Frequently Asked Questions

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QuestionQuick ResponseExplanation
Should I make fliers? Yes.Engaging your neighbors is crucial. Fliers are more effective than posters.
Does my cat know where s/he is? Yes. Cats don't get "lost". They know where they are. They don't wander. They have highly evolved senses of direction.
How will my cat know the way home?Yes. Scents and sounds help cats identify familiar locations and identify paths. But even though your cat might know the way home, s/he might not be able to come home without your help!
Should I offer a reward?I would. Offering money lets people know how serious you are about getting your cat back. Is your cat friendly? Friendly cats approach humans to ask for help. You have to provide an incentive for that person to get in touch with you. If you're concerned about scammers, you can make the reward for a photo of your cat instead.
Should I offer a dollar amount for a reward?I would.It's up to you, but I believe that being highly specific is better. "$150 reward for photos or information, no questions asked" is highly effective in getting people's attention.
How much of a reward should I offer?Up to you.There's no wrong answer. I've had clients offer anywhere between $50 and $15,000. There's no right dollar amount for your companion.
What should I put on my flier?At least one good color photo and your contact information. Be brief! Most people skim long blocks of text. Lost cat headline, good photos, easy-to-read bold text, and any reward information. Give your phone number and the general are where your cat was last seen.
Do I have to talk to my neighbors?Essential.I get it, believe me! I don’t want to talk to my neighbors either! But there's no way around this. You have to talk to people, and the more people, the better. Neighbors might not see posters. They might have thrown away your flier by mistake. Not everyone feels comfortable reaching out on social media. But it's impossible to ignore the grieving human being standing in front of you.
What should I ask my neighbors?Be brief, kind, and non-confrontational.You need to know three things: 1. Will they call/text you if they see your cat, 2. Will they crack open their garage/outbuilding doors just in case your cat is stuck, and 3. Do they know of anyone who leaves food out for an outdoor cat. Your cat has to eat somewhere. Engaging your neighbors is your first step to narrowing that down.
Should I put out litter?No.Putting out litter, clean or used, attracts other cats as well as critters, but it doesn't attract YOUR cat. Non-target animals will be curious about the scent of someone else's poop. Best not to encourage that.
Do I have to go to all the local shelters? Depends on who your cat is. Friendly cats tend to wind up adopted or at shelters. But if you have a highly cautious and skittish cat, a phone call might do instead. Use your resources wisely, prioritizing the most likely scenarios first.
Should I put out my dirty clothes? Your cat won't care. By all means, do it if it helps make you feel better! But your cat doesn't need help to smell his/her way home. Your cat isn't lost in the same way a human gets lost. Your cat is interested in only two things: the scent of food and the sound of your voice.
Should I put out my cat's favorite toys? Your cat won't care. Your cat isn't interested in playing right now. Your cat is interested in two things: the scent of food and the sound of your voice.
Should I put out a cat carrier?I wouldn't. Your cat probably won't be attracted to a cat carrier.
What time of day should I call for my cat? Whenever it's quiet. You're more likely to have success when the neighborhood is quiet. Dusk and dawn are often perfect times, because many cats are more active then.
Will calling scare my cat farther away?Nope.Picture your cat in the outdoor version of under the bed. If your cat doesn't want to come out, s/he won't come out. Calling for a cat makes no difference unless they're in an agreeable mood. If you're not having results calling your cat's name, try talking instead. Calm coaxing and comforting words are highly effective, especially for anxious cats.
Do I need to get a camera? It can help.If your search is dragging out, you might benefit from having a camera do your work for you. Life isn't sustainable if you're perched at your window with binoculars (I've been there). Focus a camera on a food source and get proof of life. You'll feel a billion times better once you know your cat is out there!
What kind of camera should I get? Video is better. Security cameras and doorbell cameras are awesome. Game cameras can malfunction, but they're better than nothing. Video footage can also show you behavior that's more difficult to read in still photos. Your cat's behavior and body language tells you about their anxiety levels and state of mind.
What if my cat was an outdoor cat before, but is now an indoor cat?Consult your profile. Cats behave according to who they are, not how they live. Personality is a much bigger factor than lifestyle when you're predicting your cat's behavior.
Will my cat go back to our old house? It depends on how far it is. Cats in unfamiliar environments usually stick close to where they got out. But if your old house is just down the street, your cat might easily be there.
How far will my cat travel? Consult your profile. If your cat is unneutered or has a large territory, you'll have a bigger area to search. If your cat is comfortable around strangers, a human might have moved your cat. Your search radius will be much larger.
