What to do if your cat goes missing

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There can be nothing more distressing than when your beloved feline goes astray. It's estimated that 100,000 cats go missing each year so we've put together an essential action plan to help bring your cat back home if she ever goes missing.

It’s natural for all kinds of alarming thoughts to race through your head about why your cat has gone missing. ‘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,’ says Inga MacKellar, APBC clinical animal behaviourist. Bad weather, like a sudden storm, may disturb their scent marking – which they use to trace their path – and leave your cat disorientated and lost. ‘Most cats have a good sense of direction and can also use visual recognition to find their way – so try not to stress immediately,’ she adds.

First steps

The waiting game can be tough, but take into account your cat’s character, daily habits and routine before panicking. ‘If she 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 her own clock and turns up irregularly needs more leeway before you worry that she is missing,’ says Inga. ‘If your cat is missing for two days, then it’s wise to start taking some positive action to find her; but if she rarely leaves home, you may want to start searching much sooner.’

Look around your cat’s usual territory and hangouts, as well as places she 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 she’s 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 her,’ Inga advises.

Don’t forget that, if you plan on offering a reward to be claimed back through your Petplan insurance, it’s important to contact us for prior approval. When submitting your claims form, you’ll need to show us a photo (or similar) of your poster advertising the reward and provide a receipt of the reward given, including the rewardee’s full name, address, phone number, email and their signature.

Contact animal shelters and vets

Your nearest animal rescue centres will have records of strays brought in and 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

‘I recommend that every cat should be microchipped. It’s not a tracking device, but rescue centres and veterinary practices have special scanners to immediately access your contact details on the chip, making it much easier for you to be reunited,’ says Inga. 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 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, Twitter or Instagram, and asking them to repost to spread the message, you can 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. ‘Cats have been known to disappear for months or even years, and then just turn up out of the blue – so don’t automatically assume the worst,’ Inga says.

Home sweet home

‘You can’t control exactly where your cat ventures, but you can encourage her to feel content and settled in her home, and keen to stay put and return after going out,’ explains Inga. ‘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 she has extra-safe places to get away from it all. Her most homely scent will be on her 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 her happy at home.’

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 her location history to real time tracking and virtual fencing, whereby you’ll receive an alert on your phone should she 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.

Case study: lost and found!

Claire Stallard, from the Blue Cross, reveals how she was prompted to buy a tracking device after her cat went missing.

‘Our cat, Keiko, went missing for two nights. We were so distraught we couldn’t sleep, and spent hours searching the area morning and night – knocking on doors and even looking in people’s windows, to see if he had swapped owners for some reason. We eventually found him on the second morning in a car park, bedraggled and with one claw ripped out. There had been a massive storm, and we think he just became disoriented. I didn’t think it was fair to stop him going out, so we bought a cat tracker for peace of mind. It’s a small, lightweight radio tracking device that attaches to your cat’s collar and makes a beeping noise from the direction they’re in. Sure enough, he did go missing again – but, thankfully, we found him more easily this time.’

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