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My cat has gone missing, when should I start to worry?

It is completely normal to worry when your cat has disappeared for a long time. But after how long should you start to look for it?

In this article, we will tell you why a cat might go missing and after how long you should start looking for it.

Even though cats are territorial animals, their garden is not their only limit. A domestic cat’s territory goes way beyond your house. The limits are not only defined by your cat, but also by other felines in your neighbourhood. Their territory is divided by where your cat eats, relaxes, plays, hunts, and goes potty.

A cat’s territory can be unlimited if your cat has not been neutered. Your cat can walk hundreds of miles if it has smelled another cat in heat. During its different journeys, your cat can walk through gardens, roads, go hunting and take naps.

Most of the time, after their amble, your cat will come back home without you being aware of its secret life. So why do cats leave? How long do cats go for ambles? Can a cat leave for a couple of days then come back?

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Why is my cat not coming home?

Red cat looking at a mouse on the street

Why do cats leave?

Cats go for ambles because of their adventurous nature. It has nothing to do with your pet not liking you or feeling unwell in your home. Cats are independent animals and only became social when in contact with humans. But they have kept their instincts.

Even though a cat can be domesticated, its instinct, like predation, hunting, mating, and defending its territory, is still very much present. A cat likes to go out and leave its territory whenever it can. It is even more likely when your cat has not been neutered.

How long can a cat leave at a time?

Usually, cats come back frequently. Some leave for a couple of hours during the day and come back in the evening, others go in and out of the house as they please. Others prefer to cuddle inside during the day and go hunting at night. They like to follow a routine but always come back.

However, it happens that your cat breaks its routine and doesn’t come back for two, three and up to five days at a time, which can be worrisome for the owners. Sometimes, your cat does not come back, even when you call it.

Why is my cat not coming back?

Even though it is completely normal to get worried if your cat does not come back, you should not panic. It can happen that your cat has been injured or hit by a car, but these are not the only reasons.

If your cat is a good hunter, it can happen that its territory is lacking prey, or prey have been hunted by other cats. Your cat might then be tempted to travel further away to find new catches.

A cat that has not been neutered can go to great length to find another cat in heat. Dominated by its instincts, your cat might leave for a few days and come back as nothing happened.

Can a cat get lost?

Cats have an exceptional sense of direction thanks to their powerful sense of smell. They can find their way back home because they leave olfactory traces along the way. During its walks, your cat rubs its face, scratches trees, and pees to diffuse its pheromones and leave a trace. Even if they remain very rare, there are stories of cats finding their way back home after months of wandering.

So, can a cat ever get lost? It is not very probable, but it can get scared by a loud noise, a stressful situation or can get carried away by prey and struggle to find its way back home.

Your cat might be trapped somewhere

Your cat’s curiosity may have led them inside a garage or garden shed and then got trapped inside. Cats and kittens like to find hidden places to take naps and rest. But how long can a cat go without food or water?

Just like humans, in any extreme situation, a healthy adult cat can go a couple of weeks without eating, while still being able to drink. However, it can only survive 3 days without waters. That is why you should not hesitate to contact your neighbours in case your cat goes missing. It might have gotten stuck somewhere.

What to do when your cat is not coming home?

red cat hidden between two chairs

If your cat is not coming home, do not hesitate to walk around your neighbourhood calling its name. Hearing your voice might remind your cat that a loving family and good food is waiting for them. If it is not responding to your calls, it has probably ventured further away. It is important to keep in mind that the earlier the search begins, the higher the chances of finding your cat.

Launching a “missing cat” alert

If a cat breaks its routine, it is important to report it. Notify your vet that your cat has gone missing, they will be on the lookout if someone brings a cat that might look like yours. Be sure to microchip your cat beforehand and update their data regularly. You can also let your local animal warden know that your cat has gone missing.

Putting up lost posters

It is also very important to let your neighbours and any passers-by know of your cat’s disappearance. Put up lost posters and hand out flyers with a picture of your cat, any distinctive signs, and your contact information.

Put up lost posters on electric polls, on your supermarket noticeboard and slip flyers in letterboxes. Do not forget to ask your neighbours to check their garage and garden shed, your cat might have gotten stuck in there.

