Some of the most effective methods for finding an escaped indoor cat include: security cameras, trail cameras, humane cat traps, physical searches, search dogs, flyers distributed door-to-door and well-designed posters. I recommend using all these techniques, but if I could only use one tool, I would use security cameras.
Continue reading to learn:
- Why security cameras are so effective for finding escaped indoor cats
- My favorite cameras and those used by other pet detectives
- Tips for setting up security cameras to maximize the chances of getting your cat on camera
- How to catch your cat after getting them on camera
Why Security Cameras are so Effective
- Many escaped indoor cats will return home but they rarely meow at the door or wait to be found
- Returning home is most common in the middle of the night
- Any human activity outside can easily scare the lost cat away
- Some cats return home soon but others take days to weeks to first appear
When an indoor cat escapes outside they often enter "Survival Mode" where they hide in silence (even when they hear the calls of their family) and often only come out at night. This behavior can make it seem like they have vanished and zero sightings for a week or longer are not uncommon. Sadly many people give up assuming that their cat is no longer around. However, if you use effective search methods, the recovery rate for lost indoor cats is high (60-80%).
Escaped indoor cats will often try to return home, but usually in the middle of the night. My past research showed that 30% of indoor cats attempted to return home, but with the increased use of security cameras, I now suspect that number is closer to 50% or higher. (I will be updating my case statistics soon and will publish the actual number.)
Some cats attempt to return home as early as the first night, but nights 4 - 7 are most common. Other cats may take as long as 10 days to 2 weeks to first show up. And some cats are still around and attempting to return home months later. For this reason, I recommend putting up security cameras as soon as possible and keeping them up for at least two months.
Unfortunately, any human activity outside can prevent the lost cat from coming home or scare them away. Many people unwittingly sabotage finding their lost cat by searching outside all night long often night after night. Since most indoor cats are in Survival Mode, a security camera combined with a "House Trap" or humane cat trap is most effective.
Selecting a Security Camera
I recommend getting outdoor cameras that are infrared, water resistant, and motion activated. Wireless wifi cameras are often easiest to set up, but only work within your wifi range. Cellular security cameras are another option, but are more expensive and require a monthly service plan. In either case, you want a camera that will record video and send motion notifications to your phone.
My Favorite Security Cameras
The Blink cameras are my favorite security cameras. I have used the Blink XT and XT2 cameras since 2019, and I just purchased the Blink Outdoor. They work with the Blink App, which will send a notification to your phone when any motion is detected. They also offer a live video feed on request.
In my lost pet recovery business I usually use at least 2 Blink cameras around the house. Then I use at least one trail camera (preferably cellular) to monitor the yard and/or for checking sightings away from home. For catching the lost cat, I usually use either a House Trap and/or humane cat trap.
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The Blink Outdoor cameras are available on Amazon.com and Best Buy. I also really like these flexible twist mounts that allow easy installation in a variety of locations. If you are on a tight budget, the Wyze Cam v3 is another option. This camera is wired, but still weather resistant.
Wyze Cam v3
Other security cameras preferred by some pet detectives include Arlo and Reolink. Both of these offer wifi and cellular options.
Tips on Using Security Cameras
- Security cameras work best when placed above and angled down. This way they are less likely to scare your cat when the camera comes on.
- If monitoring an entrance, make sure that you can clearly see the steps and/or doorway. Some cats will sneak along the house to the entrance so you may miss them if the camera is facing too far outwards.
- Place one camera near the point of escape. I recommend getting at least two cameras. Other good locations are the door most frequently used by everyone. This will have the most scent. Or a back door to a deck or porch. This is often a quieter location with less human activity.
- Monitoring the garage door is another option. If left open a foot or so, many cats will enter the safety of the garage. This method works best with a humane trap in the garage or a door open into the house. Don't close the garage door as a trap! This rarely works and your cat could be injured or killed.
- Cameras can also be used to monitor a humane trap. Monitoring a humane trap makes trapping safer and increases your chances of successfully catching your cat.
- Turn off all outdoor lights including motion activated lights. Most indoor cats prefer to travel in the dark.
- Make sure that the camera is set to a high enough sensitivity that it will pick up a cat-sized animal. I find a sensitivity of 7 or higher works well on Blink cameras, but this may vary based on temperature and weather. I recommend testing yours once set up.
- Security cameras are less likely to detect movement if it comes head on. Angle your camera across the entrance for the greatest chance of detection.
Example of Effective Camera Set Up
This Blink camera is attached below a security light using a flexible twist mount. The camera covers the sidewalk, stairs and landing to get the best chance of catching the escaped indoor cat on their return.
How to Catch your Cat with a Camera
Just knowing that your cat is around is great, but if you rush outside when you see your cat, you will likely scare them away. Some people have luck by slowly opening the door, sitting down and using calming signals to attract their cat.
However, many cats will run away as soon as the door is opened. Leaving the door open is often the most effective method to quickly catch an escaped indoor cat. Of course, don't do this unless it is safe to do so and you won't risk losing any other pets. This method is even more effective if you design a House Trap where you can close the door remotely after your cat has entered. If you do this, be sure to test the lag time on the video. You want to be 100% sure that your cat is far enough inside before attempting to close the door.
If you can't leave your door open, a humane cat trap or drop trap are your best options. Make sure that you learn how to safely and effectively use a humane cat trap. For additional help, check out the resources available in the Lost Pet Research Store.