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Posted By : PawBoost
Guide to Lost Cat Behavior: Expert Advice and FAQs

Last Updated on July 31, 2023

Thanks to Kat Albrecht and the Missing Animal Response Network for permission to use the following excellent material from her book, “Pet Tracker: The Amazing Story of Rachel the K9 Pet Detective” and her web site www.missinganimalresponse.com.

A Quick Guide to Lost and Stray Cat Behavior

When a cat becomes “lost,” various factors influence its behavior. Be sure to take the following into consideration:

Outdoor Cats:

Cats are territorial. When an outdoor-access cat suddenly vanishes, it means that SOMETHING HAS HAPPENED to that cat to interrupt its normal behavior of coming home. The disappearance could mean that the cat is injured, trapped, or deceased within its territory. Or perhaps the cat was transported out of the area—either intentionally (by an irate neighbor who trapped the cat) or unintentionally (by the cat climbing into an opened parked van). Possibly the cat was displaced into unfamiliar territory—something as simple as being chased by a dog several houses away but in an area that the cat is not familiar with, causing it to panic and hide in silence. The investigative question when an outdoor-access cat disappears is: WHAT HAPPENED TO THE CAT?

Photo Credit: Matheus Guimaraes via Pexels

Indoor Cats:

The territory for an indoor-only cat is the inside of the home where it lives. When an indoor-only cat escapes outdoors, it is “displaced” into unfamiliar territory. Usually they will look for the first place that will offer concealment and protection. Their instinctive response is to HIDE IN SILENCE because that is their primary protection from predators. How long they remain in that hiding place and what they do from there is dependant upon their temperament. The investigative question when an indoor-only cat escapes outdoors is: WHERE IS THE CAT HIDING?

Feline Temperaments That Influence Distances Traveled:

Temperament influences actions. How a cat behaves when in its normal territory will influence how it behaves when it becomes “lost” or displaced into unfamiliar territory. In addition to posting flyers and checking the cages of local shelters, encourage cat owners to develop a search strategy based on the specific behavior of their cat. Here are guidelines to use:

    These are gregarious cats that get into trouble easily, run to the door to greet a stranger, and are not easily afraid of anything. When displaced, these cats might initially hide but then they will most likely TRAVEL. Strategy for recovery should be to place florescent posters within at least a five block radius. Also, interview neighbors in a door-to-door search, thoroughly searching possible hiding places in yards of houses and other areas within a close proximity to the escape point. Do not assume that the cat will come when you call!

Photo Credit: Skitterphoto via Pexels

    These aloof cats don’t seem to care much about people. When a stranger comes in, they stand back and watch. When displaced they will likely initially hide, but eventually they will break cover and come back to the door, meow, or possibly travel. Strategy should be to search hiding places nearby, interview neighbors door-to-door and search their yards. If these efforts do not produce results, consider setting a baited humane trap.

Photo Credit: Tim Savage via Pexels

    These cats are generally stable but they show occasional shyness. They like people but when a stranger comes to the door, they dart and hide. Some of these cats peek around the corner and eventually come out to investigate. When displaced, they will likely immediately hide in fear. If not pushed (scared off) from their hiding place, they will typically return to the point where they escaped from or they will meow when the owner comes to look for them. This behavior typically is observed either within the first two days (after the cat has built up confidence) or not until seven to ten days later when their hunger or thirst has reached a point where they will respond. Strategy would be to conduct a tightly focused search in neighbors’ yards and to set baited humane traps.