Where will my cat go? First priority is to get away from danger. When your cat is upset or faced with an unfamiliar situation, the first priority is to get away from danger, both real and perceived. S/he'll find the nearest possible shelter and stay there until the danger has passed. It's usually up high or down low -- the outdoor equivalent of going under the bed to escape from the vacuum cleaner. Cats don’t keep running just because they’re terrified. They don’t run miles and miles away.
What will my cat do? Survive at all costs. Cats always have a plan for everything. They never do anything without a reason. Their first concern is for their own survival. This is a primal, basic instinct. It is more powerful than anything. It overrides everything else in your cat’s head. Do not feel that your kitty loves you any less because s/he is following this need.
Should I call during the day or at night? Probably when it's he most quiet.Your cat is most likely to respond when there's less noise and traffic. Try both and see how you do.
Did my cat run away because they're unhappy?No.Cats are all about territory and resources. If they're established in their territories, they usually don't leave unless their resources (food, water, and shelter) are threatened. This might happen after there's an upset, such as a new animal, or an event that makes them feel like they are in immediate danger.
I get that my cat is hiding, but why won't s/he meow? Why won't my cat answer me when I call?Instinct. If your cat makes a sound -- a movement or a meow to let you know that they're there -- they're announcing their presence to any nearby predators in the area. All of their ancient instincts scream to keep quiet -- and to stay alive.
Do outdoor cats take longer to come home? No.How long this is going to take depends on the profile and the local resources. If your cat has other food options nearby, this might take a while. Dig in and find your resolve. Find out where your cat is eating.
Is it harder to find an outdoor cat? No.The same rules apply for outdoor cats and indoor cats. Cats respond to challenges based on personality and temperament rather than lifestyle.
Can an outdoor cat get displaced? Absolutely. Displacement is not synonymous with being physically lost. Any cat can be displaced or ejected from a territory after an upsetting event.
Do I need to search people's yards? It depends on what happened.Injured cats almost always remain stationary, so a thorough physical search of the territory and the adjacent area is essential. You'll feel better once you've done it. However, you are unlikely to recover a displaced cat by searching, because they don't stay still. You have to convince them to come out of hiding, either through the scent of food or the sound of your voice.
Do I need to ask people to search their yards and houses?I wouldn't. You'll lose your neighbors' goodwill fairly quickly if you give them a bunch of stuff to do. They can help tremendously if they just crack open doors of garages/outbuildings and text you if they see your cat. If they live close by, ask if you can have a quick look around their yard just in case. Be neighborly and diplomatic. Try not to overstay your welcome. A search goes south quickly when neighbors get annoyed. When they say no, believe them, and don't persist. There's always another way.
Will my cat share a feeding station with other animals?Almost definitely. Cats are social animals. Even feral cats share resources (food, water, shelter). Cats also share food sources with wild critters like raccoons, possums, skunks, and foxes. If the food source is stable and plentiful, there is less incentive to compete.
Will my cat come home by her/himself?Possible, but don't depend on it. Some cats do come home by themselves. You usually see this when cats have been stuck or shut in somewhere by mistake. You can't depend on a displaced or injured cat coming home without your assistance, although it does happen in some situations. It's best to give your cat all the help s/he might need.
How do I tell if my cat was attacked by a predator?Look for evidence at the boundaries of your cat's territory. Most predator attacks happen within the territory. Check the edges of your yard for blood or fur. Depending on the type of predator involved, there might not be a body. In that case, talk to all your neighbors. Have there been recent coyote sightings in your neighborhood? Have there been several missing cats within the last few months? If so, an animal attack is a scenario we're forced to consider.
What if my cat was hit in the road?Look close to home. Most cats who have been hurt or injured hide close to the base of the territory. Check around your yard and under your house and outbuildings. If you get permission, checking your immediate neighbor's yard as well.
Should I put food out?Yes. Your cat has to eat somewhere. When your cat gets over the initial shock of being alone, the first priority is to find food. You can leave the food in a trap or out in the open depending on your environment. Cats go where the food is.
Where should I put the food?Where you last saw your cat. Put food as close as possible to either the exit point or the location of the last sighting. Choose a place at ground level and easily accessible. Your cat wants an exit strategy in case another animal comes up behind him/her. Ground level is better than putting it up high.
