How to find your missing cat

It can be incredibly distressing when your beloved cat goes astray. It’s estimated that 100,000 cats go missing in the UK every year, which is why we’ve put together everything you need to know to help you bring your cat home safe and sound.

If your cat has gone missing it’s only natural to be distressed, but it’s important to remember that it can be part of their natural behaviour. Animal behaviourist Inga MacKellar says, “cats are very territorial, and usually stay within their own patch – but if they wander onto another cat’s patch, they may be chased off and lose their bearings. They’re naturally curious creatures and can get stuck up trees or on roof tops, or accidentally locked in a shed or garage they’re exploring.”

Bad weather like a sudden storm, may also disturb your cat’s scent marking – which they use to trace their path – and leave them disorientated and lost. However, most cats have a good sense of direction and can also use visual recognition to find their way – so try not to stress immediately.

First steps

The waiting game can be tough, but take into account your cat’s character, daily habits and routine before panicking. “If your cat usually sticks to a pretty regular routine but fails to make an appearance for two meals in a row, then you may have reason to be concerned. But a cat that lives by its own clock and turns up irregularly needs more leeway before you worry that they’re missing,” says Inga. “If your cat is missing for two days, then it’s wise to start taking some positive action to find them; but if your cat rarely leaves home, you may want to start searching much sooner.”

Look around your cat’s usual territory and hangouts, as well as places they could be stuck or trapped. And tell any regulars in your area – your neighbours, the postman or local shop assistant – that your cat is missing. If you've recently moved home, you could alert people near your old address in case they’ve wandered back there.”

You could also pin a simple flyer with a photo of your cat and contact details in prominent positions and post it through other nearby houses, asking if they have seen them.

Don’t forget, Petplan’s cat insurance can help you cover the costs of printing flyers, advertising that your pet is lost and a reward as we want to help reunite you with your pet as soon as possible. To do this, contact us to get your claim approved. For more information, check your policy documents to find out what your cat is covered for.

Contact animal shelters and vets

Your nearest animal rescue centres will have records of strays brought in and will be able to check your cat’s details against these. Ring your local veterinary practice too, and any other vets in the area where a lost cat may be taken if it’s been harmed in any way. If you’ve recently moved, don’t forget to notify your previous vet and any vets between the two areas.

How to find a lost cat with a microchip

Whilst it’s not a legal requirement for your cat to be microchipped experts recommend that every cat should be. A microchip is not a tracking device, but rescue centres and veterinary practices have special scanners which enable them to immediately access your contact details on the chip, making it much easier for you to be reunited. Because it allows vets to easily access your contact details it also means your pet can be treated much more quickly in the event that they are injured; whilst vets can administer pain relief to your pet, they aren’t able to perform treatments or surgeries without consulting you first.

Depending on their breed, cats can be microchipped from the age of 10 weeks; your vet will be able to confirm the best time for your cat to have theirs done. It’s a quick and simple procedure, and won’t hurt your pet or negatively impact their health in any way. The procedure usually costs between £10-20, depending on your vet’s set charge. However, some animal charities do offer free microchipping – so you could look into whether this is an option near you, too.

You can also report your lost cat to the microchipping company too, so they can check their database. As cats often go missing after their owner moves to a new house, don’t forget to notify the microchipping company of your change of address, so they have the correct details on record.

Share the word online

Social media can be a great search tool. As well as posting to your friends and followers on Facebook, X or Instagram, and asking them to repost to spread the message, you can also search for relevant local missing pet Facebook groups where you can post your cat’s picture and details.

Sending out a group WhatsApp to local friends, family and colleagues will also help spread the word and may give you some good leads. You could also use a local animal forum to post an appeal, or one of the animal ‘lost and found’ websites that will circulate your cat’s details. Pets Located, for example, for a small fee, will match information about your cat to similar felines registered on their database, any time of day or night.

Home sweet home

Whilst you can’t control exactly where your cat ventures, you can encourage them to feel content and settled at home, and keen to stay put and return after going out. Changes at home, like noisy building works, another cat or dog moving in close by, or even a new baby in the home, can stress cats out and encourage them to stray. If you’re aware of these triggers you can make sure your cat has extra-safe places to get away from it all. A cat’s most homely scent will be on their bedding, so don’t wash this too often. Use a pheromone plug or spray around doorways and entrances to the home to help boost cat-friendly smells. Plenty of stimulation and activities, along with regular play sessions with you and food-based toys, will help keep your pet happy at home too.

Pet trackers

There are two main types of feline tracker device that can help ease your worries and assist in finding a lost cat: those that work through radio frequency, and devices that rely on GPS. Always check that the tag is not too bulky, is suitable for all weather, and can be attached to a breakaway cat collar.

A radio frequency-operated tracker can work when there’s no mobile signal, and these tend to have smaller tags than GPS trackers. With a range of around 120 metres, it sends audio beeps and flashing lights to a small handset, clearly indicating the direction your cat is in. Cost-wise, you just pay a one-off price for the tracker tag and handset – ranging from around £45 to £100, depending on the brand.

Meanwhile, GPS trackers can give much more high-tech detail on where your cat is and what they’re up to – from their location history to real time tracking and virtual fencing, whereby you’ll receive an alert on your phone should your cat stray beyond a specific area. Watch out for larger, more intrusive tags or collars and batteries, which need replacing quite frequently. You’ll also have ongoing monthly or annual operational costs, which can become pricey – up to £50 a year, as well as any up-front purchase price.

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