Publishing on missing pet websites

Do not hesitate to publish a message on a social media group or a missing pet website. Websites like Animal Search UK specialise in missing cats cases and works with volunteers to help you reunite with your cat.

Facebook groups like Lost and Found Pets UK is full of animal-loving people and can be of great help to help you find your missing cat.

How to prevent your cat from running away ?

young Mainecoon cat waiting to play with a clicker

Spaying and neutering

A cat’s mating instinct is very strong. When another cat is in heat, your cat might want to get to them as quickly as possible. That is why you should consider spaying or neutering your cat. Once a female cat is spayed, she becomes more of a homebody and prefers staying with her owners. A male cat that is neutered becomes cuddlier and does not yearn to go out and meet females. It does not mean that your cat won’t want to go out anymore, but it might not try to constantly run away.

Clicker training

Clicker training is a training method that works well on cats. It consists of combining action, a click, and a treat as a reward. In other words, when you want the cat to come to the call of its name, all you have to do is click and give a reward when it looks at you. As soon as this step is integrated, you will click when he comes closer to you, and so on. With short but regular exercises, the cat will understand that when he comes to the call-back, he gets a reward. It is understood that a click is a mandatory reward. Learning the call-back with the clicker is very effective.

Using a GPS tracker

Attaching a GPS tracker to their collar or harness can give you, the owner, real peace of mind. A GPS tracker is light and small, and it is not uncomfortable for the cat. It is very useful for the owners to track their cat’s every move. And if the cat is not coming home, it is easier to trace their cat.

The tracker also has a call back option with an integrated clicker and when trained, your cat will come back each time its owner clicks it.

Can I consider not letting my cat outside ?

black and white cat lying in the sun

To prevent their cats from running away, some cat owners might prefer keeping their cats inside from outside dangers and dishonest people. This decision, even though going against a cat’s instinct, is sure to keep a cat safe.

What are the differences between an indoor and outdoor cat?

It is easier to keep a cat inside when you live in a flat. But it also depends on the breed. Some breeds like Persian cats, Russian cats, Ragdoll cats, or Birman cats are known to be homebodies.

A kitten that has been used to living inside might not be frustrated being kept indoors. They will grow up without missing the great outdoors as they have never experienced it.

It is different for outdoor cats as they feel freer and have been used to going outside. In that case, it might be harder to keep your cat inside. It is also not a matter of prohibiting your cat from going outside all of a sudden or you might get stuck with a cat crying and meowing all day at the door.

If you do not have a cat flap, it will be easier to stop your cat from going outside. Some cat flaps can be programmed, and you can block the opening during certain hours. At first, the cat may express its displeasure with a nagging cry, so it is important to hold on and not give in. They will eventually get used to a new routine, whether they like it or not.

Once your cat has gotten used to not go out at night, you can reduce its daytime outings by delaying its first stroll or calling them home early.

How to make an indoor cat happy?

In many cases, a cat that has gone missing has likely not been neutered. Keeping a neutered or spayed cat home will be easier and might prevent your cat from going after others in heat.

Brushing your cat and treating fleas is still very important even when your cat is not going outside. It is also important to give your indoor cat what they will find outside for their physical and mental wellbeing, such as:

  • Catnip to satisfy their need for nature. Catnip is also known to aid digestion and promote regurgitation of hairballs once ingested. A godsend when you know that cats swallow quite a bit of hair during grooming.
  • A clean and accessible litter.
  • Toys as well as playtime that mimics hunting. Even domesticated, cats still have a hunting instinct. Toys can vary from mice, pillows, and feathery toys.
  • A cat tree will allow your cat to get higher from the ground. They can also sharpen their claws on it, without damaging your furniture.
  • Hiding places where they can feel safe and not get disturbed.
  • Reduced food portions. Since your cat will not be exercising outside, it is important to watch what they eat.

Whether it has gone hunting, mating, or is lost, it is essential to not waste any time once you have realised your cat has gone missing. You should contact and notify local groups as well as wardens and neighbours. If your cat comes back, you will only have to notify everyone of its return. If it does not, you can maximise your chances of getting your cat back.

Neutering your animal is highly recommended to calm your cat down. A clicker and GPS tracker are also great tools to locate and bring back your cat quickly.

But if you are still too afraid to let your cat out, be sure to provide it and meet its different needs to assure its happiness, comfort, and health.