Maintaining a Lost Cat Search

During the first week after your cat goes missing, there is A LOT of work that goes into the search.  If after this time, you have not found your cat, you may be feeling frustrated or hopeless.  Try to keep in mind that cats are incredible survivors and there is a very good chance that your cat is alive out there somewhere.  The biggest challenge with a lost cat is getting people to pay attention and call you if they see your cat.  After the first week missing, advertising (primarily posters and flyers) is the most effective method to bring your cat home.    

Microchip

If your cat has a microchip, make sure that your chip stays registered and your contact information is kept up-to-date.  Some cats are found with microchips months or even years after they go missing.  If you end up with a long-term search, make sure to check and update this information periodically (at least once a year).  I would recommend registering the chip with several registries, especially if you have an Avid microchip.  I recommend using the Found Animals Registry, which is free, and/or Home Again.  Any microchip can be registered on either site.  Home Again charges a small registration fee and recommends (but does not require) joining their membership services.  

Posters

Make sure that your existing posters stay up.  Sometimes it can take a long time to get a sighting of your cat even when they are as close as ¼ mile.  I’ve had a few where the first sighting was not until 5-6 weeks, but once there was a sighting, the cat was quickly found.  

Update your Posters

Replace posters periodically.  If your posters look old and ratty, people may assume that your cat is long gone or that your cat is found and you forgot to take them down.  Consider making changes to your design to catch people’s attention:

  • Change wording from “Lost” to “Still Missing”
  • Change colors of poster board
  • Change photos on the poster
  • Change the size of your posters – bigger is usually better, but if cost is an issue and/or if your posters are being taken down, consider switching to a 8 1/2 x 11 poster.  If designed effectively these can still work in many places.  
  • Add a reward

Add a Reward

A reward can increase people’s interest in looking for your missing cat.  You will get more interest if you specify an actual reward amount.  Be sure to include the words “Reward for information leading to return” if you want people to call with just a sighting and not think that they have to actually have your cat in order to get the reward.

Expand your Poster Area

Sometimes no sightings mean that your cat is now outside of the search/poster area.  Consider expanding your poster area over time.  In an urban/suburban area, you want to expand to at least 1 mile for an indoor-only cat and 3 miles for a displaced or lost outdoor-access cat.  In a rural area, you may want to expand to as many as 5 miles.  If there is any chance that your cat might exhibit homing behavior, continue to expand posters along this route even if it is ten miles or more away from where they went missing.  

Flyers

Keep flyers up at local businesses and places where people walk.  Update these as you did with posters.  Consider expanding to more stores or other locations where many people visit such as drive-thru coffee or fast food establishments. 

Get creative!  Take advantage of local events such as tag sales or fairs.  Ask permission to put out a stack of flyers on an existing table, distribute flyers yourself by hand or put them under windshield wipers on cars.  If trick-or-treating still takes place in your community, pass out lost cat flyers with your candy.  If you are going to print off a lot of flyers, you might consider reducing them to 1/2 sheet or 1/4 sheet of paper (as long as they are still easily readable).  Other people create lost pet business cards to hand out.  

If you are missing an indoor-only cat or your cat was lost from an unfamiliar location, there is a greater chance that they are still nearby (often within 1/4 mile), but they may not be seen frequently.  In this case, I would recommend redistributing flyers to all homes within at least 1/4 mile (urban or suburban) up to 1 mile (rural area).  Do this sometime between 2-4 weeks after your cat has been missing.  

Online Postings and Lost Pet Databases

Consider expanding the number of sites where your cat is listed and make sure to repost on popular or local sites.

Local Sites

Craigslist – Repost your lost cat weekly on craigslist under Pets and Lost & Found.  On a long-term search, you might change to bi-weekly or even monthly depending on the volume of postings on the site.  You don’t want people to have to scroll too far and you want them to appear on the first page of results.  Don’t forget to check for “found” or “for sale” listings that look like your cat.  

NextDoor.com – If you have a Nextdoor.com neighborhood, consider reposting at least 1-2x per month for at least the first few months.

Facebook – If there are any local lost & found sites, repost your lost pet 1-2x per month.  Also comment on your existing postings to reach more people.  Consider creating a Lost Pet Page for your missing cat on Facebook and/or boosting a post about your lost cat.  A boosted post will be shown on other people’s timelines as a sponsored post (for a fee).  You can select people to see your ad through audience targeting based on location and interests.  For more information see: How to Boost a Facebook Post for a Lost Pet.

National Sites

Make sure that your cat is listed on as many national lost pet sites as you can find.  For an updated list of national lost pet sites, see Online Posting.  Some of these sites, such as LostMyKitty and TabbyTracker will only keep a free post up for one week, so you will either need to repost periodically or upgrade to a paid listing.  LostMyKitty paid postings come with a 30-day money back guarantee if you don’t find your cat.  This does not apply to phone call services.