Photo Credit: Bo Salem-Nieuwenhuizen via Pexels

    Xenophobia means “fear or hatred of things strange or foreign.” Xenophobic cats are afraid of EVERYTHING that is new or unfamiliar. Their fearful behavior is hardwired into their character; it is caused by genetics and/or kittenhood experiences (nature or nurture). These cats will hide when a stranger comes into their home, and they typically will not come out until well after the company has left. They do not do well with human contact (being held, petted, etc.) and they are easily disturbed by any change in their environment. When displaced, they bolt and then HIDE IN SILENCE. They tend to remain in the same hiding place and become almost catatonic, immobilized with fear. When cats are found by someone other than their owners, they are typically mistaken as being untamed or “feral.” The primary strategy to recover these cats would be to set baited humane traps. Xenophobic cats that become “lost” are routinely absorbed into the feral cat population.

Photo Credit: Pixabay via Pexels

Owner Behaviors That Create Problems:

Cat owners often behave in ways that actually inhibit their chances of finding their lost cat. They develop “tunnel vision” and fail to find their cat because they focus on wrong theories. They experience “grief avoidance” and quickly give up their search effort. They feel helpless and alone, often discouraged by others who rebuke them and tell them “it was just a cat” and “you’ll never find your cat.” But one of the biggest problems is that cat owners typically focus their search efforts by posting lost cat flyers and by searching the cages at the local shelter. Although these techniques are important and should not be overlooked, the primary technique to recover a missing cat should be to obtain permission from all neighbors to enter their yards and conduct an aggressive, physical search for the missing cat (and to set baited humane traps there when necessary). Simply asking a neighbor to “look” for the lost cat is not sufficient! Neighbors are not going to crawl around on their bellies under their decks or houses to search for someone else’s lost cat!

Rescuer Behaviors That Create Problems:

One of the most tragic misinterpretations of feline behavior occurs when rescuers observe a cat with a xenophobic temperament and assume, based on the fearful behavior, that the cat is an untamed “feral.” While it is true that feral, untamed cats that are unaccustomed to human contact will hiss, spit, twirl, lunge, and urinate when humanely trapped, this “wild animal” behavior is also common in cats who have xenophobic temperaments! We know this because we have talked to owners of lost xenophobic cats that had to be humanely trapped in order to be recovered; the owners verified that their cats exhibited wild behavior while in the humane trap. These behaviors are a reflection of a fearful TEMPERAMENT, not a lack of TAMENESS. Shelter and TNR workers should scan all “feral” cats for microchips and conduct research (check Classifieds, lost cat reports, etc.) to determine if the new “feral” is actually someone’s xenophobic pet cat that escaped outdoors, perhaps several weeks or months before it was found.

Here is one final tip drawn from Kat Albrecht ’s web site, Missing Animal Response Network:

Digital Wildlife Cameras

A relatively newer technique that MPP recommends is the use of digital wildlife cameras combined with feeding stations, especially in cases where a cat is displaced in an apartment complex where there are zillions of cats, in areas where there are many raccoons, or in other situations where a humane trap would be difficult to use. The concept is setting out food with a wildlife camera that will snap photos of all the animals that eat that food so that when you come back the next morning, you can pull the SD card, put it in your computer, and see photos of raccoon, raccoon, raccoon, CALICO!! THERE IS MY CAT!! From that point you could work to strategically humanely trap your cat while avoiding the raccoons and other cats. This is something that MPP could consult with you about if you decide to pursue this technique. We recommend infrared cameras that does not flash (because then no one sees them and they are not likely to be stolen).


  • I thought I knew everything, but I learned a ton from this article. We have four cats, live in a safe quiet neighborhood (on a cul de sac with hospital grounds behind us) and we let them out for about an hour toward the middle of the day, and round them up with food in the afternoon. They are always kept in at night. ( All of them are friendly and interested in people.) We did learn that an exploring cat can get trapped. We found our cat Foxy imprisoned behind a high walled courtyard at the home of a woman who was in assisted living. This was right across the alley from our house–so we had to learn to look for her. We learned to search for her thanks to Missingpetpartnership.org. Now our kitties are getting middle-aged so they go out for a bit and lounge around the pool. They know when they get their Fancy Feast that they are now in for the day.

