cats who are determined to get out almost always succeed eventually, and then they're gone for days or even weeks. They're the ones who are most likely to get lost and end up in a shelter or another person's home.
How do you keep a cat from bolting for the door? I've found electronic deterrents work best. Put a ScatMat in front of the door. He won't like the tingling sensation underfoot and will stay away. Or try a StayAway, which makes a sound when the cat is within range and emits a blast of air.
If your indoor cat gets out or your indoor/outdoor cat doesn't come home at his usual time, begin searching right away. The sooner you begin looking for him, the better your chance of finding him. Look under bushes and cars and in neighbors' open sheds and garages. Look up, too. He might be stuck in a tree or on the roof of a shed. Scared cats also hide in storm drains. If you don't find him, put fliers up everywhere in your neighborhood. Use a large font so people can read it when they're in their cars and include a picture of the cat. Offer a "large" reward and say the cat is on a special diet. It's been my experience that people like to "rescue" healthy cats but put them back outside if they think the cat might cost them money.
I hope your cat never gets lost. But if he does, these are some of my favorite resources for finding lost cats.
Missing Pet Partnership
Cats in the Bag