Some of these sites also provide notifications, if a cat matching yours if found.  Make sure that you are signed up for these services and that you add their email to your safe sender list.  If someone responds to these postings that they have information or have found your cat these emails may end up in your spam folder.  

Keep in Touch with Local Groups and Agencies

Don’t expect these groups or agencies to get in touch with you.  Many are over-worked and under-funded.  If you previously used a service that called, emailed or faxed these groups for you, now is the time to contact them personally.  Likewise, if your cat has a microchip, do not depend on that alone to get them home.  Contact all the groups below at least once and preferably several times in the first month your cat is missing.  

Shelters/Rescues

Make sure that you have contacted AND received a response from all local shelters and rescues within at least 10 miles.  Check in with them a minimum of once per week for the first month.  This is important even if your cat has a microchip because it could be missed and some small rescues don’t have scanners.  For the larger shelters/rescues, I would recommend going in person at least 1 to 2 times per week for the first month.  Find out what the minimum hold time is for new cats before they are adopted out or euthanized.  When you visit, ask to see all cats and not just those on the adoption floor.  New arrivals and sick or injured cats may be under quarantine elsewhere.  Make sure that they still have a copy of your flyer or lost pet report on file and ask if you can view found pet reports.  

Animal Control

Make sure that your local animal control officer (ACO) is aware that your cat is missing and that you are still searching.  Also contact ACOs of other local towns if within 5 miles of where your cat went missing, especially for outdoor-access cats.  Ask or check online to see what your town’s policies are regarding found cats.  Some ACOs will not pick up found cats at all or they may only handle sick or injured cats.  Also find out if they pick up deceased cats.

Veterinarians and Emergency Vet Services

Make sure that your vet and any other vets within 5 to 10 miles are aware that your cat is missing.  Also check for the closest one or two emergency vet services.  If possible, give them a flyer to put up in the waiting area and/or their employee break area.  However, be aware that most vets do NOT check new cats for microchips unless the person bringing them in requests this done.  They are also very unlikely to call you about someone bringing in a new cat that matches your cats description unless that person states that it is a found cat AND they are looking for the owner.  This is a matter of client confidentiality.  Re-check once or twice in the first month to make sure that they are aware your cat is still missing.  Visiting is best, but at least email them a reminder and new flyer.  

Department of Public Works or Transportation

One of these departments may be in charge or picking up deceased animals or it may be done by animal control.  Relatively few lost cats are found hit by cars, but if you want to make sure that you are doing everything possible to find your missing cat then don’t overlook this step.  This will likely be a very stressful call, but don’t put it off too long.  Some agencies do not keep good records and you may be relying on employees’ memories.  If your cat is microchipped, find out if they scan found cats.  You may also want to look up your town’s policy regarding deceased animals.  Some towns state that if a small deceased animal (like a cat) is found on a person’s property, they should dispose of the animal in their trash.  

Get Creative and Try New Methods of Advertising

Car Tagging

Buy neon window markers and write a lost cat ad on the back window of your car.  Be sure to include a taped photo as well.  This method has had good success with lost dogs, but I don’t think it has been tried much yet for lost cats.  Learn more at MARN.  

Intersection Alerts

This is another method more often used with lost dogs, but could be useful if there is a busy intersection within one-mile of where your cat went missing.  This method involves creating extra-large neon lost cat posters and getting several volunteers to hold them up at different corners of a busy intersection.  If it can be safely done, you also want to hand out flyers to stopped cars.  This method can generate a lot of attention, and you might even consider contacting local media.  One woman in New Zealand found her cat after six months using this method.  For more information on how to conduct an intersection alert, see MARN.

Post Cards

If you don’t have the time and/or energy for a mass distribution of flyers, consider mailing postcards.  Learn more about lost pet cards here.  

Robocalls and Paid Online Advertising

Find more information and a list of companies under Amber Alerts.  

How Long Do You Maintain Your Search?

How long you maintain your search is a very personal matter.  If possible, I recommend a minimum search effort of 4-6 weeks.  A research study found that 34% of lost cats were found in one week, 50% in one month, 57% in two months, and 61% after one year.  This study lumped together indoor-only and outdoor-access cats, which have very different recovery rates.  In my experience, the overall recovery rate for indoor-only cats is 65-80% while the recovery rate for outdoor-access cats is 30-40% (based on my stats and Missing Pet Partnership cases).  However, this study data still shows a trend that the majority of cats were located in the first month with only 7% more found in the second month and only 4% more found in a full year.