  • Is it possible to find my. At after 2 years seeing that i am aware he was in an area around our home which is in the woods and we ha e seen him as close to 10 feet in front of us but did not come ro us yet took off about 100 meters turned arou d and looked at us. I am positive this was him. Now i went back to this area and someone told me he is not around anymore. What can i do now. thank you

    • Good info and I loved “raccoon, raccoon, raccoon, CALICO!!!” 😂

    • I once found my missing cat after 2 years. Collar was replaced and everything (still with original ID tags). She’d been begging for food around a neighborhood 10 blocks away, yet no one called the number on the tag until they did 2 years later.

  • Having had the unfortunate experience of having my cat escape from the house, the points listed in the articles are so helpful. Thank you.


  • Hi. Excellent article. Unfortunately, not much one can do if cats are stolen, harmed criminally, or relocated by someone as you mentioned in the article, with ill intent. Such is my neighborhood. 3 cats missing all at the same time, 1 being the neighbor’s. Her cat was found by someone. Her cat was in this man’s yard. He lives 12 miles away. My cat & other cat (of 3), still missing! Threats were made to harm my cats, which I did report. Law enforcement refuses to follow up unless there is evidence. For them, it’s a “he said, she said” issue. Thank you for your input. It certainly is helpful. Pray for my LAR to return, in addition to all the animals out there needing shelter & love.

    • Special blessings and thanks I pray for each of you helping in our campaign to find your cat. I fear this may have happened to mine too. Help us all to ask the good Lord Jesus for prayers till all of our displaced for people make it bad k to their rightful homes and all the states found find loving gentle kind soles to adopt them. In, Jesus name I pray for forgiveness of our sins, do you can hear my prayers, this one especially as we’re ate all praying together for the safe reunion edith or lost for babies.

  • In 8/6/2018 our cat Zeke went outside for a usual walk but never came back since. I posted adds, flyers, go around the neighborhood, animal shelters, online adds and facebook also, Zeke has a microchip nothing worked. I still think of him every day I love this cat so much.

    • ty very helpful i do hope my tiger comes home i miss him so much. i worry and prey everyday for him my now ex boss his girlfriend sent me photos saying she killed my cat tiger i went to police and they just said i have to go to my local court and apply for an avo and thats fine but firstly that dosnt bring tiger home to me if it is him i cant bring myself to look at the photo propley it makes me to upset aswell as i feel sick just the thought of it been my baby tiger. and secoundly why wouldnt the police recommend for her to seek help as its not normal for someone to kill a cat or any animal for that matter.

    • Don’t give up hope! Pray that you & Zeke are reunited.🙏🏻💕

    • I definitely understand how you feel. My Wolfy girl is still missing, since 09/03/2020. A piece of my heart is gone until the day she comes home. I’m so sorry for your cat not coming home , I hope and pray that one day Zeke will find the way home. Never give up cuz you just never know…

  • My blue Russian loved me and knew his territory but he left and never returned I’m so broken hearted his name was lil boy it’s a mystery I walked around he was gone I miss him

  • My grey/brown striped tabby has been lost for a little over a month now and she still hasn’t returned. I let her out when it begins to get dark and call for her to come back around midnight, before I go to sleep. Sometimes, she doesn’t come home at night so it’s not unusual for her to come back the next day, but she always comes back by the following day. I really hope she’s safe, but my house is also very close to a creek and clearing where there have been bobcat and coyote sightings. She’s gotten in a few.. squabbles(?) with other cats before but she’s never been very aggressive, even when the other cat tries to attack her, because she just tries to run away. It could have been that someone else from my neighborhood took her in and haven’t gone to check her microchip, but knowing my neighbors, if I haven’t heard about my cat by now, if any of them have her, they don’t know anything about microchips or just can’t be bothered to tell someone about it.