How often should I change the food?Twice daily.Change out the food morning and night, especially if it's wet food. No one likes gross, dried-out tuna that's gone off. You'll have better results if you keep the food fresh -- this includes dry food.
What kind of food should I use? Is tuna better?Whatever your cat likes. No wrong answer on this one. Maybe a little wet food and a little cheap dry food in case some jerk shows up and scarfs down all the tuna and leaves nothing leftover for your cat.
How much food should I leave out?It depends on how many animals you wind up feeding. Start small, maybe a cup of dry food and a few tablespoons of wet food, canned fish, or chicken. If it's all licked clean in the morning, put out more the following day.
Food only at night? Usually, but not always. You'll probably have the most success if the food is out between dusk and dawn because this is when you'll trap. The reason to have a feeding station is first to keep your cat from foraging somewhere else; second, to train them to return to a specific location at a specific time so you can interact with them. If your cat is trained to a feeding station, they're easier to trap. You'll have the most success trapping at night. However, if the ultimate goal is to meet up with your cat when they come to eat, you can leave food out at any time of day.
Do I leave the lights on? Or off? Off. Definitely leave any outdoor lights off. If you have any motion-sensor lights, disable them. Shy cats don't like to be exposed, and they're almost always more comfortable slinking around in the dark.
Trap or leave food out?Up to you. Try both. Use all the tools in your arsenal, but don't leave food out while you're trapping. A feeding station AND a trap next to each other defeats your purpose. Why would your cat enter a trap when s/he can eat next to it?
What kind of trap should I use? Either a humane trap or a drop trap. Start with a humane trap. Consider trying a drop trap if you have a lot of cats. Drop traps are designed to target trap one particular cat, but the downside is that you have to man the trap yourself.
Where can I get a trap? Look online. A local shelter might loan you a trap, or you can get one online or at a hardware store. Look at traps that are appropriately sized for feral cats and raccoons.
How do I use a trap? YouTube! YouTube has many "how to" videos that will explain how to set up and operate your trap. Products often have helpful videos and instructions under product listings. There are also instructions in most feral rescue groups. The main things: check it often, refresh the food every day, and cover the top/sides of the trap, but leave both ends uncovered. Covering a trap helps keep the animals calm.
I'm physically unable to search or trap. What do I do? Concentrate on what you can do. Leaving out a feeding station will keep your cat from going elsewhere to forage food. Sitting outside and talking to your cat calmly -- or just talking on your cellphone -- will increase their confidence and keep them grounded so you'll have better results. Engaging your neighbors on Nextdoor/social media will keep you aware of any sightings!
My neighbor/husband/wife/family member said my cat isn't there anymore! Is this true?Consult your profile. Sometimes people say cruel things without thinking. Most of the time they honestly believe they're helping. Unfortunately, wanting to be helpful and actually being helpful are two entirely different things. Take everything with a grain of salt. They don't know your cat nearly as well as you do.
When should I start trapping? Have a scaredy cat? The sooner, the better. Do you have a scared, hypervigilant cat who tends to run away and hide? The most expedient way to recover your cat might be to trap. The sooner, the better. The worst that can happen is you don't get your cat. You might not need a trap, but they're highly effective and expedient.
What is a kitty buffet?A goofy name for a feeding station. I came up with this term many years ago in order to make a client laugh. It's misleading and inaccurate, and I apologize. All you're doing is leaving food out. You don't have to make more work for yourself by offering them a smorgasbord of choices for their delicate and freeloading palates.
I can't leave food out because of all the other cats/raccoons/foxes/coyotes. What do I do? Humane trap or pillowcase method. You have three choices: use a humane trap, a drop trap, or the pillowcase method. Your cat is going to be attracted by either the smell of food or the sound of your voice. A pillowcase or a trap will contain your cat until you can get them home.
Is my cat terrified? Not really. Cats don't have human emotions. Abject terror isn't sustainable. A more accurate description of what your cat is feeling: initial alarm, trepidation, caution, and hypervigilance. Cats don't waste time panicking. They tend to get on with things.
Does my cat remember me?Yes! Your cat will never forget you. Never. When your cat doesn't answer, it isn't personal. Your cat isn't rejecting you. This is purely about instinct. Your cat loves you, but the immediate priority is always survival. Love comes second.
Do any cats come home by themselves? Yes. Yes, some do. This usually happens if your cat has been shut in somewhere. Some displaced or injured cats might make their way home after they are convinced that the danger is past. However, it's wise to proceed under the assumption that your cat might not be able to do so. Better safe than sorry!

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