A cat that goes missing for days or doesn’t come home at night is a scary experience for an owner. In many cases, the cat is just hiding. Cats hide outdoors for many reasons. These range from play to a fear-based response.
The easiest way to coax a cat out of hiding is by appealing to its instincts and senses. Many cats will find the smell of food irresistible when hungry. If your cat is frightened, also provide a box or carrier to crawl into. This enclosed space will make the cat feel more secure.
Try to understand why your cat is hiding outside. It may be that it’s scared of a rival feline, or that bad weather caused it to seek shelter, for example. A cat is more likely to respond to your urgings when it feels safe again.
Why Is My Cat Hiding Outside?
If your cat is hiding outdoors, there will be a reason why. Displaying anger or tension will frighten the cat and prolong the behavior.
Coaxing a cat out of a hiding place is simple in theory. Cats are creatures of instinct. If you appeal to their senses, they will surely react.
Few cats can resist the smell of a favored food, for example. Unfortunately, cats can also be stubborn and determined. Sensory stimulation is not always sufficient.
Tailor your method of tempting the cat out of its hiding place to the explanation. Common reasons for a cat to hide outdoors include:
- Stuck in a tree
- Overwhelmed by open space
- Used to living outdoors
- Hiding from predators
- Sickness or injury
Sometimes, you’ll need to be patient and wait for your cat to be ready to move. More often, you can encourage the activity.
How to Lure Cats Out of Hiding
There are many solutions to get cats to stop hiding outside. The most effective tactic is based on the reason why it happened, so having a very basic understanding of what cats think about during the day can be useful. The most common approaches to luring out a cat are as follows:
- Tempting with food
- Engaging hunting instincts
- Creating a safe space
- Providing new territory
- Secret entry to the home
It may take a trial-and-error approach to make cats come out from hiding. Cats conceal themselves for a number of reasons. Always start with food, and then work your way down the list.
1/ Food and Treats
Tempting a cat out of hiding with food is often a failsafe. Cats will only ignore hunger for so long. Eventually, your cat will want to come indoors to eat. Placing food outside will bring them from their hiding place sooner.
This approach will be most effective if the cat is hiding for recreation. Some mischievous cats hide as part of a game. Your cat finds it amusing to watch you search while it hides. It can see you, but you cannot see it. This appeals to a cat’s hunting instincts.
A playful cat can usually be tempted out of hiding by food. Take a wait-and-see approach after laying down the food. Cats grow bored of playing alone. Eventually, when you are no longer looking, the game loses its luster and hunger will start to take over.
If using food to tempt a cat out of hiding, don’t just lay down dinner. Your cat knows that it will be fed anyway once it comes home. This is not sufficient to alter a cat’s plans. Cats can be surprisingly stubborn.
Instead, always have a favorite food kept in reserve for emergency occasions. Tinned tuna is ideal, if your cat enjoys this type of food. The strong smell of the tuna will be overwhelming for the cat. Often, this will lead to an immediate emergence from hiding.
2/ Hunting and Stalking
Appealing a cat’s hunting instincts will often coax it from a hiding place. Most cats cannot resist the opportunity to stalk and pounce.
Encourage your cat to hunt an inanimate object, such as a toy or piece of string. Stay out of sight. Cats know the difference between playing and live prey. If necessary, make the toy smell like food. Rub some gravy or tuna juice on the toy. This will also mask your own smell.
When your cat emerges into the open to stalk the toy, retrieve the cat. It may be helpful to have an extra pair of hands for this part. It can be a lot of work to retain the cat’s interest and simultaneously capture it.
Your cat may require a more interactive approach. Consider allowing your cat to hunt you. Stand close to where you believe your cat may be and stay quiet. Make small, silent movements. Eventually, the cat will be unable to resist stalking you.
If this still does not work, identify whether your cat is already hunting. If there are birds nearby, they will likely be attracting your cat’s attention. Encourage the birds to scatter. Doing so will break your cat’s hunting thrall.
3/ Safety Concerns
If a cat hears a sound that frightens it, or picks up a strange scent, it will flee. This leads cats to it hiding somewhere small and tight. Until the danger has passed, the cat will not re-emerge from hiding.
Manage this by offering the cat a small, enclosed space to move into. Place cardboard boxes around the outside area. Fill each of these boxes with tempting food. Watch from a safe place, though.
Once the cat notices these boxes, it will make a move. The cat will feel more secure in a box than in the open. Once your cat has moved into the box, bring it inside. It is inadvisable and more difficult to handle a frightened cat. It will likely not wish to be picked up.
If you know where your cat is hiding, you can also use a pet carrier. This could backfire, though. Some cats associate carriers with a trip to the vet.
Fear of Predators
The box approach is also effective when a cat is hiding from predators. Felines are mesopredators, meaning that they both hunt and are hunted by larger animals. This makes cats skittish and anxious when confronted with a potential enemy.
This predator could have been a local dog, or a rival cat. Dogs with high prey drives will chase cats. Likewise, other cats will protect their territory fiercely. The pets of your neighbors may have driven your cat into hiding.
Cats also have a healthy fear of numerous wild animals. These include:
Depending on where you live, your cat could encounter these animals while roaming. If this happens, the cat will not come out of hiding until it feels safe. This may be under the cover of darkness.
Locate your cat and position a box or pet carrier nearby. Fill the vessel with tempting aromas. When your cat enters the carrier, secure it and take the cat home.
It’s best to keep your cat indoors for a while after this experience. Many cats will be frightened and want to stay in anyway. Ensure that your cat feels safe and secure in the home. Eventually, your cat will build up enough courage to roam again.
4/ Territory in the Home
As territorial animals, cats often claim an outside area as their own. It can be hard to convince the cat to leave this territory. Inside the house, cats are constrained by rules. Outdoors, a cat can claim any territory and feel free of restriction.
Some cats may not return home through hunger or boredom. Your cat may hoard food and toys, relocating them to an outdoor territory. This is common in cats that are used to living outside. Former strays, in particular, struggle with the transition to life as an indoor cat.
According to the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, adaptation is possible, especially in younger cats. Senior felines find change harder. You must prove to the cat that indoors is equally enjoyable.
With appropriate territory in the home, the cat will no longer desire an outdoor hiding place. This means that you may tempt the cat out of hiding by providing a better alternative. Make a hiding place in the home for cats.
An entire room is ideal. If this is not possible due to limited space, settle for an area. This must be somewhere the cat will never be disturbed.
You must restrict access to the claimed outdoor territory. This will upset the cat, so expect it to be displeased. It is necessary, though. If the cat can hide in this territory, it will do so with increasing frequency.
5/ Extra Privacy
A cat may become injured while exploring outdoors. It could have fallen from a height or been struck by a car. Cats also often find themselves in conflict with local felines. These cats will rarely return home for a while.
Hurt or wounded cats do not run to owners for comfort and sympathy. Instead, cats like to keep their ailments private. To a cat, revealing sickness or injury is revealing weakness. Your cat would rather stay hidden until it feels better and moves freely.
A key step to this process is providing a new, ‘secret’ entry to your home. If your cat feels that it can slip into the house unnoticed, it will be happier. The cat may still hide upon returning home. Seeing shelter in the house is safer than outdoors, though.
If it is safe to do so, leave a back door open. You could also use a window. Just bear in mind that injured cats may have limited mobility. Your cat may hurt itself further attempting to gain access through this route.
Cats can be content while hiding outside. For your cat’s safety, do what you can to stop this from continuing for too long. When night falls, a cat is more vulnerable. Try to lure your cat out of hiding before sundown.