    My cat and I are fairly close: She sometimes walks with me in the evenings and usually comes to me when I call for her. However, when we are walking together, if she and I and walking side by side and she is slightly ahead of me, I have to keep talking to her or else she seems to forget I’m there, sees me behind her and thinks I’m someone else, and runs away from me at full speed. I’ve never gotten this checked out so I’m not sure whether this is normal. I’m concerned about her ability to survive in the wild because of this and I hope she is at least being taken care of by someone else.

    • I lost my precious, Snuggy, about 4 years ago on Christmas day, when he snuck out behind me while I was investigating a strange noise. I didn’t even miss him until the next morning. I did everything you’re supposed to do…flyers phone calls to local animal rescues and hospitals. animal control in my city…everything. My friend and I went door to door and did hear of sightings. Not to far away, was a Dunn Brothers that would protect the nearby sewer cats. I thought he must have started running with them. Well, about a year later, I moved in with my son about two miles away. No, we didn’t find him when we moved, but one about a year after that, my son was on Facebook and friended a person who lived in my old neighborhood. She was telling him about this stray cat that she’s been feeding from time to to time. Okay, not only is she feeding him, but she was told the cat belonged to a guy who lived nearby. When my son went to check it out, ( you guessed it) the cat turned out to be Snuggy. We were going to talk to this guy, but before we could, he suddenly moved…with Snuggy. His girlfriend had kicked him out and, because she didn’t really know us, wasn’t going to give us his number. She did say that he …”adored his cat” Knowing Snuggy is loved helps me cope with his loss. Don’t give up.

  • We had Sushi, a Tortuous shell Calico, for only 2 months and she still would hide under the bed, only coming out at night. One night, I was out on the deck and when I was closing the door, I saw those two little eyes …she had followed me out there. When I went to rangle her back in, she turned and jumped off the deck. A six foot leap. It’s been over two months now, and no one has seen her. She has that coloring that makes her appear to be a pile of leaves. We have done everything you’re supposed to do and she is chipped. The article does give me hope and I’m relieved to know she has a xenophobic temperament as opposed to being feral. Thank you so much

    • To Laurel, don’t give up hope and don’t stop looking, my calico indoor cat did the same thing to me only six months after I adopted her, I went to grab something I left on the stairs outside not realizing she was on a chair under the kitchen table and she immediately bolted out the door. I sometimes wish I hadn’t gotten so nervous and chased her because it was just getting dark outside. I did everything the article tells you to do and she was spotted about ten streets over and I kept getting calls from my fliers saying she was in their yard and I’d get there in two minutes and till this day I still don’t know why but she would run from me, I searched every day and mostly at night because it seemed like that’s when she was being spotted and then after awhile I never got any more calls and I never saw her when I went looking and after six months I figured that someone must’ve taken her and I prayed she was just happy, then a next door neighbor knocked on my door and said I could’ve sworn I saw your cat on our street today so I immediately started up with the humane trap and I figured I’d make new fliers and put them in the direction I hadn’t before and within a day I got a call from a couple of streets over that every day they saw my cat in their apartment parking lot dumpster so I grabbed my bag of treats and I ran over and sure enough it was my baby, but as I tried to get closer to her she ran and as luck would have it she ran right through our backyard which had an old shed with a hole in it, by the way I checked that old shed every time I was in the backyard but she must’ve seen it when she was running from me. I didn’t want to scare her so I just put food near the shed and would get the bowls the next day and do it again, this went on for another month and it was almost December and very cold out and she was so close but so far, but as time went by she started coming out of the shed in the yard and start meowing when she wanted food but would run away from me so I started putting it closer and closer to the house and I would talk to her out the window as she ate and eventually she started getting very comfortable so I put her food in the hallway of the door she ran out of and I watched from the window and when she stepped into the hallway to eat I ran out the front door around to the back and slammed the door shut, she immediately jumped in the air trying to get out but I came in the front door and I opened the kitchen door and she walked in like she had never been missing for a solid eight months. I took her to the vet and thank God she didn’t have anything wrong with her but she slept on my bed for the first week about 15 hours a day, I think she probably slept with one eye open while she was lost. My long story was just meant to tell you to never give up because I really thought after six months with no calls or anyone spotting her that I’d never see her again but cats thank God have a way of surviving and even though she had never been outside before all it took was a sniff of her house and she stuck around. I think if I hadn’t decided to go into a totally different direction with my fliers I wouldn’t have gotten her back but I concentrated on the area she first went which was over a quarter of a mile away so I never thought she’d back track this way. I was lucky and I hope that everyone with a lost pet doesn’t give up hope, they are usually closer than you think. Good Luck

      • I am exactly where you were. My cat has been missing for two months with some possible sightings. I check out every sighting and we have found a cat that looks almost identical which makes it so frustrating. The markings on the “twin” are somewhat different, so we are able to see that it’s not our cat, but it’s difficult for anyone else because they are so similar. Your story and those of others give me hope. Thank you for posting!

  • Larry has been gone or almost a month now. He is neutered and mainly an Indoor cat He don’t like stranger’s and will only come to me. He was last seen on the back porch. We didn’t know he was missing until the next day. He has gotten out before but has usually been found in the neighbor’s backyard or has just come home on his own after about 3 days. I don’t know what to do . I have called for him late at night and even put his litter box outside. No sign of him. He is 9 years old and I have had him since he was 4 weeks old. I am at a loss.

    • Hi, my name is Tonnie. I feel your pain, because I lost my cat which was also a boy in May around memorial day.I let him out around about after10 pm and havent seen him since. I regret not going out behind him that night like I usually do. I was extra tired and had the back porch door open for him to come back in, and he usually do. I was resting while waiting for him. I feel your pain of having lost your cat, after you raised him at the early age of 4 weeks old. My cat was about the same age as yours when I raised him too. I bottled fed him as a kitten. I hope the lord provided a good home for both your cat and mine. I just pray that the both of them did not die a horrible death out un the wild. My email is tonettafrancis @aol.com and my conract is:7274603860, if you dont feel comfortable talking, disregard my contact, and just email. I just miss my cat si much I cry and blame myself for him not returning back in. I wasnt there to protect him. I will continue to pray for bith of our babies. God bless.🙏

    • I’m so sorry about your cat! I went to fl last Tuesday and came home to my sweetheart being gone usually he gets out I call him he’s right to me this time is different i had to make flyers search and I cannot find him anywhere I’m so heartbroken I pray nobody stole him and he just comes running to me one morning or when I get off work because I’m so hurt I can’t think straight

  • My Bengal mix, Henry was born to a feral barn cat, and spent the first seven months of his life living as a member of that colony before coming home to live with me in the city. So, I always took him outside in his harness and leash for about 10 or 15 minutes every few days or so. I had done that for nearly four years without issue. But, on August 17th of this year, Henry got spooked by a car coming up the alley, and took off so quickly that I lost grip of both his harness and leash, and my cane. I immediately went in the direction he was headed, thinking he would stop on the patio, as he did the one time before when he got loose from his harness. But, this time he was gone, and shortly after that bands of rain and thunder came through the area.

    Since I am legally blind, I got my son to help me look, and ask my next door neighbor, who just happened to be outside at the time to help as well. But, none of us could see him, or the bright green harness and leash he was wearing. So, I called Animal Control. The warden who responded couldn’t find him either. So, we set up a gumane trap for ten days. In that time, to stray cats, one feral kitten, and a skunk we’re trapped.

    But, there were still no signs of my Henry – that is, until three weeks had passed, and I saw a strange “brownish” blob in the yard when I pulled back my bedroom curtain. Upon closer examination of this “new” object in the yard, I realized it was Henry’s bright red clump of yarn, that had I had set out on some bedding three weeks earlier.

    That clump hadn’t moved from that bedding for three weeks. So, I was confident that it must have been Henry who moved it. And, he was probably trying to get back inside, and had gone to my bedroom window on the opposite side of the house, because no one heard his cries.

    He has never been a very loud meower. But, he sure did scream at the top of his lungs at about midnight two weeks later, when my son and I we’re sitting out on the deck near the bedding, talking.

    It took a few minutes to get him, because he was scared, and half wanted to run. But, he did finally walk over to me. Once inside, he did run and hide and cry out under my bed for a few minutes. But, quickly realized he was safe and in the house again, and walked right over to me, asking to be picked up.

    At that point, I took him to bed, but only Henry got any sleep. And, he didn’t get up for fourteen hours. Then, he came straight back to me again. We stayed on the couch and bed together for the better part of the next four days, because every time I got out of his sight, he cried.

    In the nearly two weeks since he’s been back home, I have gone out twice. Each time he cried out for me. But, that’s not unusual. He’s done that since he was seven month old. What’s different now is how much more mournful his cries are. But, I can’t blame him, considering how scary it was for those five weeks outside.

    But, what surprises me even more is how quickly he accepted that my 18-year-old tuxedo, Maddie wasn’t here when he got back. She passed away a week before he returned.

    That, and Henry’s absence seemed to please my roommate (and friend of 39 years). He even had the audacity to say, “obviously, Henry does not want to come back inside,” two days after he had become displaced. But, I’ve been owned by cats for nearly fifty-two years (my whole life). So, I knew my little buddy would prove him wrong – even if the cold weather had to set in first.

  • My baby girl, Posey has been missing since 10/8/19. She’s indoor only and got spooked by something, got out of her harness and ran as fast as I’ve ever seen an animal run. I feel like I’ve been doing everything to find her. She tends to hide, so I’ve been checking around my block the most, but no sightings of her. The neighbors have been kind and they’re trying to help. I get calls and texts about possible sightings, but they’re never her. When I go out looking, the neighbor cats always find me, so I feel like if she was out she might find me too. Thinking someone might have her and they don’t realize she has a home. Guess I was really just looking for some support and any other suggestions. About to start offering a reward on the flyers I have up in the area to see if that makes a difference. Not giving up hope, but this is definitely one of the hardest things I’ve had to deal with.

  • We are missing a cat named. Mac we lost him in January 16th 2018 if you see him that you will not because he’s dead 💀

  • I can’t believe how many cats are lost, I lost one years ago and learned the lesson that cats do not need to go out–there are far too many dangers and after a while, their entire routine is inside. There are some very important things when your cat is lost, all pets must be micro chipped, dog or cat, indoor or going out, indoors is the only safe way that they are assured to be safe. If your cat does become lost, the sooner you intently search and put out the flyers, etc, the more likely you are to find it. People don’t realize a cat is lost unless they see the flyer with all the info. They seem to become afraid when lost and not even recognize their owner. Good luck with your searches.

  • After four weeks the new owners released the two 5 month kittens given to her in late November. I followed the experts advice, namely that they are within 500 feet of the release sight. Along the way, and because I plastered LOST posters, and followed up on every lead and the generous offer of a neighbor to place traps on her property, I was able to catch both littens within a week once they were spotted. The best advice I received was not to give up. It’s been a harsh winter and I am SO GRATEFUL that they are safe.

  • My cat molly went missing when i was in hospital.I left my son to feed her but she just vanished.Its been three months and still no sign of her.I am so upset ive had her eight years but didnt have her chipped.She is black and white and very nervous.

  • Terrell L'Estrange

    June 7, 2021 at 6:16 AM

    Thanks, Terrell L’Estrange for pawboost.com

  • I’ve been reading all of your articles and they’re highly informative. My Siamese cat Jack,, neutered and chipped, hasn’t come home since July 25, two days ago–but he’s never done this before. I’m going to do everything this article recommends to get him home. Yes, thanks Pawboost. I’m really hoping my post on your site connects me to him. Prayin’.

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